Political Shifts: Lessons on Leadership and Accountability from Ethiopia

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In recent months, Ethiopia has seen shifts in political leadership at both the national and local level.  At the national level Ahmed Ali was sworn in as prime minister, and at the local level

Abdi Mohamoud Omar, President of Ethiopia’s Somali region, was forced to resign from his tenure. These events, happening within weeks of one another, show Ethiopia’s progress towards more accountable modes of governance. These two instances paint a bigger and more telling future for the country. These shifts show what accountability looks like in African countries, with African leaders, but most importantly these shifts highlight how mechanisms of government accountability manifest through elections, leadership, and under the gaze of civil society. As a number of African countries near election season, Ethiopia acts as an example of how accountable leadership can help a country move forward after decades of conflict.



Political Shifts: Lessons on Leadership and Accountability from Ethiopia

Recent political shifts in Ethiopia’s leadership, both at the local and national level, render the country almost unrecognizable, at least politically, from it’s not so distant past.


On June 23, Ahmed Ali was inaugurated as Ethiopia’s new prime minister. Arguably, one of  his most notable accomplishments has not only been putting an end to the decade long conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea, but freeing thousands of political protesters and journalists from jail within weeks of his inauguration. An early start on his efforts to tackle the lack of good governance in the country. The road to his inauguration, symbolic in its own right on Ethiopia’s efforts towards good governance and accountable leadership, followed former prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn who had resigned in mid-February this year, saying he should pave the way for reforms.


In the following weeks, at the local level, Abdi Mohamoud Omar, the President of Ethiopia’s Somali region was arrested and forced to resign following public outcry surrounding his implication in Human Rights Violations, that left 29 people dead. Omar has been the President of the local region since 2005, and has reportedly carried out a number of crimes, yet this resignation is said to have, “taken place peacefully, [as he] has been working for the interest of the people, and [has resigned] in consideration of the interest of the public.”


The question that then arises is: What do these two major events tell us about leadership in Ethiopia? The answer is: a lot.


These two instances paint a bigger and more telling future for the country. These shifts show what accountability looks like in African countries, with African leaders, but most importantly theses shifts highlight the mechanisms (that can and should be used by civil society and government officials alike) that are needed to move a country forward after decades of conflict.


The relationship between leadership and accountability has been studied for years. Ruth Grant and Robert Keohane, University Professors from Duke and Princeton University, argue:
“accountability, as we use the term, implies that some actors have the right to hold other actors to a set of standards, to judge whether they have fulfilled their responsibilities in light of these standards, and to impose sanctions if they determine that these responsibilities
have not been met” (Grant and Keohane, 2005).

Thus, the practice of accountability implies both rights and duties. A recognition that is based on, “the understanding that the only way that the various freedoms, civil liberties and other constitutional provisions, and indeed democracy itself, can be protected and sustained is when those who occupy positions of responsibility in the state are made to respect those provisions and freedoms” (Tetty, 2006).
This idea of rights and duties is something that Prime Minister Ali seems to understand well. Looking at Ethiopia’s current political climate, whether it be the freeing of political prisoners and journalists or the forced resignation of oppressive leaders, we see how mechanisms of accountability are alive and well in African governance.


This has broader implications for the African continent as whole. Especially as a number of countries near their own elections. Using Ethiopia as a  markers of progress, other African nations can see how accountable leadership has the ability to transform a nation.


Through the shifts in Ethiopia we see that leaders are and will be  accountable to more than just themselves, or their ethnic group, but the country as a whole. As Prime Minister Ali said during his inauguration speech, Our “identity is built in such a way that it is inseparable. It is threaded in a manner that cannot be untangled. It is integrated out of love.”




Grant, R., & Keohane, R. (2005). Accountability and Abuses of Power in World Politics.

The American Political Science Review, 99(1), 29-43. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/30038917

Tettey, W. J. (2006). The politics of media accountability in Africa: An examination of mechanisms and institutions.

           International Communication Gazette, 68(3) 229-248. doi:10.1177/1748048506063763



Author: Kehinde Winful, August 17, 2018.
Photo credit to OnlineEthopia.net.