In the Event of the Death or Disability of Meles Zenawi By Tecola W. Hagos
Due to recent events surrounding the sickness of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, speculations from the morbid to the sublime abound about the status of Meles Zenawi. There are some extremely important public matters that need be considered carefully in case of the death, physical or mental incapacity of the Prime Minister. This is not idle speculation, but a timely engagement in some of the most profound national security issues facing our Motherland. Some of these national concerns deal with the question of the dissolution of the current Ethiopian Government, the question of the legal procedure on the succession of the Government of Meles Zenawi, and the structure of the replacement Government of Ethiopia.
Serious people ought to focus on our Ethiopian reality in Ethiopia where it matters. This is not the time for self indulgence or for self aggrandizement or for juvenile political fantasy as displayed recently by some who had established what amounts to be a transitional government in exile of the Diaspora Ethiopians. And I am ever mindful of the endless hubris of so called elite Ethiopians. One such oddity is that retirement for elite Ethiopians seems to be the beginning of a new lease for colorful political life.
Those truly concerned with the future of Ethiopia would first of all try to understand the reality unfolding in Ethiopia with special focus on the identification of the political and economic forces that shape the course of our immediate future political and economic life. And such concerned individuals would focus on bringing Ethiopians together for deep discussions rather than waste everyone’s time devising a system of localization of a national problem into groupie formations. The current Ethiopian situation is clearly alarming with a sickly Prime Minister, probably in his last stage of life. It is not the kind of conducive time for our age-old practice of divisive politics.
Although I may not be able to assert here the specific medical history of Meles Zenawi, I am sure beyond a shadow of doubt that Meles Zenawi is seriously sick, maybe even dying. I doubt that we will ever watch Meles Zenawi making public appearance in the near future. I will be greatly surprised if he lives another year. At any rate, the state of his health, even if he lingers on, would be so much encumbered with massive medication and clinical procedures that he is as good as dead, incapacitated from performing his duties as the Prime Minister of a country overburdened with massive political and economic problems.
II. Succession: Constitutional Provisions
I trust that rational people would ask first before anything else what would be the Constitutional mechanism to transfer peacefully power from a dead or incapacitated Prime Minister to a new Prime minister and whether there are provisions allowing for a transitional form of care taker government using the 1995 Constitution of Ethiopia. Now more than any other time one must seek a form of legal procedure to transfer power to a new set of leaders. The political and social condition of the country does not bear any degree of divisive power struggle right now due to the failure of the leadership of Meles Zenawi to unify the country on solid nationalist foundation. Instead Meles Zenawi has succeeded in the creation of very serious and very many political fissures in the Ethiopian people by fragmenting them by ethnicity, religion, locality et cetera. And some of these political and social fractures are so deeply entrenched hat a chunk of Ethiopia may fall off bringing about civil war and total chaos.
In Article 75 of the 1995 Constitution there is a provision that may seem helpful in resolving the issue of succession; however, on closer scrutiny Article 75 is not helpful at all. Article 75 establishes the hierarchy of function and responsibility of a Deputy Prime Minister that mysteriously appears in that article. I say ‘mysteriously appears’ because there is no article that entrusted any political organ with the appointment of the “Deputy Prime Minister” directly in the 1995 constitution. True, Article 75 makes the Deputy Prime Minister “responsible” to the Prime Minister, but that does not mean the Prime Minister has the power to appoint his Deputy. There is no provision also in Article 74, where the power and function of the Prime Minister is enumerated, anything that has to do with the appointment of the Deputy Prime Minister. There is no provision either about the role to be played by the House of Representatives in case of the appointment of the Deputy Prime Minister, whereas their approval is required in cases of the appointment of Ministers and other high Government Officials.
If one is to argue the unattainable position that Article 75 would empower the Prime Minister to appoint his Deputy Prime Minister, then we may have to admit also the disconcerting situation that the Prime Minister could appoint anyone [including his Chauffer] as Deputy Prime Minister without any requirement of approval by the House of Representatives, whereas he needs to have the approval of the House to appoint his Ministers and other Officials whose status is less than the Deputy Prime Minister. This is truly sloppy drafting resulting in controversy at a time when we need a clearly stated provision for succession of state power..
The appointment of Ato Hailemariam Desalegn as Deputy Prime Minister is illegal ab initio beyond the constitutional mandate of the 1995 Constitution. All of the Deputy Prime Minister’s activities were based on an illegally created power by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi who has no such Constitutional right to invest anyone with an Office that is not properly sanctioned by Constitutional mandate. One ought to stop this farce immediately, and Hailemariam Desalegn must be removed from being designated as “Deputy Prime Minister.” By going back to the House of Representatives [Article 55 (18)], it is possible to amend the Constitutional provision that is wanting in providing the necessary power for appointment and approval of a Deputy Prime Minister. There after, if his service is that important Hailemariam Desalegn may be reappointed as Deputy Prime Minister. I am simply pointing out the deficiency of the 1995 Constitution in helping us resolve the current crises, and the office of the Deputy Prime Minister is a part of that problem, and not Hailemariam Desalegn per se.
The 1995 Constitution is not helpful in resolving the type of crises of Ethiopia would face if the Prime Minister is either mentally or physically incapacitated, or if he dies. The issue of resignation from office is of much less importance even though the problem of such resignation is not clearly dealt within the 1995 Constitution. In 1994-95 when the draft constitution was being circulated for comment, I had a chance to discuss the draft in an earlier series of comments finally compiled as part of a book. At that time I had already left the Transitional Government of Ethiopia and living in Cambridge, MA. I had repeatedly pointed out in articles and in books that the 1995 Constitution is seriously flawed, and is not workable. Both its poor language and its lack of conceptualization of a coherent statutory system is clearly obvious and as such a total failure to resolve serious issues of state mechanism and human rights regime. Here in this article I have discussed one such serious example of its very many shortcomings. This forms of shoddy and extremely poor drafting where the drafters seem not to be aware of the important and foundational distinction between “power,” “duty,” “function” and “responsibility” in constitutional law is not acceptable.
Tecola W. Hagos
July 22, 2012
III. Political and Economic Forces