It’s a hopeful time for Ethiopia. The country’s young new leader, Dr. Abiy Ahmed, is a peacemaker — and he seems to be moving this multiethnic land toward democracy. Two of his first actions as prime minister: releasing thousands of political prisoners and ending a 20-year war with Eritrea.
Under Dr. Ahmed’s leadership, the federal government seems to be striving for good, decentralized governance — by taking full advantage of the “kebele” system, a network of several thousand small administrative units with locally elected leadership, stretching across the whole country.
While there will always be poor people, overcoming extreme poverty in our lifetime is well within reach. Two big hurdles: climate change and conflict. Economists believe that by 2030, nearly half the remaining people living in extreme poverty will be citizens of war-torn countries. All too frequently, national borders — often drawn by colonial powers — ignore ethnic regions. That’s certainly a basis for the strife in Libya, Iraq, and Syria. And it’s been a challenge in Ethiopia, which has a proud ethnic group for each of its many languages.
In countries with multiple ethnic regions, good governance means decentralizing — with regional governments that are empowered, but still accountable to the national government. Development needs stability rather than conflict, and that requires respect for ethnic regions.