Frequent foreign escapades, without purpose and limit, should be reconsidered by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) before citizens begin to grumble.

Belete, first cousin to Emperor Haile Selassie and matriarch of a powerful family, sat listening to her grandson read from Addis Zemen.

“His Imperial Majesty arrived in Port-au-Prince today for a state visit and was greeted by Francois Duvalier, President of Haiti, at the airport,” read the grandson.

“Why is the Emperor leaving his state and travelling endlessly? He should stay afoot and watch over his Menber,” she said referring to the throne.

In less than eight years, the Emperor was dethroned by a junta of junior officers who occupied the palace and started to rule by proclamations. The officers were not too inclined to travel outside the country, fearing that they would be disposed of by their rivals. What followed the Dergue was EPRDF, a rebel group that arguably lacked the finesse or the culture of diplomacy.

But our current prime minister, Abiy Ahmed (PhD), is different. He seems to be propelled by some internal force to travel across the world's capitals much like the former King of Kings, observes a colleague.

Frequent foreign escapades, without purpose and limit, should be reconsidered by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) before citizens begin to grumble.

Abiy has been to the Middle East, United States, China and Europe, and of course across Africa in such a breakneck frequency that he is about to supplant former Indonesian president, Abdurrahman Wahid, who is rumoured to have traveled to 80 countries during his three-year run.

Abiy saw the Pope in the Vatican; delivered a speech in Rome; visited Brussels and then hopped over to Davos 2019 in January. In March he went to Qatar, Sudan, UAE and Eritrea in a diplomatic shuttle that almost put the famed Henry Kissinger’s Shuttle Diplomacy to shame. In April he was in Kigali, Rwanda, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the genocide that took place in that country.

And late last month, it was a summit in China, where he joined other gleeful African leaders in signing billion of dollars worth of debt-laden projects.

On the sidelines of the summit, Ethiopia signed upto nearly 1.8 billion dollars in new loans, sugared over by a write-off of all debts that are “interest-free loans owed by Ethiopia through to the end of 2018.” The problem is no one knows what the scale of the loans are or the terms of all the other outstanding loans.

The old Emperor dragged along his dog keeper, his valet, cook, footman, family members and a long list of officials on his foreign visits. Though Abiy’s prime ministerial entourage has no dog keeper, it still includes several members of his cabinet and office.

Prime Minister Bruce Golding of Jamaica is known to have traveled to Canada for the sole purpose of delivering a speech that lasted an hour to a university. At least Abiy can boast that he brought back debt reliefs; a Chinese promise to finance and build his pet river revitalization project; a billion here a billion dollars there of direct aid (or loan); and more invitations to travel abroad.

It may be unfair to compare Abiy with President Jagdeo or even Indonesia’s Abdurrahman Wahid. Abiy is popular among the world’s capitals for his reforms, refreshingly bright personality and apparent humility. He has none of the austere visages of his predecessors.

Aside from the New York ticker tape parade where millions lined Broadway Street to greet Emperor Haile Selassie in 1963, Abiy has been granted accolades and honours befitting a king. Still, the question remains if Ethiopia should have been in a better place today for all the imperial and prime ministerial foreign travels.

It is not even fair to complain about the cost of these trips - jet fuel, hotel accommodations, security detail, and transportation - that are normally attached to trips abroad. After all, he is bringing in billions of dollars in debt to Ethiopia for development and complaining about a trifling matter of meals and lodgings by ministers and officials should not be part of the calculus.

Surely, Abiy has not travelled more than Emperor Haile Selassie, who ruled for several decades. But Abiy has only been around for a year, and if he carries out at his current pace, he will out-travel the Emperor, and maybe even Abdurrahman Wahid too, and that is not a good reputation to acquire.

But who is complaining?

His hosts seem to be delighted by his visits, unaccustomed to an African leader who shows up for meetings in casual business suits, adorns ill-fitting overcoats in snowy Europe; covers his head with an earflap hat; and beams without any self-consciousness and unaffected joy at every stop.

But the grouse of Belete about the Emperor’s frequent foreign escapades is a fair warning to our prime minister. Do travel, but put a purpose and limit to them before the citizens begin to grumble.

In 1973, amidst a brewing revolution in the country, Emperor Haile Selassie traveled to Washington, DC to discuss his “security agenda” with President Nixon. The welcome was full of pomp and ceremony - the inspection of the honorary guard and the Marine Corps band blaring the national anthem. Alas, there was no ticker tape parade.

Nixon himself traveled to Egypt in 1974, toward the end of his administration and amidst the final knell of his Watergate scandal. People scoffed at him, derided him for trying to escape from what ailed his administration, and in the end, the millions that lined up to greet him in Cairo did not save his presidency. Abiy will serve his nation and himself better if he stays at home more and shepherd the country to a peaceful and prosperous future.

PUBLISHED ON May 04,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 992]

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