Some hypothesis on who succeeds Meles as a non-TPLF Prime Minister

September 21st, 2010 Print Print Email Email

Muse Abebe

The next five years will be Meles Zenawi’s last term as Prime Minister unless this promise is not broken once again. For that matter, as far as TPLF/EPRDF is in power, it is irrelevant whether he is at the front seat riding the country or behind the scene like Vladimir Putin. But there are some interesting developments to ponder after EPRDF and its member parties elected their new leaders in the last few days .Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM) and Oromo People Democratic Organization (OPDO) have elected new leaderships for their parties. Compared to the former leaders of these parties, the leverage of the new leaders in the decision making process of EPRDF will be far less than the position ANDM and OPDO had in the past 19 years. The lection of leadership indicates the continuation of the long standing policy of TPLF to fill two parties who claim represent major ethnic groups in the country with such reckless people. Both individuals, Demeke Mekonnon and Alemayhu Atomsa, are classical examples of the cooption tactic of EPRDF. Demeke joined EPRDF in 1990’s to escape from his ‘boring’ job as high school biology teacher. According to his former colleagues, he had no any ideological commitment to EPRDF when he joined the organization. His various promotions were only seen as betterment of life for him self and his family. The same is true with Alemayehu Atomsa who was given with the opportunity to study law at Civil Service College to make him better loyalist. By selecting these two individuals into the leadership of these two parties, TPLF once again ensured its hegemony.

On the other hand, the two organizations that represent minority ethnic groups, Tigrean People Librations Front (TPLF) and the Southern Ethiopia Peoples’ Democratic Movement (SEPDM) have re-elected their former leaders, Meles Zenawi and Hailemariam Dessalegn respectively. Surprisingly, these two individuals are again elected as chairman and deputy chairperman of EPRDF. Such election of leadership may not be surprising if EPRDF was a multinational organization. EPRDF is the architect of ethnic politics in the country which assigns political postions based on ethnic quotas. But when it comes to real political positions, this ethnic quota does not work. If EPRDF lives up to its ethnic quota system, this formula should have been applied here too. As creator of all other junior parties, TPLF formulated the statute of EPRDF which says each organization will be represented with the same number of executive committee members. It is completely contrary to the ethnic quota system the regime follows in allocating other comparatively insignificant political appointments. This regulation is basically to save TPLF which will be at weaker position if EPRDF is organized in accordance with the proportion of population each member organization claim to represent. According to the population census of 2007, Oromo consists of 25.4 million (34.5 % of total population), Amhara 19.8 million (26.9 %), SNNPR 10.3 million (19.4 %) while Tigray 4.4 million (6.1 %). If the quota system is applied in organizing the ethnically structured EPRDF, parties representing Oromo and Amhara ethnic groups could have got prominence. Together, the two ethnic groups consist of 61% of total population correspondingly having majority in EPRDF power structure. Despite OPDO and ANDM do not have any legitimacy in their respective constituency; TPLF should have sought better representation of these parties in power structure of EPRDF, at least for the purpose of manipulating public opinion.

As it has been clearly indicated in various occasions, post-1991-Ethiopia is dominated by TPLF, a party representing small minority ethnic group. Especially the total control of the military and security machinery by TPLF left the official state apparatus nominal. It is TPLF underground network which has real control of power in the country. It is believed that they will continue to maintain their hegemony in the coming several years through systematically employing their divide and rule policies. The interesting question will be: can a non-Tigrean Prime Minister replace Meles? Obviously, if a non-Tigrean PM is coming, he will have hard time as he will not have the real power to command the military and the security machinery which is loyal only to TPLF and the Tigrean inner network. Even his life will be at the mercy of the increasingly sophisticated TPLF security system whose man power is (at least 95 % of it) consists of ethnic Tigreans. Unless there is reform on the security and military structure to make them neutral (unlikely to happen), a non-Tigre-PM will likely be nominal who has to be willing to be manipulated by the inner TPLF circle.

On the other hand, there are some signs that indicate there may be an intention to put non-Tigre as PM after Meles is gone. Dropping of prominent TPLF members from the executive committee of TPLF has initiated discussion in circles of TPLF loyalists on ethiopiafirst.com, pro-TPLF website. The loyalists are worried due to the fact that many of the experienced TPLF leaders that can potentially replace Meles like Abbay Tshaye and Arkebe Ekubay are leaving high postions in TPLF. Such developments may be an indication that another Tigrean PM may not be in the pipe line. There seem to be some intention to replace Meles with non-Tigre PM. There are different practical reasons for such move. The most important consideration will be to change public opinion which considers this government as Tigrean dominated one. If they put non-Tigre PM, many innocent people will think that quarter of century dominance of TPLF is gone. As it has been indicated earlier, with out institutional reformation, especially the security and the military, change of PM alone will not slightly affect the dominance of TPLF.

Even if it will be nominal position, it is interesting to ponder from where the next non-TPLF PM will emerge. I argue that from the cynical behaviour of TPLF, the next PM will not be from OPDO or ANDM. To put an Amhara as PM will be perceived by Tigreans and elites of other minority ethnic groups as comeback of ‘nefetegna’ system. At one point in time a PM from ANDM may be feared challenging the hegemony of TPLF. For this reason, it is unlikely that Meles will pick PM from ANDM. Since Oromo is the most populous ethnic group in the country, appointing PM from OPDO will have the impact of increasing the legitimacy of OPDO opposed to OLF. But there are other considerations which indicate this option will not be taken by Meles. As it has been indicated repeatedly, OPDO officials are not trustworthy for TPLF as there is suspicion that many of them are sympathizers of OLF. Further more, since OPDO represents major population, a PM from OPDO may also one day refuse to be manipulated by TPLF. As it has been seen in the case of Negasso Gidada, Almaz Meko and Hassen Ali, TPLF will not take such risky business.

If a non-Tiger PM is to be considered as real option when finally Meles leaves, the most likely candidate will be from the relatively weaker South SEPDM. The glaring evidence for this assumption is the election of Hailemariam Desalegn as deputy chairman of EPRDF. I assume that SEPDM has better chance of nominating the next PM due to various considerations. Prominent political figures from the south like Hailemariam or Redewan Hussien represents minority ethnic groups the same as TPLF does. The collaboration of TPLF with such personalities will be the best opportunity to forge ‘unity of purpose’ for controlling the majority ethnic groups through mobilizing elites from minority ethnic groups. The other reason that will force TPLF to consider PM from the south is that there will be absolute loyality from persons like Hailemariam or Redewan or any other person from SEPDM. The fact that SEPDM is the newest party in EPRDF, it has no any significant power base that may threaten the dominance of TPLF. The fact that elites from the 44 ethnic groups in the SNNPR are at war to each other to control regional power, any official from the south will be happy to have more secured postion at the federal level at the expense of surrendering his locality to TPLF. Thus, it is logical to assume that this may be the next likely road map TPLF strives to translate its dominance into a lasting legacy. C

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