Three young women, one of whom wears a hijab, sit around a table. They are the leaders of the Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice Party (ECSJP). ECSJP is one of the many new Ethiopian parties that have suddenly got freedom to operate and take part in elections. Together with more than 50 other parties’ leadership these three women are participating in the gender equality seminar organised by the Political Parties of Finland for Democracy – Demo Finland in Addis Ababa on the 17th of October.
The scarf wearing woman speaks passionately of her own plans and work towards equality. Before standing up to grab the microphone, she says she wants to become the Prime Minister of Ethiopia. She does not lack determination and faith for the future.
Ethiopia is currently experiencing a surge of hope and optimism. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was just recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, an achievement the locals are understandably very proud of. There are small signs pointing towards a cult of personality. One simply cannot miss seeing Abiy’s pictures in the streets.
Then again, who am I to say when something is a cult? Maybe this is perfectly typical respect for the nation’s leader. Political practices and cultures are not universal.
The optimism stems from recent reforms which will hopefully culminate in elections planned for May next year. There is a significant number of parties, nearly one hundred, and being part of the opposition does no longer mean living under threat of persecution.
There are also other things happening in the city. The streets of Addis Ababa are filled with Chinese projects and one of the capital’s roads has been renamed Ethiopia China Friendship Avenue. Many streets and roads have been built with Chinese money. China also paid for the building of African Union’s Headquarters complex and has leased big land areas from Ethiopia for decades to ensure their own food supplies for the future. Africa, only just recovering from colonialism, is being colonised again. When Finland’s development cooperation is compared against this, the efforts seem quite small – but also sustainable, both ethically and socially.
Demo Finland’s work is a small part of the wider picture. We support National Ethiopian Women’s Association locally which helps to improve the democratic processes. The work is small-scale and, despite a lot of activity in Ethiopia, its results are not instantly visible. Still, this is what development is at its best – strengthening a country’s own structures and competency.
The amount of work still needed to realise towards the upcoming elections become evident during the seminar. Both the parties and election organisations have just started to get organised. The recently approved election bill and the voting system set forth in it will likely bring with them a decreasing number of female’s in the Parliament. Regardless, as I make my way around the seminar room listening to the conversations people are having, I feel happy. Young women together with elderly men are having passionate conversations. At least I feel like the dialogue is real and authentic.
On one hand, roads built by Chinese are instantly visible. They are concrete additions to the lives of people living in Addis Ababa. Demo Finland, on the other hand, is quietly building the structures that will help Ethiopians build the roads themselves in the future.
The Swedish People’s Party of Finland
The author is a Member of Parliament from Kirkkonummi and the chair of Swedish Parliamentary Group.
*Demo Finland regularly publishes columns by representatives of its member parties. The views expressed in the columns are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Demo Finland.