Edmonton, July 07, 2018 (GCDC) - Three months ago, Beneyam Zeleke, an Ethiopian who manages a store in Edmonton, was at home listening to the newly elected prime minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, promise to bring the country together through reform.
Zeleke remembers considering the new prime minister’s speech as just another gimmick of a politician who raises the people’s hopes only to crush them later.
Beneyam Zeleke adjusts the Ethiopian flag at the Alberta legislature steps on Monday. (Kashmala Fida / StarMetro)
But Ahmed, who was elected in April, has been working on his promises, including the release of tens of thousands of prisoners, the opening of state-owned companies to private investment, and the unconditional embrace of a peace deal with rival Eritrea. Websites were unblocked and opposition figures were invited to dinner.
Ethiopians said they could hardly keep up with the pace of change. “To be honest, I thought this is too good to be true,” Zeleke said.
“We called (home) two, three times to find out what’s going on in Ethiopia. Even still in Ethiopia, in different cities, towns they are celebrating. The country is still in celebrating mode.”
Zeleke was one of approximately 100 people of Ethiopian descent who gathered at the Alberta legislature building on Monday to celebrate the sweeping changes in Africa’s second most populous country.
Following the red and white colours of Canada Day, the legislature steps saw the bright yellow, red and green of the Ethiopian flag, with many donning T-shirts featuring Ahmed’s face.
The celebration was organized by the Ethiopian Canadian Community Association of Edmonton. Meheret Worku, president of the association, called the celebration the first of its kind.
“At least in Edmonton, we have never done this, where we say we are out to support the leader. In my experience we never say let’s go out to support the prime minister,” said Worku.
She says the new prime minister’s message of unity is resonating with Ethiopians in Edmonton as they are all making an effort to come together.
“There are many ethnic groups in Ethiopia and, based on that, the community here got divided, as well,” she said.
“We all want to do what he (Ahmed) is proposing. We as a community here, also today, are coming together. We said let’s get together, the division is not going to work for us.”
Abiy is the first prime minister from the Oromo ethnic group, the largest in the country since the ruling party came to power in 1991.
Ethiopia’s sometimes deadly protests demanding more freedoms began in the Oromia and Amhara regions in late 2015 and spread elsewhere, finally leading to the resignation of former prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn early this year.
Before Ahmed got elected, many Ethiopians feared the protests and demonstrations might result in war.
Zeleke says he is thrilled to see his country transition from a “dictatorial government” to a very inclusive and democratic government.
“Regardless of whether there is a dictator or not, Ethiopia is always special because it is an ancient nation. Just now, we are prouder than ever,” he said.