Abiy Ahmed Ali (Born as Abyot Ahmed) is the current Prime Minister of Ethiopia and the Chairman of the leading party, Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Party (EPRDF). He came to power after the resignation of former Prime Minister Haile Mariam Desalgn in February 2018. His premiership came at a critical time where the country was in a state of emergency as a result of growing political unrest and ethnic conflict. Abiy is considered as a balancing force, and a peacemaker between the old guards of EPRDF and the resistance movement, as well as extreme nationalists and ethno federalists in the country.
Abiy was born on August 15, 1976, in Oromia, Jimma, in a small village called Beshsha, near Agaro town. His mother Tezate Wolde was one of the four wives of his father, Ahmed Ali. Abiy is the 13th child for his father and the sixth and the youngest for his mother. He was mainly raised by his mother, who was an Orthodox Christian. Abiy acknowledges that he is greatly influenced by his mother’s values at a very early age. His mother also had great hopes for her youngest son, telling him and everyone, only at the age of seven, that he will one day become the king of Ethiopia, and someone who will do great things in life. Abiy grew in a diverse environment, with a Christian and Amhara mother, a Muslim, and an Oromo father.
Abiy went to an elementary school in his village, Beshasha. Later, he continued his secondary education in the nearby town, Agaro. His records show that Abiy was focused on school and enthusiastic about learning and improving oneself. It was while he was still in school, at a very young age of 14 that he became a member of the Oromo People Party (OPD). The party later became one of the four main coalition parties of the leading party, EPRDF. After high school, and the fall of the Derg regime, Abiy joined the Ethiopian National Defense, and it was in the military that he earned his first degree in computer engineering, in 2001, from Micro Link Information College in Addis Ababa. He later received a Masters of Art in Transformational Leadership from the University of Greenwich, in London England. In 2017, Abiy completed his Ph.D. at Addis Ababa University, Institute of Peace and Security Studies. His thesis focused on intrareligious conflict resolution near his home town Jimma, titled ‘social capital and its role in traditional conflict resolution in Ethiopia; the case of intrareligious conflict in Jimma Zone.
Abiy joined the resistance against the military regime, Derg in 1991. He was just a teenager and was inspired to join the resistance after the death of his older brother. He became a member of OPD, which at the time was a very small organization with only a couple of hundred fighters. OPD was a member of the larger coalition that later became the ruling party, EPRDF. The coalition had more than 100,000 fighters, who defeated the Derg regime. After EPRDF formed a government in 1993, Abiy, still a teenager, received formal training and joined the military in the intelligence and communications department. In the 1995 Rwandan Genocide, he was deployed as a member of the UN Peace Keeping Force in Rwanda. He also led an intelligence team during the Ethio-Eritrean war, from May 1998-June 2000. He rose to Lieutenant Colonel in the military.
Abiy became one of the co-founders of the Ethiopian Information Network Security Agency (INSA). INSA was founded in 2008, and Abiy worked in different high-level positions including acting director of the agency for two years. In the meantime, he served as a board member of several government institutions, including Ethio Telecom and Ethiopian Television.
Abiy left the military in 2010, to pursue a political career. His rise in politics was rather quick, elected as a member of the central committee of OPD and a member of the Executive Committee of EPRDF in the same year. In the 2010 national elections, he runs representing his hometown Agaro and won a seat in the House of people’s Representative (the parliament). He was reelected in the 2015 national election.
In 2015, he became a Minister of Science and Technology. After serving only a year as a minister, he moved on to become a deputy for the Oromia Region president, Lemma Megersa. He became a central figure in the OPD, during the unrest in the region that follows the master plan that proposed an expansion of the capital Addis Ababa to Oromia. He was also significantly involved in the Oromia and Somali conflict in 2017. He played a role in resettling the displaced Oromo people from the Somali regional state.
On 15 February 2018, the Ethiopian Prime Minister Haile Mariam Desalgn, unable to stop the unrest and resistance movements in the country, resigned from his post as a chairman of EPRDF and the leader of the country. The resignation triggered a first-ever highly contested and widely talked about leadership race among the four major coalition parties of EPRDF. Lemma Megersa and Abiy Ahmed were front runners. However, in a swift strategic move, OPD not only excluded Lemma Megersa from the leadership race but also made Abiy the chairman of OPD. That’s because, it’s an unwritten but strictly followed rule that, the chairman of EPRDF automatically becomes the Prime Minister of the country. To be a Prime Minister, another constitutional precondition is that, one has to be an elected member of the parliament. Among the two, Abiy was a member of the parliament, and as a result, qualified to become the Prime Minister.
On March 1, 2018, the 180 executive members of EPRDF (Each coalition party with 45 representatives) had their shortlisted contestants to become the next leader of the party. The nominees were Abiy Ahmed from OPD, Demeke Mekonen from APD, and Shiferaw Shigute from SEPDM, and Debretsion Gebermichaeal from TPLF. However, just a few hours before the election, Demeke Mekonen, who was a strong contender in the race, dropped out of the race. Observant concluded that it’s yet another strategic move by OPD and APD, to make sure Abiy gets elected, which in effect will be the end of TPLF supremacy and control in the party and the country. By midnight on the same day, Abiy was announced as the new Prime Minister of the nation. He was sworn in the next day, in front of the House of People’s Representatives (the parliament).
As a Prime Minister of a nation on the verge of deep social, economic, and political crises, Abiy had to make many decisions to stabilize the nation. He dropped all the charges against opposition leaders in the country, invited exiled journalists, politicians, and religious leaders. In an intense and rapid foreign policy, he made peace with Eritrea and worked to create harmony among leaders of the Horn of Africa. He also proposed several economic reforms, including privatizing large government-owned institutions including Ethiopian Airlines and Ethio Telecom. Though conflict from every direction continued to arise and his leadership is criticized for lack of transparency, decision making, and firm control over security agencies, Abiy continues to be an optimist to save the nation.
Abiy Ahmed is married to Zinash Tayachew. The two met while they are both serving in the military. They have four children, three daughters, and a son.