2. What are Populism and Populist?

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, populism is a “political program or movement that champions the common person, usually by favorable contrast with an elite. Populism usually combines elements of the left and the right...”.  Populism usually characterized by emotionally-charged political appeals to address crises.  For example one of the known populist leaders President Trump said “For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost”.  Jean-Paul Gagnon defines populism as follows: “As the name suggests … it may be the invocation of ‘the people’ who are betrayed, wronged, or otherwise left vulnerable to forces outside their control. In fact, we find in the corpus that populism is typically a reaction to a deep crisis, real or perceived in diverse and large democracies”  (Jean-Paul Gagnon, December 2018). Populism does not neatly match the left-right divide and ideologically ambiguous or “thin-centered,” that is, it attaches itself to diverse (and sometimes even contradictory) ideological projects depending on the political moment (Jean-Paul Gagnon, December 2018). The right, the left, and, even the center, could adopt the style of populism to reap electoral rewards by appealing to common persons’ emotion.  Populism is animated based on crises and perceived victims. According to Benjamin Arditi, “ Populism resembles a drunken guest at a dinner party: he’s not respecting table manners, he is rude, he might even start flirting with the wives of other guests”(quoted in Müller, June 04, 2017:8). Jean-Paul Gagnon and his colleagues disaggregated populism into the six cleavages: (1) authoritarian and democratic, (2) market fundamentalist (libertarian) and redistributive, (3) exclusionary and inclusionary (anti-pluralist and pluralist), (4) xenophobic and cosmopolitan, (5) electoral and participatory (thick) (6) nostalgic and aspirational.  In my opinion, the populism we are observing in Ethiopia is the last cleavage (nostalgic and aspirational) because it talks a lot how great Ethiopia was in the past even though that talk is questioned by some, how great her kings were and considering oneself as a new king, concerned about legacy and ambition to change the lives of ordinary people through voluntarism, pressurizing public officials to work beyond their regular work hours and on the weekends. An individual, a political party, or a social movement who promotes populism is called populist.  At the face value, if populism is considered working for the people, then the populists is someone who works for the people. Populist is usually seen as a synonym for “antiestablishment” and also primarily associated with particular moods and emotions: populists are “angry”; their voters are “frustrated” or suffer from “resentment” (Müller, June 04, 2017:1). Populists are critical of elites and the status quo, claim that they, and only they, represent the people, hijack the state apparatus and sometimes emasculate the constitution.

3. Prime Minister Dr. Abiy’s Antiestablishment Position

Antiestablishment means an action or idea which is against something that already exists and commonly accepted. Not only when Dr. Abiy and his colleagues broke EPRDF from inside out, but also when he said EPRDF didn’t win Derg, EPRDF was a terrorist ( ), and took other actions against established EPRDF principles and values, he proved that he is antiestablishment. Step by step and in a smart way, he undermined EPRDF policies, the federal system, and the constitution. Even though Article 48 of the constitution says State members of FDRE have borders, he said they do not have borders but administrative boundaries which can be changed any time and established Administrative Boundaries and Identity Issues Commission that can undercut the authority given by the constitution to the House of the Federation. In his inaugural speech of April 2, 2018, he said “In past years, because of lack of democratic culture, damages have been done to the lives and properties of our citizens. I request heart-felt forgiveness for the sacrifices paid by the advocates of human rights, politicians, youth who were killed for demanding change, individuals and families who are affected psychological and physically. At the same time, I would like to express my appreciation to the members of the security forces who lost their lives while discharging their peace and security maintaining responsibilities vested on them by the constitution and laws. I promise that we will compensate our people by giving solutions to the problems that lead to these damages ( ). Even though showing sympathy to those who were killed and suffered from the brutality of security forces of the government and expressing appreciation who perpetrated the killing and the suffering are contradictory, his objective was to denounce what were done under EPRDF- led Ethiopian government before him and to announce a fresh start.  He told us the dark years were over, but the problems which led to the protests against EPRDF- led Government of Ethiopia including the Special interest of Oromia on Addis Ababa per Article 49 (5) of the constitution, lack of good governance, corruption and unemployment are not yet solved and another wave of protest might be seen. Let’s examine Prime Minister Dr. Abiy’s antiestablishment position further by taking additional examples.

3.1 He has an Intention to Change the Current Regionalization of Ethiopia

In his speech made at the Commerzbank-Arena stadium in Frankfurt, Germany, on October 31, 2018 he said “One thing that you must be assured is that Ethiopia is not a private land that anyone rise up and bake her like a bread in a size and shape he/she wants….As a saying goes when fire falls asleep the hay visited it”( ). We know no foreign power came to occupy Ethiopia and tried to change its shape and size and he didn’t liberate Ethiopia from any foreign force and he didn’t avert any foreign danger. Thus, the possible inference from that speech is that he is referring to the current regionalization of Ethiopia and it seems that he has an intention to change the current regionalization. His speech implies that the hay that visited the fire is EPRDF which brought the current regionalization. Four months earlier, in a discussion held with the residents of Guragie Zone in Welkite town in June 2018, Prime Minister Abiy said “a leader who doesn’t know the culture and religion of the people he is leading is not leading. It can’t work like that; he will float. Without knowing the people and their ways of life there is no leading, but driving ( ). If we assume this proposition is true, what is the reason to change the current regionalization which upholds the principle of self-administration and encourages the idea of the administration of the people by someone who is close to them, who knows their culture, religion, and ways of life? Wish to Change the form of Ethiopian Government from Parliamentary System to Presidential

In the discussion made with the representatives of Sidama in Hawassa in June 2018, Prime Minister Dr. Abiy disclosed that he wants the system of government of Ethiopia to be changed from parliamentary to presidential and the term of office to be limited to two terms only ( ). David Pilling and Lionel Barber from the Financial Times who interviewed Prime Minister Dr. Abiy also reported that “He would also like to move to a presidential system in which leaders are directly elected, he says, rather than the current indirect process conducted through an EPRDF-dominated parliament”. Ethiopia is not the only country whose leader is elected through representative democratic procedures and there is no political theory which says the leader must be elected only through direct democracy or pure democracy. Please see the comparison of presidential and parliamentary systems in Ethiopian context here: .

3.3. Encouraging the Idea of Amending the Constitution

On different occasions, Prime Minister Abiy mentioned the possibility of amending the constitution and encouraged individuals and parties to generate the idea for the amendment. For example, in his July 1, 2019 address to Ethiopian Peoples’ Representatives, he stressed that the current constitution has an article on procedures for amendment of the constitution and he said he cannot be a defender of the constitution more than the constitution itself and showed his openness to the amendment of the constitution ( ). To support his argument, he mentioned the experiences of the United States, India, and South Korea in amending their respective constitutions. It should be recalled that in April 2019 statement, Prime Minister’s National Security Advisor in the rank of Minister Mr. Temesgen Tiruneh said “the threat to Ethiopian security is ethnic politics” ( ). Therefore, it seems that Dr. Abiy and his advisors reached at the conclusion that the cause of conflicts in Ethiopia is the constitution and it must be changed or amended to ban ethnic based politics. The conclusion of the Prime Minister’s Office is similar with the conclusion of Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice Party (ECSJP) ( ) . This confirms Andargachew Tsigie’s statement which says Prime Minister Dr. Abiy’s government is implementing the roadmap given to it by Ginbot 7 ( ). However, some opposition political party leaders such as Mr. Bekele Gerba don’t agree with the idea which says the constitution and the current federal system are the source of conflict ( ).  It is interesting that the chairman of EPRDF wants to undo what EPRDF did in the past and some of the leaders of opposition parties defend what EPRDF did. The position of Dr. Abiy emboldened some individuals to blame the current federal system for being loose like a confederation and call for the tighter federalism that can slash some of the rights of the federal member States ( and ).

4. The Development Priorities of Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed

Ethiopia has a five year development plan called the Second Growth and Transformation Plan (GTPII). As stated in preface of GTP II document “ The major objective of GTP II is to serve as a spring board towards realizing the national vision of becoming a low middle-income country by 2025, through sustaining the rapid, broad based and inclusive economic growth, which accelerates economic transformation and the journey towards the country’s Renascence”. It is not clear if the vision, priorities, resource mobilization and utilization of Prime Minister Abiy is aligning with the GTP II or not, but what is clear is  that he is coming up with new visions and new priorities and mobilizing and allocating resources to his priorities. Below, we will briefly discuss some of his development priorities.

4.1 The Addis Ababa Riverside Project

The Addis Ababa Riverside Project is a 29 billion birr (about $1.03 billion) and three-year (2019-2022) project initiated by Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed and launched on February 21, 2019. The main purpose of the project is to lift the image and investment potential of Addis Ababa (Shaban, Feb. 22, 2019).  It is hoped that the project will create jobs, increase urban tourism, and create recreational parks and green areas for the residents of the city.  The project is said will run along the two biggest rivers  in Addis Ababa – stretching all the way from Entoto Mountain to Akaki and covering a total of 51 kilometers (27.5 kms on one river and 23.8 kms on the other). The project will be implemented by Varnero PLC.
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