Challenges Facing Hailemariam Desalegn (Interview)

Interview Jawar Mohammed had with a foreign journalists on what might come of Hailemariam Dessalegn’s premiership. 

Sept 16, 2012 (Gulele Post)

Q. As a southerner, what challenges might he face from within the Tigrayan-dominated party?

JM. Hailemariam comes from a historically marginalized ethnic group, Wolaita, with almost no presence at the center of power and takes leadership of a state where all important pillars of power, the military, intelligence, foreign affairs and economy,  are dominated by Tigreans. This means there is little chance for him  to  exercise real power. As  his subordinates are more influencial than him, he will have great difficulty in getting his own policy implemented.  Because any political or economic reform in the country requires some level of redistribution at a cost to  the currently privileged groups, any such initiative by the new premier will be effectively resisted and obstructed.  The only way he could possibly be able to counterbalance the negative influence of the entrenched Tigrean elites has to be by reaching  out to the affiliate parties and trying to curve out and develop a support base. But such attempt  will be perceived  as a serious threat by the Tigreans who will take measures to swiftly neutralize him.  Therefore, whether he stays three years or more, Hailemariam is unlikely to leave any foot print his own on the country’s politics.

Q. What are the consequences if he does not unify the  party successfully?

JM: The EPRDF has never been a coalition of the willing, it is rather a fragile organization  kept together with a clientelist system  and  the coercive capabilities of the TPLF and manipulative skills of Meles. The TPLF still maintains the coercive apparatus but in the absence of Meles’ Machiavellian skills, securing continued loyalty of other organizations would not be easy. However, if the fragile coalition is shaken, Hailemariam will have little role as the struggle will be a three way race among the Tigrean, Oromo and Amhara elites. Basically while he might tilt the balance of factional struggle one way or another by throwing the weight of his symbolic position, he will not be a game changer. Thus, while Meles, through his skills and power,  was a unifying figure for the coalition, Hailemariam lacks both and consequently will have insignificant role in either keeping the party united or fracture it.

Q. What economic challenges does he face (specifically regarding inflation and maintenance of GTP goals)?

JM. He is inheriting myriad of economic problems. The first is skyrocketing living cost that has become unbearable, particularly for the large urban poor. The other is high youth unemployment as just a tiny fraction of those who graduated  in the last couple of   years have secured jobs. Controlling inflation  that has been pushing up  food price is another problem he has to deal with. These all have to be dealt  with while maintaining the ambitious and costly mega projects planned under the GTP.  Most of the external funding and foreign direct investment promised to the GTP were attracted based on the assumption that the country would remain stable and under Meles’ guidance, or even if he stepped aside, from behind the scene. Both China and the West relied on this assumption. Now that Meles’ death has thrown a cloud of uncertainty about the future, foreign investment, especially of the private sector, is going to slow down causing possible halt  to the various mega projects planned under the GTP.  Therefore, if Hailemariam is going to maintain financial flow, he has to find a way to restore confidence of both domestic and international investors. To do so, aside from securing political stability, he also needs to surround himself with respectable and recognized economic advisers  by bringing  in professionals  technocrats with proven track record in the academia as well as the business sector.

Q. What are the consequences if he does not address economic troubles? 

JM. He has to find a way to absorb the tens of thousands of new graduates into  the economy. He also has to reduce the growing and highly visible income inequality, particularly in the capital. Failure to reduce unemployment, cost of living by stabilizing inflation (also solving the shortage ) and maintain investment flow to ensure promises of the GTP, could lead to political unrest and popular upraising.

–Full Interview at