Ethiopia: A New Prime Minister in a New Year ALEMAYEHU G MARIAM:

September 24th, 2012 Print Print Email Email

Ethiopians had their new year on September 11. It is now 2005 in the Gregorian calendar. On September 21, they also got a new prime minster. How delightfully felicitous to have a new prime minister in the new year! Heartfelt congratulations and best wishes to the people of Ethiopia are in order.

Hailemariam Desalegn was sworn in as prime minister before a special session of parliament. It was a rather low key affair with little pomp and circumstance. There were no parades and no sounds of bugle or trumpet announcing the changing of the guard. No inaugural balls. It was a starkly scripted ceremonial affair with minimal fanfare and political theatricality. Some 375 of the 547 members of Parliament sat quietly and heard Hailemariam recite the oath of office and gave him a hearty round of applause.

Since late May, Hailemariam has been operating in political limbo. He was officially described as “deputy”, “acting” and “interim” prime minster, the latter two offices unauthorized by the Constitution of Ethiopia. There were also some nettlesome constitutional questions about the duties of the deputy prime minister in the absence of the prime minister and the proper method of succession. Those issues aside, Hailemariam’s swearing in ceremony was scheduled on several prior occasions only to be cancelled without adequate explanation. The abrupt cancellations fueled all types of speculations and conspiracy theories about turmoil and confusion among the ruling elites. To complicate things further, it was officially announced days before the actual swearing in ceremony that Hailemariam would be sworn in early October. For some publicly unexplained reason, a special session of parliament was suddenly called for the purpose of naming a prime minister creating additional public confusion about the manifest dithering among the power elites.

Hailemariam takes office under a cloud of apprehension. Speculations abound that he is really a “figure head”, a “front man” and a “seat warmer” for the entrenched interests in a transitional period. Critics suggest that he will have little independence of action and will be puppet-mastered by those who control the politics and economy behind the scenes. Others suggest that he is a “technocract” who is unlikely to survive in a political machine that is lubricated by intrigue, cabalist conspiracy and skullduggery. But some, including myself, have taken a wait-and-see attitude and would like to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Hailemariam’s “inauguration speech” hammered the theme of “Stay the Course.” He said under his leadership the programs and projects that have been initiated and underway will continue to completion. “Our task is to stay the course on the path to firm development guided by the policies and strategies [of our party]. We will continue to pursue development and democracy by strengthening our collective leadership and by mobilizing the people.” He said modernizing agriculture and the rural economy by accelerating agricultural development were top priorities. His government “will work hard” to improve agricultural infrastructure. He promised help to cattle raisers. He emphasized the need for better educational quality and entrepreneurial opportunities for the youth. He said the country needs a curriculum focused on science, technology and math. His administration will work hard to expand opportunities for women and pay greater attention to women’s health and improved health care services to mothers. He called upon the intellectuals and professional associations to engage in rigorous applied policy analysis and research to solve practical problems.

Hailemariam said his vision is to see Ethiopia join the middle income countries in ten years. To achieve that, he said significant improvements are needed in industry and manufacturing. His administration will pay special attention to remove development bottlenecks, improve the export sector and facilitate greater cooperation between the private sector and the government. He promised to work hard to alleviate housing and transportation problems in Addis Ababa. He touched upon the economy noting that though inflation is coming down, much more action is needed to bring it under control. He urged Ethiopians to bite the bullet (tirs neksen) and make sure the existing plans for ground and rail transportation, hydroelectric power generation and telecommunications are successfully executed. He pledged to complete the “Hedasse Gidib” (“Renassaince Dam”) over the Blue Nile. He referred to corruption and mismanagement in land administration, rent and tax collections and public contracts and pledged to get the public involved in eliminating them. He noted that there were significant deficits in good governance in the operation of the police, courts, security system that need to be improved.

Hailemariam emphasized that importance of human rights. He urged the parliamentary oversight committee to review the work of the Human Rights Commission for improvements. He underscored the vital role of the Elections Commission, the Human Rights Commission, press organizations and opposition parties in the country’s democratization. He said he was ready to work “closely” with press organizations, civic society institutions and other entities engaged in the democratic process. On foreign policy, he focused on regional issues, Ethiopia’s contribution to peace-building in Somalia, South Sudan and the Sudan.

The speech could best be described as “technocratic” in the sense that it focused on ways of solving the complex problems facing the country. The speech was short on rhetoric, oratory, appeals to the pathos of the masses and big new ideas and promises. He did not sugarcoat the deep economic problems of the country with hyperbolic claims of 14 percent annual growth nor did he make any grandiose claims about Ethiopia as the “one of the fastest-growing, non-oil-dependent economies in the developing world”. There were no impactful or memorable lines or sound bite phrases in the speech. He offered no inspirational exhortations in words which “soared to poetic heights, igniting the imagination with vivid imagery”. There were no anecdotes or storytelling about the plight of the poor and the toiling masses. It was a speech intended to serve as a call to action with the message that he will work hard and asks the people to join him. He spoke of responsibility, hard work, willingness to lead, standing up to challenges, engaging the opposition, civil society and press institutions, etc. for the purpose of improving the lives of the people.

Hailemariam’s speech was a refreshing change from similar speeches of yester years in a number of ways. It was delivered in a dignified and statesmanlike manner. It was not an ideologically laced speech despite repeated references to the guiding grand plan. It was accommodating and bereft of any attitude of the old militaristic and aggressive tone of “my way or the highway.” There was no finger pointing and demonization. He did not use the old tricks of “us v. them”. He did not come across as an arrogant know-it-all ideologue. He offered olive branches to the opposition, the press and other critics of the ruling party. What was even more interesting was that he did not pull out the old straw men and whipping boys of “neoliberalism”, “neocolonialism”, and “imperialism” to pin the blame on them for Ethiopia’s problems. He did not pull any punches against the local opposition or neighboring countries. He used no threats and words of intimidation. Even when he addressed the issues of corruption, mismanagement and abuse of power, he aimed for legal accountability rather than issuing empty condemnatory words or threats.

Another surprising aspect was the fact that the speech contained none of the old triumphalism, celebratory lap running and victorious chest-beating exercises. There was no display of strength of the ruling party, no self-congratulations and ego stroking. He softly challenged the opposition and the people to work together in dealing with the country’s problems. His speech seemed to be aimed more at making the people think and act on existing plans than making new promises. Over all, the speech was written with intelligence, thoughtfulness and purpose. Hailemariam spoke in a cool and collected manner and tried to get his points across directly. What he lacked in rhetorical flair, he made up with a projection of self-assurance, humility, respectability and profesionalism.

What Was Not Said

There were various things that were not said. Though Hailemariam acknowledged the structural economic problems and the soaring inflation, he offered no short-term remedial plans. He repeatedly came back to “stay the course” theme. Does “staying the course” mean “our way or the highway”? Is national reconciliation an idea the ruling party will consider? There was no indication in the speech about the transitional process itself, but he did offer what appeared to be olive branches to the opposition, the press and others.

Hailemariam also did not give any indication about the release of the large numbers of political prisoners that are held throughout the country. Nor did he mention anything about re-drafting the various repressive press, civil society and so-called anti-terrorism laws. For over a decade, all of the major international human rights and press organizations have condemned the government in Ethiopia for its flagrant violations of human rights, illegal detention of dissidents and suppression of press institutions and persecution of journalists.

Words and Actions: Shoes of the New Prime Minister

It is often hard to judge politicians by the speeches they make. It is not uncommon for politicians to deliver inspirational speeches and come up short on the action side of things. It is true that action speaks louder than words. In his speech, it seems Hailemariam sought to move himself, his party and the people to action. But he is in a difficult situation. He feels, or is forced to feel, that he has to “fill in big shoes”. He said he will walk in footsteps that have already been stamped out. But the shoe that fits one person pinches another. But for all the hero worship, Hailemariam must realize that there is a difference between shoes and boots. For two decades, boots, not shoes, were worn. Those boots have made a disfiguring impression on the Ethiopian landscape. It must be hard to pretend to walk in the shoes of someone who had sported heavy boots. The problem is what happens when one wears someone else’s shoes that do not fit. Do you then change the shoe or the foot? I hope Hailemariam will in time learn to walk in the shoes of the ordinary Ethiopian. He will find out that those shoes are tattered and their soles full of holes. Once he has walked a mile in those shoes, he will understand what it will take to get every Ethiopian new shoes. He must also realize that “it isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out; it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.” There comes a time when we all need new shoes. That time is now. All Ethiopians need new shoes for the long walk to freedom, democracy and human rights. Prime Minster Hailemariam does not need hand-me down shoes; he needs shoes that are just his size and style and rugged enough for the long haul.

I believe Hailemariam gave a good “professional” speech. I do not think it will be remembered for any memorable lines, phrases or grand ideas. It was a speech that fit the man who stood before parliament and took the oath of office. As a self-described utopian Ethiopian, I thought the very fact of Hailemariam taking the oath of office symbolically represented the dawn of a long-delayed democracy in Ethiopia. Few would have expected a man from one of the country’s minority ethnic group to rise to such heights. Whether by design, accident or fortune, Hailemariam’s presence to take the oath of office, even without a speech or a statement, would have communicated a profound message about Ethiopia’s inevitable and unstoppable transition to democracy. Most importantly, now any Ethiopian boy or girl from any part of the country could genuinely aspire to become prime minister regardless of his/her ethnicity, region, language or religion.

I do not know if history will remember Hailemariam’s “inaugural” speech as a game changer. History will judge him not for the words he spoke or did not speak when he took the oath of office but for his actions after he became prime minister. It’s premature to judge. I like the fact that he appeared statesmanlike, chose his words carefully, focused on facts and presented himself in businesslike manner. It is encouraging that he expressed commitment to work hard to make Ethiopia a middle income country within a decade. He showed a practical sense of mission and vision while keeping expectations to reasonable levels.

To be Or Not To Be a Prime Minister

“Being Prime Minister is a lonely job,” wrote Maggie Thatcher, Britain’s first female prime minsiter. “In a sense it ought to be; you cannot lead from a crowd.” I would say being a prime minister for Hailemariam, as the first prime minster from a minority ethnic group, will be not only lonely but tough as well. But somebody has got to do it. Hailemariam has his work cut out for him and he will face great challenges from within and without, as will the people of Ethiopia. I wish him well paraphrasing Winston Churchill who told his people in their darkest hour:

I would say to the House as I said to those who have joined this government: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Democracy. Democracy at all costs. Democracy in spite of all terror. Democracy, however long and hard the road may be, for without democracy there is no survival.”

I believe Ethiopia will survive and thrive and her transition to democracy is irreversible, inevitable, unstoppable and divinely ordained!

On a personal note, I would give Prime Minster Hailemariam a bit of unsolicited advice. Smile a little because when you smile the whole world, not just the whole of Ethiopia, smiles with you!

  1. Ethiopian from Minnesota, U.S.A
    | #1

    Thank you sir. Wonderful observation for those of us who do not dwell on the negativity, but shine in optimism. As you said and I paraphrase “The top is Lonely.” But for the Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegne will not be LONELY as long as he wears the new shoes that fits him comfortably, and makes Ethiopians wear their new shoes tailored to fit them. No matter how powerful are the few, those who welcome the masses, sympathize them, feel them, fight for democratic rights of the masses genuinely and truthfully will not feel LONELY. The new Prime Minister is not the prime minister of the few plutocrats and the party. He should feel he is at that positionto serve the Ethiopian Masses not to advance EPRDF (Ethiopian People Rule & Divide Front). Anyone with and for Ethiopian Masses will always be protected. Those who neglect and abuse the people will always feel LONELY.

  2. Dawi
    | #2

    Why do I sense Prof. Al and Yelma (hopefully), who were those that recently called and hoped for “spring” to come to our country, the violent “spring” movements that now have come to full circle are toning down their rhetoric? Don’t take me wrong it is a good thing.

    They rushed to call the”Arab Spring” “democratic revolutions” but now are demoralized because the whole thing was further away of democracy as could possibly be imagined.

    Every one of them has turned into an Islamic nation, governed under Shari’ah law. The secular societies Dictators they replaced in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya are dead – and so is the dream of democracy. And those who embraced the hope of secular, democratic states, are now prisoners of laws that imprisons them.

    Any way I like the tone of the Prof. who is hoping on HaileMariam now. An only hope Meles dreamed of that is reaching a middle income country in a short time. Therefore, the new PM shall be fulfilling the dream what the great leader Meles formulated for the country.

  3. Ethiopian from Minnesota, U.S.A
    | #3

    @Dawi
    Dawi, are you equating Democracy to Dictatorship when you said “The secular societies Dictators they replaced in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya are dead – and so is the dream of democracy.” Were those dictators the pallbearers of Democracy? or are you trying to deduce that your dictator “the great leader Meles” was a democrat? If so, no way Jose. It is improper for me to badmouth a deceased person because he cannot defend himself. But in this situation, since he has you as his mouthpiece, I do not feel guilty if I do badmouth him. He had never been a democratic person. He was a ruthless murderous dictator. On Democracy he was a paper tiger, not a democratic practitioner, and that you know it and all of Ethiopians know it. Our hope lies on the new Prime Minister to bring to Ethiopia the elusive Democracy if your Tigray People Lynching Front (TPLF) and its puppet Ethiopian Peoples Rule and Divide Front (EPRDF)allow him to be his own Man.

    Dawi, my Ethiopian Brother, it is time for you to replay your mental tape and see the truth that springs out of your human heart regarding the trials and tribulations of the Ethiopian people imposed by your party. How do you refuse to see the suffrage of the people for the last 21 years? Come on brother have compassion and feel humanity?. It is a disgrace to human race having the human body covered with human flesh but devoid of the humanity. I hope that you will reconsider your position of defending the indefensible rotten system of the Tigray People Lynching Front (TPLF) and Ethiopian peoples Rule and Divide Front (EPRDF). I have a dream that one day you will stand up for the rights of the Ethiopian masses instead of supporting the corrupt system of The TPLF and EPRDF.

  4. Ethiopian from Minnesota, U.S.A
    | #4

    @Dawi
    Dawi, are you equating Democracy to Dictatorship when you said “The secular societies Dictators they replaced in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya are dead – and so is the dream of democracy.” Were those dictators the pallbearers of Democracy? or are you trying to deduce that your dictator “the great leader Meles” was a democrat? If so, no way Jose. It is improper for me to badmouth a deceased person because he cannot defend himself. But in this situation, since he has you as his mouthpiece, I do not feel guilty if I do badmouth him. He had never been a democratic person. He was a ruthless murderous dictator. On Democracy he was a paper tiger, not a democratic practitioner, and that you know it and all of Ethiopians know it. Our hope lies on the new Prime Minister to bring to Ethiopia the elusive Democracy if your Tigray People Lynching Front (TPLF) and its puppet Ethiopian Peoples Rule and Divide Front (EPRDF)allow him to be his own Man.

    Dawi, my Ethiopian Brother, it is time for you to replay your mental tape and see the truth that springs out of your human heart regarding the trials and tribulations of the Ethiopian people imposed by your party. How do you refuse to see the suffrage of the people for the last 21 years? Come on brother have compassion and feel humanity. It is a disgrace to human race having the human body covered with human flesh but devoid of the humanity. I hope that you will reconsider your position of defending the indefensible rotten system of the Tigray People Lynching Front (TPLF) and Ethiopian peoples Rule and Divide Front (EPRDF). I have a dream that one day you will stand up for the rights of the Ethiopian masses instead of supporting the corrupt system of The TPLF and EPRDF.

  5. Merdassa
    | #5

    The assignment of ato Hailemariam Desalegn as the figurehead prime minister shows that the TPLF has opted for indirect rule. The TPLF has recognized that direct rule as applied in the past 21 years could prove cointerproductive after the death of its ethnic leader, Meles Zenawi. Indirect rule is chosen as the better alternative to sell to the donors and secure western aid. Whether or not we give the benefit of the doubt to Hailemariam,there will not be any change in the status quo except abusig this person as a cover and prime messenger.

  6. Nuredin
    | #6

    Instead of trying to find dungs where the cows have never been as this analysis by professor Al Mariam and those of others do, let us all condemn the TPLF for abusing ato Hailemariam as their surrogate. Even if ato Hailemariam has willingly submitted to be abused, condemnation of the TPLF for this and other abuses is in order.

  7. Anonymous
    | #7

    let us give the pm.some time like six month or a year.
    then we will judge him accordingly.

  8. Mikaele
    | #8

    If you are looking for profound change let’s not be disarmed by words alone!
    Go for REAL CHANGE.

  9. ጉረኞች
    | #9

    When one does not effect change from outside, it is not bad to hope change could come from within EPRDF, although it is unlikely. This should be a wake up call for opposition. Most of us ordinary citizens are getting frustrated by opposition weaknesses. After Kinijit debacle no inspiring opposition movement has been seen, but there are a lot of talks and analysis. If the trend continues, more and more will slip away.

  10. Dawi
    | #10

    Ethio – Minnesota said:

    [[… you equating Democracy to Dictatorship when you said “The secular societies Dictators they replaced in Egypt.. are dead …]]

    No – the key is I am equating is “secular dictators” to “Islamic fascism”. May be for you they are one and the same. Not.

    Meles’s Developmental State vision for Africa written/spoken by him is what made him a great African leader.

    As Aristotle said, “Only a wealthy society in which relatively few citizens lived in real poverty could a situation exist in which the mass of the population could intelligently participate in politics and could develop the self-restraint necessary to avoid succumbing to the appeals of irresponsible demagogues”.

    Where ever inequality is the order of the day, the great leader Meles concluded, economical development should be promoted if need be by dictatorships, as in the Asian Tigers.

    However, he has also said, Democracy is a good thing by its own merit during his last argument at the World Economic Forum in Addis. Remember the “bed time story”? That was vintage Meles at his finest moment!!

  11. መፈጃጀት?
    | #11

    የጸሐፊውን ነጥብ በነጥብ ቢተች ግንዛቤያችንን ባሻሻለ ነበር
    ጉንጫ አልፋ መፈጃጀት ጨረሰን

  12. Ethiopian from Minnesota, U.S.A
    | #12

    @Dawi
    As you know in your heart,your “great leader Meles” was, as you said, an irresponsible demagogue who worked hard to make few of his cohorts filthy rich where as the very majority of Ethiopians remained as destitute as they had never been. What amazes me is that you succumbed to the appeals of irresponsible demagogue of Tigray People Lynching Front man. I sense that you are one of the beneficiaries of his political maneuvers. So you have to advocate and to defend him. Why do you not believe in economical development without resorting to dictatorship by promoting democracy, as in Brazil? Why do you always mention Asian Tigers as the right way of economical development? Do you not believe in the democratic path of economical development?

    Dawi, I never remember the “bed time story” of vintage Meles. But I recall all the scary and frightening stories of Meles that kept me up from my bed time.

    Dawi, with all things said and done, though I do not share your views and you know that, I respect you for standing up and defending the policies of your political party. Do you think that I will be able to express my views openly in Ethiopia without any legal consequences? I do not think. I think that we can agree on one thing. No killing, no jailing, no persecution of people for their political views and beliefs as long as they protest and express peacefully. Let us demand the new Prime Minister to free all political prisoners and journalists in our country. Imagine yourself being in prison for your views. That is wrong.

  13. Merdassa
    | #13

    The Tigrayan TPLF cadre using the pseudo name Dawi is trying in vain to aggarandize his late ethnic and fascist leader, Meles Zenawi. Meles Zenawi`s developmental state was in fact a borrowed idea for his rule`s enhancement of the Tigrayan economic and political hegemony. It is nothing but a Tigrayan control and looting economic policy.

  14. Dawi
    | #14

    Ethio-Minnesota said:

    [[…Do you think that I will be able to express my views openly in Ethiopia without any legal consequences? I do not think. …]]

    Please think again.

    I don’t know in what kind of cocoon some of you live in but, I recommend for you to take a peek your head out, you find the AIR a bit different. You may even find things are not as bad as you think.

    The last time Yelma said the same thing to me about the “freedom” of comments in this forum, I smiled because this forum is better than some others but they do sensor comments. I have read a lot more outrageous comments on the Reporter than you will ever see here or other sights.

    I think some of you need to expand your comfort zone before you label folks and spit hate & blame ethnic groups; if you hide behind an empty bravado it only shows that you are afraid or tired. My advice is to stick your neck out of the cocoon, having peeked out; you may be brave enough to climb out the cocoon.

    You say Brazil or India but I say, Why not the “Asian Tigers”? Meles took 20 some years and has already crunched the #s for that. Why waste it? However, if you come up with how the Brazil experience applies to our settings in a cost effective way today I am willing to look and may even take my mind away from the “great leader”. My promise to you is I will look at whatever gets us out of poverty the fastest.

  15. Ethiopian from Minnesota, U.S.A
    | #15

    @Dawi
    Dawi, Dawi: Definitely some of us find the AIR a bit different smelling inhumane dictatorial under your party’s governance. In that aspect you are correct. There is a time to take a peek with your head out, and there is a time to lay down to stay alive. For you things may not be as bad as we think. We know that. You are one of the beneficiaries of the system. We will say that things are better when we see the political prisoners are freed. We will say that things are not as bad as we think when the freedom of press is upheld and respected. We will say that your government is fair when human rights, freedom of association, freedom of expression, and democratic rights of Ethiopians are championed and practiced. We will say that things are not as bad as we think when all opposition political organizations are guaranteed their rightful positions to participate in the political process of their country. Then I can say that things are not as bad as I think. Is that fair for you?

    Yes I am afraid of dying a silly death in your dictatorial hand, and that is why I stay in my cocoon sheltered and protected. I don’t feel ashamed of wanting to stay alive. Expressing views contrary to yours does not entail any quality of bravado unless you want everybody to expose himself or herself to you.

    It is true there is some kind of ethnic bashing going. Do I like it? Absolutely not. But it is hard to eliminate that kind of stupidity unless each of us examines our soul deeply by putting oneself in the shoes of others and try to sense what we feel when that abuse and blame are directed towards us. That is the biggest problem in our human relation. We always focus only on our own pain, but we do not feel the pain of others. Until we come and realize that the pain of our neighbors is our pain, abusing each other will continue and we will keep on complaining. So you can change the hate and blame course if you feel the sadness and anguish that the great majority of Ethiopians feel in the hands of a dictatorial government. I assume that it is very problematic to you to reconcile the feelings of sympathy towards the oppressed Ethiopians with your political views based on the denial of the truth. I do not blame you because it is what you do for living; it is a profession you are engaged in to make money. I pray for you one day GOD to let you free from the chains of deceits and lies.

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