Behold the Horn… of Africa

Dr Abiy Ahmed

On this link you will be introduced to Dr Abiy Ahmed’s doctrine. Listening to him, one is able to appreciate the legacy of late Meles Zenawi, the charismatic Ethiopian Prime Minister who passed away six years ago.

Like his illustrious predecessor then, Dr. Ahmed’s political thought is conceptual and deep, not the populist rhetoric that politicians feed us on social media, daily (Dr. Abiy is not on twitter).

Gatete Nyiringabo Ruhumuliza 

His deeds however, just months into office, credit the ruling party: Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) with exceptional reformist abilities.

The two leaders’ policies may differ in appearance, especially the Eritrea rapprochement and open economy; but it is in fact the logical, timely pivot from Meles’ foundation building within the EPRDF.

It is too early to call, but Ethiopia’s reforms, if successful, might propel the second most populated country in Africa with over 100 million people, into the realm of developed nations.

Historically, countries that have successfully negotiated their transitions have gone on to achieve remarkable and permanent progress. 

Post WW-2 Germany and Japan, but also China of Deng Jao Ping or Singapore of Goh Chok Tong come to mind - the later was lucky to have his mentor, Lee Kwan Yew serve as his minister and advisor.

Africa too is living defining times; in a span of four years, the youthful continent has made unforeseen, game-changing moves at national and continental levels, suggesting an end to foreign influence and violent power transfers.

At national levels, it appears that our old, highly criticized revolutionary movements aren’t that old after all: The Africa National Congress (ANC), the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF), the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the EPRDF are demonstrating to the world that they are still relevant in the 21st century

A blue print for Rwanda?

At 30 years old, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) is one of the youngest movements. Rwandans have been postponing their transition because, like others, it has been hard to conceive the nation without the charismatic leader.

In that context, change into the unknown is daunting, since, save for Sir Seretse Khama’s Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) – with uniquely favorable conditions, there are not many post-independence African success stories after the retirement of the charismatic leader; some, in fact, have not had any such leadership, while others witnessed their yesteryear revolutionaries ultimately betray the cause of the revolution.

Justified by Africa’s post-independence history of unrest and bad governance, experts like to equate the retirement of the leader to judgment day, with prescriptive remarks such as: ‘This all looks ok, but what will happen when your powerful president leaves’?

They are partly right; in the sense that the RPF may not have incubated an exact replica of the leadership they have known thus far. However, as President Paul Kagame ironizes and as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is demonstrating: ‘everybody has their shoes’ – and it’s all for the best.

Africa’s unrecognized strong institutions

I do not disagree with former US President, Barrack Obama when he says ‘Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions’; it is on the identity of the said institutions that we differ.

Scholarship on governance validates the three classical arms of the Government, namely: ‘The Judiciary, the Executive and the Legislative’ as the only legitimate pillars of power – and these are the strong institutions that President Obama was referring to.

Recent geopolitical evolutions however, have shown that in countries where they are reputed strong, these institutions have not prevented violence, social injustice, corruption and indeed populism.

Yet, in some countries where these institutions are reputed weak, we observe better accountability, stable transitions and faster growth.

‘Too soon to tell’

While China comes to mind for the second scenario, it is also Chinese wisdom not to draw quick conclusions; asked on the success of the French Revolution of 1789, Chinese leader (divided opinion on Mao or Zhu Enlai), famously remarked that it was ‘too early to say’; some 150 years later…

However, as the so-called developed nations live interesting political times, developing nations may have more lessons for the world’s intelligentsia, than it is humble to admit. What China, Singapore and now Ethiopia are achieving suggests, to paraphrase Hamlet, ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Obama, than are dreamt of in your philosophy…’

The African Revolutionary Movements are ‘Strong institutions’ to be reckon with. They serve the same, at times more legitimate purpose than a strong Legislature, Executive or even Judiciary. And this should be fine too, so long as that responds to timely national priorities.

Another lesson to draw for the worlds’ master-thinkers is that Africans are dynamic. They aren’t just ‘Tigre versus Oromo’, ‘Tutsi v. Hutu’ and ‘Muslims v. Christians’. There is more happening in their midst than they deem necessary publicize into self-referencing quarters; their politics is thus versatile and too complex for the biased and immodest mind. 

And with that I salute African revolutionary movements. If within the same formations, they can produce Meles Zenawi and Abiy Ahmed; Kikwete and Magufuli, or Edouardo Dos Santos and João Lourenço, they are demonstrating abundant ideological wealth.

This may after all be, the African Century!


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