The members of the recently endorsed Ethiopian Council of Ministers, which is being hailed for empowering female politicians since ten of the twenty line ministers are women. From left to right: Adanech Abebe–Minister of Revenue, Ayisha Mohammed (Eng.)–Minister of Defense, Dagmawit Mogess–Minister of Transport, Hirut Kassaw (PhD)–Minister of Culture and Tourism, Hirut Woldemariam (PhD)–Minister of Science and Higher Education, Fetlework Gebregziabher–Minister of Trade and Industry, Muferiat Kamil–Minister of Peace, Yalemtsegay Assefa–Minister of Women, Children and Youth, Ergoge Tesfaye (PhD)—Minister of Labor and Social Affairs and Fitsum Assefa (PhD)–Minister of Planning and Development Commission.
One of the most defining moments in Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s (PhD) ascent to power is no doubt his unprecedented acceptance speech at the Ethiopian Parliament on April 2, 2018. In that speech, Abiy, perhaps for the first time at caliber of a head of state, recognized the role of women in the largely patriarchal societal that is Ethiopia.
Abiy speech made specific references to mothers, wives and sisters in the sociopolitical life of the nation. He went even further in acknowledging the role that his own mother, Tezeta Wolde played in his political career. The PM paid tribute to his departed mother remembering her vision to her son that one day he will climb the ladders of power to lead his country. In that, he succinctly admitted that women should be afforded the chance to contribute to the political life of the nation.
Nevertheless, he has not really made good on his rhetoric before this week. In unprecedented political feat, Abiy has decided to make his cabinet 50 percent women. Unprecedented both in Ethiopian and African history, the 42-year Abiy has selected 10 women politicians to make up half of the Council of Ministers. Among other things, the move has been widely recognized as revolutionary by the international community.
Not only that, the PM also took some other bold moves; for one he decided to slash down the size of his cabinet by a third. On the other hand, he also introduced some new ministerial structures by either amalgamating older portfolios or by creating unusual new ones like Ministry of Peace.
These new changes at the top of the executive body took effect following the decision of the Ethiopian House of Peoples’ Representatives (HPR) on Tuesday to endorse a proclamation cited as “Definition of Powers and Duties of the Executive Organs of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Proclamation [No.1097/2018]”.
Among the major resolutions the newly voted proclamation has introduced downsizing of the Cabinet chaired by the premier from the existing 28 to 20 portfolios by a massive reshuffling, merging and removing of various offices.
“This is to show respect to women for all the contribution they have made to the country,” Abiy told lawmakers.
“The new cabinet members are expected to reform their respective ministries, remove the walls of bureaucracy, and bring innovation and technology to provide services efficiently,” according to Abiye.
Weeks after his election as ruling party’s chairman and the PM of the country, Abiy went to the HPR on April 19, 2018 to seek approval for his twenty-eight ministerial appointees and other members of the cabinet. For his first cabinet, Abiy went all the way too when he presented around 16 new appointees as new blood while reshuffling at least 10 ministers who came down from the previous administration. Apart from reshuffling his cabinet members, he however, did not introduced as such big changes from the then existing government structure which resulted. Though he partially tried letting go few senior and old guards who had been prominent figures in the ruling party’s 27 year administration, his cabinet six month ago attracted criticism for including other politicians who had been in the administration for a long time.
This time around, to the surprise of many in the House, the PM went to Parliament with a highly reformed cabinet structure and members. The highlight of Abiy’s new cabinet is really its gender aspect— with 10 of the 20 posts taken by women.
He spoke in the House that decision has come after considering women’s immense contribution in the country’s reform and their key role in ensuring the country’s peace and stability. He also described it as the first in the history of Ethiopia and probably in Africa.
However, recorded documents have it that there are other African nations with 50 percent and more women representation in their cabinets. For instance, Rwanda had 54 percent of its government’s cabinet made of women ministers.
Ethiopian Women Lawyer Association (EWLA), a professional association and prominent women right’s activist, welcomed PM Abiy’s appointment of 10 women ministers “with a great happiness as our nation needs an inclusive system that enables the participation of women in meaningful manner”.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, on his part, said: “I commend Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia for appointing a cabinet with full gender parity. Women’s leadership & gender equality in all areas are not only priorities for the UN and the African Union, but essential to a peaceful & prosperous world”.
Beside the gender parity issues, the depth of Abiy’s reform becomes apparent from the decision to reshuffle, appoint or merge different ministerial portfolios in his new cabinet. Only four retained their old positions as line minister; and one commissioner was appointed for the newly reorganized Development and Planning Commission.
On the other hand, at the first glance, this appears to be fairly academic ministerial council like the 2016 Hailemariam’s cabinet. During PM Hailemariam Dessalegn’s final year in office, some 16 members of the then reorganized cabinet were either PhD holders or Professors; meanwhile the rest are having a minimum of MA level qualification.
Comparatively, Abiy’s new appointees were quite younger in age and were less experienced in professional as well as party leadership matters. The welcoming of new leadership to the government’s administration has brought admiration for the PM for his determination to bring young leaders to the highest political leadership instead of selecting those individuals with a recognized political clout yet not celebrated for their political leadership track record.
While presenting his explanation to MPs, Abiy told the new appointees to focus on integrity as well as ethical leadership. The PM also emphasized “no institution in Ethiopia can be considered to be above an average in its structure and service provision”.
“The new structure and arrangement will not affect the budget allocations for federal institutions that the House endorsed in the previous year,” Abiy assured MPs. On the other hand, Abiy’s new reform has raised questions on the competencies of the new appointees given the weight of challenges the nation has been enduring in recent times as well as problems that requires urgent solution.
Despite the promising achievements over past six months, there are still critical issues yet to be addressed by the reform process. In this regard, ethnically charged violence looks to have gone up rather than declining since Abiy was named premier.
About 1.4 million out of a population of 102 million have been displaced by violence since last year; much of it due to the violence between rival ethnic groups.
Though the economy has grown by nearly 10% on average for the past decade, the recent unrest has led to concerns over its long-term stability.
Ethiopia faces deep challenges: a critical shortage of foreign currency, only temporarily tamed down by an infusion of cash from the United Arab Emirates few months ago. There is growing inequality, a shortage of jobs for a huge number of graduates, significant environmental damage, ethnic tensions and hunger for change.
Different interest groups have come together in recent years in a widespread anti-government protests led by young people. At least 70% of the Ethiopian population is below the age of 30.
Given the weight of such existing facts, one of the pressing questions has become whether the new cabinet could practically address these multitude of problems the nation has faced so far.
“PM’s new cabinet is not a reflection of substantial change from previous cabinet composition except an extraordinary gender balance,” Argaw Ashina, African Analyst at the US Defense Department, told The Reporter in an email exchange from the US. He further indicated that the current Ethiopian parliament have less number of EPRDF Executives Committee members than ever before which means that the ability to make decision at the House might be greatly limited.
“36-member EPRDF executive committee is the most powerful body in the country as the ruling party retains firm hold on the government,” he argues adding that “the relevance of the experience and academic background of [some of the newly appointed] ministers such as minister of Defense and Peace are also questionable”.
As it was announced on Tuesday, Fetleworq G. Begziabher, Minister of Trade and Industry, Dagmawit Mogess, Minister of Transport, and Adanech Abebe, Minister of Revenue.
The new line-up approved by the parliament includes Ahmed Shidie, Minister of Finance, Omer Hussien, Minister of Agriculture, and Tilaye Gete, Minister of Education.
Similarly, the rest of the newly appointed ministers also include Jantirar Abay, Minister of Urban Development and Construction, Samuel Hurka (PhD), Minister of Mines and Petroleum, Hirut Woldemariam (PhD), Minister of Science and Higher Education, Yalemtsegay Assefa, Minister of Women, Children and Youth, Ergoge Tesfaye (PhD), Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, Hirut Kassaw (PhD), Minister of Culture and Tourism, and Fitsum Assefa (PhD), Minister of Planning and Development Commission.
Those Abiy retained included Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu and Water and Irrigation Minister Sileshi Bekele, both of whom appointed in late 2016 by Hailemariam Desalegn and Health Minister Amir Aman appointed on April 2018.
Under the new cabinet, Government Communications Affairs Office has been dissolved.
But the most important ministerial post that attracted the attention is Muferiat Kemal’s. She has been appointed to lead the newly introduced Ministry of Peace, with a surprising lists of duties and responsibilities; while Aisha Mohammed, another young politician and former Minister of Construction, was named the first female Minister of Defense.
According to the Proclamation issued to determine power and duties of the executive organ, the ministry of peace, fresh portfolio in Abiy’s cabinet, will work in cooperation with concerned federal and regional state government organs to ensure the maintenance of public order; develop strategies, and undertake awareness creation and sensitization activities to ensure the peace, security and freedom of the country and its people.
“The main problem in this country is the lack of peace. This (peace) ministry will be working hard to make sure that it prevails,” Abiy told lawmakers.
With the width of power given to MoP, the new appointment makes Muferiat who has agricultural extension background and previously served as House speaker, a very powerful figure perhaps next to Abiy himself.
According to the new proclamation, she then will oversee the key security and intelligence institutions including Federal Police Commission, the National Intelligence and Security Service and the Information Network Security Agency as well as duties which used to be under the defunct Ministry of Federal and Pastoralist Affairs.
There are some pundits who take issue with the newly formed ministry (Peace) specifically with its regulatory and overseeing power over the security and the law enforcement apparatus of the country. Previously, these institutions were severely criticized for lacking civilian oversight and for failing under the influence of the nation’s most powerful political party. Accordingly, pundits have a concern that the new ministry is highly dominated by political appointees.
Meanwhile, the extended powers and duties that are given to the Ministry have also caused confusion among political experts.
Congratulating PM Abiy for appointing a new Cabinet with 50/50 gender balance, the prominent Swedish Professor, Kjetil Tronvoll twitted; “I am not a fan, however, of the «newspeak» to gather all intelligence services, police and more and name it «Ministry of Peace» – that obscures the importance of CIVIL peace building”.
But as to the PM, the appointments took into consideration competence and educational background.
As per the draft proclamation, the restructuring of the executive organs, the former Ministry of Public Service and Human Resource is changed to Civil Service Commission.
Other newly created offices are Job Creation Commission, Environment, Forestry and Climate Change Commission and Plan and Development Commission.
Despite various questions and uncertainty among the Public, PM Abiy promised to restore the nation’s economic development as well as stability with his new cabinet.
In addition the PM has also strong messages for the new appointees to execute their duties and responsibility with a maximum loyalty to the people while distancing themselves from stealing and grafting.
“You are required to be an honest and principled minister whom the people could mark as loyal and trustworthy. “A minister should never be aloof to his/her employees; your staff members should not be unconformable to ride an elevator with you,” Abiy advised his new appointees. Adding that, “minister should build a very friendly work relationship and maintain clean as well as attractive work environment.”