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Nolawi Melakedingel Engdayehu, Alumni Stories: Where are they now?

GCSP Alumni are driven leaders, prompting a worldwide change in global peace and security. In this section, our Alumni share their projects, experiences and thematic insights with the GCSP community.

The Geneva Centre for Security Policy has recently hosted a public discussion on the topic “Political Transition and State Building in Ethiopia - Addressing peaceful political transition towards democracy in Ethiopia to avoid a regional human and security crisis in the region”. Building on the success of this event, Mr Nolawi Melakedingel Engdayehu, Senior Policy Advisor at the Australian Embassy to Ethiopia and Alumnus of the 2016 Skills Enhancement for Political Advisors (POLADS) Course shares his insights on the Ethiopian current political situation, as well as on his life after the GCSP. Nolawi is currently also in the lead of the GCSP Alumni Community Hub in Addis Ababa.

With over 102 million inhabitants, Ethiopia is the most populous landlocked country in the world, as well as the oldest independent country in Africa. As the biggest and most flourishing nation in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia is currently in the middle of a political transition; its end result is far from being defined. Should this process succeed, it would be the first time that a political transition has successfully and peacefully taken place in the country since the creation of the Empire in 1270.

Mr Melakedingel, how do you explain the public discontent and massive protests that have been affecting the country since 2014? 

Nolawi Melakedingel Engdayehu: The Ethiopian economic growth has created a huge surge in demand in both urban and rural areas; a demand that could unfortunately not be met by limited financial and employment prospects. Much of the growth in the country is a result of government spending on infrastructure, yet maintaining a continued dependence on agriculture. The results have meant little job opportunities, in a country where youth now accounts for 70% of the fast growing population. Moreover, the ever increasing economic and political inequality has pushed young men and women to protest in the largest regions of Ethiopia. The government moved on to provide military solutions to questions surrounding political and economic reform, the protests turned into clashes and led to a collapse of local government structures in those regions. Much of Ethiopia’s wealth has been generated through importing goods and services into the capital. This has led to stymied private investment in the region as money is put into properties, land purchases, black market forex and illicit financial outflow. In terms of living wages, a lot of people in rural areas have not seen the payout from the infrastructural spending. This is due to inflation and state backed monopolies disrupting markets for basic products.

Alumni Affairs: After the unexpected resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in February 2018, Ethiopia has a new Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, and the protests have turned into rallies. Can you tell us more about the recent events in the country? 

Nolawi Melakedingel Engdayehu: Prime Minister Ahmed’s diverse ethnic and religious background has helped him relate to a wider segment of society at a time when strong and acknowledged political figures are desperately needed. More critically, his preferred narrative of combining respect for the politics of identity and embracing unity and reconciliation, turned critics into supporters of his reform. Abiy’s charisma and decision to reform key institutions of the state has convinced communities in all corners of the country that a meaningful reform is in sight, as Ethiopia approaches a general election in 2020.

Alumni Affairs: Since coming to power as Prime Minister in April, Abiy Ahmed has accelerated a radical reform programme that is overturning Ethiopian politics. The 42-year-old PM has so far reshuffled his cabinet reached out to hostile neighbors, lifted bans on websites and loosened restrictions on other media, ordered the release of thousands of political prisoners, opened state-owned companies to a partial privatisation and ended the state of emergency imposed on the country. Do you foresee free and democratic elections taking place in Ethiopia in the near future?

Nolawi Melakedingel Engdayehu: These changes are encouraging first steps, but remain insufficient to lead the transformation of state institutions necessary to hold credible elections and establish public trust. The national election board, law enforcement and courts are awaiting a reform process to ensure a fairer playground and a mean of legal recourse. While there are political leaders in the opposition who would like to see an election take place per the original schedule of 2020, there might be less of an appetite among government officials to hold an election before boosting its reform credentials. 

Alumni Affairs: More recently, Prime Minister Ahmed met with Eritrean President Isaiah Afwerki, in the attempt to put the word “end” to one of Africa’s longest running conflicts affirming his will to implement the 18-year-old peace deal with Eritrea. How significant would a peace deal with Eritrea be for Ethiopia and the whole region?

Nolawi Melakedingel Engdayehu: A peace deal with Eritrea would be significant for Ethiopia, not least in meaningfully reducing its expensive military footprint along the northern border. As the government intends to reduce its debt and redirect its focus on comprehensively restructuring its economic policy, cheaper, safer and reliable choices of ports could serve as engines for growth and efficiency. On the political side, the normalization of the social and political relations between the two countries could serve as an important reminder that long running conflicts can be peacefully settled. It could also show medium and long term financial benefits of reconciliation in the region. A resumption of commercial ties would first serve the border communities but, at a larger scale, bring northern Ethiopia closer to international sea-borne trade through the ports of Eritrea, giving a win-win situation for both countries.        

Alumni Affairs: You are an Alumnus of the 2016 Skills Enhancement for Political Advisors (POLADS) Course. What has marked you the most during the POLADS and how has your experience at the GCSP influenced your professional career and contributed to prepare you for your current assignment?  

Nolawi Melakedingel: The course was especially outstanding for me with regards to the political reporting and analysis lectures. The syllabus was based on key areas of my engagement – and was not academic in its character, which was superbly useful for me. I was fortunate enough to learn both from the lectures and the incredibly diverse and experienced participants around me. I would say the ‘analysis’ focused parts of the course were more interesting and valuable in terms of their advice to look at the ‘bigger picture,’  rather than to the situational descriptions in the line of my work. How information is synthesized, made precise and actionable, was a key learning for me during the course. Since then, it has helped me better understand what is requested in my assignments and how I can contribute to the input. In other words, I put myself in the shoes of the people who read my reports, and that clarifies what needs to be done and how.     

GCSP Alumni, where are you now?

Share your projects with us at alumni@gcsp.ch