Making sense of PM’s Tour
One of the buzz topics in social media recently is the extended tour the new PM Abiy Ahmed (PhD) is taking around the nation and in the neighboring countries. Truth be told during the first two or three tours to Tigray and Amhara regions, the discussion then was about what the PM is saying and what he is not saying. Eventually, the public seems to feel the fatigue with public addresses and tours and started asking if what he is doing is really a priority. Brook Abdu explores the different views regarding PM’s activities in the past month.
Making sense of PM’s tour
It has been exactly a month and ten days since Abiy Ahmed (PhD) was sworn in as Prime Minister of Ethiopia by the House of Peoples’ Representatives (HPR) and it appears that he is still on the go meeting with different parts of the society both in the country and abroad.
Since then, Abiy has delivered 16 speeches including his inaugural address, and chaired nine discussion platforms with various representatives, both locally and abroad.
The new PM must have been breaking some sort of a record already in terms of traveling on official capacity only one month into his premiership. And the public has taken notice of Abiy’s commuting and the claim that “adequate attention has not been given to the office of the Prime Minister”.
Although he has been stressing the benefits of his tour, Abiy has faced criticisms on the account of his campaign-like tours and the promises he makes along the trail. At times, he has heard the public he is meeting second-guessing his tours and promises and stressing that action is important.
One instance that grabbed the attention of the public is a statement made by a religious father in Bahir Dar, who after appreciating the wise and unifying speeches of the Prime Minister said: “I say to you that talking is simple, but walking is difficult. Nevertheless, walking the talk is extremely challenging.”
While responding to the comments, Abiy decided to go toe to toe and argue that actually it is the talking that is difficult; since what he says could potentially disappoint one section of the society while pleasing the other. In fact, Bahir Dar is the first place in his trail that has brought to fore a slightly different persona for PM Abiy. At this platform, the public saw what could be taken as a stern Abiy Ahmed. The religious father comments seemed to have hit something in him when Abiy directly addressed the commentator and argued that talking is the perhaps the most difficult of the two.
And, not long after that the social media, especially Facebook started to get flooded by commentaries and criticisms of PM’s slipups as well as his tour of the different parts of the country.
One Facebook user that goes with the name Kassa Hailu posted on his timeline stating, “Abiy is not working, he is just touring.”
But, not all the reactions to the Prime Minister’s tour were criticisms, but some refuted these comments raised by others regarding the issue. A Facebook user named Tamru Hulisso argued that he does not understand the assertions that the Prime Minster has not yet started his real work. He says that, given the situation of the country at a time of his appointment; what pushed him to prioritize as he did is a question that is in everyone’s mind.
“I expect someone to widely explain to me what wrongs the PM has done and what he should have done instead,” Tamru concluded.
The Prime Minister, who made his first trip to Jigjiga, Ethio Somali Regional State, admitted that the conflict between the “the brotherly” people of EthioSomalis and the Oromos should not have happened and it shall not happen again.
“If we have to fight, it should be over borrowed tractors and other development factors,” the Prime Minister was quoted saying.
The speech he made at Jigjiga was received by the public with much enthusiasm as was his inaugural speech at the HPR.
However, the speech in Mekele was received with mixed feelings. Some appreciated his decision to deliver the speech in Tigrigna and some, especially those who feels strongly about the Wolkait issue, argued that he had diminished a big political issue to the questions of infrastructure.
In a discussion held with the residents of Mekele and its surroundings, the Prime Minister said that, “I had a number of discussions with the Diaspora in the past. What I can tell you is 99 percent of the Diaspora are patriotic and positive about their country. The biggest problem is the Diaspora’s source of information: Facebook and other social media … I wish the Diaspora from Wolkait and Armacheho could come back to their nation and see the lives and the problems of the people. What the people demand is schools, healthcare centers, roads and electricity. Then, the Diaspora will stand together with the public when they understand that this agenda is not the public’s agenda.”
Following this speech, as he was scheduled to visit the Amhara Regional State next, Facebook user like Solomon Bogale stated that the whole Amhara will await the PM’s arrival in fury as he has diminished the questions of the Wolkait.
Another one with Facebook ID Kassa Kassa Ethiopiawi Negn even questioned, “If Abiy really knows where Wolkait is located”.
Regardless the polarized opinion, the PM looked adamant about what he has been doing and even proceeded to extending his tour to the neighboring nations like Sudan and Kenya.
Merera Gudina (PhD), a scholar and Chairman of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress, says that he has no reservations regarding Abiy’s tour; but, he also believes that two major issues have to be addressed first.
The first one is completing the task of freeing all the political prisoners in the country and making good on the promise of bringing about wider political space in Ethiopia, Merera told The Reporter.
The other concern for Merera is the State of Emergency (SoE) decree which is still in force. As the Prime Minster is the chair of the Command Post that implements the SoE and the person appointed to the Ministry of Defense, by default the secretariat of the Command Post, is from his home party, Merera sees no need to keep the decree into effect.
“This might create a rift between him and the youth in the region he hails from,” Merera maintains.
For Abdiwasa Abdilahi Bade (PhD), a lecturer at Addis Ababa University, department of Political Science, the tour the Prime Minster has made within a month he has takeover the office is an important far more significant and that it was the right priority to set as a leader of this violence-stricken nation.
Abdiwasa says that beyond the speeches and the destinations, Abiy’s tour has a deeper message.
According to him, Abiy is elected by the ruling party, not the general public. Hence, he had to get legitimacy from the public by introducing himself and what his ideals are. “He is legitimizing his assumption of the office,” Abdiwasa says, not to mention the role of his tours as healing mechanism. “Many of the people in this country are wounded by different issues ranging from disagreements with the government and other groups,” Abdiwasa understands.
Abiy was inaugurated on April 2, 2018, replacing Hailemariam Dessalegn who ran the country for more than five years. Starting his tour in Jigjiga, Abiy has made orations in Mekele, Gondar and Bahir Dar, Ambo, Hawassa, Assosa, Bale and Addis Ababa.
Indeed, protest that has been rocking the country for the past three years has simmered down following the appointment of the new PM and his tour. As regular part of his tour, Abiy delivers gracious speeches to the people that he is meeting and hold serious discussion forum with representatives of the locality.
For Abdiwasa, his discussion forums are even setting a new trend in the country.
“There have been big gaps between the public and the government in the past, which the PM admits to. He has also called for the public to work together. But, his take on issues raised by the public which were not honed and predetermined was very important,” he says.
But, he agrees with people that say that the tour the Prime Minister is making is too much.
“It was right he had to make the tour; but, it is time to get back to the office,” he argues.
Yet, the expression of such an idea by those concerned is also a good beginning for Abdiwasa.
But for Merera, the most important and remaining task for the Prime Minster is setting an agenda with the opposition and sitting for discussions to bring real political change in the country. This helps to bring about national consensus.
“Doubts are emerging now; people have started to question his intentions and questioning if it was a mere speech or if an actual observable works will be done in the upcoming days.If he continues down that road, by the time he gets to work, it might be too little too late,” Merera cautions.
Apart from the tours in the country, the Prime Minster has also visited three foreign countries since he took office. The first country he visited was Djibouti followed by Sudan and Kenya.
During his visits, the PM had discussed mainly economic issues and cooperation in different social and economic aspects of the respective countries including long term economic integration.
Both Abdiwasa and Merera agree on the choice of countries for the PMs foreign tour. Merera is of the view that, like any other country, it is important to deal with neighbors first before going to other nations. The same is shared by Abdiwasa who said he would not expect the PM to fly to the US without visiting countries in the neighborhood.
“But, the foreign travels have created suspicion on some opposition groups in that the Prime Minister’s deals might be intended on closing doors on them,” Merera opines.
Abdiwasa observes that the visit to Djibouti, “the lifeline of Ethiopia”, Sudan and Kenya have much more messages to the region as well as the international community.
“First, it is to tell observers that Ethiopia has solved its internal problems and its foreign policy and its regional role will continue as they were. The second is whatever deals made with Ethiopia should be made with the civilian Ethiopian government which is in charge now and finally, it has a message that, not only are we working on our politics but also economic issue,” Abdiwasa comprehends.
In his tour to Djibouti and Sudan, the Prime Minister concluded a deal to have a stakes at port facilities there and made commitments to invest. In his Kenya tour, the PM also made the same deal which will facilitate an acquisition of land at the Lamu Port for Ethiopia to develop.
Ethiopia currently conducts its trade through the Djibouti corridor which carries out more than 85 percent of the country’s trade.
“I am not against looking for alternative ports for this country. But, it is better if we could solve our problems up at the Red Sea and use Ethiopia’s historical port: The Port of Assab,” Merera observes.
Although not welcomed by the Eritrean side without a precondition, the Prime Minster has called up on the Eritrean government for peace talks.