Hailemariam Desalegn Ethiopia’s former prime minister.
By Hintsa Andebrhan
It has been weeks since that fateful announcement by Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of his decision to vacate his post. The media frenzy was at first focused on him, which is not surprising since senior-level officials rarely resign in Ethiopia, or in Africa. But people were already looking forward to finding out who his successor will be.
A little bit of looking back is necessary. When Hailemariam first took office six years ago, few expected the extraordinary set of events that would take place since then. In his briefing to members of the media, or speaking in parliament, he usually appeared very different from his predecessor, the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
Unlike now, he was the centre of attention at the beginning of his term in office. Having just stepped into the shoes of a very colourful man, much was expected of him. It was rumoured that he would never really change party culture, even if he wanted to.
But much of what followed was disappointing. It does not matter that he may not have been too comfortable with the status quo; he never was able to right the wrongs or stand above party ideology. He was still more of a follower of EPRDFite tradition than a reformer.
And since he was never able to bring about the sort of change, for better or worse, that his predecessor could, a rumour was born that he was not able to exercise the full mandate that the office of the Prime Minister grants him. And that reluctance to change, to realize political reforms in government, has led to the quagmire that Ethiopia finds itself in.
But in his resignation, Ethiopians were able to see a good leader that was perhaps only inhibited by the party machine. It was not that he never wanted to improve the state of the country, or that he did not have the courage in his conviction to do so. Here is a man who believes that if he could not stop the unrest in the country, he could at least hold himself accountable, serving as a role model for those that come after him. As far as political leadership goes, Hailemariam has hereby set the bar high.
But whatever the sense of goodwill his resignation may have created in the eyes of the populace, it will disappear if Hailemariam’s replacement will not be able to bring the needed change.
The executive committee of the EPRDF has started a new round of meetings, one that almost anyone would want to attend. By the time they are finished with this new round of talks, they will have elected a new chairperson for the party and a new Prime Minister for the country, if approved by the parliament.
There is no clue as to who will occupy the office, but there are many predictions. Various people have their own choices. But those choices are predicated on whether or not that replacement can bring the needed reforms.
Citizens are eager for a leader that can heal the wounds and divisions that have festered over the years. Ethiopians wish for a real leader that is humble and that is sincere when stating that the fault lies with the government, not the people.
Loyalty to the constitution is an asset that would come in handy, as would working hard to fix the current situation by implementing political reforms. There needs to be a clear agenda that prioritizes the needs of the people and where merit trumps all attributes of race, gender and creed. Political games that may be optimal for the party but that are detrimental to the nation must be gotten rid of, as does the lack of political competition.
The current political state of affairs has gone on for too long. Investor confidence is not as robust as before, with foreign direct investment (FDI) having already been halved last year compared to the previous one. And tourism, as a result of the reinstatement of the state of emergency, will dwindle. Much more worryingly, though, lives are being lost. The most important mandate of any government is to ensure the safety and security of its people. If this government cannot do that, then it is failing to fulfil its ultimate purpose.
The new Prime Minister must be able to walk the talk regarding the democratisation of Ethiopia. That leader must be able to be persuasive, determined and ready to listen. He must be able to inspire faith in the country’s democratic institutions and to instil a sense of duty in people as citizens.
If the EPRDFites are only ready to give us a leader that would continue with the status quo, who is more loyal to his party than the country, then we would have an unfortunate replay of all the sad moments that transpired in the past three years. If the goal of the new leader is to allow the continued hegemony of the EPRDF, then we would be back to square one.
Politics must change – a system of government where different views and ideologies can find a place must be created. There must be less of the EPRDFites in government in order to create a fair playing ground for all parties.
A country with an estimated population of 100 million people will be hard to govern. There are bound to be differing views on and multiple questions about how the government has chosen to exercise its mandate. Answering those questions, and taking responsibility and accountability will be critical.
Hintsa Andebrhan Is Interested in Politics and History