Special Courtesy – Solomon Kibriye, Archdeacon Tesfa Mikael Williams & Menetasnot Desta
The new Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia is driving his nation to a new era of revival, peace and prosperity. He has launched a nationwide policy of social, economic and political reforms. Ethiopia was going through severe political and social turmoil (with protests, ethnic conflicts, nepotism and human rights violations) when Dr Abyi took control of the Prime Minister’s office (in April 2018).
Son of a Muslim Father and Christian Mother, he belongs to the Ethiopian Omoro community. He belongs to the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which is the ruling political coalition in Ethiopia. Unlike his predecessors, Dr Abyi adopted a totally different policy to govern Ethiopia. He gives importance to human rights, freedom of expression, media freedom, and national unity.
Mending Ties with Eretria
One of the greatest achievements of Dr Abyi was brokering peace with rival neighbouring state Eretria. In July 2018, Dr Abyi travelled to Eretria and shook hands with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, thereby ending two decades of hostility and enmity between two African nations. President Isaias Afwerki made a return visit to Ethiopia, where he was given a warm welcome. The Eretrian Embassy in the Capital City of Addis Ababa was reopened and flight service between the two countries was resumed.
Dr Abiy also implemented several steps to privatise Ethiopia’s government-owned enterprises. He also took initiatives to attain peace and economic deals with Egypt, South Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, and other countries.
Historic Unity in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is one of the world’s ancient Christian communities, which is also the second largest Orthodox Church by the membership. It belongs to the ancient Oriental Orthodox Communion. The Ethiopian Church has remained divided for almost three decades. The 4th Patriarch of the Church Abune Merkorios was forcefully removed by the EPRDF government during the 1990s when they defeated the Derg government. The Derg government was the Marxist-Leninist party which overthrew His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, thereby bringing an end to the Solomonic Dynasty (House of Solomon) and Ethiopian Monarchy.
EPRDF accused Abune Merkorios of collaboration with the Communist Derg government. The Patriarch and his supporters had to flee Ethiopia to the USA via Kenya. Abune Merkorios and his supporters formed the ‘Synod in Exile’ and resided in the USA for almost 29 years. Hence, the Ethiopian Church was divided into the ‘Addis Ababa Synod’ and the ‘Synod in Exile’. Abune Paulos became the Patriarch after Abune Merkorios, and upon his demise, Abune Mathias was elected as the Patriarch of Ethiopia (current). Dr Abiy took constructive steps to mend the schism between the Ethiopian Church and the Synod in Exile. He contacted leaders of the Synod in Exile as well as conversed with leaders of the Ethiopian Church in Addis Ababa. Despite several attempts to achieve peace in the past, however, they all failed due to unwanted political interference.
According to Solomon Kibriye, Editor of Ethiopian Affairs at Orthodoxy Cognate PAGE, ‘The perception that the government was against reconciliation put a damper on previous efforts to end the split, so the efforts from the new leader have gone a long way in improving the atmosphere around reconciliation. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed went even further during his first Prime Minister’s Questions before Parliament when he clearly and unequivocally blamed previous ethicist policies for splitting the Holy Synod and called for unity and an end to corruption. A reconciliation committee (Addis Ababa Synod) was formed and discussions were held with Dr Abiy. The Prime Minister stressed the importance of their task. He said that Orthodox unity was not just important to the members of the Orthodox faith, but also to others outside the faith. He underlined the importance of the Orthodox Church in the language, culture, history and unity of the country. He noted that quarrelling and tearing things apart was very easy and that reconciliation and healing of rifts were much more difficult. He advised them to be patient and persistent, in order to achieve peace. He urged them not to prolong reconciliation, but to complete it, and to bring the exiled fathers home.’
The reconciliation committee of the ‘Addis Ababa Synod’ met leaders of the ‘Synod in Exile’ in Washington D.C. Joint prayers between the Exile and Addis Ababa Synods were held at the Exile Church’s St. Gabriel Cathedral in Washington D.C. The reconciliation conference began on 23rd July 2018. On 27th July it was declared that The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church has formally put an end to the 27-Year-Old Schism, and now recognizes one Holy Synod and two Canonical Patriarchs.
The declaration was made at Washington D.C.’s Debre Mihret St. Michael’s Cathedral. After years in which the church was split between an “Addis Ababa Synod”, a ‘Synod in Exile’, with two rival Patriarchs, the two groups have now united into one single Holy Synod, and the schism is officially over. An official unity declaration gathering was held at the Watergate Hotel, in Washington D.C., presided over by Dr Abyi.
On the 1st of August, Patriarch Abune Merkorios landed on Ethiopian soil after 29 years. The Prelate was given a great welcome by Patriarch Abune Mathias, Church leaders, politicians, and the faithful. The Prelate was also given an official welcome and a reception at the Holy |Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa.
Former Prime Minister Responsible for Splitting the Ethiopian Orthodox Church Sought Forgiveness from Patriarch Abune Merkorios
In a stunning and historic development, former Prime Minister Tamrat Layne came to the Patriarchate in Addis Ababa and bowed down before His Holiness Patriarch Abune Merkorios and kissed his knee and asked forgiveness for his role in removing him from the Patriarchal throne two and a half decades ago. Tamirat Layne was the Prime Minister in the Transitional Government during the aftermath of the fall of the Derg and formation of EPRDF. He now freely admits that under the direction of his party leadership, he was the one who coerced Patriarch Merkorios to step down from the throne and flee the country in a cargo truck bound for Kenya.
The Ethiopian Government & the Orthodox Church to Help Resolve the Schism in the Eritrean Orthodox Church
The Ethiopian Government and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church will work to resolve the ongoing crisis in the Eritrean Orthodox Church. Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed, during his speech at the Holy Trinity Cathedral, stated that the Ethiopian delegates were successful in their mission of uniting the Church. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has a great responsibility in building peace in the country and it has an important role in supporting and mediating unity for the Eritrean Orthodox Church. Prime Minister Abiy also mentioned the willingness of the Eritrean authorities and the two factions of the Eritrean Church to resolve the schism in order to unify the Orthodox Church. The two Patriarchs and the Synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church also expressed their support and cooperation for the Ethiopian Prime Minister.
‘We don’t need to learn the religion from you’ – PM Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia stated to UAE Crown Prince.
In an interesting development, Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia recently stated that he rejected an offer from Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi to construct an Islamic Centre in Adis Ababa.
It was reported that Mohammed Bin Zayed told the Ethiopian PM that “We will help you with many things. We will teach you.” In his response, the Ethiopian PM replied to Bin Zayed that “We don’t need to learn the religion from you. You’ve lost the religion. What we need is to learn Arabic quickly, so we can better understand the religion and teach it to you, and return you to it. You have lost the religion’ added the Ethiopian PM, pointing to the going conflicts in the Middle East.
The Ethiopian Government is also not happy with the attempt by the Emirates to capitalize on the historic peace deal with Eritrea. The Ethiopian Foreign Ministry stated that peace was achieved without the negotiation of a third party.
On the other hand, the Ethiopian Foreign Minister is being criticised for his strong connections to the US as well as the manipulation attempt by his own party to use his popularity for its own survival. Moreover, the recent unrest in Ethiopia’s eastern Somali region has proven to be a great challenge to Prime Minister Abiy. The Ethiopian security forces fired at protesters, killing a few of them. More than two Ethiopian Orthodox Churches were also burned down. Maintaining domestic peace and security in general, and peace and cooperation between the different ethnic communities within Ethiopia specifically, seems a herculean task for the Prime Minister.
Dr Abiy of Ethiopia is leading a great revolution. It is an ongoing revolution that has positively touched the life of the common man. Despite all the criticism, Dr Abyi is proving that he is a man of great leadership and conviction, and a true patriot with an outstanding vision for the transformation of his country.