Ethiopian Prime Minister's visit to U.S. sparks wave of optimism - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Ethiopian Prime Minister's visit to U.S. sparks wave of optimism

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WSIL -- Ethiopia's Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed visited three cities in the United States and met with members of the diaspora on his "Break the Wall Build the Bridge" tour.

On the heels of leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea signing a joint declaration of peace, he aimed to connect with members of the diaspora and extend a message of unity in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Minneapolis.

"I'm very optimistic and it's because of Dr. Abiy that I'm able to be very optimistic," said 20-year-old Isaac Abiye, who lives in the D.C. area.

News 3's Hannah Gebresilassie covered related events and the rally in the nation's capital, which drew tens of thousands of people from various backgrounds, including Hayat Sadu from the Oromo ethnic group.

"We all are one, we are together now, no more war," Sadu said.

In an electrifying crowd, some attendees tied Ethiopian and Eritrean flags together to show signs of unity. 

"I see a different future for Ethiopia than I ever have and I've always been proud of my country but now I have a future to be proud of as well," said 20-year-old Abigail Mesfin, who's in Washington, D.C. for a summer program at John Hopkins.

Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser declared July 28 as “Ethiopia Day in DC” drawing a roar of applause from the audience. Supporters waved a variation of flags, side by side, as they cheered on Dr. Abiy.

"He's changing everything, he's recording every record, he's moving like the speed of light," said Abiyu Aynalem, who drove down from New York.

Two-time Olympic gold medalist Haile Gebrselassie applauded the efforts by Dr. Abiy, including seeking peace with Eritrea.

"The impossible thing become possible," Gebrselassie said.

Obang Metho, who serves as the Executive Director of Solidarity for New Ethiopia, is hopeful for more progress. 

"Abiy is inspiring the people but being inspired is a good thing but now the next thing will come," Metho said.

While thousands gathered in support of Dr. Abiy, there were people who came out saying they do not support him or his aim to strengthen diplomatic ties with Eritrea, which is a one-party state.

But, a majority of the diaspora appears to back the prime minister and his agenda.

The impacts were even felt around southern Illinois by a handful of Ethiopians and Eritreans.

Dr. Kamal Ibrahim, an Eritrean-American Associate Professor at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, couldn't make it to Washington, D.C. but shared his enthusiasm for the recent events between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

"Practically everybody I know in the region is very, very hopeful and very positive about what has happened so far," Dr. Ibrahim said.

He serves as the Chair of the Department of Zoology and works with scientists in Eritrea. He collaborates with researchers and does genetic studies in East Africa with an overall aim of conserving wildlife in the region.

He said building the diplomatic ties between Ethiopia, Eritrea, and neighboring countries, could help expand his research.

"Now we can go further, now if politics is out of it, we can seek joint funding, we can integrate what we are doing into government policy," Dr. Ibrahim said.

He explained how there have been similar efforts by previous leaders to unify the people.

"Twice it didn't work, I and many people I know are keeping our fingers crossed that this third time it will work," Dr. Ibrahim said.

It's been 17 years since he visited his family in Keren, Eritrea.

"To go to a place where there is no rule of law, where your safety is predicated on the goodwill of the other person, not on the law of land, was just not palatable for me," Dr. Ibrahim said.

While he said there's lots of beauty in Eritrea, he hopes the recent events will help improve overall conditions in the country and resolve a human rights crisis.

"I'm hopeful, I want to go back home and see my mom," Dr. Ibrahim said.

Dr. Ibrahim called the efforts by Dr. Abiy a step forward, but said there's still a lot more to be done.

"But there's got to be something more than that in it because the divisions that led to the fragmentations that we're seeing now aren't completely artificial, there is substance in them and that substance has to be addressed,"  Dr. Ibrahim said. "This is a time just to give hope to the people to make people realize that tomorrow can be better than today and yesterday. I'm just hopeful that he has more substance in it than making us feel good."

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