Anyone fishing for a good news story out of Africa recently, and rightly, has celebrated Ethiopia, where dynamic young Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has dramatically opened political space, departing from decades of repressive, tightly controlled government. Abiy is a charismatic whirlwind of activity—making peace with neighboring Eritrea, working to open the Ethiopian economy to new opportunities for growth, and even mediating between protestors and securocrats in Sudan. Anyone who cares about stability and prosperity in Africa, and anyone who understands how important African partnership will be to tackle the foreign policy challenges of the future, is pulling for him to succeed. Just days ago, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg wove Ethiopia into a major foreign policy address, citing the country as an example of “what it looks like when hope triumphs over hostility.”
But Ethiopia faces real and urgent challenges, and it is critical that well-wishers not ignore them. Abiy has lifted the lid off of a pressure cooker—one his predecessors held in place with sometimes brutal force—and in some cases the result has not been euphoria, but rather messy, complex eruptions of communal violence. Ethiopia’s story is not a simple one, and the millions internally displaced over the past year, the worrying reports of forced returns, and the potential for 2020 elections to be a flashpoint should focus the minds of policy-makers around concrete ways to provide support to what is sure to be a long and complex transition...
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Ambassador Michelle Gavin served as U.S. Ambassador to Botswana from 2011 to 2014. Ambassador Gavin is a senior fellow for Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. She has over twenty years of experience in international affairs in government and non-profit roles.