In a country embattled with strong rooted problems, the successor of Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn faces a daunting task to appease the mass. It has been a little bit more than a month since Hailemariam tendered his resignation. In the days that followed, the country saw the enactment of a State of Emergency and protests with the ever-familiar turn of events resulting in civilian deaths, property destruction and economic strains. After this torrid month, the premiership position is still vacant with the council of the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary democratic Front (EPRDF) set to convene next week in a bid to assign the right person for the job. Neamin Ashenafi explores what the major challenges for the incoming PM would be.
The unprecedented turn of events that shook the country to its core. The long running street protests in different parts of the country have caused the death of many civilians and the destruction of both private and public properties, which left many Ethiopians and others bewildered.
Protests in Oromia and Amhara regional states transformed into different boycotts and sit-ins, resulting in the ever more familiar occurrences of civilian deaths and property destructions. Commentators are saying that the economy is in a downward spiral amid soaring inflation and a debilitating shortage of foreign currency.
Adding insult to injury, the UN estimates that at least one million people were internally displaced in the border clashes between the Oromia and Ethiopian Somali states in 2017, leading to serious humanitarian concerns.
These numerous crises pressured the top leadership of the ruling coalition — the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) – to hold a high stakes meeting in December 2017. For 17 days. The “do-or-die” Executive Committee meeting deliberated at length on various issues and acknowledged that the problems in the country were exacerbated by a lack of internal party democracy and by the weakness of the top brass.
Fast-forward to the future, what’s important now is “how the transition will shake out and who will be the next prime minster?”
According to many commentators who are following the matter closely, right now, what the EPRDF desires to have is a leader who can unify the party, gain popular legitimacy and calm widening political and ethnic tensions. Moreover, beyond the change of guard at the top, a major shift in policy is also in the agenda.
On the contrary, opposition party leaders and activists argue, the demand of the public is not addressed by a mere assignment of a new PM, rather by regime change. They added that though the government announced a plan to widen the political space and foster national consensus, including the decision to release political prisoners in early January; the result now has led to the declaration of a State of Emergency (SoE) and pressurizing the public through force instead of opening up for genuine and an all-inclusive discussion.
Thus far, the government has released many prisoners including prominent opposition political figures, and journalist in a bid to appease the general mass and fulfill the pledge made by the coalition. However, the PM’s abrupt resignation and the subsequent imposition of a state emergency, highlights the crisis in the country which requires an urgent, robust and courageous response by all stakeholders.
It is within this context that, the executive committee of the coalition is in session to address these demands of the public, as of last weekend. After the end of the executive meeting, the 180 members of the council are also expected to name a new party leader when it reconvenes next week, which according to the culture of the party is the “PM”.
Regardless of who may succeed Hailemariam, Ethiopia’s next leader faces the challenging task of reforming and democratizing the EPRDF. The leader must also unite a deeply divided country behind a democratic and all-inclusive agenda, commentators suggest.
According to an analysis that appeared in international media outlets and shared by many opposition political parties and activists in the country, projects that the upcoming PM should address include repealing repressive legislations such as the anti-terrorism proclamation and the charities and societies law, reviving the press and civil society, reforming the electoral board and the security sector.
Similarly, Kibur Gena, a businessman and former president of both the Addis Ababa and Ethiopia chambers of commerce and sectoral associations, outlined three major issues that need to be addressed by the incoming PM. He stated that issues such as “solidifying the country and bringing back the debilitated sense of nationalism and unity, addressing the issue of unemployment, since the majority of the population is youth and unemployed; addressing such a problem, the new PM has to work tirelessly and thirdly fighting corruption and ensuring accountability in all tiers of administration.”
Hence, Kibur asserted that “these things should get priority and swift response in a very short period of time, so as to restore peace and stability in the country.”
To the contrary, former EPRDF executive committee member who is currently in the opposition camp, Gebru Asrat, is skeptical that the incoming PM will bring any substantial change to the current problems that are rocking the country.
“The change within the EPRDF doesn’t bring any substantial change to the problems that occurred in different parts of the country in the past two and a half years.” Gebru stated.
“Since the PM is not free to decide as he wishes, and render every activity based on the framework of the party, it is naivety to expect change that will materialize by assigning a new PM,” Gebru argued.
“The party is working to sustain its hegemony; leaders of the party are not willing to entertain any dissenting view both from the pubic and other stakeholders. Therefore, the PM individually doesn’t bring any change and address that public’s demands. Change is attainable if and only if the ruling party is willing to discuss over the causes of the crisis and entertain views of other stakeholders. So long as the ruling party doesn’t comply with such demands, I don’t expect any political transformation,” Gebru explained.
Both Gebru and Kibur emphasized that the EPRDF cannot do it alone. Whe Hailemariam addressed the public about his resignation, he emphasized the need for a national consensus, but consensus is not a single party affair. In this regard the country’s next PM must embark on a transition that encompasses good faith negotiations with the opposition.
For many, the question, “Who will become Ethiopia’s next prime minister?” is not important. What they rather want to know is how genuine the current EPRDF is ready to reform and lead Ethiopia to a new chapter of real democracy.
In this regard, restoring unity will be the toughest one. This issue is followed by so many questions including the federal system, distribution of resources and the like, Kibur explains.
Apart from this, making the economy work is also another challenge not only here in Ethiopia rather across African countries. However, in the Ethiopian context repealing some legal regulations and frameworks that hinder business activities should be abolished and the government should create a conducive environment in this regard.
In the arena of corruption, there is no change made that is tangible so far, many argue. There were some trials in an on and off manner in an attempt to eradicate the sickness. According to commentators, the law that governs corruption itself should be amended in a way to not only punish those who wrong the people but discouraging the act from the outset to solve the malignant problem by focusing on prevention instead of cure.
Though Kibur expects the new PM to navigate through this wave, he is also skeptical if the party is willing to widen the political space and engage in a dialogue with all parties, so as to give lasting solution to the current problems of the country.
“In my view every decision is passing through the party, and hence a single individual cannot make that much big influence, therefore though we are inferring to the PM we have to ask the party,” Kibur said.
In providing solutions to the problems that the country faces now, there are two beliefs, the one that claims the SoE will provide a long-lasting solution and the other the solution should be garnered from an open discussion with the public and all stakeholders, analysts suggest. The meeting by the executive committee is “I think discussing over these issues and in my view the SoE doesn’t bring the desired change rather fueling the problem but the discussion will pave the way to restore peace and stability in the country,” Kebur said, expressing his hope and despair.
To the contrary, Gebru argued that the demand from the public is a basic political question; of course there are social and economic demands. However, the prevailing question is etched on the frontier of political reform.
“When I say it is a political demand, I don’t mean sharing of power. However, by that I mean opening up the political space so as to entertain all dissenting views both from the public, opposition political parties, civil societies and so on.
Despite widespread fears of uncontrollable violence, for some, the crisis can also be an opportunity that can offer a promise of a hopeful transition.
Those who follow the events closely say that if reformists within the EPRDF prevail in the ongoing power struggle and act with extreme caution, putting the country before an individual or party interest, Ethiopia has a real chance for a transformative change.