Why Ethiopians believe their new prime minister is a prophet

Young, democratic and preaching peace, he's the leader the country has been waiting for. But can Abiy Ahmed live up to the hype?

(CNN) At 6 am when Gutama Habro arrived at the Target Arena in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the line for tickets already snaked around the block. Within hours, 20,000 fans had packed the venue. “People around me were crying,” says Gutama, a 28-year-old medical laboratory scientist. “Seeing this was a dream come true.”

Gutama wasn’t at a pop concert. This was the final leg of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s three-city American tour. Held in July, it was the first time the 42-year-old had visited the more than 251,000 Ethiopians living in the United States, many in self-imposed exile — fleeing ethnic clashes, violence, and political instability in their homeland. “The level of hope was something we had not seen since the election of Barack Obama,” says Mohammed Ademo, an activist who fled to the US in 2002 and founded OPride.com, a news outlet that was blocked for years at home.

Since taking office on April 2, Africa’s youngest head of government has electrified Ethiopia with a dizzying array of liberal reforms credited by many with saving the country from civil war. Abiy has freed thousands of political prisoners, unblocked hundreds of censored websites, ended the 20-year state of war with Eritrea, lifted a state of emergency, and planned to open key economic sectors to private investors, including the state-owned Ethiopian Airlines.


In the capital city of Addis Ababa, taxi windscreens are plastered with Abiy stickers, while citizens are changing their Whatsapp and Facebook profile pictures to pro-Abiy slogans and spending their money on Abiy T-shirts. Elias Tesfaye, a garment factory owner, says that in the past six weeks he has sold 20,000 T-shirts bearing Abiy’s face, which cost about 300 birr ($10) each. In June, an estimated four million people attended a rally Abiy gave in the capital’s Meskel Square.

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  1. Prophet? Don’t push it now!!! It is a different time where the people skill to look through what is in front of them has marched along the technological explosion all around them. Telephones were confined only in selected major towns and those were even confined in the homes of the privilege few. Now cell phones are everywhere with smart phones loaded with the loaded knowledge at the tip of their inquisitive fingers. And you know as well as I do how our people are inquisitive, nosy so to say in wanting to know more. We have insatiable appetite for fresh development. So I don’t think this well read and visionary young PM will savor the moment for being seen as a prophet. From what I heard so far from him, I am led to wage my bet in him that he will not be another David Koresh or Jim Jones. But my eyes are keeping a wary watch on someone else. Let me give you an example from my own childhood memory. There was a cult movement raging throughout the region where the majority population were my own Oromos particularly followers of tenets of Islam and traditional Waaqaa. The central figure of the cult that gripped the entire Hararghe, Bale and Arsi regions was none other than Sheik Sayeed Abiyo. He was a prophet who could make it rain in the middle of the dry spell, who could read your mind three days before you arrive, he could fill your house with gold, milk and honey if you ask him with pure heart, give up everything and follow him where ever he went. Suddenly news were spreading how he made the blind see, the deaf hear, the sick instantly healed, raised the dead, change water into milk or honey(depending on your order(preference)….. You name any malady; he could cure it in a heartbeat. So everyone was waiting for him to show up at his/her village or town. When he showed up everyone dropped what he/she was doing and flocked to him. Peasant women who were at the markets to sell their produce left everything at the market and went with him. Their children and husbands who were waiting for the matriarch of the house to return with her gain from the market came to realize that she is not in sight. Now that created family crisis. On top of that some of those somehow came back conceiving someone else’s child. So now those fathers began lodging complaints with their clan elders(leaders). One of those elders was my own father and the other one was my uncle on my mother’s side. That cult figure was very savvy and cunning. He was not even an Oromo. He was rumored to be a member of a Hawiye Somali clan from proper Somalia. It was revealed later on by one member of his own entourage how he made gullible followers believe he could tell them who they are and every important personal background. She/he will skillfully be approached by one of his entourage to ask her all personal information. And that was given to him in advance and well rehearsed/memorized by the cult figure; Sayeed Abiyo. Then she will be picked up at random during the height of singing and screaming by the possessed and thrown in front of him. He calls her name and tells everything he knows about her. Many of those used to go into numbing trance. He and his entourage sired many of those naive women this way. Now the husbands were so furious that they were ready to conduct a raid on him and chop him up to pieces. To avoid bloodshed my father and my uncle sent a delegation warning him not to ever show again in our region. And he never did. Now the late Emperor’s intelligence was at his heels following and keeping a close eye on him. He stayed in Arsi and Bale areas selling his snake oil. We heard later on that he was caught moments before crossing over the border into the newly declared Republic of Somalia. I see someone else now in this age of 2018 in parallel with that 1950’s cult figure. I see similarities in the braggadocio, ‘mind reading ability’ claims and fever-pitch cult following. But this is a different time where there are also others who are equally cult seeking and mean spirited rivals. That worries me. Both are capable starting modern day multiple Shays’ Rebellions. That worries me a lot lately. Even then, I am not worried about this Good Lord’s gift to that glorious country; PM Abiy Ahmed. He is too smart to enjoy any cult following and he doesn’t need it. I believe that he has the qualifications to sell his intellectual horsepower to any global conglomerate and make a comfortable living in or outside the country. Nuff said now!!!!

  2. ITEGE TAITU Statue
    Alem Tsehay wodajo has been a TAITU activist for a life time. When she moved to Ethiopia recently she has taken it as her duty to get ITEGE TAITU recognised for her role in the battle of Adwa, for her political leadership and for laying the foundations for our state and Africa’s capital Addis Abeba.
    Her role is a great testament for women in Ethiopian history.
    Following the relative freedom that we enjoy recently the case was presented to the current Addis Abeba mayor for a statue for ITEGE TAITU. The mayor agreed and a letter was written to prove it.
    Immediately after this the mayor denied there was such agreement and that the letter was written by mistake or something like that. The officer who was ordered to write the letter was fired from his job.
    Why all this shambles? What is going on in Addis Abeba municipality?
    It transpired that the ‘oromo activist’ Jawar Mohammad is pressing the buttons on and off at the municipality. TAITU, being the wife of Emperor Menelik Jawar does not like her statue in Addis Abeba, a city which TAITU herself established.
    The issue is not whether or not a statue should be erected. The issue is who is running the Addis Abeba municipality? Clearly, there is a big question mark.
    A municipality turned on and off by some interest groups does not represent the people of Addis.
    It slso shows we have not moved forward, the corrupt system that has been eating away our society for decades is still in place. Those who are creating the mess are hiding behind and sacrifice some office worker for their own corruption by firing individuals and blaming someone else.
    This is a wakeup call to reality. Despite all the praises about the new found freedom we have a long way to go.
    If these corrupt individuals within the municipality are not nipped in the bud they will definitely cause very serious damage in the city of Addis Abeba. Immediate action is needed to sort out the mess and a new mayor should be elected by the PEOPLE of the city.
    The issue of statues is not a pressing issue at the moment in our country and it should have waited until later, but it has also highlighted a serious weakness in Addis Abeba municipality.
    Why is Jawaar mohammad against ITEGE TAITU when she has Amhara and Oromo heritage. It is simply because she stood for Ethiopia. Jawaar mohammad is excluding people who are Ethiopian from his’ like’ list. To people like jawaar mohammad, having oromo blood is not just enough to be classed as oromo. You also have to hate to hate to see yourself as Ethiopian. It is ok for Jawaar mohammad to lay a stone for map of oromoia. But when it comes to commemorating ITEGE TAITU it is all wrong.
    I leave it to the folks reading these comments to judge.
    If a debate is needed on the statue for ITEGE TAITU, then a debate should be opened for the public to decide. Let jawaar mohammad come forward anf debate the issue with us instead of trying to control events using his remote control.

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