The Possible ‘Election’ of Senator Barack Obama as President:Lessons and potential impact on Ethiopia

A commentary from Kassa Gebeyehu

October 30, 2008


“I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.



In this article, we would like to draw the attention of Ethiopians in the Diaspora to the ‘sweeping political and social changes’ that are shaping up in the United States in conjunction with the Presidential election process. If and when implemented, these changes will have profound impact not only on Americans, but also on people around the globe. The United States to which legions of Ethiopians are drawn as a primary place of choice— home away from home– remains to be the ‘beacon’ of democracy, liberty, freedom and, the ‘free market’ system. If we open our minds and hearts, we can learn a great deal from the current political process in the US because the fundamental messages are relevant to the Ethiopian people.

The lessons of experience from the democratic process can and should be useful guides to our collective endeavors for the formation of political pluralism based on peaceful and open political competition and the unencumbered participation of Ethiopia’s mosaic (diversity). The fact that this election has generated passion and keen interest among Ethiopians and Ethiopian-Americans, especially youth, tells us that we connect and identify with the key messages and with the key messenger, Senator Barack Obama. Most Ethiopians and Ethiopian-Americans support him.

The majority of Ethiopians choose the US as a country of destination for education, work & political asylum, a phenomenon that has persisted for decades. Even during the days when leftist politics was in vogue, the US was a magnet for Ethiopians. This attraction reflects the uniqueness of the country in multiple ways: science and technology, finance, economic power, education, vibrant civic culture, civic participation, legions of civic organizations, peaceful political competition and strong political institutions, history, geographical size, opportunities for gainful employment, global diplomatic outreach and, the composition of its population. The US is without a doubt a country with the largest concentration of diverse people in the world. It is a country of immigrants in the true sense of the word. Ethiopians have benefited from this diversity. In part, they owe these benefits to African Americans. African-Americans and their leaders sacrificed a great deal in order to create a level playing field and, a more inclusive society. Inclusion and social justice for all and, especially for people of Sub-Saharan African origin would have been impossible without civil rights leaders, most notably Dr. Martin Luther King.

If he succeeds in his bid for the Presidency of the United States, Senator Obama would have achieved a monumental victory that will resonate around the globe and restore America’s credibility, image and reputation as a global leader. He would validate Dr. King’s wish “—of a day when a person will be judged by the content of his character.” Millions of Americans and people around the globe support him because the Senator epitomizes unique political, social, and personal leadership qualities that are essential for the 21st century. He represents the hopes and aspirations of the next generation. His leadership and personal qualities are transferable skills to those who are willing, humble, and ready to learn and change for the better. The attributes are indispensable tools for those who wish to contribute tirelessly to changes in their own communities and societies. They are assets to share with families and friends. A community and/or society that aspires to change for the better requires political, social and opinion leaders with the capacity and willingness to innovate and transform in response to the real needs of their communities and societies.

In order to give meaning to the potential lessons that Ethiopians in the Diaspora and those with access to information in Ethiopia can draw, we need to provide the reasons why peaceful transformation in Ethiopia will serve the entire society in the long run. The author and his colleagues who collaborated on this piece believe that Ethiopia is in desperate need of transformative leadership. The need becomes clearer when we take a look at the social, political, and economic picture in the country.

The Ethiopian context and the need for a new paradigm of thinking:

There are valid and urgent reasons why we must be willing to learn and amend our old behaviors and ways. The primary one is the fact that Ethiopian society needs dramatic transformation in order to improve the lives of all citizens. That is to say, Ethiopians citizens are eager to embrace peaceful change for the better. For that to happen, they want to participate in shaping their own destiny. They want voice. They want Ethiopian political and opinion leaders as well as intellectuals to take the high road of civil discourse on issues and move away from focusing on personalities and personal squabbles Because of fear of civil discourse and political competition, successive Ethiopian regimes have failed to accommodate the aspirations of Ethiopia’s diverse population. This is in part due to the fact that narrow and elite ‘capture’ has been an essential feature of political governance. The arguments for state power (clinging to power at any cost) may differ. The consequences appear are the similar indeed. The group that captures political power uses the state as an instrument to amass wealth, power, influence and, dominance at the exclusion of others. In order to perpetuate its grip, the ruling party creates new stakeholders whose financial and economic interests become inseparable from the survival of the regime. Political and economic competition becomes anathema. This reality in political economy becomes a perpetual source of tension and instability. The country continues to be dependent.

Consequently, Ethiopia continues to be a county in constant crisis. The Ethiopian people paid enormous sacrifices in their constant search for good governance. The author is not saying that societies do not pay heavy prices in transforming themselves for the better. For almost four decades, Ethiopians paid huge prices without gaining rewards. Sacrifices have not been followed by rewards to improve the lives of the vast majority. The country is still dependent on food aid. We can cite other examples to illustrate the point.

Untold number of innocent Ethiopians, especially youth, lost their lives during the repressive regime headed by Mengistu Haile Mariam. Hundreds of thousands left their homeland. Thousands toiled in jail. The country lost its most important assets, public confidence in government and, human capital. In addition, the regime spent billions of dollars to maintain ‘law and order’ and, to preserve a non-responsive political and economic system that ultimately fell. These precious resources were critical for development. The regime never made a sustained effort to deploy civil discourse and dialogue. It failed to reach out to opponents to settle civil unrest. It relied on brute force and on fear, political traditions the current ruling party applies consistently. It is hard to claim that the majority of Ethiopians gained from this chapter of their history.

The successor regime led by Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) and its umbrella political machine, the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), converted the country into what one is tempted to call a ‘private monopoly.’ Its governance has literally linked the state and the party. New stakeholders with untold wealth and influence have emerged. The majority of Ethiopians remain desperately poor (less than $1:00 a day), disempowered and dependent. Under the TPLF/EPRDF and for the first time, Ethiopia became land-locked. With more than 5 million inhabitants, Addis Ababa gained the ‘reputation’ as the largest capital city in Africa with no access to the sea. During the war with Eritrea, close to 100,000 Ethiopians lost their lives. In carrying out the war, the ruling party mobilized scarce human, financial, and technical resources under the pretext of a national crisis. To this day, the leaders have been unable to offer a viable explanation to the Ethiopian public concerning this national tragedy. The regime intervened in the internal affairs of Somalia without the courtesy of explanation to the Ethiopian people. Most recently, it is widely reported that it willingly allowed the Sudanese Government to annex 1,600 Sq. kms of Ethiopian territory.

During the 2005 general elections, thousands of Ethiopians were jailed en-masse. Blameless girls, boys, women, men, mothers, fathers and, grandparents were killed. Their sole crime was peaceful protest and participation during an election process to which the ruling party was not committed. Similar to the regime it replaced, the leadership of the ruling party, forced thousands to flee their homeland. It sent the entire leadership and active supporters of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy Party (KINJIT) to jail.

We can identify numerous other examples that show damaging effects of the ruling party’s governance on the country’s future. Two additional ones will suffice. The regime’s ethnic-based education policy is a disaster for the future of the country. It is producing a generation that cannot compete for quality jobs. Narrow, ethnic based and qualitatively deficient, the current system deprives Ethiopia from producing the high quality technical, professional, business, and managerial talent required in the age of globalization. As a result, the country and its people will not be in a position to compete internationally. The domestic economy will be unable to produce quality goods and services because it lacks managerial and technical capacity. It will not be farfetched to argue that the educational system will perpetuate Ethiopia’s dependency on foreign experts and foreign investment for years to come. Those who graduate from high schools and colleges are unable to find employment. According to one recent study, close to 70% of Ethiopian youth are unemployed. In Addis Ababa alone, more than 300,000 youth are unemployed. Education is not linked to employment. Restrictions on the private sector reduce opportunities for employment of graduates. Young Ethiopians are unable to create new businesses because of the monopoly structure of the economy and the dominance of party affiliated entities.

Ethnic federalism robs the Ethiopian people the means to maintain their hard won identity as Ethiopians. Free flow of people, capital, goods and services is highly restricted by design. Access to information among Ethiopia’s diverse people is scant and highly restricted. The intent of ethnic federalism is to create and perpetuate barriers and artificial divisions. Ethnic federalism deprives Ethiopians the opportunity to interact with one another freely and naturally. It deprives them to provide continuity to the new and coming generation to think and act as Ethiopians. One expert lamented the ‘sense of isolation’ of the vast majority of Ethiopians feel. The long term impact of ethnic federalism on the identity, affinity, common values and cultures of the new generation of Ethiopians cannot be underestimated.

Deficits in governance and trust:

Denial of fundamental human rights, abrogation of the rule of law, repression of civil society and independent political work and disempowerment of all classes of Ethiopians, isolation from one another, huge unemployment continue unabated. A July 2008 research paper by a major multilateral organization entitled “Information Access, Governance and Service Delivery in Key Sectors: Themes and Lessons from Ethiopia and Kenya” identifies accurately that there are three major impediments in development and service delivery to citizens in Ethiopia. The report identifies these as a) the “governance deficit; b) the trust deficit; and, c) the technical deficit.”

All three “deficits” show structural and policy deficiencies that have characterized the Ethiopian state for the past 17 years. The “governance deficit” shows that Ethiopian citizens do not have access to information on resource allocation; donor assistance; decision- making processes; procurement of goods and serviced. Information is often “hoarded” and hidden from beneficiaries and citizens deliberately. Participation by citizens, accountability to citizens and transparency in the use of resources and, procurement of goods and services are kept opaque (unclear) and restricted. Decisions on allocation of federal resources are kept from the public eye. Appointments at the local and regional levels are based on party loyalty and affiliation. The intent is to safeguard the political, economic and financial interests and dominance of the ruling party and its supporters. Linkage between state and party facilitates denial of information to the public. There are no independent civic organizations or independent and free media entities to inform the public. State owned media serves the state and the party.

In the same document, the authors indicate, “there is a wide attitudinal gulf between service providers of the government (HIV/AIDS services and drug, water, and sewage services, satellite television to provide education) and the citizenry. Lack of trust between government and citizens is inextricably linked to governance.” The authors confirm that it is virtually impossible to distinguish the state from the ruling party. The two are interwoven and serve the same political, financial, and economic interests of the ruling party. They show that decentralization has not enabled rural peasants, cooperatives, civic associations, local and regional governments to make decisions or to influence decisions by the party and the state. Decentralization is used as a means of control. It is not used to promote public voice and participation.

“Questions of institutional autonomy and inadequate information (to the public) characterize the Ethiopian health system, the mass-media, water and sewage and others).” Lack of access to public information deprives citizens to claim and demand legitimate services and investments. Under these conditions, citizens do not play any role in providing any oversight in matters that affect their lives. One of the most disturbing findings in this report is the role of fear in Ethiopia. Fear of reprisal for disclosing all forms of nepotism and corruption is pervasive today. Informants are common throughout the public sector. The weak and subservient parliament has no authority to challenge the state and party. Citizens do not have access to parliamentary proceedings, a right many other Africans enjoy.

The above research study shows that the leaders of the Ethiopian ruling party and its supporters do not have any stake in empowered and free Ethiopian citizens. Hoarding information, denying access to public information, centralized decision-making and total control of civic society are part and parcel of monopolizing the instruments of the state to serve the party and its emerging stakeholders Financial resources, foreign aid, budgets, loans and credits and technical assistance all go hand in hand with this form of governance. The demand for good governance is therefore at the heart for peaceful transformation in Ethiopia. Without good and participatory governance, the social, economic, financial, and political hurdles facing all of the Ethiopian people cannot be resolved.

Last summer, the Gallop organization conducted a survey and established low level of trust of Ethiopians in their government, especially, leaders, elections, the judiciary, rule of law and police and security forces. The only institutions in which Ethiopians had a high level of trust were churches and mosques. For those who had hoped that the election of 2010 may become ‘free and fair’ the above and other findings may be disappointing. We have confirmed reports that the TPLF/EPRDF confiscated documents and, arrested leaders of the AEUP in Afar, Northern Shoal and Sodom and Sodo. Repression continues unchecked.


It is against the above political and economic realities in Ethiopia that we contend that Senator Obama offers us a glimpse of what change agents in the Diaspora and in Ethiopia can derive, learn and pursue to achieve their goals.

Why we should make efforts to learn and change:

The paradigm of thinking of the past will not get us anywhere. Politics of repression and fear have proved costly to the Ethiopian people. Social and economic development policy has not changed the lives of the majority because of poor and non-representative governance. We cannot deny the fact that some social groups, segments of society and classes in Ethiopia are benefiting and will continue to benefit from current governance. As long as they gain benefits, they will continue to defend the system. It serves them well. The recent famine, escalation of prices of basic staples and the financial crisis Ethiopia is facing all suggest that the vast majority of the Ethiopian people continue to suffer. Some experts believe that unless conditions change, Ethiopia will join the club of ‘fragile states’ in the not too distant future. The search for a new direction based on civil discourse and dialogue is therefore in every body’s interest, including the ruling party and its supporters.

In light of the above, we believe that the Ethiopian people long and hope for farsighted and transformative leadership at all levels. The Ethiopian people are aware that transformation for the better does not occur by chance. They know that it rarely occurs by clinging to outdated mindsets and world- views. They are aware that it does not happen without Ethiopians from all backgrounds reaching out to one another. They know that change hardly occurs by focusing on bitterness, animosity, unbridled competition, greed, jealousy, egoism, demonizing others and, perceiving differing views as sources of rivalry instead of sources of enrichment. They have shown us that change will never happen if political elites and leaders do not challenge old assumptions about ethnic division and rivalry. The Ethiopian people have shown us the capacity to live with one another peacefully; to pray together; and, to suffer together. Their expectation from their political, social and opinion leaders is a better tomorrow for their children. If any one knows suffering and need, it is the peasants, farmers, urban and rural poor of Ethiopia. They have no time for hate and bitterness.

Therefore, we are convinced that the Ethiopian people wish to see a forward looking and positive orientation among Ethiopians and Ethiopian-Americans political and opinion leaders. Such reorientation to bridge manmade divisions and misrepresentations among all of us and within Ethiopia will go a long way in creating mutual respect and trust. It will strengthen the confidence of the Ethiopian people. Such reorientation in turn requires new political and social leaders with the highest level of integrity and honesty. Ethiopia’s 85 million people deserve farsighted leaders who place their interests at the center of political and social work. They have suffered enough under those who enriched themselves and their supporters. Continued division does not help them.

The need for a common framework to influence US policy:

The first step may be to be humble enough to recognize that no single Ethiopian group has the answer for Ethiopia’s complex problems. The next may be to agree on a common vision that will serve all stakeholders. Long-term vision and unified purpose are key stepping- stones. In this connection, we urge readers to debate the provocative proposals in Tamirate Semen’s book, Roots for Democratization in Ethiopia: why unity of purpose is important). Ethiopians and Ethiopian Americans will have a better chance of leveraging their size and social capital to influence US policy under Senator Obama (if elected) when and if they agree on a long- term vision and alternative for Ethiopia. To do that, they need to work more collaboratively and present a unified position. They need to reach out to one another and dialogue for change.

The expectation that—on and by itself, a ‘President Obama’s administration will change the Ethiopian political situation radically is dreaming. We should also recognize that the TPLF/EPRDF has alternative foreign support. China, Russia, and India have begun to play important roles in Africa. China’s interest in Ethiopia has been growing. Over the coming decades, China’s influence will grow significantly. US policy makers will take into account this changing global reality in framing their relations with Ethiopia. The primary interest of policy makers is to serve their own nation; the US is not an exception.

The most important point is that Ethiopians and Ethiopian-Americans, political and opinion leaders must do their groundwork first. Different factions and political groups with stake in the country’s future must demonstrate that they can trust one another. They must establish credibility that they can work and collaborate with one another towards a common purpose. They must show that they have a better alternative for the Ethiopian people. Policy makers in Washington would need to know whether there is a better alternative to the current regime. The different factions that claim to represent the Ethiopian people may not possess the clout or credibility unless and until they ‘create a common alternative platform and the organization to sustain it. Blaming the leadership of the ruling party without offering the Ethiopian people a better democratic alternative will not do. Political actors, parties and, opinion makers must strive to discuss and arrive at a minimum program that will serve the interests of the Ethiopian people as a whole. They must be willing and ready to discuss their differences openly and frankly. They must demonstrate that the common interests of the Ethiopian people as a whole are far important than the differences that are often presented by different factions. They must focus on the current and future generation. Otherwise, they will not be taken seriously by policy makers.

In short, political actors must demonstrate the maturity to lead a complex and large nation. They must represent their interests and voices honestly and candidly. Political change in the 21st century does not take place through remote control and through self-serving agendas. The fact remains that the struggle for democratization does not reside in foreign capitals. It resides with the Ethiopian people and with Ethiopians. As they say, “A fish out of water does not survive.” In order to make impact, political work must reflect the real lives of the Ethiopian people. What we can and should do is support all of the Ethiopian people to be the primary drivers and motives of change.

The arguments to shift US policy:

The above caveat aside, Ethiopians and Ethiopian-Americans (especially youth) in the US have an unprecedented opportunity to serve as agents of change to strengthen relations between the Ethiopian and American people. They can argue that US policy towards Ethiopia must reflect the values and principles being articulated by Senator Obama and his team. These principles include social, political and economic inclusion, respect for the rule of law, freedom, mutual respect, mutual tolerance, peace, reconciliation, capacity and willingness to think and act beyond ethnicity, social and economic opportunities for all (shared prosperity) and fair and open political competition. The lead argument should therefore be that mutual interests of the American and Ethiopian people could be well served by pursing good and participatory governance in Ethiopia. That Ethiopia has the requisite human, natural resources and geopolitical potential to develop faster under good governance. If current ruling governance continues, the country could be a source of instability and civil unrest and a source for extremist forces. The country’s considerable potential to develop will suffer.

The argument that other foreign powers, including China, will fill any vacuum created by US disengagement should be studied carefully. First, we should not promote the principle of disengagement from any country. Second, we should make a persuasive case that the historical links between the US and Ethiopia can and should be maintained through better policies and programs. In fact, the relations between the two countries will be much stronger, given the large Ethiopian Diaspora in the US and the affinity Ethiopians have with the American people. Third, more than 1,200, 000 Ethiopians and Ethiopian-Americans live in the US. This is a major social and intellectual asset with potential influence. Fourth remittances from the Diaspora play a huge role in supporting the Ethiopian people. Fifth, when governance changes for the better, the Diaspora will have huge opportunities to invest and develop the country. In turn, this will strengthen commercial, trade and cultural links between the two countries. Sixth, while Ethiopians and Ethiopian-Americans have questioned US support to the TPLF/EPRDF, their attitudes towards Americans and their institutions have not changed. Seventh, Ethiopian Airlines has played a substantial role in cementing transport and communications between the two countries. Eighth, Ethiopia has a long history of independence and identity that will continue to persist for generations to come. The fact that an authoritarian regime has command and control should not cloud the resiliency of the Ethiopian people to claim their rights as independent and proud people who will defend their sovereignty, culture, identity and independence. The claim that China or any other country will ‘replace others’ assumes that the country’s people can be manipulated at will. The history of Ethiopia tells us a different story. Nevertheless, the above points suggest that there is considerable potential to improve relations for the better.


The further argument ought to be that current US foreign policy concerning Ethiopia reflects a narrow, short term oriented and expedient perspective. Support to the Ethiopian ruling party is being carried- out at the cost of fundamental human rights, freedom, the rule of law and political pluralism. Such support contradicts US values and adversely affects the long-term mutual interests of the Ethiopian and American people and must be redressed. It undermines the confidence and trust of the Ethiopian people in US foreign policy. They feel that the US has followed a hypocritical policy.

Ethiopians and Ethiopian-Americans should point out the fact that the US continues to be Ethiopia’s largest bilateral donor despite well- documented gross human rights violations perpetrated by the ruling party. As we write, the Ethiopian Government continues to kill, maim, persecute and imprison thousands of Ethiopians in the Ogaden and in other parts of the country. Under a new Proclamation that the rubber stamp Parliament has been asked to endorse, civic organizations, including non-governmental entities will lose even the most elementary freedoms and rights they have to serve public interest. Ethiopians will be deprived of hundreds of millions of dollars of assistance channeled through non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Recently, the leadership of the ruling party denied the existence of wide spread famine. It used food as an instrument of public policy. The limited independent media has been obliterated. Independent political parties have been disenfranchised to the point where they do not play roles in support of citizens. At the same time, the ruling party is planning to carryout national elections in 2010. Given repressive conditions that are well documented, it will not be hard to predict the outcome of the elections. These are potent arguments to present to a new US administration.

The author believes that it will be prudent to point out that, a new and forward looking US foreign policy towards Ethiopia must be based on the hopes, aspirations and determination of the Ethiopian people to achieve freedom, democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights and the establishment of the institutional foundations for a more inclusive and prosperous country for all Ethiopian citizens. Only an all inclusive and prosperous Ethiopia can serve as a buffer against extremism and ‘terrorism’ in the Horn of Africa. A new foreign policy must respect the cultures, history, territorial integrity and, independence of Ethiopia. It must recognize Ethiopia’s vital interests, for example, the use of its water resources to improve the lives of its people and its claim of legitimate access to the sea. Policy makers must be reminded that the Ethiopian people have safeguarded their independence, identity, culture and territorial integrity for more than 3,000 years.

In summary, the author firmly believes that we should point out our hope a new US administration under Senator Obama will do the right thing. Bold policy measures leveraging its considerable financial, diplomatic, and institutional assets will strengthen the determination of the Ethiopian people to achieve the institutionalization of peace, national reconciliation, and the rule of law, free elections (one-person one voice), independent and free media. Specifically, a new US administration can make its assistance to Ethiopia conditional on a genuine commitment of the ruling party to allow multiparty competition, free civic societies, a free and independent election- board and, free and independent media. A new US administration can exert diplomatic pressure on multilateral donors to ensure that the ruling party becomes accountable to the public: transparency, information sharing, competitive procurement of goods and services, devolution of decision- making authority to local and regional governments, transfer of donor funds directly to the poor.

The author believes that we should be unequivocal to state that the Ethiopian people do not wish to continue to be dependent on foreign aid. They possess the requisite human and natural resources to make the country independent and prosperous. What they need is diplomatic and technical support to allow freedom, democracy and the rule of law to flourish. What they need is to use donor resources to unleash the potential of the Ethiopian people and not to enrich a privileged few. The Ethiopian people recognize that the lead responsibility to transform Ethiopia into a rapidly developing and genuinely democratic state resides with them.

We assume that the lead responsibility for articulating the above positions and, advocating democratic transformation for the Ethiopian people must be in the hands of Ethiopians and, a new generation of political and social leaders. The question then becomes what Ethiopians and Ethiopian-Americans can learn from Senator Obama’s vision and messages to support the Ethiopian people. The author and his colleagues believe that there is a great deal to learn. The ‘governance deficit’ of the ruling party cited in this article cannot be understood in isolation from the gap in leadership qualities within the opposition camp. Over the past three decades, there has been a surplus of political parties, factions, and groups. Their existence in different forms has not changed the Ethiopian political landscape. Each one seems to follow a trajectory that does not ‘pull the other’ to collaborate and work together for a common goal. The hard and difficult task of discussing and arriving at a common agenda to serve competing interests and, more importantly, the interests of the Ethiopian people continues to be illusive. Senator Obama’s transformative leadership offers us lessons of experience that we can use in advancing the causes of democratization, the rule of law and the creation of the institutional and policy foundation for sustained growth and development for all Ethiopians.

Why are Senator Obama’s vision and leadership compelling?

It will be impossible to capture all of the attributes that make the Senator’s world view and leadership qualities tantalizing, gripping and relevant to Ethiopians. We will only try to highlight values and messages that appear to manifest universality.

·        Forceful vision, unified purpose and sense of direction for his country that goes beyond the traditional rhetoric of class, party affiliation, race, region (state), age, gender and ideology. His vision focuses on the long term needs of the country: restructuring the economy and creating new jobs; harnessing alternative energy sources to make the country more independent from imports; providing health services to all citizens; making education affordable; investing in infrastructure; strengthening the institutions of freedom and equality including redressing incomes gaps between men and women; promoting equitable and fair income tax policy; and, restoring the country’s image and prestige overseas. These principles show a personal commitment to break from the past in fundamental ways. His inspirational leadership style is transformational. Positive and consistent in his messages, he has emphasized change over the status quo; politics of hope over politics of fear; unity over party rancor and division; love over hate; humility over arrogance; team-work and collaboration over individual ego; shared prosperity over individual or corporate greed; mutual respect over smear and name calling; and, listening over lecturing. These are indicators of his transformative leadership attributes. In reinforcing these qualities, Senator Obama has elevated the political dialogue to a higher level. It is for his leadership qualities that General Colin Powel called the Senator a “generational and transformative leader.” What he says and what he does show convergence. Any one reading his best seller books and listening to him finds the consistencies remarkable.

·        Ability to organize and mobilize at the grassroots level: The old party structure and method of work has been replaced by a 21st century model of creating commitment among volunteers, grassroots groups regardless of party, ethnic or class affiliation. He has used information technology to organize elections outposts in all parts of the country; communicated his vision and programs to mobilize funds at unprecedented levels; and, empowered young supporters to use their creativity and energy to work for his mission and vision. For the first time in Presidential elections since President Kennedy, young Americans feel hopeful about the future. They feel engaged. Senator’s ability to reach out to different social, political and opinion groups and leaders is a hallmark of his success. Setting aside differences that were apparent during the Primary Season, Hillary and Bill Clinton are campaigning for him in so called ‘battle ground states.’ He has reached out to prominent experts including the Republican Paul Volcker, Larry Summers, Warren Buffet and many others to seek advice and to sharpen his policy messages. The Democratic Party has been fully mobilized and unified behind Senator Obama and his vision. His focus is more on what unites Americans rather on ideological and party divisions.

·        Well- established track- record of impeccable integrity and honesty. The barrage of accusations against him; the personal attacks; the hidden messages about his race and religion; and, his so called past affiliation with shady characters never detracted him from his vision for his country. He is trusted because he is trustworthy. He says and he does what he believes. He has been able to raise more money than any one in American electoral history because people know his integrity and honesty. They know that they are making an investment in the future of their families, children, grandchildren and the future of America.


·        Positive energy to do the right thing that has become infectious and that has galvanized hundreds of thousands of young Americans to work for him as volunteers; encouraged millions to register and vote for the first time; prompted millions to attend his rallies; and, persuaded millions around the globe to pay attention to this Presidential Election. It is reported that people around the world with access to the Internet follow this Presidential election as closely as Americans. One major television network reported that, if the world community could participate in this election, Senator Obama “will win in a landslide.” His messages give hope at a time when the American financial and economic system and the entire market oriented economy of the globe is on the verge of collapse. He showed principled, measured, and calm leadership during the financial crisis.

·        Empathy: Placing oneself in the other person’s shoes and understanding what he/she is experiencing is an important quality of any leader. Senator Obama’s reflective and thoughtful personality enables him to listen carefully and attentively. Citizens with broken homes and without employment and insurance; citizens who do not have the means to send their kids to college; and, families unable to pay their mortgages have an empathetic ear in Senator Obama. The experience gained from his grandparents and his mother and direct exposure to the plight of the poor in Chicago have equipped him with a genuine sense of understanding of the challenges citizens face. He approaches every case in a humane and empathetic manner. His responses are not superficial or self- serving. Genuine empathy reinforces trust and confidence in his leadership. His warmth and humanity are apparent where-ever he goes.

·        Genuine humility that comes from inner strength and inner self-confidence. His ability to seek views from different opinion and political leaders has become legendary. He is respectful of the views of others. He is not afraid of differing opinions. He welcomes them. He does not focus on personalities but on issues. He is ready to listen to understand. He is willing to learn from others, even from those who oppose his views. He makes judgments based on sound reasoning and, based on the merit of each case rather than on political expediency. Mortal souls will be infuriated and will react when attacked. Instead, Senator Obama pays greater attention to his vision and purpose for the country. In doing this, he has earned the respect and admiration of the electorate and of millions around the globe.

·        An unusual grasp of and understanding of the values, traditions, and norms of American society: The fact that he comes from a White mother and White Grandparents who nurtured, encouraged, taught, empowered him; sacrificed for him; and, raised him cannot be discounted in understanding Senator Obama and his values. The strong values and principles that he demonstrates do not come only from sheer academic brilliance. This author believes that they are also shaped and strengthened by the social, cultural and extended family environment that shaped his upbringing. In many respects, one may even argue that the Senator has not been as ‘afflicted and traumatized’ by the African-American experience. The vision and values he expresses are beyond race. In short, he represents the best in American society. He is an American asset. He has demonstrated the capacity to transcend old and outdated definitions of race and class origin. He has broken old taboos as we have seen over the past 21 months. He has redefined the meaning and application of political work in the US and, perhaps beyond.


This author suggests that Senator Obama’s personal qualities and leadership attributes summarized above are generic and universal. Therefore, it will be wise to reflect on them; debate them; and apply them in supporting the unfinished business of supporting national reconciliation, universal human, economic and social rights, free elections and the rule of law, freedom and, democracy in Ethiopia. Those of us who have the privilege to live and witness democracy in action can begin using his key personal and leadership qualities to change attitudes, behaviors and values in our own interactions with one another. Political actors and opinion makers, including those in the media, can deploy them to promote constructive and positive messages. They can use them to organize seminars, conferences and dialogue on Ethiopian issues. Responsibility for change starts with each of us.

The author believes that the Ethiopian people deserve good and better governance that will give them voice; that will make government officials accountable to them; that will release the creativity of their given potential. Millions of Americans heeded to Senator’s Obama call for “The Change We Need.” The Ethiopian people hope and aspire for peaceful change and, not perpetual tensions, fears and conflicts. They long for a time when the country will stand on its own feet. The author believes that the country has the requisite human and natural resources capital to transform rapidly and join the family of middle income countries. The Diaspora can channel its considerable intellectual, financial, technical and technological skills to steer policy makers to bring the ruling party and all opposition groups to sit around the conference table and discuss the modalities that will accommodate competing and seemingly conflicts interests. The Ethiopian people deserve such initiative. Senator Obama shows that outreach with differing factions, personalities and groups are possible and necessary.

The author shares the hopes of those in the Diaspora for peaceful democratic change in Ethiopia. It is possible to achieve this objective if all political actors, opinion leaders and intellectuals pull their resources, creativity, energy and talents together for the betterment of the country and, come up with a better and common alternative and vision for all of the Ethiopian people. As we learn from Senator’s Obama’s messages and vision for the American people, it takes farsighted political and social leadership that places the interests of the vast majority at the center of political work. It takes a new generation of thinkers and leaders with vision, unquestioned integrity and honesty, capacity and humility to learn from others and to collaborate with others. It takes leadership with the capacity to empathize with the plight of the Ethiopian people. The author believes that Ethiopians have the potential to break from political traditions that have kept the Ethiopian people without accountable and representative political and social leadership. The author recommends that the Diaspora can and should play a crucial role to channel this potential towards transformative leadership drawing from Senator Obama’s skills and qualities. The Diaspora has, in its midst, spiritual leaders from both the Christian and Muslim communities who can play mediating and bridging roles. Together, we can get our collective act to so that we can speak with one voice on behalf of the Ethiopian people. If we do these small and necessary steps, we will go a long way in influencing US policy under a potential ‘Obama’ administration in support of the democratization process in Ethiopia.




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