14 June 2018

Ethiopia: The Right State Visit

Ethiopian media widely reported that the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed (Ph.D.), presented Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, with a cow and a calf as a gift during the latter's visit to Ethiopia last week. Rwandans' love for cows is well documented. Kagame has, thus, stumbled upon cows as a gift from other leaders as well. Uganda's Yuweri Musevini gave him twenty cows as gift in 2012. Kagame's response that the gift would increase the size of his heard does not only express his gratefulness for the gift but also indicates that he has owns a herd of cattle.

As thoughtful as the new Ethiopian Prime Minister's gift sounds, there have hardly been reports of the Rwandan President's gift. Kagame, for his part, presented Abiy (Ph.D.) with a dance portrait and explained: "This is a dance picture - traditionally it is called a warrior dance; when you have a herd of cows or are a leader of a nation, you have a warrior and leadership spirit but you also need to enjoy the pleasure of dancing." The gift is fitting for a new PM in charge of a country that flirted with ethnic conflicts up until he came into power and bears the burden of unchecked expectations from the people. Kagame morale of the story seems to suggest that despite the daunting task that awaits the new Ethiopian PM, he still needs to enjoy the pleasures of life and avoid stress. That sounds like a wonderful advice.

However, there is a lot more Paul Kagame can offer to PM Abiy Ahmed (Ph.D.). Considering the Rwandan President commanded the forces that put a stop to the Genocide and then led the country into becoming one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, he should know a thing or two about uniting a divided society and rolling them on a track to development. Although there were mass displacements of people and tragic deaths as a result of the ethnic conflicts in Ethiopia, the impending danger seems to have been avoided. A lot of that positive change has to do with the rise of Abiy Ahmed (Ph.D.) to the helm of state power. His messages of unity and addition have won him the support of Ethiopians in all corners of the country and the world at large.

However, his task of uniting the country is not over by any means. He has enjoyed a tremendous start to the task of uniting the country but there is definitely a lot more to accomplish. Although the social cohesion and trust understandably descends to its lowest after genocide, Ethiopia's current social challenges bear some similarity to those of Rwanda after the genocide. Chronic suspicion, ethnic alignment on major national issues, rampant and organized corruption during chaos, national consensus and building an all inclusive country are all challenges Rwanda faced and Ethiopia is facing. As the man who oversaw the successful transition of Rwanda from its darkest days to one of the fastest growing African economies, Paul Kagame should have important insights into ways of tackling all these challenges.

Paul Kagame is the first head of state to visit Ethiopia since Abiy Ahmed (Ph.D.) came into office. The fact that he is the most relevant leader to consult on what might be the country's most crucial challenge, however, makes him the right head of state to visit Ethiopia first.

Another major lesson that can be taken from the Rwandan President is his focus on all-inclusive development. Reducing inequality is taken as one of the major success stories of Kagame's Rwanda. Fighting corruption is part of this all-inclusive growth and one Rwanda has excelled at. Corruption puts the already scarce resources of a poor country like Ethiopia and Rwanda into the hands of a few people, widening the gap in living standard between the poor and the rich. He wrapped up these issues when he stated last year: "We are working together to achieve what is required for our economies to keep growing in the interest of our people. When we put people first and at centre of what we are doing, it is the correct strategy and it will deliver."

Corruption has increasingly become a national problem in Ethiopia over the last decade. The visible changes in the lives of the corrupt have also contributed to raising the popular frustration in the country. With the presence of a government enjoying the support and trust of the people, it has become a common expectation that the government would make sure that they do not get away with their crimes. Therefore, the new PM has been presented with an opportunity to tap from the successful experience of the Rwandan President in fighting corruption and ensuring an all-inclusive development.

Rwanda has also become a country of numerous progressive policies in the African continent. Its ban on non-biodegradable bags has become popular across the globe; its city cleaning policies have paid off as Kigali was named the third greenest destination in the world and the most efficiently governed country in Africa in 2016. Its decision to allow entrance of all visitors into its borders has also been taken as a futuristic move. It is ranked first in ICT promotion globally. The success of its gender policy is corroborated by the fact that 64 percent of the parliamentarians are women, putting the small nation on top of the list of countries with high percentage of women in parliament.

Ethiopia has already set some legal procedures in motion to adopt some of the measures, including: the ban on non-biodegradable bags, city cleaning and opening its border for Africans. Although it is important to adapt and adopt sound policies from others, the main lesson to take here is that countries need to take calculated risks and introduce innovative policies to promote their national interests.

Paul Kagame is an experienced and successful leader in transforming the fate of his country; therefore, a positive minded progressive leader such as Abiy Ahmed (Ph.D.) could draw important lessons from the rightfully first foreign head of state's visit to Ethiopia since his tenure began.

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