Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ethiopia After Meles

ICG, Africa Briefing No. 89 22 August 2012 The death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who had not been seen in public for several months, was announced on 20 August 2012 by Ethiopian state television. The passing of the man who has been Ethiopia’s epicentre for 21 years will have profound national and regional consequences. Meles engineered one-party rule in effect for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and his Tigrayan inner circle, with the complicity of other ethnic elites that were co-opted into the ruling alliance, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). The Front promised freedom, democracy and ethnic devolution but is highly centralised, tightly controls the economy and suppresses political, social, ethnic and religious liberties. In recent years, Meles had relied ever more on repression to quell growing dissent. His successor will lead a weaker regime that struggles to manage increasing unrest unless it truly implements ethnic federalism and institutes fundamental governance reform. The international community should seek to influence the transition actively because it has a major interest in the country’s stability. Despite his authoritarianism and poor human rights records, Meles became an important asset to the international community, a staunch Western ally in counter-terrorism efforts in the region and a valued development partner for Western and emerging powers. In consequence, Ethiopia has become the biggest aid recipient in Africa, though Meles’s government was only able to partially stabilise either the country or region. Ethiopia’s political system and society have grown increasingly unstable largely because the TPLF has become increasingly repressive, while failing to implement the policy of ethnic federalism it devised over twenty years ago to accommodate the land’s varied ethnic identities. The result has been greater political centralisation, with concomitant ethnicisation of grievances. The closure of political space has removed any legitimate means for people to channel those grievances. The government has encroached on social expression and curbed journalists, non-gov­ern­men­tal organisations and religious freedoms. The cumulative effect is growing popular discontent, as well as radicalisation along religious and ethnic lines. Meles adroitly navigated a number of internal crises and kept TPLF factions under his tight control. Without him, however, the weaknesses of the regime he built will be more starkly exposed. The transition will likely be an all-TPLF affair, even if masked beneath the constitution, the umbrella of the EPRDF and the prompt elevation of the deputy prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, to acting head of government. Given the opacity of the inner workings of the government and army, it is impossible to say exactly what it will look like and who will end up in charge. Nonetheless, any likely outcome suggests a much weaker government, a more influential security apparatus and endangered internal stability. The political opposition, largely forced into exile by Meles, will remain too fragmented and feeble to play a considerable role, unless brought on board in an internationally-brokered process. The weakened Tigrayan elite, confronted with the nation’s ethnic and religious cleavages, will be forced to rely on greater repression if it is to maintain power and control over other ethnic elites. Ethno-religious divisions and social unrest are likely to present genuine threats to the state’s long-term stability and cohesion. The regional implications will be enormous. Increasing internal instability could threaten the viability of Ethiopia’s military interventions in Somalia and Sudan, exacerbate tensions with Eritrea, and, more broadly, put in question its role as the West’s key regional counter-terrorism ally. Should religious or ethnic radicalisation grow, it could well spill across borders and link with other armed radical Islamic groups. The international community, particularly Ethiopia’s core allies, the U.S., UK and European Union (EU), should accordingly seek to play a significant role in preparing for and shaping the transition, by: *tying political, military and development assistance to the opening of political space and an end to repressive measures; *encouraging the post-Meles leadership to produce a clear roadmap, including transparent mechanisms within the TPLF and the EPRDF for apportioning the party and Front power Meles held and within parliament to lead to an all-inclusive, peaceful transition, resulting in free and fair elections within a fixed time; and *helping to revive the political opposition’s ability.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Is Ethiopia's new leader in place for long?

By KIRUBEL TADESSE, Associated Press ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — The death of Ethiopia's prime minister pushed his relatively unknown successor, Hailemariam Desalegn, into the spotlight on Tuesday, and he may be merely a placeholder or might hang on to become Ethiopia's next long-time leader. Ethiopia's communication minister said government policy would remain consistent under Hailemariam, the former deputy prime minister and foreign minister who is now acting prime minister pending his swearing-in before an emergency session of parliament. The ruling party controls 546 of the 547 seats of parliament, all but ensuring Hailemariam's ascension to prime minister. The country's armed forces pledged allegiance to the country's constitution and vowed to defend it during the post-Meles Zenawi era. Meles died Monday of an unknown illness at age 57. He had ruled Ethiopia since the 1990s. Hailemariam was appointed deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs in September 2010, right after the ruling Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front's fourth successive election victory. A few weeks after the vote the party's congress promoted Hailemariam as a deputy chair of the party. Although Hailemariam appears likely to soon take the oath of prime minister, the ruling party congress is scheduled to meet in late September and will decide if he will remain in the post until the 2015 elections. Political observers say the party congress could see fierce competition for the post. One analyst said he doubted Hailemariam could win over the military and intelligence leaders. "I believe he will face a great challenge of being taken seriously by his subordinates for three reasons. First as he never exercised real power at national level, there is little established fear and respect about him," said Jawar Mohammed, an Ethiopian political analyst now studying at Columbia University in New York. "Second most of his subordinates are going to be individuals with longer experience and personal stature than him, which means they will overshadow him." Negasso Gidada, a former Ethiopian president, said he does not know Hailemariam well. "But they must know him well and have a confidence in him that they appoint him a deputy prime minister. I have no reason to doubt that," says Negasso, now the country's largest opposition leader. The ruling EPRDF, a coalition of four parties has always appointed key members of Meles' Tigray Peoples' Liberation Front to key posts, including foreign affairs. The change that saw Hailemariam ascend the party ranks was described by party leaders as the start of a succession plan that later saw lead party figures leave key government positions to retire or become diplomats abroad. The party said the succession plan would have come to an end by 2015 with Meles' retirement. Charles Stith, the director of Boston University's African Presidential Center and a former U.S. ambassador to Tanzania, said Meles' death could end a relatively stable period for Ethiopia. "His death is a reminder that leaders who long to stay in office, often stay too long to allow the growth of the necessary institutional infrastructure that allows states to sustain themselves," Stith said. Read the entire article here

Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Dies at 57

By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN, NYT Published: August 21, 2012 Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia’s repressive prime minister, who lifted his country from the ruins of civil war and transformed it into one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies and one of the United States government’s closest African allies, died on Monday, state television reported. He was 57. The Ethiopian authorities said he had died just before midnight in a hospital “abroad” — a European Commission spokesman told reporters that it was in Brussels — after getting a secondary infection. His failing health had been a matter of secrecy for months. To read the full story on NYT click here.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Meles Zenawi's ill health causing jitters in ruling circles

For readers who are closely following the latest developments in homeland politics, especially regarding the issue of succession of government as might result from the Prime Minister's failing health, the Economist has just published a balanced assessment of the situation in Ethiopia and an insightful analysis.

To read the entire article click here.