While Africa has been marked out by several ruthless dictators, there are a growing number of new leaders who have a vision not only for their countries but for the continent as a whole.
Ethiopia’s new reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has taken bold steps to reform the Horn of Africa country on a number of levels since coming to power in early April. But are his reforms genuine? All signs seem to point in that direction.
As of 9 November, all Africans will be able to obtain a visa upon arrival in Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous nation, as part of Ahmed’s vision of closer and full regional integration on the continent where minds are open to ideas and markets are open to trade. Earlier this year he disclosed that following Rwanda’s lead, Ethiopia was going to allow a visa-free regime for all Africans.
The new premier kicked off his term in office by strengthening political and civil liberties, including the release of dozens of political prisoners detained on terrorism charges.
Thousands more jailed protesters were released earlier in the year as Addis Ababa embarked on a programme of reform following months of mass protests that left hundreds dead and many more arrested.
The new premier also promised to address the political grievances of those involved in the protests, particularly in the Oromia region. Ahmed unbanned the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), allowing it to return home from exile.
He also took steps to end the cold war with neighboring Eritrea which began in 2000 with a UN-enforced ceasefire following two years of warfare that killed approximately 80,000 people and displaced more than half a million. In July the two countries signed a peace agreement in the wake of Ahmed’s initiative.
However, one of Ahmed’s most significant reforms is his work towards gender parity in the political arena.
On October 25, Ethiopia’s parliament unanimously elected Sahle-Work Zewde, a veteran diplomat and high-ranking UN official, as the country’s president and head of state. Zewde is the only sitting female head of state in Africa.
“Ethiopia has broken new ground on gender parity by appointing its first female head of state in the country’s modern history. This came a week after Ethiopia awarded 50 percent of its 20-seat cabinet slots to women,” senior researcher Tsion Tadesse Abebe and intern Selam Tadesse said on Monday in a report from the Institute of Security Studies in Addis Ababa.
Zewde served as the UN Secretary-General’s special representative to the African Union (AU) and as head of the UN Office to the AU. She has also worked for the UN and her country in various senior positions.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres congratulated her and Ethiopia, saying that the African continent was leading the way in showcasing that women’s engagement and leadership were crucial to lasting peace.
Although her position was largely ceremonial, it commanded deep respect and wielded much influence in promoting unity and peace, Abebe and Tadesse said.
The new president has also underlined the importance of women’s and young people’s participation in building a democratic culture.