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Ethiopia’s generational freeze

By Jacey Fortin in Addis Ababa
Posted on Friday, 17 July 2015 13:47

Had late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi been alive today, perhaps this might have been a year of change.

As they say in the West, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

Meles, who died in 2012, had been slated to step down in accordance with Metekakat, a programme to move top officials into advisory roles and clear the way for a younger generation.

“As they say in the West, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,'” says Getachew Reda, an adviser to Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn who won a seat representing the Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF) in late May’s parliamentary elections.

Only a small number of high-level statesmen, like former foreign minister Seyoum Mesfin and former communications minister Bereket Simon, have vacated their posts in recent years to serve in advisory, diplomatic or corporate capacities.

On the heels of an election that delivered a sweeping victory to the ruling coalition, the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), party leaders say they have no intention of effecting fundamental change.

There is no question that TPLF leaders like Meles, deputy prime minister Debretsion Gebremichael and security chief Getachew Assefa played key roles in steering Ethiopia’s policy direction, in part because Tigrayans led the rebellion against the Derg regime 24 years ago.

The TPLF is one of four regional parties making up the EPRDF coalition. It shares the stage with the Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organization (OPDO), the Southern Ethiopian Peoples’ Democratic Movement (SEPDM) and the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM).

At regional congresses in August, each party will appoint nine of its members to fill the EPRDF’s executive committee.

For all four of the parties, sticking to the EPRDF’s script is paramount. Officials say the TPLF does not have outsize influence on national affairs.

The cabinet is well-balanced, and the central and southern regions have some figures in powerful positions, like finance minister Sufian Ahmed of the OPDO and Prime Minister Hailemariam, a technocrat from the SEPDM who is expected to retain his post for a five-year term.

The parties are unified, says ANDM office head Alemnew Mekonnen, who sits on the EPRDF executive committee: “We have similar beliefs, in terms of improving living situations and democratisation.”

He says he is determined to improve governance, discipline rent seekers and remove obstacles to policy implementation.

Other than that, the objective is to follow the development model that Meles laid out.

Grassroots members, too, defend the status quo. But if there is one common complaint it is that national programmes can take precedence over regional priorities.

Some ANDM members say the party is not doing enough to protect Amharas who live in other regions, and some TPLF members complain that their best and brightest are creamed off to national posts in Addis Ababa.

Still, all of the EPRDF’s parties are reckoning with mostly rural constituencies, where service delivery is of paramount importance.

And the ruling coalition’s ethnic federalist system has done its best to maintain balance in a diverse country.

However, oppositionists complain that the political and economic playing fields are largely closed to outsiders. The two major opposition parties rejected the May election as a farce.

Human rights advocates condemn a restrictive media environment and economic analysts say that logistical problems are inhibiting industrialisation and investment.

Had Metekakat progressed as planned, a new generation of politicians might have begun addressing these issues.

The OPDO and SEPDM have elevated new leaders at least to mid- level positions, but all four parties say more capacity-building is needed before younger members can fill high-powered roles.

With Ethiopia at least a decade away from achieving its goal of middle-income status and still in the midst of several mega-projects, now, the EPRDF says, is not the time for major changes. ●

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