Ethiopia Post-Meles: Prospects for Change and Stability

By Buri Waddesso | September 3, 2012 | Part III

(Opride) – Part one of this series asserted that while the Ethiopian regime left behind by Zenawi faces little organized opposition to endanger its hold on power in the short-term, serious turbulence lie ahead. Part two explored the potential for a nonviolent strategy not only in eroding TPLF/EPRDF’s absolute dominance but also laying the foundations for a more durably democratic order. This section focuses on the internal dynamics of the Ethiopian regime.

What does the actions of Zenawi’s successors since Zenawi’s absence, and their behaviors at the state funeral on Sunday, tell us about the internal dynamics of the ruling party?

The plethora of eulogies from African autocrats; the likes of “Field Marshal” Omar al-Bashir and the two last standing member of “the new breeds of African leaders” Paul Kagame and Yoweri Museveni, Addisu Legesse‘s meandering obits, and a slew of speeches given by deliberately chosen “representatives” of Ethiopia’s minority groups offer sufficient cues. The regime’s visible uneasiness on the question of who has officially succeeded Zenawi adds more light to illuminate the situation. The evident back door jockeying for power provides a more conclusive indication of where things are headed.

Rwanda’s Kagame was right on the point: “we all fear the magnitude of the gap he [Meles Zenawi’s death] has left.” In fact, by lionizing Zenawi, the ruling party has inadvertently made the gap even wider. It has set itself up for failure by casting Meles as an “irreplaceable leader” and attributing all their successes to his political acumen, intellectual prowess, and hard work.

Addisu Legesse, the former Deputy Prime Minister and a long time member of the party’s top hierarchy – who disappeared from the scene following the reshuffle in the aftermath of the 2010 elections – was slated to talk about the personal side of the fallen leader. However, he endlessly repeated familiar talking points and failed to break any new grounds. One of the most boring speeches heard at the funeral, Legesse’s “tribute” has nuggets of information that reveals the state of EPRDF.

Legesse demonstrated that Zenawi was the sole brain behind EPRDF’s victory against the Dergue; stay on power, and its future. Even if one takes account of expected generosity for the dead, the speech makes abundantly clear that Meles had been the party’s frontal lobe, its Queen Bee; and that the party’s role was to carry out his ideas, effectively his legs and arms. Subsequent speakers basically reinforced Zenawi’s indispensability and irreplaceability.

The pool of domestic speakers itself suggests a lot. For one thing, it shows that the question of who among the three traditional contenders of power in Ethiopia–the Amhara, Oromo, and Tigre—represents the most serious threat to the stability of the post-Meles regime is unsettled. The fact that the calendar was studded with speakers from minority groups strengthens this hypothesis. For another, from the lineup, one can deduce that the consensus within the Tigrean oligarchy about the future is skin deep. In fact, it does not seem to go beyond preventing the rise of an Amhara or Oromo Prime Minister. The prominent slot accorded to Addisu may not indicate the rising influence of the Amhara in the post-Meles era. Since he is viewed in some circles as a senior statesman and a “close friend” of the late prime minister, it is possible that Bereket Simon brought him up to buttress his own future claims to the high position.

–Full Report