Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks during a joint media conference with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa after their talks at the Union Building in Pretoria. Picture: Themba Hadebe/AP
Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks during a joint media conference with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa after their talks at the Union Building in Pretoria. Picture: Themba Hadebe/AP

SA can learn from Ethiopia's Abiy Ahmed

By Victor Kgmoeswana Time of article published Jan 19, 2020

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Anyone who ever had a neighbour who was richer, better looking or more popular than their own parent will relate to this.

Abiy Ahmed's presence at the ANC’s 108th birthday celebration in Kimberley last weekend left me fantasising about having him run my country for three months.

By the way, the prime minister of Ethiopia - and the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize laureate - has not yet been in office for two years.

South Africa is stuck in no-man’s land on almost every front while Ethiopia powers ahead against worse odds than ours. Eskom, SAA, the SABC, metro councils We face financial ruin in what is supposed to be the leading economy in Africa.

First, Ahmed is only 43. We could use his youthfulness in our politics. Second, he has not been shy to act, apart from battling divisions within the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front.

Although the EPRDF has morphed into the Prosperity Party, Ahmed did in the first 100 days of his rule make what South Africa has accomplished - or not - in 25 years of democratic rule relatively minor.

In a country torn by ethnic tension, Ahmed balanced the divergent interests of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, Amhara Democratic Party, Oromo Democratic Party and the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement. In South Africa, we have witnessed the inability of coalitions to rule a metro, let alone a country. Just think Johannesburg, Tshwane and the Nelson Mandela Metro to appreciate how South Africans are not able to work together for the good of their compatriots.

The prime minister liberalised the press, released some of the journalists jailed under the previous regimes, loosened visa requirements - which led to a rise in tourist arrivals of more than 40%. Addis Ababa has replaced Dubai as the international gateway to Sub-Saharan Africa, thanks to the success of Ethiopian Airlines and the inauguration of the continent’s largest airport, Bole, in February last year.

That's not all. Ahmed realised the importance of regional peace and stability. He normalised relations with other Horn of Africa nations such as Eritrea and Somalia in order to stimulate trade and investment.

Ahmed has asked President Cyril Ramaphosa to mediate a solution between his country and Egypt and Sudan on the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam (EGRD) that the country has constructed on the Blue Nile.

Downstream countries, Egypt in particular, have objected to the dam to the extent that many commentators are talking about possible war over water. The realisation that South Africa is better positioned to act as mediator due to its healthier relations with Egypt and its imminent chairmanship of the AU Commission next month speaks volumes of Ahmed’s international statesmanship. He knows how to pick his battles; yet, battle he does.

The irony of South Africa’s resolution of the EGRD stand-off, if it succeeds, would be that Ethiopia will be using the dam to generate thousands of megawatts of electricity to supply its citizens and export to the East African Community countries; while South Africa is unable to make Eskom work without unpredictable load-shedding.

Here is to hoping Ahmed’s visit has inspired us to become decisive and bold in 2020.

* Kgomoeswana is the author of Africa is Open for Business, a media commentator and a public speaker on African business affairs.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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