Leaders as a Nation’s Representatives
By Hail Tessema
(This is part I of an instalment covering the embarrassing behavior of Abiy Ahmed)
Abiy Ahmed experienced noticeable snubs from world figures during the recent Paris summit on the financing of climate change, held on June 22 and 23. His performance as a discussant on a panel that included the Head of the World Bank and the US Secretary of the Treasury clearly revealed that he was out of his league. He made outlandish statements. The snubs, his lackluster performance as a panelist, and his outrageous statements have embarrassed Ethiopians. His actions, policies, and behavior, both domestically and globally, don’t inspire pride among Ethiopians. Ethiopians feel ashamed of Abiy Ahmed.
Leaders play a crucial role in representing their country’s aspirations, norms, interests, and images on the global stage. Their actions, behavior, statements, and diplomatic engagements reflect their nation. They personify their country in international affairs. When their behavior fails to confirm with their countries’ ideals, citizens feel frustrated, disappointed, and embarrassed.
Leaders have significant international responsibilities. First, they serve as representatives of their nation’s collective aspirations. Emerging from domestic political processes, leaders embody the values, beliefs, and priorities of the people. Leaders are selected for positions of power based on their alignment with the ideals held by their country’s population. Consequently, they are entrusted with the task of demonstrating these ideals on the global stage.
Second, leaders exemplify the societal norms of their nations. They act as cultural ambassadors, upholding the traditions, customs, and heritage of their country. Whether through ceremonial events, diplomatic interactions, or public engagements, leaders are expected to project an image that is in harmony with their country’s norms.
Third, leaders serve as the voice of their nation on the global stage, advancing national interests. They represent their country’s interests in international forums, negotiations, and engagements. Through their speeches, diplomatic interactions, and active participation in international organizations, leaders promote the interests of their people. They advocate for their country’s priorities, seek collaborations, and contribute to global decision-making processes. In doing so, they exert influence over how their country is perceived in the international community. Citizens expect their leaders to consistently behave in a manner that aligns with this perception while promoting national interests.
Fourth, national leaders project an image of their country to foreigners. They play a pivotal role in shaping how their country is perceived by foreigners. When leaders engage in international diplomacy, participate in global forums, or undertake official visits to other nations, they personify their country to the rest of the world. Foreigners often form opinions about a country based on the actions, statements, and conduct of its leaders. Leaders who project a positive image of their country globally are respected domestically.
We will use these ideas when assessing how Abiy Ahmed’s global behavior has damaged Ethiopia’s international reputation. The behavior of leaders when interacting with world figures is inseparable from the international image they project for their countries. The way a leader performs personally on the global stage directly influences how his country is perceived. A leader’s personal performance is a country’s international reputation.
Inappropriate Behavior of Leaders
When leaders display inappropriate behavior domestically or on the global stage, it not only reflects poorly on their reputation but also negatively affects the perception of the entire nation. With global interconnection, the domestic actions of leaders are scrutinized by the global community. A government’s domestic policies, good or bad, are internationally observed. Globally, a leader’s misconduct, whether it involves misstatements, diplomatic failures, disrespectful behavior, or disregard for international norms, can damage diplomatic relationships, erode trust, and harm the nation’s standing in the global arena. Citizens feel disappointed, humiliated, embarrassed when their leaders fail to uphold the expected standards of conduct on an international level.
The inappropriate behavior of leaders transcends immediate consequences. It carries long-term effects on a nation’s credibility, its capacity to form alliances, and its overall influence in shaping global events. The negative actions of leaders can tarnish the reputation of a country.
Two examples from the United States vividly demonstrate how the behavior of leaders can result in far-reaching, detrimental consequences for a nation. President Bill Clinton’s involvement in an extra-marital relationship with Monica Lewinsky embarrassed Americans and affected the international perceptions of the United States. The revelation of the scandal not only brought personal embarrassment to Clinton but also generated feelings of shame among many Americans.
During his presidency, Donald Trump made several derogatory remarks that embarrassed many Americans. His comments specifically targeting Mexicans, women and various countries in Central America and Africa violated the principles of inclusivity and respect; they also cast a negative light globally on the United States as a nation.
Abiy Ahmed: A National Disgrace
Abiy Ahmed has caused great embarrassment to Ethiopians through his unacceptable behavior, domestically and internationally. Since taking office as Ethiopia’s Prime Minister in April 2018, Abiy Ahmed has exhibited inappropriate conduct. When a group of soldiers mutinied for higher pay and marched to the palace on October 10, 2018he invited them to join him in performing push-ups on the palace pavement and had lunch with them at the palace, instead of disciplining them. He exacerbated the situation when defending his actions by saying that he was concerned about Oromo youth perceiving a military takeover of their government and descending upon the city. His defense suggested that his administration was exclusively an Oromo government, neglecting that it also represents the interests of other Ethiopian citizens.
When Simegnew Bekele, the chief engineer of the GERD, was assassinated on July 26, 2018under suspicious circumstances, Abiy Ahmed refrained from condemning the act or offering condolences to his family. His silence was frustrating, as it was bewildering. Tragically, Simegnew Bekele’s killing marked the beginning of a series of unresolved political assassinations.
During the visit of the crown prince of UAE on June 15, 2018Abiy Ahmed personally drove him around the city as if he were his personal chauffeur, a role unbefitting his position. For Ethiopians, their prime minister serving as personal chauffeur to an Arab prince was not exactly inspiriting. It was belittling. He frequently utters rude remarks about the country and different groups (Amharas, Gurages, Tigrayans, doctors, economists, professors, and others) that are unbecoming of a country’s leader. These and the other transgressions of Abiy Ahmed have offended, angered, and embarrassed Ethiopians.
Abiy Ahmed’s handling of Ethiopia’s internal conflicts, especially the Tigray war, has sparked international criticism. The conflict has resulted in widespread violence, displacement, and humanitarian crises. The government’s failure to resolve these conflicts has left many Ethiopians feeling enraged by their leader’s inability to achieve peace. Although the Tigray war cannot be solely blamed on him, Abiy Ahmed grossly mishandled the situation. His actions and decisions in addressing the conflict were deeply flawed.
Abiy Ahmed’s governance lacks transparency, accountability, and inclusivity. His administration suppresses dissenting voices, curtails media freedom, imprisons journalists, and its critics. The Amhara community has been subjected to discriminatory policies by his government. These actions undermine Ethiopia’s democratic trajectory. They also embarrass citizens who had hoped for a more inclusive, transparent, and accountable government.
Abiy Ahmed frequently engages in divisive rhetoric, inflammatory remarks, and anti-Ethiopian comments. On March 28, 2023he told parliament that “If we want to destroy Ethiopia, nobody can stop us”. The statement suggesting the potential destruction of Ethiopia raises legitimate doubts about his mental health. To be sure, we must be cautious about making a definitive judgment about someone’s mental fitness based solely on a single statement, but a statement by a leader of a country suggesting the desire for the destruction of a nation he rules doesn’t enhance confidence in his stability, judgment, and suitability for leadership.
Under Abiy Ahmed’s leadership, the economic challenges facing Ethiopia have worsened significantly. The country is grappling with rising inflation, alarming unemployment rates, a heavy debt burden, and a weakening currency. Clearly, these problems are not unique to Ethiopia, but the inability of its government to institute the appropriate economic policies has worsened them. Regrettably, these economic hardships have inflicted a severe toll on the well-being of many Ethiopians, leaving them seething with anger.
Abiy Ahmed’s leadership has proven grossly inadequate to govern Ethiopia, extending far beyond its failure to address pressing economic problems. The government’s inability to resolve internal conflicts in Tigray, Amhara, Oromia, and Afar has deepened the humanitarian crisis and escalated widespread violence. Lawlessness now pervades the country, with the alarming increase in kidnappings for ransom, a phenomenon unheard of previously. Government-led abductions of critics have become commonplace. The OLA terrorists can strike anywhere, at any time. It is unsafe to travel anywhere in Ethiopia. Western governments are advising their citizens to avoid visiting Ethiopia. Ethiopia appears to be spiraling towards the status of a failed state.
The recent report of government officials stealing food aid intended for starving Ethiopians has sparked widespread anger, disheartenment, and embarrassment among the Ethiopian population. This distressing revelation unveils the government’s clear breach of trust and ethical governance. A government that steals from its needy people is a government that betrays its fundamental duty to serve its citizens. It’s a government that undermines its own legitimacy.
The snubs that Abiy Ahmed suffered, the inappropriate remarks he made, his disappointing performance in a panel discussion at the recent Paris summit, along with his unacceptable behavior in Ethiopia, have embarrassed Ethiopians. They eagerly anticipate the day when this embarrassment will finally come to an end.
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