Ethiopia’s long-beleaguered prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, says he will take his country back to the front lines. Mr. Ahmed, who was born and raised in southern Ethiopia, was only recently appointed to his post, and for the first few months he has been in charge has championed reforms that have taken an uncomfortable — and often courageous — turn towards the West. He had been appointed by his former boss, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, after he resigned in April. Mr. Ahmed is feted as a hero back home in Addis Ababa, the country’s capital, where he grew up, having left his family to pursue his studies in the U.S. His parents urged him to “go to the United States and maybe do something important with your life,” according to one of his former teachers. Mr. Ahmed appears on the cover of the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize laureate collection bearing the immortal words: “This emperor has no clothes.”
Mr. Ahmed has made the trip back to his old neighborhood on many occasions, calling on residents there to open their homes to those fleeing from Somalia. The former rebel leader started his talk there by promising that they would not be abused by the army. “Ethiopia is the winner,” he said, “not the loser.” “You are going back to your front line, and you are going back to protect your families and your homes,” he said to his audience, as they cheered in the small town of Lake Ine. He said one of his top priorities would be to dismantle the security apparatus put in place since the former leader, Meles Zenawi, died suddenly in 2012. The purpose of the old regime, according to Mr. Ahmed, was to block reform. If there was reform in his country, said Mr. Ahmed, then Ethiopia’s rivals in the region would lose interest in intimidating him with war. “Ethiopia is never going to go to war with Somaliland or Somalia,” he said.
Mr. Ahmed is also mounting a campaign to move away from dependence on aid for his country’s 1.3 million refugees from Somalia. In April, Ethiopia stopped sending its refugees back to Somalia, arguing that the border is there only for the convenience of the refugees, some of whom own property in Ethiopia and are now voting for its future. Mr. Ahmed said Ethiopia could no longer afford to support the refugees in an unsustainable and vulnerable way, and accused the U.S. of being “extremely indifferent” toward the refugee issue. He said that there was a clear connection between migration across the world and terrorism, and that the U.S. needed to step up efforts to fight both. He repeated the assurances he made last year that Ethiopia would not seek revenge against Somali refugees that supported the rebels who attacked Addis Ababa in July. “We will not fight against refugees who are innocent and are innocent of any conflict against us,” Mr. Ahmed said. The prime minister concluded his address by promising the audience that the promises would not be empty — that one day, the entire nation would look upon their homes as they do.
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