The alarming death and injuries of citizens by the day is excruciating for those of us who stand by and reluctantly watch the human casualty and material destruction in a desperate manner. It is a high time to call on those in the driver’s seat to change the gear a little for the positive so as to recover the ailing polity and its people by uncompromisingly sacrificing their individual desires and parochial interests, writes Merhatsidk Mekonnen Abayneh.
No matter how late it might sound, The Prime Minister’s instant decision is worth-taking, if not a phenomenal one.
Unlike the majority of post-colonial independent African countries, which have opted for the presidential style of governance, the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia has institutionalized a parliamentary system with a strong executive apparatus to take full charge of the day-to-day government affairs as of 1995. As provided for under Art. 74 Sub-Art. (1) of its Federal Constitution, the Prime Minister is, by virtue of this preferred approach, the Chief Executive, Chairperson of the Council of Ministers and the Commander-in-Chief of the National Armed Forces.
Now that Hailemariam Dessalegn has come out with a rather bold public statement televised on February 15 2018 that he wishes to quit his post due to the visible incompetence of his government to continue ruling the country in the way it has managed it so far, we need, I contend, to encourage him to proceed with his plan.
Hailemariam has expressed his deep concern and frustration with the frightening situation which the nation, over which he has been in charge for the last five plus years, currently experiences. Openly citing the internal mass displacement, miserable loss of life and enormous property destruction encountered by the country, he clearly appears to have resented his glaring incapacity to deal with the misfortune and avert the devastating catastrophe during his stay in the top ladder of the highest executive and administrative structure.
In his humble, but guarded statement of departure, Hailemariam vowed that he will prefer becoming part of the solution of the looming crisis in his resignation from his post. Regardless of his desire, though, this simple promissory rhetoric is easier said than done as he will definitely be neutralized from the serious game once he has left the office for good. After all, he has not managed to take any profound measure in his overwhelming capacity as the Commander in-Chief of the country’s Armed Forces with full confidence, although the nation was exceedingly bleeding from internal strife and gradually sliding into chaos for the past several months. Far from alleviating the menace, he has, instead, been instrumental to exacerbate it from bad to worse by dismally failing to supervise over the operational conduct of the national defense and security forces often reported to have abused their mandate while reacting in the face of widespread public protests in the streets.
In my view, the outgoing Prime Minister was perhaps unable to count on and obtain all the necessary support, he had been lawfully entitled to, from his civilian and military subordinates at the time of difficulty during his stay in power as required by the Constitution. Unfortunately, this must have turned his job acutely boring and tedious thus making him look somewhat irrelevant for the highest position. Each and every fine day, I do remember watching His Excellency over the national television simply to announce official events, open gatherings, appreciate government performances and congratulate or praise the actions of his security forces for quelling or putting down public uprisings even in a heavy-handed measure without any slightest shame and hesitation.
It is interesting to note here that, following the revelation of Prime Minister’s intention to depart, the Council of Ministers under his own executive leadership declared another State of Emergency decree in less than two years’ time on February 16, 2018 that would remain effective for the period of six solid months short of possible extension, if so required. Undoubtedly, the constitution allows the Council of Ministers of the Federal Government under Art. 93 Sub-Art. 1. (a) to decree a state of emergency as and when the country confronts “an external invasion or a serious breakdown of law and order which endangers its Constitutional existence and cannot be controlled by the regular law enforcement agencies and personnel,” among others. Obviously, the unpredictable resignation of a serving prime minister is not listed as one of the requirements for the declaration of such an emergency decree.
At any rate, the astonishing co-incidence of these two dramatic developments triggers one to raise a number of fundamental questions:
- What prompted the Prime Minister to resign in the first place?
- Is the timing of his decision appropriate and well-considered?
- Who will be qualified enough to provide for his easy successor for the remaining term given the endless power rivalry and infighting within the ruling coalition?
- Would the newly-declared state of emergency decree ameliorate or otherwise aggravate the crisis engulfing the nation?
It is to be recalled that the last two and a half years have not been so kind for motherland, Ethiopia. Not long from the time when the ruling coalition had claimed a landslide victory for the fifth consecutive round over the national and regional elections that took place in May 2015, the country has been rocked with a series of debilitating political upheavals, sometimes resulting in bloody clashes with the government security forces on several occasions.
Amidst the chaotic and turbulent situation which still persists, the primary responsibility of any capable government which claims to have been democratically elected by its citizens must be to stabilize itself and come out to the open in an organized effort to genuinely listen to all sorts of public grievances brought to its attention in an orderly and peaceful manner. The more disorganized and fractured the leadership is, the less capable it will be to resolve the impasse.
Hence, the surprise decision of Hailemariam Dessalegn to resign from his post has to be commended at best in the wake of his visible inaction as the country’s very survival continues to be jeopardized due to lack of a determined leadership and direction. Having been overshadowed by a ‘collective leadership’ since taking office in September 2012, it is pretty clear that he was virtually unable to carry on his official duties as the prime minister and commander in-chief of the nation’s armed forces in an independent way as envisaged by the Constitution. Admittedly, Hailemariam does not seem to be as smart and skillful on political games as Meles Zenawi, his talented predecessor was.
There is no doubt that the timing of Hailemariam’s departure becomes quite critical in view of the growing suspicion and mistrust between and among the splinter parties forming the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) likely to hamper the search for and choice of his possible replacement on the part of the ruling coalition. Nevertheless, his purportedly nominal stay in the top position of government power devoid of any meaningful authority to act in the face of formidable challenges ahead would be even more detrimental to the country at large.
Apart from mere speculation, no one can tell at the moment as to who would replace Hailemariam preparing to leave office soon and badly wishing to be remembered as a former prime minister equally like his laid predecessor and mentor. It is, therefore, submitted that splendid care needs to be taken on the part of the coalition to get deeper into the crisis and thereby produce a charismatic personality with an independent decision-making intellect more in favor of the broader cross-national interests beyond and above the narrower political considerations at least for the remainder of the existing tenure which expires in 2020.
Along with this note of caution, i am not quite sure if the incoming state of emergency decree reinstated on February 16, 2018 would expedite the course of the prospective transition in view as desired. Chances are that it may, on the contrary, be counterproductive and henceforth reduce the overall quality of civilian governance in place by simply empowering the law enforcement officials to operate at liberty in the name of maintaining the constitutional order and heavily securitizing the country as a whole.
Sad to anticipate the worst, the future of our beloved nation is, more than ever before, bleak and uncertain in many respects. The alarming death and injuries of citizens by the day is excruciating for those of us who stand by and reluctantly watch the human casualty and material destruction in a desperate manner. It is a high time to call on those in the driver’s seat to change the gear a little for the positive so as to recover the ailing polity and its people by uncompromisingly sacrificing their individual desires and parochial interests. It is equally incumbent upon the scores of the country’s key bilateral and multilateral allies and strategic partners to come forward and critically engage their counterparts in trouble and assist them to lift the nation out of the present crisis and save it from the scourge of the tragic saga. After all, ‘a friend in need is a friend indeed’.
Ed.’s Note: Merhatsidk Mekonnen Abayneh is a senior expert in law as well as peace and security studies. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected].