Why Ethiopia could be in for bumpy ride

World leaders mourned the death of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi with high praise after the strongman’s more than two decades in power and despite a chequered human rights’ record August 21, 2012
Nation Media Group

In Summary

Ethiopia could be in for a bumpy ride as the country seeks to come to terms with the vacuum left by the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

According to analysts, Mr Meles’ personal role in the day-to-day operations of the government weakened its institutional ability. During his 21 years in power, the Prime Minister ruled Ethiopia with an iron fist.

His inner power base eliminated potential opponents, restricted media freedom and tightly controlled the operations of non-governmental organisations.

Thousands across the vast country were jailed due to their differing political stands.

His ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front honed the “developmental state” leadership style which restricts democratic rights and emphasises on development and alleviation of poverty.

Mr Meles was a key Western ally in the region, particularly the US in its fight against terrorism in the Horn of Africa region.

He was also a key player in Somalia affairs and in the negotiations for peace between former civil war foes Sudan and South Sudan.

His death brings opportunities and challenges for Ethiopia and the wider eastern Africa region in terms of stability. (READ: Ethiopian PM Meles Zenawi dies)

Rebel groups

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The country is currently facing 12 armed opposition groups, including secessionist groups fronted by Ogaden and Oromo rebels, while it maintains a bitter relationship with Eritrea, which seceded peacefully.

In the short-term, there may be no regime change, but various political scenarios suggest Ethiopia is set to turn a new political chapter.

The ruling party coalition includes the Amhara National Democratic Movement, the Oromo People’s Democratic Front and the Southern People’s Democratic Movement, all under the “supervision” of the dominant Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, of which Mr Meles was the long-time chairman.

Mr Meles was a Tigray, who form only about five per cent of the population, but dominate government, the powerful military and intelligence organs.

Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, a southerner, has been appointed interim leader until the Revolutionary Front-dominated parliament appoints a new prime minister.

Three possible post-Meles scenarios are immediately evident. One has the powerful Tigrayans fighting to retain their stranglehold on power.

Unless Tigrayan Front power barons crush all opposition, the Amhara would want to use the Meles vacuum to return to power.

In the second scenario, wider instability and chaos could ensue, with a distracted Ethiopia unable to carry out its important policing role in the Horn of Africa.

Another scenario ropes in regional trouble spot Eritrea, Ethiopia’s arch-foe. Eritrea could use multiple techniques to weaken Addis Ababa, including by propping up more rebel groups.


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