Abiy Ahmed: a Man of Dual Personalities


By- Birhanu M Lenjiso (PHD)

The reformist Ethiopian PrimeMinister, Abiy Ahmed has a strong military and security personality. He joined the army as a teenager in early 1990s, took formal military training in WestWollega and worked mostly in intelligence and communications department of the National Defense Force until 2010. He was deployed as a member of the UnitedNations Peace Keeping Force (UNAMIR) to Rwanda in the 1995 and led an intelligence team that discovers the positions of the Eritrean Defense Forces during the Ethio-Eritrea border war (1998 2000). Abiy was a co-founder and an acting director of the Ethiopian Information Network Security Agency (INSA). He achieved a Lieutenant Colonel rank during his military career.

There is an ongoing debate whether there is such a thing as “military personality” person but some psychologists argue that military members do share a number of mannerisms, beliefs, traits, and perceptions that can be fairly described as “military personality”. Military training is guided by a motto of ‘making a new man of every trainee’ by boosting confidence, pride and directness. Soldiers are thusexpected to have an air of self-assuredness, poise and downright coolness. They also share a strong sense of pride, honor, and integrity. Moreover, military training involves directness, communicating quickly, clearly and without any hint of self-doubt or ambiguity. At times they should be abrasive, impatient oreven rude to accomplish their mission efficiently. These characteristics are not unique to the military but they take on more significance and greatly shape how the military sees the world and influence their actions on a daily basis, both at home and on the battlefield.

Now, the question is whether Abiy Ahmed rely on his military personality or not. By referring to his speeches and trainings for and meetings with the service members, one can tell how much Abiy Ahmed rely on, and display military personality. He, in fact, speaks to the core of the military science, he uses military tactics to cool down soldiers and to boost their pride. His leadership, like his successors, is militarist i.e they believe in maintaining a strong military capability for expanding national interests. From my assessments, I also find him confident (sometimes overconfident), someone who takes pride in his country and at times very direct.

In 2010 Abiy Amhed decided to leave the military and his post as deputy director of INSA to become a politician. Few years before that he was posted to his birth place to calm the inter-religious conflict that claimed the life of many civilians. Abiy successfully deescalated the inter-religious conflict and most probably that has increased his appetite for peace and reconciliation processes. Later, he registered for a Ph.D. program at the Institute of Peace and Security Studies of Addis Ababa University where he wrote on Social Capital and its Role in Traditional Conflict Resolution focusing on the inter-religious conflict in Jimma Zone. This exposure and experience, I believe has sensitized, if not developed, his second personality – peaceful personality.

Peaceful personality is a characteristic of an individual involving the consistent manifestation of peaceful states, attitudes, and behaviors over time and across relevant contextual domains. People who share peaceful personality traits argue that fostering the development of a peaceful personality is an important step to create a peaceful world, to make our relationships peaceful, and to find inner peace. Peaceful personality connotes consistently peaceful behavior, states, and attitudes over time and across relevant contextual domains. Abiy Ahmed`s peaceful behaviors easily manifest itself through his Medemer, forgiveness, cooperation, reconciliation and kindness ideologies, and approaches. He is also in a peaceful state even during times of turmoil and multiple assassination attempts. He shows calmness, serenity, and security as well as conditions of inner harmony between aspects of self. He shows a peaceful attitude – beliefs and values that facilitate the creation and maintenance of nonviolent and harmonious relationships between the Ethiopian people. His devotion to peacefulness, on its own, cannot be overestimated and some even criticize him for ignoring justice for peacefulness.

Are the two personalities reconcilable?

Peacefulness is very much about experiencing low levels of violence and engaging in mutually harmonious relationships while militarism is about using force (violence) to advance own interests. As far as I am concerned, it is very hard to reconcile a military with peaceful personally. Both peace and conflict starts from within and having militarism and peacefulness as a component of your personality could be making yourself a battlefield, which deprives your inner peace in the long run. A move from militarism to fostering the development of a peaceful personality is a move in the right direction. The people of the world, in general, are tired of war, and desperately in need of peace. We are investing billions of dollars into weapons and war while people are dying of famine. The major factor for growing terrorism in the world is the militarism of the west. Thus, it is time for all of us to look for a peaceful resolution to our problem through nonviolence as the controlling force of history. And reconciling the military with peaceful personality is simply discarding the earlier!