A New Day For Ethiopia

April 13, 2018
Former prime minister, Haileamariam Dessalegn, right, symbolically hands over the Ethiopian flag to newly elected prime minister, Dr. Abiy Ahmed, left, Monday, April 2, 2018. (AP photo/Mulugeta Ayene)

Ethiopia is in the midst of significant political and ethnic turmoil right now. Some even say it is on the brink of civil war, although any conflict would be short-lived and one-sided. The small, but powerful Tigray (Tee-Gray) Tribe has held nearly all the political and economic power for several decades and has been accused of suppressing conflicting voices from other tribes. The Oromo people are made up of several smaller tribes including the Arsi Oromo, who we are serving in the Southeast. Oromos have long felt marginalized as rural lands throughout their region have been given to developers as part of Ethiopia’s attempts to industrialize and become a much larger player in the global economy. Ethiopia’s economy has grown considerably over the last 15 years because of these efforts but many, including the Oromo, feel it has been at their expense.

As protests over this have taken place in Oromo towns and cities over the past 2 years, the government has cracked down and many people have lost their lives. A State of Emergency was declared in October 2016 lasting until May 2017. During this time protests were prohibited, internet access restricted, and other limits on economic and social activity were issued throughout the country. For example, our thresher business groups were prohibited from transporting gasoline from village to village. Of course, the Oromo feel they have been oppressed while the government says they are responding to violence by some of the protestors and attempting to keep the peace. The conditions improved during the second half of 2017 as negotiations between members of the government’s ruling party and tribal (regional) leaders took place. Plans were seemingly being laid for adjusting the balance of power and giving more equitable representation. But in late January this year, protests and strikes arose once again. Protesters claimed leaders were dragging their feet and didn’t trust that the outcome would be favorable for the Oromo and other marginalized tribes. Around this time, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned, stating it was time for another to take the mantle in leading Ethiopia forward. This gave some hope that an Oromo or other non-Tigrayan would be appointed. But shortly thereafeter, a second State of Emergency was declared and the people were enraged once again.

In the midst of this context, we have seen the Disciple Making Movement, which we have chosen to call Simple Church, has flourished. The conditions do put a strain on formal training and communication in the field but in January, we spent time with the leaders and were very encouraged. Multiple streams of churches have been planted to second and third generation. Multiple volunteer church planters have been the catalyst of this growth and the newer simple churches have spawned leaders that have found persons of peace and started new churches using the Discovery Bible Study method. In 2017, 258 churches were planted and close to 2,700 people came to faith in Christ. The message of freedom from sin, reconciliation with God, and loving your neighbor has resonated in many villages. To fuel this movement, we continue to fund training in key cities this year and support five Strategy Coordinators who are coaching and mentoring volunteer church planters throughout the region.

A savings group meets on the ground of an abandoned NGO compound in Arsi Negele.

The West Arsi savings group program has entered an exciting phase. Groups are becoming self-governing and links with major public and private institutions are being made so that the rural poor will have a bridge to access greater resources for their community. Such Institutions are related to water, energy, banking, women’s affairs, education and more. The government is beginning to recognize the groups, and leaders from a cluster of 10-12 groups are forming independent organizations that are, among other things, equipped to form new groups on their own without support from Discovering Light and other external partners. We are hopeful to begin turning our focus to other Arsi Oromo areas, looking to catalyze similar movements as in West Arsi.

One of the challenges Ethiopia faces is the gap between the small, but growing urban middle and upper class, and the underdeveloped rural population. The gap is based on factors greater than wealth. The urban population identifies less with their tribe and more with the fast-growing Ethiopian economy and city culture. Movements like the Saving Groups in West Arsi, are developing the Arsi Oromo from the inside out, something that will not be done with simply better representation in the government. So while we sympathize with the plight of the Oromo and are concerned for their pursuit of justice, we continue to work towards helping them find abundant life in Christ and understand his plan for flourishing communities. We pray for wisdom to navigate these complex times. We believe it is not too much a stretch to say God has established Discovering Light and our partners for ‘such a time as this.’

On April 2, a ray of hope began to glimmer from Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, when Mr. Abiy Ahmed was elected Prime Minister to replace Mr. Hailemariam. Mr. Abiy became the first Oromo prime minister of Ethiopia, bringing joy, pride, and relief to the Oromo people and a renewed sense of calm throughout the nation. Pundits and analysts in Ethiopia and around the world heralded Abiy’s election. He is a known as a peacemaker and a representative of the people. He’s the son of a Muslim father, Christian mother. Some have said he is a practicing Christian but news reports are unclear. One of our partners had the following to say about Mr. Abiy. “I’m very happy by our new prime minister. I believe that he is elected by God. Because he is very spiritual person, he has strong stand for unity, he is young and one of the first who is an accepted leaders by (all) Ethiopians, in history. I hope we will see new Ethiopia very soon.” Another said, “Thank you for your heart of deep concern and partnership. Leaving what tomorrow might hold to the God who holds it, we are so happy for the election of Dr.Abiy Ahmed, who seems to be the man prepared for such a time as this.

Dr. Abiy Ahmed addresses the media during his first day in office.(REUTERS/Stringer)

Despite the positive developments, we have yet to hear from our partners based outside of Addis. Internet has reportedly been reinstated throughout the country but we still await reporting on the mobile threshers and the expansion of simple churches during first quarter of 2018.
We cannot predict the future, but we seek to be ready when opportunities present themselves. We hope to initiate a savings group program in other Arsi Oromo areas later this year, and also plan to connect partners more closely with the lives they are impacting. For example, we intend to spend some concentrated time with the young savings group members we met last summer in Arsi Negele and bring their story back to share.

In this time of unknowns, would you consider a gift of faith to Discovering Light? Your partnership allows us to dream of ways we can help the Arsi Oromo experience the life of freedom and flourishing God intended for them. The Oromo have a leader they can trust in Addis Ababa. We believe their true hope lies in the transformation already taking place in villages across the Arsi and Bale zones. Will you believe with us?