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The sketchy view of our former PM on the political change in Ethiopia

If Hailemariam Dessalegn had been a Prime Minister in a similar constitutional right and political arrangement as it is in the time of PM Abiy Ahmed (PhD), the political chaos at the time of Hailemariam is substantially up to his leadership incompetence. The comparison between Hailemariam and PM Abiy perfectly reflects that political leadership in Ethiopia entirely relies on the will of individual leaders, writes Kibrom Berhane.

I watched the interview of our former Prime Minister (PM) Hailemariam Dessalegn with Mesay Wendimeneh on Ethiopian Broadcasting Service (EBS) – ‘Man ke Man, ke Mesay gar.’ In my perspective, the interview, in a nutshell, was not attractive for a couple of reasons. Primarily, the interviewee appeared to be a man who confesses his blunders which he committed for he had been under unbearable external influences. Secondly, in some ways, our former PM’s views incline towards the analysis of politics from a religious perspective. Thirdly, his take on the current Ethiopian political and economic context was simply shallow and sketchy which cannot be expected from a person who had been a leader of a historically rich country like Ethiopia.

The time I knew our former PM is going to speak to a private medium, I expected that he will talk about plenty of palatable issues; he might give us insider’s view regarding the current political change in our country; and that he may tell us the root-causes of the change from the ‘elitist’ perspective. Sadly, he was in predilection to use the divine intervention and other simplistically framed issues as ultimate reasons for the coming of Abiy Ahmed (PhD) into power.

So, what does our former PM’s view tell us about him (as a former leader) and our country’s political situation?

One remark made by the former PM is his unconvincing take on divine intervention as the most important reason for the political changes in our country. It is unconvincing since religion is a faith-based organization. It serves the needs and wants of people within a certain faith. On the other hand, politics, I believe, is about reconciling individual needs and wants with collective actions (for example via political parties) and the distribution of public goods. Trying to synthesize these two separate entities is to create confusion in the decision processes of the religious and political spheres. Amalgamating them will make things complex to solve when conflicts appear between God’s laws and Man’s laws. Despite this and other challenges, our former PM’s religion-centered analysis appears to indicate that he advocates religious revivalism in the Ethiopian political ecology.

This person was, arguably, among the most influential personalities in Ethiopian political history. Whether he is in power or not, people will expect him to speak substantive analysis of the country’s political and economic context(s). His divine intervention rhetoric, however, is utterly unsophisticated; and it does not reflect the quality of a person who had been in a position of the highest office in the country.

Power struggle – a reason which Hailemariam used as an excuse for his failures: presumably, to rationalize that he was under pressure, our former PM noted that there was power contention during the time of his leadership. Unfortunately, he failed to explain important reasons for the controversy. He simply tried to tell us that the different posts of vice ministry as important evidences of which. The truth, however, is that we do not need Mr. ex-PM to tell us this information. This is almost a common sense proof for most of the politically active citizens.

He also tried to rationalize that he was under pressure because the political situation, in a nutshell, was intense and difficult. Again, he naively confessed that unlike today, in his time of leadership the public’s right access to information (from the government) was almost non-existent. He then appreciated the current situation in this particular case. In my view, his ‘confession’ has no purpose except revealing that Hailemariam was not leading this country. Based on his interview, one can argue, this country was ‘leader-less’ during his time.

Expressing his remorse to pretend he was a leader of the public: to some extent, Hailemariam tried to be critical about one thing – the government’s failure to give the necessary emphasis for individual rights compared with the over-emphasis to group rights. He acknowledged that his party and government were indifferent about the protection of individual rights compared with the focus given to the group rights. It looks good to be critical of the actions of one’s own party as long as there are shreds of evidence of wrongdoing. 

Nevertheless, unless he tried to fool us, it is almost impossible to believe that it takes him years to understand the mistake of his government when it comes to group rights vis-à-vis individual rights. This has been one of the hottest issues of discussion between the leading and opposition parties on many occasions. It is ridiculous to hear from our former PM saying that he came to understand the conflicting issues about group versus individual rights just after he resigned from his office. Simply put, this argument or confession does not hold water.

It does not make sense whether he tried to rationalize his regrettable issues or not. The point is not about confessing regrettable moments and issues. Regret does not protect him from culpability to his failures as a leader. Forasmuch as he was a leader, he had to act as a leader. It is unacceptable to rationalize why he failed while he had the power to make things relatively better.

Generally speaking, the first thing our former PM’s interview showed me is that this country has no well-established political institutions which can command power holders. The political leadership and change in our country entirely depend on individuals’ power, ambition, and quality. If Hailemariam Dessalegn had been a PM in a similar constitutional right and political arrangement as it is in the time of PM Abiy, the political chaos at the time of Hailemariam is substantially up to his leadership incompetence. The comparison between Hailemariam and PM Abiy perfectly reflects that political leadership in Ethiopia entirely relies on the will of individual leaders. It is almost impossible to believe that we have a well-founded political-economic ideology and long-term national goals which any leader should follow. Everything can be shattered and things will be started from scratch at the will of individuals.

This will, in turn, make us always beginners. The Ethiopian political system will remain in the quagmire of leadership trial and error. We, thus, request our PM to strengthen political establishments in a way they are compatible only with competent leaders who can lead this country to the future. We do not need rotten political institutions which cannot reject incompetent leaders.

Ed.’s Note: Kibrom Berhane is a lecturer of Journalism and Communication at Mekele University. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]

Contributed by Kibrom Berhane
Contributed by Kibrom Berhane