Opinion

From Seyoum to Hailemariam, Ethiopia’s 24th Foreign Minister

By Tuji Jidda/Washington, DC

Last week, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi established his fourth government after TPLF/EPRDF’s record breaking 99.6% victory in the fourth fake election marred by harassment. With this, he has secured his 25 years in power (1991-1995 as transitional period President and Prime Minister of Ethiopia from 1994-2015).  In the long history of Ethiopia’s authoritarianism, Meles becomes the second longest serving head of state next to the record set by Teferi Mekonnen Gudissa (Haile Silassie) who ruled Ethiopia for 55 years from 1916-1974.

Recently, Meles has been saying repeatedly, sometimes even without being asked, that he would not run for the 5th term which would put him at the helm of power for 30 years. The logical understanding is that he has finalized all the pre-conditions for smooth TPLF ‘succession’ having successfully transitioned the TPLF from “illiberal democracy” lead by a ‘dominant party’ to a single-party type of  ‘minority dictatorial democracy’. The road to a more inclusive multiparty democracy with opposition participation is effectively blocked using all means’ at disposal.

Parallel to Meles Zenawi’s supremacy, Seyoum Mesfin (also an ethnic Tigrean) is the longest serving and influential Foreign Minister in Ethiopian history running the Diplomatic front from 1991-2010. Seyoum’s recent transfer of power to Hailemariam Desalegn (an ethnic Walayta) of Omotic region serves as nothing more than a reminder of the so-called peaceful transfer of power of presidency from Meles to Negasso Gidada (ethnic Oromo).

Outgoing Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin

Born in 1949 in Tigray to a conservative Orthodox ‘Tabot Christian’ family (Fitawurari Mesfin of Agame), he completed high school in 1967, earned a diploma from Bahr-Dar University in Industrial Chemistry in 1971 and was a student of Chemistry And Physics at AAU [1972-1974]. He then joined the predatory bandit (shifta) TPLF group that participated in the looting of Adwa Bank and other guerilla ambush activities.


At the Foreign Ministry, Seyoum is widely criticized for being the weakest Foreign Minister in the country’s modern history (for comparisons see below a list of Foreign Ministers of Ethiopia with their short biography). Seyoum is blamed by his cliques alike for not having his own opinion. Analysts contend that the Ministry would have had a more diminished image had it not been for the support of highly educated, career diplomat and a State Minister, Dr. Tekeda Alemu, who unfortunately lives by selling his mind to the promotion of TPLF’s interest.


There are hardly any notable achievements that can be mentioned in Seyoum’s longest running career as Foreign Minister except the annual speeches he gave with his never improving heavy geez accent at the UN General Assembly gatherings. The role he played as Meles Zenawi’s loyal proxy and during the 2001 TPLF split are noncredit in the eyes of the Ethiopian people.


It is also a widely known secret at the Ministry that the man cannot even present the speeches fed to him properly, let alone writing one himself.


To Seyoum Mesfin’s Credit, the following points can be mentioned:

  • Immediately after assuming power, he categorically purged all Dergue era career diplomats and substituted them with Tigrean (TPLF guerilla) diplomats. In later years, the issue became a major factor in the exile of 100’s of career diplomats who are disaffected by his short-sighted policy that only favored and promoted the TPLF agenda. Seyoum then filled the dignified Foreign Ministry with amateur party loyalists and cadres that were handpicked from different regions to give the false image of ethnic representation.

  • Emotionally closed the historic Greece Embassy in Ethiopia without any reason and precondition to only re-open it later. He also ordered the closure of Ethiopian embassies in Cuba and Netherlands.

  • He ordered the closing of all toilets in MOFA’s building, except those in Minister’s office and at the basement, and changed them to office rooms and entertainment pubs that served alcoholic drinks. The move left the entire building with repulsive bad odor that comes from the only toilet at the basement.

  • He was a major factor not only in secretly causing the devastating Ethio-Eritrean Conflict, ill-negotiation of the peace process including the modalities and technical arrangements of the Alger’s peace accord but he also misinformed the public. His ill-fated diplomacy succeeded in rendering Ethiopia a permanently land-locked country.
  • He spent considerable amount of government budget and resources in the Ethiopian made IGAD contribution promoting the hidden interest of TPLF aimed at disintegrating Somalia under the guise of ‘dividend peace approach’ and reconciliation effort.

  • During his reign, Ethiopia’s African Union (AU) headquarter saw its status diminished with the moving of the seats of two AU organs to other countries, i.e. AU Parliament to South Africa and AU Commission to Libya.

  • Disgraced diplomatic passport issuing it to TPLF officials and their families traveling for private businesses. TPLF officials and their family members often use the foreign ministry budget and diplomatic passport for private trips abroad, costs of their flight; hotel and medical expenses were covered by the Foreign Ministry. TPLF officials often misused diplomatic titles to promote party business interests abroad. Thanks to Seyoum Mesfin who authorized all of these excesses and many other abuses that went unchecked.


Incoming Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister (Hailemariam Desalegn)

It is indeed historically unprecedented to see Mr. Hailemariam Desalegn (Walayta) of Omotic Regional State to assume four influential posts at a time.

The four posts are:

 
 

1) The sole Deputy PM of Ethiopia

 
 

2) Foreign Minister

 
 

3) Deputy Chairman of EPRDF and

 
 

4) Chairman of SNNPR.


In addition, the above heavy assignments entitle him to a responsibility of Board Chairmanship in a number of government owned enterprises. Clearly, the appointments of a ‘protestant’ Christian from the south to such high profile positions have shuttered century old ethnic and religious barriers. <hrdata-mce-alt=”2″ class=”system-pagebreak” title=”Hailemariam” />

It is indeed a breakthrough achievement given the background that Hailemariam is perhaps a descendant of the tragic atrocities committed by Menelik II. In the famous 1894 horrendous Walayta campaign, Walayta forces succumbed to Menelik’s war machine that chained Kawa (King) Tona, enslaved some 200,000 proud people thereby collecting more than 250,000 head of cattle as booty and subsequently reducing all the raid survivors to the status of slavery like system called Gebar. It is also said that the Walayta people have been denied the right to even become a witnesses.

Congratulations to Mr. Hailemariam on the occasion of being Deputy PM and the 24th Foreign Minister of Ethiopia.

On the other side, it is clear that all this high profile posts bestowed upon him are created with reason and require a fulltime dedication if the jobs are to be executed properly. No doubt all the posts occupied by the man are crucial for the country. For example, the post of Deputy PM alone requires close participation in all major decision that the PM makes. According to Ethiopian Constitution, if something happens to PM, Mr. Hailemariam automatically becomes heir to the throne. Also if Meles keeps his word, Hailemariam stands to be his most likely successor.

Taken at a face value, it is good to see the picture of the two ministers shaking hands during a transfer of power. I hope, Mr. Seyoum have simultaneously moved out of the beautiful Fikre Sillassie’s villa and gave up the bullet proof car that was designated to the Foreign Minister – the second largest budget consuming ministry next to Defense. However, the big question is whether the transfer of power was real or fake. Because, first, it looks similar to the then fake peaceful transfer of presidency from Meles to Negasso and, secondly it goes without saying that many powers amount to no power at all.

Relatively speaking, his educational background that includes BSc and [MSc] in Engineering from Arba Minch University and numerous positions held at the regional level, may fairly qualify him for cabinet posts. The accumulation of power and his lack of solid educational preparation and practical experience in International Relations and Diplomacy leave question marks about his competence. I would be surprised if he has ever come across a single diplomatic note verbale in his entire life time.

The strange fact that Mr. Desalegn comes from Ethiopia’s southern region and has no direct connection to TPLF’s armed struggle will obviously handicap him in terms of generating his own ideas and would have tremendous influence in his execution capability.

It is also a public secret but everybody hates to be seen as being artificial toys (PDO’s) serving TPLF’s PR consumption.  The strongly expected scenario is that Dr. Tekeda and Meles Zenawi would jointly run the important aspects of Foreign Ministry while Mr. Hailemariam acts as simple nominal figurehead like the wheelchair ridden President Girma Woldegiorgis (Oromo) and Defense Minister Siraj Fegeso (Silte). Despite these, however, I don’t expect Mr. Hailemariam performing less than Seyoum.

On another note, of all Meles Zenawi’s key cabinet appointments, the only cabinet member who is believed to  have real power is Mr. Debre Tsion, the Former Deputy Chief of Intelligence, who is assigned to run the TPLF propaganda and jamming machines alongside cyber spying at the Ministry of Information and Communication.


One important issue worth mentioning is the fact that hiding a real identity behind camouflages like Abadula has become a commonplace in Ethiopian politics. It remains a question whether Hailemariam can indeed confidently trace his origin back to one of the Southern Ethiopian ethnic group (Walayta) or if there are still things that he should tell us about his true identity. We will wait to hear from people who might know him closer.

Here is a List of Ethiopian Foreign Minister’s with their short biography in descending order.

No

Foreign Minister

Short Biography

 

Year of Service

Ethnic Group

1

Mr. Hailemariam Desalegn

BSc & MSc from Arba-Minch, President of AMU, Omotic State & parliament majority leader

current

Walayta

Current

2

Mr. Seyoum Mesfin

Diploma from Bahr-Dar poly technical 1967, Fourth year Chemistry from AAU 1971-74, TPLF Head of foreign Relation 1985-91, Minster for foreign affairs 1991-2010

20 years

1991-2010

Tigray

TPLF Head of foreign Relation 1985-91

 

3

Mr. Tesfaye Tadesse

BA in Intl Relation, BSc in Radio & TV, MA in media Communication from Michigan University

May-June 1991

Amhara

4

Tesfaye Dinka

BA in Public Admn from Beirut US university, MBA from USA, MSc in Industrial Engineering from USA in 1971

Nov 1990-May 1991

Ambo

Deputy PM

5

Colonnel Berhanu Bayih

Diploma from Harar Military Academy, LLB from AAU

1986-1990

Gojjam

6

Colonnel Gushu Wolde

Diploma from Harar Military Academy, LLB from AAU, LLM from Yale

1984-1986

Illubabor

Gore

7

Dr. Feleke Gedle-Giorgis

Diploma from police college, LLB and Doctor of Law from Belgrade in 1972

1977-1984

Amhara

8

Mr. Kifle Wodajo

BA  from AAU 1956, MA in Political Science MSc in Law from Wisconsin University

1975-1976

Amhara

9

Dr. Zewude G/Sillassie

BA, MA & PhD in philosophy and political Economy from Oxford

1974 for four months

Tigre/Amhara

10

Dr. Minassie Hayle

BA in economics, LLB, MA & PhD in international law & political science from Columbia university

1970-1973

Amhara

11

Mr. Ketema Yifru

BA from Michigan, MA in political Science from Boston

1961-1966 as deputy 1966-1970

——–

12

Lij Michael Imeru

BA from Oxford in 1950

In 1961 for short period

Amhara

13

Mr.    Mr. Yilma Dheresa

Secondary education from Victoria, BSc in economics from London 1933

1948 & 1958

Oromo

14

Tsehafi Tizaz Aklilou Habtewold

Diploma in administration, LLB and PhD in political economy from Paris,

1943-49 Deputy

1949-1959 Minister

 

Shewa-Bulga

Deputy PM

15

Bilaten Geta Ephrem Tewoldemedhen

American University of Beirut

1942-43

Amhara

16

Bilaten Geta Lorenzo Mebratu

PhD in Law from France in 1930

1941

Eritrea

17

Bilaten Hiruy Woldesillassie

Church education & French language

1930-1935

Shewa Merabete

18

Heir apparent Teferi Mekonnen

N/A

1917-1930

======

19

Tsehafe-Tizaz Moldemeskel Tariku

Church education

1917 short time

Shewa Bulga

20

Ras Mulugeta Yigezu

Church education

1916-1917

Shewa Insaro

21

Dejezmach Beyene Yimer

Church education

1912-1916

Amhara

22

Fitawurari Habtegiorgis Dinagde

Church education

1912

short time

Walliso

23

Negadreas Yigezu Behabte

N/A

1910-1911

Shewa

24

Negadras Hailegiorgis Woldemikael

Church education

1907-1910

Shewa Yifat

First Minister

The writer can be reached at tujijidda@gmail.com.


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