A lot of changes can take place in three months time. During the past couple of months I personally have been busy with the humanitarian innovation agenda of the Dutch Relief Alliance, a collaborative of 16 Dutch humanitarian agencies. The process has been highly collaborative and involved engagement with the various member agencies and companies or research bodies willing to partner in developing, piloting or scaling innovations for the humanitarian sector. This has been made possible by the Dutch government intentionally allocating 3 million a year to the humanitarian innovation through the Dutch Relief Alliance. However, will it be timely and effective enough to achieve the kind of system change that is required to tackle tomorrow's challenges?
Irregular migration flows seem on the increase around Bangladesh as governments of Myanmar and India choose radical approaches to redefine national identity, leaving Muslim minority groups uncatered for both in Myanmar and Assam regional state of India. Parties in the Middle-East seem to play each other for political influence in countries like Syria and Yemen, plunging them into civil wars. Both regions have seen massive displacement of people as a result, who no longer have a secure place to live with humanitarian agencies trying to respond and relieve the suffering while attempting to strategize ways forward with local communities and governments.
At the same time, one of the other source regions for migration (the Horn of Africa) seems to witness a major shift in the political landscape with the new Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Dr. Abiy reaching out to all Ethiopians and neighbouring countries in a strive to restore order after years of instability, emphasizing unity and a shared future. In just a few months visits were made to Egypt, Eritrea and the US, reducing tensions with Egypt and Eritrea substantially. Also at home opposition leaders and other political prisoners were released and a year of Jubilee seems to have been embraced by the new leadership, who also turned to the Ethiopian diaspora in the United States calling on His Holiness Patriarch Abune Merkorios of Ethiopia to return from exile. The schism that split the Ehiopian Orthodox Church in 1991, was undone in an unprecedented way. The sitting Patriarch, His Holiness Abune Patriarch Mathias, has agreed to co-lead the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedu (reunited) Church in an administrative role. It only goes to show how Abiy manages to inspire other leaders to deal with the past, face the present and have a vision for the future while calling on everyone to contribute.
It made me wonder what the world needs most: innovation by humanitarian aid agencies to detect deterriorating situations better or invoke appropriate responses in a timely manner, or radical change through transformative leadership. Possibly both are needed in a world that is gradually getting to her senses, realising that the challenges ahead are way too complex and therefore require different strategies to be co-developed. In his very name Abiy Ahmed (as a child called Abiyut, which means "revolution") carries the promise of a shared future for people of different faith and ethnic backgrounds. His inaugural speech back in April already carried the notion of an inclusive future.
In these three months Dr. Abiy turned to all sectors of society, including the aid agencies, the private sector and the church, asking for unity and appreciation of diversity and differences of opinion in ways that remind us of the days of Mandela in South-Africa. His education in peace and reconciliation studies seems to pay off domestically as well as internationally. On the diplomatic front he reached out to Eritrean and Egyptian Presidents emphasizing the need for a shared future.
From sustainable development to inclusive investment
In April Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed met with the private sector. During the meeting, the Prime Minister called upon the private sector & investors to partner with the government in addressing youth unemployment and fighting corruption. In June Abiy announced the establishment of an Ethiopian stock exchange along with the privatization of state-owned enterprises, thereby acknowledging the need for a level playing field for a healthy private sector development.
I must say, while dealing with displacement crises in Asia and the Middle-East, it is a great relief to hear a Prime Minister put the interest of the people first, valuing diversity and the contributions of countervailing power to arriving at solutions. In a very much narrowed civil society space and an almost completely contracted NGO operational space focussing on humanitarian aid and service delivery and almost fully aligned with government planning, it is exactly the sort of inclusive thinking that the world needs and for which possibly local, home-grown community based organizations are best placed to carry the flame. Northern NGOs, rather than focussing on their specific technical abilities, should increasingly broker between local interests and macro-economic ambitions of national governments supported by Foreign Direct Investment and help people to defend their case. Abiy showed this during his career while mediating religious conflicts in his home district and addressing land-grabbing practice by higher administrations towards his home region. The vision of his mother instilled in him the desire to reconcile different faith identities in himself and in society. His education provided him with the means to be a transformational leader. The love for the peoples of his country provided him the passion and energy to take on the challenge.
May God bless him and the people of Ethiopia, and may they examplify to the rest of the world the kind of peace that will guide them in taking wise decisions on natural resource management, population growth and sustainable economic development, making all humanitarian aid redundant.
Update 7-8-2018: Hostilities flared up in Somali region, following the deposing of the regional president by Abiy, with federal forces trying to establish order again. Some say this is the first litmustest of his rule, others say the first political mistake after some bold moves during the first 100 days. For those believing in the power of prayer, please pray for Ethiopia, and Somali region in particular, that peace may be restored and reforms may be successful with equal opportunity for all.
My name is Reinier van Hoffen.
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Also find the text of a lecture Dr. Achterhuis held at the 2012 Bilderberg conference.