Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) is believed to be a leader who has learned from history. Thus far, he may have succeeded in winning the public’s hearts and minds. Yet, winning of hearts and minds of the majority is not an end by itself; it is only a means to an end, writes Temesgen Damtew.
“Your talk talks and your walk talks, but your walk talks louder than your talk talks.”
John C. Maxwell
What happened in the last few months would always be remembered as one of great historical events in Ethiopian history. We Ethiopians were watching history in the making. For the first time in modern Ethiopian history, former Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn’s self-initiated request to resign is – history in the making.
What is more, the appointment of Abiy Ahmed (PhD) as the new Ethiopian Prime Minister and the inspiration, excitement, hope and expectations that is created in the public despite the fact that he has been a key member of the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDDF) for the last twenty seven years is – another history in the making.
Twenty seven years have elapsed since the EPRDF started to rule Ethiopia. In the past twenty seven years, the public was long-sufferingly waiting for the party to bring about meaningful changes. It is true the country has shown remarkable economic growth; however, the question is: has the economic growth brought about meaningful changes in the general public? Has there been fair wealth distribution? How about the deep rooted and networked corruption? Human rights issues? Good governance?
The point is, apart from the government’s undelivered insistent promises and declarations of reforms, the society could see no significant down to earth changes.
As it goes, desperate people do desperate things, what follows is taking violent actions against the government. All the recent unrest and instability, which were taking place in various parts of the country, had no other intentions but another way of expressing curbed right.
What is surprising is the new Prime Minister, Abiy, too, has been a member of the front since its establishment at the age of – as early as fifteen. That implies, he is not just a member but a founding member and a thoroughly EPRDF policy-oriented person. If so, what makes many Ethiopians believe Abiy will make a difference? What causes an entire nation to impulsively fall under the spell of his leadership?
At this very early stage, one can say nothing but his charismatic style. The charisma attitude was revealed in the speeches he made in the different occasions that made many Ethiopians fall under his spell. As is often the case, the charismatic leadership style mainly relies on the charm and persuasiveness of the leader.
According to the 19th century leadership guru Max Weber, charismatic leadership is “a certain quality of an individual personality, by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities.”
From this, one can deduce that Abiy’s “persuasiveness” and “charm” are the ones that made him most cherished and attributed EPRDF leader of our time. Research shows that those following charismatic leaders perform better, experience their work as more meaningful, and have more trust in their leaders than those following effective but non charismatic leaders.
This is because charismatic leaders have this unique capacity in initiating and inspiring the public to become highly committed to the leader’s mission, to make significant personal sacrifices, and to perform above and beyond the call of duty.
Will the excitement and inspiration created in the public last long? This will very much depend on the premier’s determination to walk the talk.
This reminds me of an anonymous quote I read in a minibus taxi about six years ago. If you happen to be a frequent minibus taxi user here in Addis, apparently you must have read some posted quotes which are often humorous or satirical in nature; quotes from the Bible or Quran and of various kinds. Of all the quotes I have read, one remains stuck in my mind, which reads as;
Sanawikih telanih; Sinawkih atanih
We had disliked you before we knew you:
Alas! As we came to know you, we lost you!
The message was intended to the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. It was posted at the time his death was announced as a result of which the whole of Ethiopia was in mourning. There are leaders who may receive high appreciation and adoration from the very beginning: on the contrary there are also leaders who get acceptance after quite some time.
One can see Abiy has got the majority’s acceptance and appreciations from the very beginning. Meles happened to be a leader who came to be appreciated and adored after serving his country for some considerable time. That is what the above quote implies.
There is no denying the fact that Meles was not as such appealing during his earlier period as a Prime Minister. With a background as a rebel leader for more than a decade, he was more of a realistic than he was charismatic. In many ways he sounded logical and convincing in the speeches he made and the interviews he used to give but with less emotional appeal. Especially, in his earlier periods as prime minister, his speeches were not so pleasing to the ear no matter how true they were.
Some even went further addressing him as a leader with less national feeling. What made them think so? A case in point is the Ethiopian Flag issue. At one time, when he was having an interview with local reporters he addressed the Ethiopian flag as “a piece of cloth” which made many Ethiopians angry. Because for them a flag is not just “a piece of cloth” but the symbol of a nation. Needless to say, Meles was very well aware of that as well. If he hadn’t, he would not have been the prime minister.
In actual fact, there is nothing wrong in calling Ethiopian or any other nation’s flag – a piece of cloth. Oxford Dictionary defined “Flag” as – a piece of cloth or similar material, typically oblong or square…. Just the same, there are times when not everything that is true should not be said.
Whatsoever, Meles may not have sounded patriotic. Neither was he a kind of person who blew his own trumpet. Yet he was the one who devoted his entire life for his country. He proved his love by giving all he had – his life.
In its own time, history will prove who is who. The military regime dictator Mengistu Hailemariam, who vowed and bragged over and over again that he would give his life for his “motherland”, deserted the people at very critical period when his “motherland” desperately needed him. Neither was he there when thousands of soldiers who were loyal to him and to their country went astray. He left the sheep with no shepherd.
That said, Abiy is believed to be a leader who has learned from history. Thus far, he may have succeeded in winning the public’s hearts and minds. Yet, winning of hearts and minds of the majority is not an end by itself; it is only a means to an end.
He has gained the people’s confidence because deep in their heart they believed in him that he would make a difference and bring about meaningful change.
The thing is, mere sweet talking would no more convince Ethiopians; this time Ethiopians need a leader committed enough to walk the talk. If not, sooner or later a time would come when those same people who gave all their support and appreciation would say: “We have had enough of your sweet talk: just show us your performance.”
This is all to say, the ultimate victory is not talking the talk but walking the walk. And hopefully the Prime Minister is determined to walk the talk. Let us then walk the walk together with our Prime Minister to transform our country to the next level. After all, in the long run, his success is the nation’s success – our success.
Ed.’s Note: Temesgen Damtew is a communication officer. His interest areas include politics and social studies. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected].