SEMAHEGN GESHAYE has peddled books near the national theatre in Addis Ababa for eight years. But business has rarely been this brisk. “Anything that’s about Abiy Ahmed is popular,” he says. A flurry of titles about Ethiopia’s new prime minister has hit the shelves since he took office in April. One best-seller, called “Moses”, compares Mr Abiy to the prophet. Another professes to be an insider account of his meteoric rise. The two most popular were written under a pseudonym by the prime minister himself. The last copies of “The Stirrup and the Throne”, his meditation on leadership, sold out in the capital weeks ago. “We badly need that book,” grumbles a bookshop owner. “People are always bothering us for it.”
More than 90% of those surveyed by WAAS International, a local research firm, have a favourable view of Mr Abiy, who has released thousands of political prisoners and apologised for police brutality. But a visitor to the capital could be forgiven for thinking the number is even higher. Songs with titles like “He Awakens Us” ring out on the airwaves. Street boys hawk stickers, posters and T-shirts featuring Mr Abiy. Addis Gebremichael, who runs a corner shop near the central square, says he sold 1,500 such shirts in a single day when a big rally was staged for Mr Abiy in June.
Abiymania is also infecting Eritrea, with which Mr Abiy has just made peace. Eritrean women promise to name their first-born sons after him. A clothes shop in Asmara, the capital, has dedicated a fashion line to him. Some Christians believe he was sent by God. His name alludes to the Easter fasting season, they note, and he rose to power during Lent.
Ethiopia’s state media behave slavishly towards the prime minister, obsessively covering his appearances and seldom airing critical views. Mr Abiy himself never gives interviews and has yet to hold a press conference. Non-state outlets complain that they are no longer invited to official press briefings.
But there are signs that Mr Abiy’s honeymoon is ending. At the rally in June an attempt was made on his life. This month federal troops clashed with local security forces in Ethiopia’s Somali region, triggering tit-for-tat killings and displacing thousands. Graffiti reading “Fuck Abiy” were later seen in the regional capital. Ethnic violence has recently escalated in his own region of Oromia. The government’s response has been feeble. Mr Abiy may be human after all.
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