Far from Ethiopia's capital, change remains a distant dream
4 months ago, 23 July 17:38
Clutching the bloodstained student ID card and post-mortem certificate of his younger brother, Abedir Jamal's elation at the huge changes underway in Ethiopia is tempered by his fear that they won't reach him.
Across the country of 100 million people, Jamal, 25, and legions of unemployed graduates like him are holding their breath, hoping that new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed will succeed in his sledgehammer approach to dismantling the status quo.
Only 41 himself, Abiy has taken Ethiopia and the broader Horn of Africa by storm since taking office in April by doing the unthinkable.
In just three months, he has secured peace with bitter foe Eritrea, got parliament to lift a "terrorist" ban on opposition groups and pledged to open up key sectors of the economy to foreign investment.
Given the security-obsessed mentality and the Marxist-Leninist roots of the ruling EPRDF coalition that he now leads, it is hard to say Abiy is not moving at lightning speed.
But for Jamal, whose brother was shot at a protest near his home-town last year, it is not fast enough.
The shooting was one of many instances since 2015 in which security forces used live rounds to quell unrest that roiled small towns and some cities, including Harar, an ancient walled city 500 km (300 miles) east of Addis.
The crackdown included the arrest of 30,000 people under anti-terrorism laws. When it failed to keep a lid on the crisis, it prompted the resignation of Abiy’s predecessor in February.
"We need him to go faster. We need his promises to turn into action now," Abedir said of Abiy, as his friends - also graduates and jobless - nodded in agreement.
Such views underscore one of the biggest challenges facing the wildly popular prime minister: delivering on his promises across a vast country overseen by a sclerotic and stifling bureaucracy.
Despite the euphoria at the winds of changes sweeping through the corridors of power in Addis Ababa, there is little sign of change so far in places like Harar.
"The government, the security forces, the judiciary, they have all been against us," Abedir said. "We need Dr. Abiy to know about our problems. We are not feeling the reforms here yet."
He also wants justice for his brother, Obsa - specifically a thorough investigation into his death and an open trial.
Obsa was one of many youngsters who took to the streets last year against what they felt was the marginalisation suffered by Ethiopia's largest ethnic group at the hands of the Tigrayan ethnic clique that has dominated the EPRDF since it seized power from a military junta 27 years ago.
The coalition, which holds every seat in parliament, includes four ethnicity-based parties but Oromo protesters in Harar and other places have accused it of focusing on the interests of the Tigrayan elite.
The government has regularly denied any bias but many Oromos hope they will see a real change now that Abiy, one of their own, is in charge.
That would still leave one of Ethiopia's biggest problems: unemployment, especially in the hinterland.
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