Ethiopia’s old guard hangs on as new guard rises
With the retirement of the old guard within the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (1) is one of three influential newcomers at the helm of Tigrayan politics in the emerging post-Meles-Zenawi era. Foreign Minister Tedros gained national prominence when he served as health minister from 2005 to 2012.
He instituted a number of popular programmes and oversaw the introduction of the 30,000-strong health extension worker programme that focuses on child and maternal mortality. It has brought about a 40 percent reduction in the under-five mortality rate during the past five years.
In 2011, he was the first non-American recipient of the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Humanitarian Award. As a member of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front’s (EPRDF) central committee, he will continue to wield influence at the national level.
But as minister, he will have to contend with a deputy, Berhane Gebre-Christos, who wields considerable power.
Azeb Mesfin‘s (2) speech during Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s funeral last August, in which she proclaimed herself as the torchbearer of her husband’s vision, was an aggressive assertion of her place at the heart of the EPRDF and national politics.
As chief executive of the Endowment Fund For Rehabilitation of Tigray, a state investment vehicle, she controls tremendous financial resources – funds that she has routinely used for political ends.
She scored a major coup at the EPRDF congress on 23-26 March by persuading senior TPLF central committee members to nominate her to the executive committee.
While her great rival for Meles’s ear, Sebhat Nega, continues to have a strong position, Azeb is in the ascendant. She is something of a disruptive presence in party politics, but in Tigray she will be looking over her shoulder at the likes of new deputy prime minister Debretsion Gebremichael.
Bereket Simon (3) has been the public face of the government for the past 17 years as the information minister.
Bereket further consolidated his influence in the wake of the disastrous 2005 elections, when he raised party membership from an estimated 700,000 to the current 6 million.
Part of the old guerilla networks, he is one of the few remaining senior EPRDF cadres with a link to the revolutionary struggle.
Under Meles’s programme to phase out the military old guard, Bereket was due to step down at the EPRDF congress in March. It is a testament to his influence that he has stayed when others, like Seyoum Mesfin, have resigned.
But there has been an injection of new blood. A rising star in the post-Meles order,Ato Tefera Derebew, represents the civilian faction now taking its place at the top of the EPRDF’s hierarchy.
His role as agriculture minister means that he is in charge of the government’s ambitious land and agrarian reforms programmes.
Agriculture is attracting large amounts of foreign investment. All the same, it was instructive that Bereket publicly rebuked Ato Tefera at the EPRDF congress for the sub-par performance of the government’s reform exercise – a sharp rap across the knuckles from his mentor.
Ato Tefera is young and ambitious, and the ruling party will be looking to him after the 2015 congress as one of its key leaders for the next generation.
As one of three new deputy prime ministers, Debretsion Gebremichael‘s careful ascent to the top of the ruling party appears to embody the EPRDF’s determination to combine the old and the new.
He fought alongside Meles in the TPLF and is an information and communication technology specialist.
Respected for his reputation for probity and nice-guy image, Debretsion will be a major force going into the 2015 congress and beyond.
As deputy prime minister, Debretsion has oversight over the financial and economic ministries as well as communications. ●