Will the next Prime Minister of Ethiopia have the authority to transform the country?


Somalilandsun- After more than two years of political unrest mainly in the Oromo and Amhara regions, the Ethiopian PM Hailemariam Desalegn was forced to resign. In order to quell the unrest and meet some of the public demands, the Ethiopian government released thousands of political prisoners from Oromo and Amhara regions. Contrary to the good act, the government ordered a state of emergency, pushing Ethiopia even further into a state of political uncertainty.
Amid political suspicion and mistrust among the four major parties that make up the ruling party the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), political maneuvering and jostling for the nomination of the next head of ministers is underway. Given an unpredictable political turn of events and the recent state of emergency introduced, Ethiopians speculate, who will replace the outgoing Prime-Minster and will the new premier have the ability and the authority to implement the long-awaited fundamental political transformations? While no one knows who will replace Hailemariam Desalegn, based on past experience and current political context, regardless of who assumes the position, a pertinent question is what will one need to be successful?
Power Transfer:
In 2012, after the death of Meles Zenawi, the architect of present Ethiopia, the appointment of Hailemariam Desalegn was seen as a compromise to avoid political wrangling between the various ethnic political parties that make up the EPRDF. There are four main ethnic groups within EPRDF, The Tigray Liberation Front (TPLF) that defeated the Derg, the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO), a majority in the parliament, the Amhara National Democratic Front (ANDEM), the 2nd majority in the parliament and the Southern Ethiopian People’s’ Democratic Movement (SEPDM), collations of different ethnic groups from southern Ethiopia, which Hailemariam Desalegn belongs to, TPLF dominates the parliament through military, security and economic levers.
Meles Zenawi was the most powerful man in Ethiopia until his death. He came to power through a long journey of solidifying his base of power by removing opponents or potential challengers in the TPLF. For example, in 2000 during a TPLF internal power struggle, Meles removed a significant number of heavy weight TPLF veteran fighters. The last of the powerful old guards were systematically removed during 2010 election through generational reform, among them were Seyoum Mesfin, Abay Tsehaye, Arkebe Equbay and others. Yet, the military and intelligence leaders who were all from TPLF party and supporters of Meles remained in their positions and have gained tremendous power during Hailemariam tenure.
What were the challenges that confronted the Prime Minister?
Hailemariam Desalegn, an engineer by profession, took the office in August 2012 following the sudden death of Meles Zenawi who had ruled since 1991. He was a deputy prime minister and a close ally of Meles. It is reported that he struggled to gain approval of the other EPRDF leaders in order to assume his role. Because Hailemariam hails from Southern Nation Nationalists and is not from the Tigray Region where currently all political and economic power is consolidated. The major institution such as the military, intelligence and other parts of the government machinery to enforce and implement policies, programs, and reforms were not within his control. And as such, many analysts described him at best, a placeholder, a rubber stamper or a signatory machine. In his statement of resignation on February 15th, he said his resignation was “vital in the bid to carry out reforms that would lead to sustainable peace and democracy”. An acknowledgment of his inability to carry consequential reforms the way he wanted. After All, his resignation has caused a huge political vacuum and power struggle.
A Prime Minister!
Learning from the failure of Hailemariam Desalegn, a leader without the full backing of the central government machinery such as the military and intelligence will not be able to lead independently and make any meaningful changes. The ugly truth is that the Tigray ethnic group monopolizes the military, intelligence, and other governmental institutions. Hence, the success of the anticipated leadership change will be determined by how one will use the bestowed authority to tackle the widespread corruptions, nepotism, and lack of economic opportunity.
For the PM contest, it appears to be three main camps within EPRDF party that are lobbying and pushing to get their desired outcome. The first two camps are the main political camps that will assume the position.
1) TPLF camp: the majority of their members are aiming to maintain the status quo and to safeguard the influence, power and privileges they accrued the last 27 years.
2) Quasi-opposition camp: mainly Oromo (OPDO), Amhara (ANDAM) and some members of SEPDM that are under huge pressure to join in on the fight for a genuine political change.
3) A camp of opportunist and power brokers from all parties who are betting to see if any shakeup will yield personal gains.
Current analyses indicate the chairs of the EPRDF member parties to be a potential candidate for the position. Therefore, on February 22, 2018 – The Central Committee of OPDO elected Dr. Abiy Ahmed as Chairman of the Organization paving the way for him to be an OPDO nominee for the next Prime Minister of Ethiopia. Similarly, Demeke Mekonnen, currently the deputy Prime Minister of the country and chairman of ANDEM as well as, SEPDM’s new elected chairman Shiferaw Shigute are said to be candidates for the top position.
On the other hand, it is reported that TPLF is contemplating to endorse one of its veteran politicians to the position. Hence, some TPLF supporters are accusing several of the TPLF leadership to be appeasing to the Oromo and Amhara uprising and these supporters are suggesting to the central government to use force to clampdown on the opposition movement and protect TPLF political interest by any means necessary. Thus, to avoid being seen as weak and vulnerable, TPLF might support another SEPDF as a compromise to lead the country until 2020 election. In a recent article appeared on Tigray online, titled “changing a PM would not solve the complex political crisis in Ethiopia” the writer argued instead of who, the question should be what? And the government should not give in every time the government is confronted with the demonstrations, an indication of the majority of TPLF supporters’ position.
It is clear that a nominal change of placeholder is not what the Ethiopian people want. Therefore, regardless of who succeeds Hailemariam Desalegn, the new head of minsters will encounter the challenge of meeting the demand for fundamental political change. The root causes of the current opposition against the government are high unemployment, corruption, nepotism, land grabbing, unfair distribution of wealth, interference of federal regions’ internal affairs etc. Hence, the following scenarios are likely to happen if either of the above-mentioned group within EPRDF managed to hold the top position.
Prime Minister from Tigray Region:
If TPLF managed to appoint their own PM and stand behind him with all of its resources, that individual will have at his disposal and can consolidate an economic power-house with the military and intelligence. The status quo of the past 27 years will likely remain as business as usual. However, this is going to be seen by the majority of Ethiopians as a continuation of hegemony by Tigray minority ethnic group. And this will likely escalate the unrest and strengthen the defiance of other ethnic groups, which will without question lead to more chaotic and disorder.
Prime Minister from other Regions (OPDO, ANDAM, SEPDM):
If TPLF accepts the next PM to be from other EPRDF member regions, the question would be what will make this individual different from the outgoing premier, will the new PM be able to get endorsement and approval of the military and intelligence apparatuses and would he be able to mobilize the vital resources of the central authority needed to govern? The pressure to appoint an Oromo PM has been gaining momentum- and rightfully so, the Oromos are a majority and if Ethiopia is going to ensure democracy it has to be towards proportional representation to give greater voice and equality to all Ethiopians.
With such a scenario, the main difference with new PM will come at a time, the era of an ethnic domination is challenged, the change we are witnessing is compelled to happen, after 27 years of TPLF complete domination, the Ethiopian people are yearning for transformative political change. So the public is behind the new PM and is expecting a change. Equally, if the new PM is from Oromo or Amhara, he or she is expected and pressured to crackdown the movement and normalize the regions.
Any change happening at center power in Addis will have a direct effect on the Federal regions. The new Prime-Minster would be expected to usher in positive changes to some of the peripheral regional leadership, such as maybe replacing the Somali Region’s ruthless Man who instigated and is responsible for inter-ethnic and inter-clan conflicts. Abdi and his Para-military have been used and will continue to be used to provoke conflict especially between Somali and Oromo Communities to agitate and undermine the leadership. A true leader will not tolerate a criminal to continue to rule the Somali Region and use a Para-military to kill innocent Somalis and Oromo’s. However, any move to reform and/or change the current Somali region leadership might create a bigger rift between TPLF (military leaders connected to Abdi) and the new prime-Minster, because Abdi is an asset and loyal to TPLF. The recent political alliance between OPDO and ANDAM has also exposed the venerability of TPLF dominance within the EPRDF, so Abdi might turn out to be useful in the planned EPRDF expansion to add some of the politically allied parties and give him a full status in EPRDF. This change will certainly provide Abdi added power and leverage as a leader of the Somali People Democratic Party (SPDP) and a full member of EPRDF in the central power.
The next Ethiopian election is scheduled in two years for 2020. The selected next PM will be serving to complete Hailemariam Desalegn term and will serve as a caretaker PM. EPRDF has to listen carefully to the real grievances that require urgent attention. Maintaining power with military force and through the state of emergency or using a powerless figurehead will escalate the current crisis and that could lead to civil war. While we agree we should ask the question what needs to be changed, we believe it is equally important if not more to ask who can make meaningful and tangible changes. The same people who created and implemented the haphazard policies cannot make meaningful changes. Therefore, it is important to ask who is going to be the next PM of Ethiopia. A change with the authority to carry out meaningful transformation will also have sentimental and practical implications to ensure the rights of all nations and nationalities.
Ali Abdi
Karamarda Group
Executive Committee
The Karamarda Group is a group of Somali Regional State citizens who are interested in promoting Democracy and Good Governance in the Somali Region of Ethiopia and could be reached at karamardagroup@gmail.com