Abiy Ahmed’s Impact

This report first presented the leader’s stake in climate action and then provided an overview of the leader’s solutions for such challenges. This section, then, draws the last point in the evaluation of Abiy Ahmed’s environmental leadership: an impact assessment of his sponsored initiatives. To do so, the order of the previous section will be followed, analyzing firstly the effectiveness of the Green Legacy Campaign, then that of the SCALA program, the consequences of the Scaling-up Renewable Energy agreements and lastly, the implementation of the GERD. 

Green Legacy Project – Impact

As of June 19, 2022, the project has allegedly already succeeded in planting close to 18 billion seedlings. The target for 2022 is to plant 6 billion seedlings during Ethiopia’s rainy season, with 52% of the seedlings accounting for agroforestry trees and 42% of them accounting for prepared seedlings. When overviewing the project’s developments in the past three years, two particular events can be highlighted as milestones. On July 29, 2019, Ethiopia managed to plant 354 million seedlings within a 12-hour span, exceeding the initial challenge of planting 200 million, and claiming a world record. Secondly, on June 21, 2021, when Ethiopia underwent a presidential election (which handed Abiy Ahmed his second term), the nation was also encouraged to take part in the project after having cast their votes. 

The record-breaking success of the campaign has been mentioned by Abiy in his presidential speeches and press releases. In this sense, the success of the project has been used as a broader metaphor for the overall efficiency of his regime, “The Green Legacy Project is a demonstration of our national capacity to launch and complete activities and tasks per set targets”. 

It is possible, then, that the campaign was also a vehicle for him to deploy his “constraint challenger” and “successful young leader” characterization,  following a leadership style motivated by the portrayal of achievement against all odds. The fact that the project was able to achieve its successful completion in spite of the Tigray war would further strengthen this characterization. In all, Green Legacy enabled him to deploy his idealism of Ethiopia’s faith at its fullest when discussing the project, “The Green Legacy Project is not one that will bear fruits immediately. Rather, we will see the results in the next generation”.  

Therefore, the project also enables a tool for improving national and international public approval. As for the national approval, it is shown by the participation of religious leaders as well as by citizens’ participation. According to the Green Legacy Project’s files, Green Legacy already included approximately 18 million civilians, 13 million coming from rural populations and 6 from urban areas., In this regard, standing politically for cooperation, as well as efficiently deploying a federal effort to fight against a common threat (something Abiy has not been able to conduct in other spheres of government yet) is a partial success for his Medemer ideology to become a reality.  The achievement of Medemer would continue to characterize him as a constraint challenger, appealing to those who feel frustrated by Ethiopia’s long-running autocracy and institutionalized political machinations led by the EPRDF. 

As for its international success, the project’s events included representatives from ally embassies and international organizations. Furthermore, the campaign is being published in the international climate conferences Abiy Ahmed’s government has participated in in the past years. There are two recent international climate conferences where Abiy Ahmed’s regime mentioned the project, the COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow (2021) and the Stockholm+50 Conference in June 2022. 

In the first case, Ethiopia’s government promised (along with 100 world leaders) to end and reverse deforestation by 2030, the pledge included more than 14B in public and private funds. In the case of the Stockholm +50 Conference, Abiy Ahmed publicized the initiative to the international audience, and also called global leaders to join him, “(…) we must foster trustworthy ties between state and non-state actors in order to increase solidarity and collaboration. I believe my country is doing its fair share towards ensuring a healthy planet on all fronts.” 

These efforts in sharing the policy regionally and globally depict another characteristic of his leadership style: the search for affiliation and unity as one of his guiding principles. Because he wants to be seen as a collaborative leader regionally, he has deployed efforts to export his successful environmental campaign to all of East Africa. This political stance for regional cooperation is an example of how Medemer could be translated to his handling of international relations.

The thesis of this report was that Abiy Ahmed’s first motivation for the initiation of environmental actions was not necessarily “climate anxiety” per se, but rather the goal of economic development and controlling of Ethiopia’s government. And this policy is no exception, this is a long-term campaign that will not reap its benefits in controlling desertification and saving the country’s agriculture in the short-term. However, the policy is still instrumental to his regime, it is an inexpensive project achieving an otherwise costly objective — publicizing his government in the international and regional arenas.

SCALA Programme – Impact

The SCALA Programme is one of the most recent environmental partnerships taken up by the Ethiopian government. Having only performed an inception workshop in January of 2022 There is little to evaluate yet from the project. However, the inception workshop highlighted the limited implementation capacity at all levels, and the need to work through a multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral coordinated effort. The need to strengthen monitoring capabilities (thus requiring infrastructure and human resources) was also highlighted. Another challenge was the lack of complete data, with unincorporated adaptation indicators.  

Lastly, the workshop presented the work plan for the project. Finishing in 2024, the final outputs should consist of 1) forming an evidence base for implementation of transformative climate actions in land use and agriculture, 2) strengthening the NDC and NAP priorities for land use and agriculture and integrating them into sectoral planning and budgeting; and 3) enabling the environment for the private sector to engage in the implementation of NDCs and NAPs. 

Participation in the Scaling-Up Renewable Energy Program (SREP) – Impact

Globally, the project has already improved energy access for 7,395 million people, generating 276 MWh of electricity annually. In Ethiopia, the most advanced projects are geothermal sector development projects. The Climate Investment Fund, with the Ethiopian government, has accorded the design of a new public sector institution to lead the development of the geothermal sector and the drafting of the primary legislation that will provide the high level framework for the development of the sector. 

As for the Assela Wind Farm Project, as of January 2022, the project is in the permitting stage. It is expected to get commissioned in 2023, with the Siemens Gamesa Consortium being responsible for the construction, operations, management, maintenance and repairs of the infrastructure. Scheduled to commence its construction between July 2023 and June 2025,  the Assela I wind farm is expected to supply approximately 300GWh of electricity to Ethiopia’s national grid a year. 

Participation in the International Finance Corporation’s Renewable Energy Program – Impact

No reports on the results of the implementation of the scaling solar program in particular were found. However, recent studies on the handling and use of solar energy in the country overall have been performed. In a June 2022 study on “The impact of alternative energy technology investment on the environment and food security in northern Ethiopia”, it was found that only about 15% of Ethiopia’s hydropower potential was in use, the prospects for solar energy being less than 1%. Adding solar, instead of hydropower, could help Ethiopia’s drought mitigation efforts. “A shortage of finance was among the barriers to adopting available modern energy technologies such as solar energy for lighting, radio, and mobile batteries” remains a main barrier to the implementation of renewable energy sources. In this regard, Abiy Ahmed will rely on further international funding that depends on the popularity of his regime internationally. 

G.E.R.D. – Impact

The policy, designed to bring great economic gains and create a sense of national pride through the establishment of energy security and independence, has endured several implementation and construction challenges, both locally and internationally. On February 2022, the dam produced electricity for the first time, and, as of August 2022, the third phase of filling the reservoir was completed. The dam, announced in 2011, was initially supposed to have been finished in 2018, but its construction suffered a 5 years delay, and was completed in 2022. 

Nationally, Ethiopia had initially handed construction to the Metals and Engineering Corporation (METEC), the country’s military-industrial conglomerate. However, in 2019, after accusing METEC’s head of corruption charges, contracts to fulfill METEC’s work were handed to a group of foreign companies, including Italy’s Salini Impregilo SpA, GE Hydro France, China Gezhouba Group Corp, Voith Hydro Shanghai and China’s Sinohydro Corp. 

Additionally, this investment was interrupted on several occasions by opposition groups who are leading an ethnic-nationalist ideology opposed to Abiy Ahmed’s Medemer. These interruptions were not only worrisome to the GERD’s stakeholders (mainly, the Italian, French and Chinese companies mentioned above), but also to Abiy Ahmed personally. The interruptions were imposing limitations on what could become the icon of efficiency and success for his government, and also damaging the guiding principle of Abiy’s leadership. 

Internationally, concerns over the construction and filling of the dam have been raised by Egypt and Sudan; diplomatic talks currently are still being held. Egypt and Sudan have voiced that the filling of the dam could limit the water flow to their countries and thus damage their land, which would have catastrophic consequences for their agriculture, industry and socioeconomic development overall. Studies have suggested that a nationwide water shortage in as little as two years could be caused if the dam were to be filled at a too rapid pace. 

Overall, the dispute is part of a greater argument on regional power: controlling the Nile’s basin, in order to control the region’s water resources and export electricity to the continent. Egypt, thus, has posed a permanent legally-binding agreement accepted by the affected states, which addresses the negative environmental effects. The country has also suggested that such a negotiation  will be pivotal for Ethiopia to meet the targets of the GTP. 

It should be noted that the standoff is not merely affecting regional relations, but is also echoing more broadly into the international arena. Cases in point are the September 2020’s suspension of economic assistance from the United States to Ethiopia due to the lack of sufficient progress in negotiations, the UN Security Council holding a session in July 2021 to discuss the dispute, and Joe Biden’s meeting in July 2022 with Egypt’s current president, supporting the country’s water security. 

The concerns over the sustainability of the dam thus raise the following question: from the Ethiopian point of view, is the GERD part of an environmental policy or is it aiming at an economic policy focused on nationalism, energy security and development? To provide an answer, one must only look at the manner in which Abiy Ahmed has referred to the function of the dam, “Regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Ethiopia’s interest is to respond to the electricity and economic needs of our country and reduce Sudan’s and Egypt’s concerns while bringing peace and prosperity in the Horn. We should use the energy together and resolve any issues related to water. We just want it to be a peaceful journey towards development.”

As per this quote, it is possible that a positive environmental solution sponsored by Abiy Ahmed is simply a byproduct of a greater, more important socio-economic policy. The fact that the dam is being built — despite the possibility that it could present counterproductive effects on the region’s soils —  supports this mechanism. The case in point is not only the alleged future soil erosion problems for Egypt, but the deforestation that the building of the plant has caused. The GERD is located in the region of Benishangul-Gumuz, where 98% of the tree cover is dry forest. In January 2022, Ethiopian authorities announced the removal of 17,000 hectares of forests.

Overall assessment of the institutional structure of Ethiopia. 

Lastly, there is one overarching implementation challenge for the country: defective institutions, the lack of a centralized authority, and the recurrent conflicts emerging across and between ethnonationalism groups.

Overall, Ethiopia’s rise as an economic powerhouse has been challenged by the structural constraints of the country — both politically and institutionally. It lacks an established stock market, banking sector, regulation capacity and foreign exchange regime.  The weak institutional structure of the country mostly relates to the country’s historical autocratic processes, where arrangements were opaque and leadership lacked transparency. 

This machination is further complicated by the fact that each domestic region has its own Special Force, known as Liyu Police in Amharic. These forces, which respond more to regional rather than national demands, are causing federal relations to become blurry, hindering federal efforts for coordination and contributing to participation of armed forces when ethno-nationalist conflicts arise.  Therefore, ethno-nationalist sentiments are not only backed by languages and symbols particular to each region, but are also being promoted by the institutional regime, which involves armed conflict as a form of response to such sentiments. Thus, the defective institutional structure is contributing to the decentralization of government, hindering the achievement of an effective passing of unified policies across the region. 

In addition, this decentralization disincentivizes the private sector from developing environmental projects, where the role of these partners is essential, particularly in countries, like Ethiopia, that lack the resources to produce such developments without foreign aid. In this regard, inter-ethnic tensions and the institutional regime fostering such conflicts have caused several environmental policies to suffer construction delays, such as the completion of the Addis-Djibouti railway and the Light Rail Transit and Bus Rapid Transit lines.

Despite the fact that many of Abiy Ahmed’s environmental policies have not yet moved past their initial construction stages, there is a broad conclusion to draw in this section: On the whole, Abiy Ahmed’s environmental policies have proved effective in the “numeric” terms of achievement (the perfect case in point being the large numbers of trees planted under Green Legacy). The key element for such initial success are the leader’s efforts in developing partnerships with the private sector and international funds. In this sense, Abiy’s handling of such relationships are depicting his confidence in his neoliberal intentions, which are being materialized through the actual legislation passed. However, such advancements are confronted by other structural issues in Ethiopia: the defective institutional regime and decentralized government are serious threats to the successful completion of Abiy Ahmed’s environmental projects. With inter-ethnic tensions and internal civil conflicts disincentivizing investment and hindering prospective construction deadlines. 

There are further aspects of Abiy’s policies to be looked at in the future if a comprehensive impact assessment is to be carried out: In regards to Green Legacy, what percentage of the planted trees will grow into actual trees and effectively contribute to the country’s reforestation? How trustable are the results published by the Government if there are no reliable national institutions measuring the impact of the policies taken? Will Ethiopia come to an agreement with all stakeholders involved in the functioning and construction of the G.E.RD, in order to make this policy a “rounded” green initiative (without controversies on the environmental harm it could possibly bring about)?