It was two years after a military coup removed the last monarch of Ethiopia, Emperor Haile-Selassie I, that Abiy (Abiyot) Ahmed was born. Abiyot (literally ‘Revolution’), was his initial given name before it was changed to Abiy.
Abiyot was a popular name in the mid- and late 1970s following the popular revolution that led to the end of a monarchy which lasted for millennia.
True to his initial name Abiyot, Abiy Ahmed, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, is a revolutionary of his generation.
The sweeping changes that Abiy brought about after taking power, which include the release of political prisoners and journalists from jail and mending fences with neighboring Eritrea, bestowed upon him accolades including the most prestigious and highly coveted Nobel Peace Prize.
According to commentators and observers alike, Abiy’s diplomatic acumen is unparalleled. He has managed to win the hearts of both the West, the East and Ethiopia’s close neighbors, the Arabs.
His predecessors, Emperor Haile-Selassie, Mengistu Hailemariam, Meles Zenawi and Hailemariam Dessalegn, all had their triumphs and tribulations on the diplomatic front.
With Haile-Selassie playing a fundamental role in establishing a continental union, and Meles becoming the voice of Africa in global climate change negotiations, Ethiopian leaders, by and large, have had a significant impact on the continent.
And now is the time for Abiy Ahmed to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors in his dealings with Africa. After taking office, the Prime Minister’s sphere of influence expanded starting with Eritrea and then moving to Ethiopia’s western neighbor Sudan, where Abiy positioned himself in the role of a peacemaker.
According to media reports at the time, Abiy met with representatives of the Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change of Sudan – an umbrella coalition of protest groups and political parties that were continuing their campaign of protests despite the removal of Sudan long-time leader Omar al-Bashir. Abiy stressed the importance of unity as a precursor to peace in his meeting with the opposition group.
Abiy had already built a working relationship with the Head of the Sudanese Transitional Military Council General Abdul Fattah Burhan, who visited Ethiopia at the end of May last year.
During that meeting, Abiy pledged non-interference in Sudanese affairs.
In due course, Sudan’s post al-Bashir transition started to take shape months after the former leader was ousted by the military and on August 18, 2019 was the signing of a transition deal between the military junta and leaders of the protest movement, the Forces for Freedom and Change.
At that time, reports revealed that Abiy’s presence clearly stood out as his name was always greeted with cheers by people in the hall. He delivered a statement at the event urging Sudanese people to guard their peace.
It would not be an overstatement to say that Abiy is a charismatic and towering figure in the Horn and East Africa and his latest trip was to the other side of the continent, the Republic of Guinea in West Africa; Equatorial Guinea in Central Africa; and then to South Africa.
Guinea Conakry was his first stop where he undertook a two-day official visit. The PM’s office said Abiy held meetings with President Alpha Conde and visited the Port of Conakry.
The two agreed to bolster cooperation agreements signed in 2019 between the two countries. The agreements focused on areas of education, health, financial management, agriculture, culture and tourism.
“It is to be recalled that President of the Republic of Guinea, Alpha Condé, made an official state visit to Ethiopia last year. Cooperation agreements were signed in 2019 between the two countries, in the areas of education, health, financial management, agriculture and culture and tourism. As part of strengthening bilateral ties, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed (PhD) arrived in the Republic of Guinea for an official state visit. And agreements were made with President Alpha Condé to activate the partnership in the areas of agriculture, tourism, mining and energy. The visit will contribute to strengthening relations between the two countries,” Getachew Mekonnen, a Researcher at the Institute of Strategic Affairs, told The Reporter via email.
During the stay in the Republic of Guinea, PM Abiy Ahmed also met with Governor El Rufai of Kaduna State, Nigeria and Nigerian business tycoon, Tony Olumelu, to discuss investment opportunities in Ethiopia in various burgeoning sectors.
His second stop was in Malabo. Abiy was received by his host President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, with the two parties signing cooperation deals aimed at boosting existing bilateral relations.
Ethiopians in the oil-rich Central African country lined up along major roads to welcome the Prime Minister. A number of them wearing attires that showed Abiy’s Nobel Peace Prize triumph.
The talks between Abiy and Nguema Mbasogo included expanding pragmatic cooperation in aviation and other economic sectors.
After his engagements in Malabo, Abiy headed to South Africa for a two-day official state visit. The visit aimed at strengthening the diplomatic relations between the two countries and boost ties. During his stay in South Africa, Abiy met with South African officials and Ethiopians residing in the Rainbow Nation there.
“Informed by historical ties dating back to South Africa’s liberation struggle, South Africa and Ethiopia established official diplomatic relations in 1994, as the basis for present-day political and economic cooperation.
The visit explored potential areas of trade and investment for the benefit of both countries in industries such as telecommunications, road infrastructure, mining, agro-processing and manufacturing,” Getachew said.
According to the researcher, Ethiopia’s readiness in supporting South African Airways with the spirit of Pan-Africanism to come back to its past glory is one major area of cooperation.
“The bilateral discussions were on matters of mutual national issues (the two countries’ strategic cooperation), regional and continental issues (to advance the African Union’s visionary and developmental Agenda 2063) as well as international issues (campaigning for the reform of the multilateral institutions),” Getachew said. Abiy also called on South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to intervene in the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) negotiations as the next chairperson of the African Union (AU), which he will take over from Egypt this month.
“As he (Ramaphosa) is a good friend for both Ethiopia and Egypt and also as incoming AU chair, he can make a discussion between both parties to solve the issue peacefully,” Abiy told reporters at a news conference in South Africa’s political capital Pretoria.
Ramaphosa said South Africa was open to playing a role in facilitating “whatever agreement can be crafted”.
“What is pleasing, as far as I’m concerned, is that both countries are willing to discuss this matter and find solutions,” he said.