On the 101st anniversary of the beginning of his reign as the head of Soviet Russia, where Fifa will be crowning its world champions this weekend, several pieces are falling into place in the jigsaw puzzle called the Horn of Africa and East Africa.
These changes, after decades of regional aloofness among Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea, and in the leadership of strife-torn South Sudan, all materialised over the past 12 weeks; somewhat climaxing this week.
Let us not forget that, not that far from East Africa and the Horn, epoch-ending leadership changes led to the exits of 93-year old Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and 75-year old Eduardo dos Santos of Angola in a matter of eight weeks in the last quarter of 2017.
Back to East Africa, John Pombe Magufuli assumed office in November Tanzania at 56; and has since ushered in a revolution in the politics and economy of the country at a dizzying speed. Next door, in Kenya, 56-year-old Uhuru Kenyatta commenced his second term in office to consolidate his programme after legal and electoral glitches.
This week, though, it was another much younger Abiy Ahmed at 41 who rocked the Horn of Africa. Having risen to the first office in Ethiopia in April after the resignation of Hailemariam Desalegn, Meles Zenawi’s successor, Ahmed cemented Africa’s most disjointed region.
Ahmed, who served as Minister of Science and Technology and Director of Information Network Security Agency before this, squandered no opportunity to start stitching up his troubled country, while aggressively pursuing reconciliation with traditional foes in Eritrea and Somalia.
By the expiry of his third month in office, Ahmed had already clinched diplomatic deals with the one country that had stymied Ethiopia’s trade access to the Gulf of Aden since it was created spitefully by Italy in the 19th century.
For the past 20 years the hostility between Ethiopia and Eritrea managed - among other things - to stunt the attainment of the true potential of Africa’s fastest-growing economy. Although Ethiopia managed to maintain a growth rate close to 10% for at least a decade, it was never really allowed to thrive because its trade channel remained via Djibouti.
Its internal conflict, especially between the Oromo Liberation Front and the government of Ethiopia, and the truculent relations with its neighbours, have to date conspired to keep Ethiopia isolated and its radiance suppressed. This took the East African Community down with it.
Ahmed’s restoration of diplomatic relations with Eritrea, his visit to Somalia, punctuated by commitments to develop infrastructure to fast-track intra-regional trade and his statements that Ethiopia will soon allow Africans visa-free entry are some of the early signs that he could be the country’s most defining figure after Emperor Haile Selassie I.
His doctoral studies, which Ahmed completed in 2017, demonstrated his grasp of inter-religious conflict and what it takes to quell it. Having grown up an Oromo, he could have deepened ethnic hostility from his position of power. Instead, he is preaching reconciliation, hard work and prudence; and his people are visibly enthused.
As if prompted by the energy displayed by Ahmed, South Sudan followed suit. At seven years of age, the oil-rich Africa’s newest state heaved an optimistic sigh when President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar appeared headed for that elusive peace deal.
Considering the pivotal role of Ethiopia as the escape route for refugees from Sudan over the years, the new direction forged by Ahmed will surely also prod South Sudan in the direction of a lasting solution.
Peace and stability are no longer a pipe dream in Africa, thanks to the likes of Ahmed. If the arrival of one leader can trigger so many changes in a country and within a region as fractious as the Horn of Africa in the first three months, there is hope for the rest of the Motherland.
* Victor Kgomoeswana is the author of Africa is Open for Business; media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs, and a columnist for Destiny Man - Twitter Handle: @VictorAfrica
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
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