Ethiopia’s Hailemariam gets a new title

Written by Hassen Hussein

(OPride) — After close to three months of speculation on who would assume the post vacated by the late Prime Minister Zenawi, the ruling Ethiopian Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) selected Hailemariam Desalegn and Demeke Mekonnen as party Chairman and deputy, respectively, the two becoming almost shoe-ins for Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister when the legislature meets next month. Their confirmation is a forgone conclusion.

The  governing party holds all but one of the 547 seats in the rubber-stamp parliament.

The ruling party is made up of four parties representing the country’s four regional states—Tigray, Ahmara, Oromia, and South (home of many ethnic groups). The EPRDF was founded in 1989 by the Tigrean Liberation Front (TPLF) along with the Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement later christened the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM). The Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO) was established by TPLF and joined the coalition a year later.  The Southern Ethiopia People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM), from whom the new Prime Minister designate hails, was also established by the EPRDF in 2000 and is the most junior partner of the coalition.

While Hailemariam’s election was widely expected, Demeke Mekonnen’s rise came out of the blue. The statement issued a day into the two-day meeting by the party’s secretariat indicated that the election would follow an ealier plan laid down by the later Prime Minister.  The newly installed are relatively younger and inexperienced. Neither of the two participated in the armed struggle that brought the group into power toppling another repressive military junta in 1991.

While the election will put an end to rumors of a simmering power struggle, at least for now, it is not clear how the more competent members of the TPLF and OPDO passed over for the high posts may react in the future. Whereas OPDO boasts more than 50% of the party’s seven million members, TPLF, the core of the coalition, is the most equal of the unequal partners. Moreover, there is lingering doubt as to how much real power the duo would wield given the fact that the pillars of power, the military, security, police, judiciary, and foreign service is thoroughly dominated by the late Prime Minister’s kinsmen.

The statement added that the new leadership would ensure “the superiority of the agenda of the developmental democracy,” refering to single-party domination of the country. The party is one of the worst enemies of press freedom, sending to jail journalists to long years of imprisonment for writing critical of the regime under terms of a draconian press law that equates dissent with terrorism.

In addition to warding off the threat of a power struggle, the new leader will be confronted with a host of economic, political, and social propblems. Economically, inflation is on the rise and the country’s foreign currency reserve is depleted. The high cost of living is a growing concern among the urban poor. Politically, the concentration of power in the hands of a single party is widely resented by a cross section of society. Socially, the regime faces more protests by the country’s restive Muslim population angered by the government’s interference in religious affairs. Leaders of the nine-month protest movement are currently in detention facing charges of inciting rebellion against the “constitutional order,” ignoring the faithfully non-violent natute of the protests. A court session on Friday was cancelled without explanation.

The new leaders are also likely to face increasing calls to open up the political space for more competition and release political prisoners.  According to Addis-based analyst Medhane Tadesse, interviewed on VOA, the regime is unlikely to heed these calls and may in fact be more repressive until it gains confidence in governing the multireligious and multiethnic state of over 94 million.

Unless the ruling party institutes genuine reform, OPride’s Buri Waddesso argued, “single-party domination of Ethiopia is on its final leg.” Waddesso however cautioned that the party is in no mood for reform and would stay on the authoritarian course charted by its fallen leader. 



About the author

Hassen Hussein

Hassen Hussein, a writer, teaches Leadership and Management courses at the Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota and can be reached at

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