The Abiy Project
God, Power and War in the New Ethiopia
From ‘democratic revolution’ to conflict in Tigray, a journalist’s eyewitness account of Abiy Ahmed’s transformative premiership. After initial euphoria, can Ethiopia avoid disaster?
In 2018, Ethiopia and the world were in the throes of ‘Abiymania’, a fervour of popular support for the divided country’s young, charismatic new prime minister. Arriving as if from nowhere, Abiy Ahmed, a Pentecostal Christian, promised democratic salvation and national unity. For his role brokering a historic peace with neighbouring Eritrea, he received the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. Hailed at home as a prophet and abroad as a liberal reformer, Abiy was all things to all men.
But his democratic revolution wasn’t quite what it seemed. Within two years, Ethiopia had lurched into a devastating civil war, threatening state collapse. By 2023, genocidal fighting had killed hundreds of thousands in the northern Tigray region; famine stalked the land; and Ethiopia’s once-promising economy lay in tatters. But Abiy had never looked stronger.
Based on hundreds of interviews with Ethiopians of all persuasions, and extensive reporting across the country, this book traces the fading hope of Ethiopia’s transition, unravelling the paradoxes of an enigmatic world leader. Despite everything, Abiy remains in power, embodying the new Ethiopia in all its contradiction, triumph and tragedy. But his attempt to remould the country in his image almost broke it—and may break it still.
Tom Gardner moved to Addis Ababa in 2016 as The Economist’s Horn of Africa correspondent. He covered Ethiopia during its most tumultuous years in decades, travelling to all corners of the country before his expulsion by the Abiy Ahmed government at the height of the Tigray war in 2022.