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By and large PM Abye Ahmed’s FIRST press conference went relatively well. Except it was long, way too long, with no Ah-Haaa moment for the viewing public!
In general press conferences are said to serve a useful purpose: they allow heads of state to explain their policy decisions to the public, and they provide the press, working on behalf of the public, the opportunity to hold the head of state accountable for those decisions. In truth in this first press conference nothing the PM said merited its own news story. The questions put to him either wasted the time of all involved, or were pitifully easy to disarm with non-answers. Only one or two questions were substantive enough to generate interesting comment. Also the format did not allow any follow-up questions, underlining how poorly the conference was organized, or rather how restrictive it was.
Anyway what did we learn from this first press conference:
We saw a PM in search of a political ideology. Today there are game-changing influences from the world’s new economic powers on one hand, and growing ethnic nationalism and increasing mob rule on the other. We find it strange that there is very little, if any, attempt to identify the ideologies in play in a changing Ethiopia.
We heard a PM who understands that Ethiopia faces serious conflicts, threats of terrorism, ethnic division, environmental degradation, poor governance, rampant corruption and increasing inequality but with no new ideas or legislative programs to address these issues.
We observed a PM who favors for a return to traditional Ethiopian values such as solidarity, nationalism, and humanism on one hand, and seeking to exploit the materialistic values of capitalism for development, on the other. In our opinion two conflicting discourses.
In brief, there was no ‘Ethiopia Dream’ vision, but a confident PM with all his usual deferential form and very little specificity on his policies. But who cares? For many Ethiopians he is their hero. He is the savior of the nation. They sleep more soundly now, that he is in charge at Arat Kilo.
Let’s keep our observation, rather our guessing going:
Will the PM keeps on ignoring calls for laying out his political and economic reform agenda to the public? We think he will delay laying out his agenda for a short while. Why? Because he (the PM) has barely started his new job, and delivering effective reform are never easy. To his credit he has set himself out to be a transformative leader. He has promised to establish a decisive role for market forces, and to overcome and control the vested interests which stand in his way. Let’s wait and see.
Will the PM and opposition parties agree on the principles for conducting democratic elections? We doubt it. Increasingly the political space is being filled with political extremists, who exploit the general discontent with the exclusion from decision-making. This situation feeds uncertainty and conflict.
Will the Abye – Essayas public embrace be enough to cement the peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea? We don’t think so. Peace building is a multi-component process requiring political and economic solutions within the framework of nation-state. Much remains to be done to identify and strengthen the structures which tend to solidify peace to avoid relapse into conflict.
Will the PM explore the possibility of calling a constitutional convention to reform power and responsibilities between the national government and state governments? There is no sign of it. Without even dealing with other critical issues, the current political space keeps few regional states and their citizens’ voices on the outside looking in. It’s long past time to change that relationship.
Will the PM propose new reforms to liberalize the economy and launch programs to re-energize the economy? The odds, based on what we’ve seen so far, looks very slim. So far, there is no talk of a bold agenda for economic change, the few actions undertaken remain disjointed and frankly unimpressive. Sooner or later, investors are bound to notice that there is little for the economy to keep growing.
Of course we have frequently been wrong in our analysis of things. When trying to understand and comment on Ethiopian politics, we are bound to draw a few stray lines. And we will no doubt be proven wrong in many of our opinions and predictions.
So dear readers… please feel to correct us, or help us get our predictions right.