PM Abiy Ahmed: The Wise Man and the Patriot

by Maimire Mennasemay, Ph.D.

PM Abiy Ahmed, the first principled Ethiopian political leader since 1974, has initiated an important process of democratization. By all accounts, he has the support of the majority of Ethiopians. This does not mean, however, that he has the support of those who for the last 27 years resorted to the weaponization of ethnicity to fragment Ethiopians and reduce democracy to an electoral ethnic cronyism.

The regime that came to power in 1991 deliberately weaponized ethnicity and used it to divide and pit Ethiopians against each other. In the meantime, the leaders and supporters of the regime amassed wealth and power, leaving Ethiopians with nothing but the crumbs of whatever economic development has taken place. For more than two decades, they used weaponized ethnicity to demonize and crush those who proposed democratic alternatives and demanded an end to the looting of Ethiopia’s wealth.

It is therefore foolhardy to believe that those who have been enjoying their ill-earned power and wealth for so long will relinquish them and accept democracy without putting up a fight. And since the only weapon at their disposal is weaponized ethnicity, which they have honed for the last 27 years, it is more than probable that they will resort to it again and again.

In this hazardous context, how to respond to the weaponization of ethnicity by anti-democratic groups should be the concern of all Ethiopians. To ensure the successful completion of the present democratization process, it is imperative that we Ethiopians should not act in ways that even remotely suggest that we also engage in the TPLF practice of weaponizing ethnicity in our efforts to vanquish those who resort to their engrained habit of ethnic divide and rule and violence to sabotage the democratic reform.

To overcome those who wield weaponized ethnicity and violence to disrupt the democratic process, PM Abiy proposes a principled approach, that of “love, forgiveness, cooperation, and unity”. Through his voice speaks the age-old Ethiopian wisdom, articulated in the Oromo aphorism, “Waraana jannatti dheessanii dubbii qarootti dheesssanii”: “As war is prevented by a patriot; a problem is solved by a wise man.” The aphorism tells us that the patriot is a wise man, and the wise man is a patriot.

The wise man solves problems; he does not make them occasions to quarrel; the patriot does not transform differences into schisms, disagreements into conflicts, opponents into enemies, and ethnicity into a weapon of divide and oppress. The mantra of the weaponizers of ethnicity is “unity in diversity”, making diversity the goal of unity and thus leading to “disunity in diversity”, hence art 39 # 1 of the Constitution. The patriot is committed to “diversity in unity”, affirming unity as the goal of diversity, and thus making Ethiopian citizenship a shared identity and a joint destiny. The patriot recognizes the heterogeneity of the Ethiopian people and strives to make this heterogeneity a source of creativity, cooperation, prosperity, peace and unity.

When PM Abiy Ahmed said after the ignominious attempt on his life that we “Ethiopians are a great people”, he is reminding us that we have the capacity to be wise and patriots, and to rise above the barbarisms of recent Ethiopian history. The wise man and the patriot live by the “moggaasa ethics”—the Oromo ethics based on the “oath of mutual responsibility and obligation” whose goal is to ensure that all members of society enjoy “protection and material benefit”.

At this decisive moment of our history things could turn ugly if we do not act wisely and patriotically. We need to heed the wisdom of the Oromo aphorism: Waraana jannatti dheessanii dubbii qarootti dheesssanii. We have in PM Abiy the embodiment of this Ethiopian wisdom. He is both a wise man and a patriot: a man of the moment who incarnates the democratic aspirations of Ethiopians. To concretize these aspirations, we need to join and travel with PM Abiy Ahmed as patriots and wise women and men.