Ethiopian Politics: OUT with the old IN with the new

Ethiopian deputy prime minister
Hailemariam Desalegn, Ethiopian deputy prime minister and minister of Foreign Affairs

By Bruh Yihunbelay, Reporter

On Tuesday afternoon, Tigist Aschalew, 22, an Ethiopian  waitress who works at Genet B Bar and Restaurant, a bistro located in the Bole Sub-City around the Haya Hulet Mazoria area off Haile Gebreselassie Road, was attending to what seems to be the last customer who came in late to have lunch. The regular customer, who was done with his repast, asked her to tune the television in the restaurant to Ethiopian Television, which was showing CNN, and bring the cheque.

Feeling a little confused with the initial request of the customer, Tigist told one of her colleagues to change the channel. She returned with the cheque and presented it to the customer whose eyes were glued to the Ethiopian TV. The television was showing a live broadcast of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi presenting his new cabinet to the House of Peoples’ Representatives. The dazzled-looking customer started rummaging his pockets to pay for his lunch, his eyes still stuck on the TV. Thinking that he was acting a bit melodramatic, she asked him what he was astonished about. “Do you know who Hailemariam Desalegn is?”, the customer asked her. Tigist, who did not know of Hailemariam, shook her head. “Well, he is the new Ethiopian deputy prime minister and minister of Foreign Affairs,” he said.

If not as her customer, Tigist was also taken aback by the information.
“Well, it looks like the successor of the Prime Minister has finally been unveiled to the public,” the customer said.

Tigist, who did not seem to know much about Ethiopian politics, took what the customer told her for granted.

“I think he [the customer] knew what he is talking about,” Tigist told The Reporter.

She went on to say that she was not sure whether any one in the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF’s) echelon was ready to fill in the shoes of Meles.

With speculation after speculation from the public on who would be appointed to what post in the new cabinet and the EPRDF reticent on the subject throughout the whole time, it was on Tuesday that the result of the deliberations made behind closed doors was made public.

New Ethiopian cabinet

The Ethiopian House of Peoples’ Representatives approved the appointment of the new ministerial cabinet in its second session. The 20 ministers and three appointees with the rank of minister were presented by Meles and were approved by a unanimous vote by the house. The position of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs went to the deputy chairman of the EPRDF, Hailemariam.

The new cabinet comprises a new ministry, Ministry of Civil Service, which will be headed by Junedin Sado. Other ministries include Defense, which will be headed by Siraj Fegessa, Federal Affairs by Shiferaw Teklemariam (PhD), Justice by Berhan Hailu, Finance and Economic Development by Sufian Ahmed, Agriculture by Tefera Deribew, Industry by Mekonnen Manyazewal, Trade by Abdurahman Sheik Mohammed, Science and Technology by Dessie Darge, Transport by Diriba Kuma, Communication and Information Technology by Debretsion Gebremichael, Construction and Urban Development by Mekuria Haile, Water and Energy by Alemayehu Tegenu, Mines by Sinkinesh Ejugu, Education by Demeke Mekonnen, Health by Tedros Adhanom (PhD), Labor and Social Affairs by Abdulfetah Hassen, Culture and Tourism by Amin Abdul Kadir and Youth, Women and Children by Zenebu Tadesse. In addition, Bereket Simon was appointed as head of the Office for Government Communication Affairs, Aster Mamo as the EPRDF’s chief whip in parliament and Mekaku Fenta as director of Revenues and Customs Authority all with the rank of minister.

Some consider the new cabinet to be the dream team that will strive to realize the ambitious five-year Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP).
Previously released reports suggested that the draftsmen of the new administration comprised of a five-member team: Addisu Legesse, the outgoing deputy prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, Arkebe Oqubay, Girma Biru, and Brehanu Adelo.

Some however are not surprised with the new appointment saying it is largely just a mere reshufflement.

Despite speculations and anticipations by the public, the EPRDF caught the nation off guard once again by elevating Hailemariam to a position that makes him the second most powerful Ethiopian in the country.

Several long-serving ministers of the EPRDF have been omitted from the new cabinet as pledged by the party. From Addisu Legesse to Seyoum Mesfin and from Arkebe Oqubay to Kassu Ilala (PhD), veterans have been left out from the list presented by Meles on Tuesday. This move is seen by political pundits as a major step taken by the incumbent to actualize the succession process that it promised to embark upon.

Even before the local and international media as well as those in the opposition started discussing Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s expression of his desire to leave office, the party had been working on it, according to a party publication. The party’s ideological publication, Addis Raey, said in its July 2009 edition that the EPRDF has put in place a mechanism for the selection and succession of its leaders key criteria to measure the democratic nature of the party. Although the publication claims that there have been wide-ranging leadership changes over the years in the four member organizations of the EPRDF, its side of the argument has hardly been recognized by those in the opposition and some political analysts in academia.

Aside from the announcement, only the Prime Minister had expressed his desire to leave office time and again, and yet he remains. But later on other senior members of the EPRDF also raised the same question.

And finally, when taking things at face value, the EPRDF has acted true to its word. It is the veterans that have gone.

An academic in political science applauded the move as being pragmatic. “I think the EPRDF has come to reality,” he said. “Politics should be sensible and accommodate change.”

The impact of such changes by any party on the public, according to this analyst, is however determined by the legitimacy of the party and how people accept that party.

“We can talk about successions and appointments as a kind of balance between two agendas, the partisan agenda on the one side, the governmental agenda on the other. You look at it and ask which side of the ledger was more important.”

Appointments are chiefly determined by political considerations. Though it always matters, there are some who do not say much on the issue.

There is a tough task ahead for the new ministers and the next five years is not going to be a walk in the park.

Though the Ethiopian Prime Minister and other officials profess the future to be upbeat, only time will tell whether this turns out to be trace.