A shadow Government set to rule post-Meles Ethiopia
As expected, although they have no choice but to elevate Hailemariam Desalegn formally to replace Meles’ position, the ruling elites have formed a shadow government that will make all the real decisions behind the scenes. This shadow government – a “transition time caretaker” – is made up of seven members. According to individuals privy to the process of selection, the justification given for the appointment is that the shadow government should be made up of one person from each of EPRDF’s member parties, and one each from key government agencies – intelligence, foreign affairs, and the military. Below is the list.
|General Se'are Mekonnen||Military||TPLF||Tigrean|
|Berhane Gebrekiristos||Foreign Affairs||TPLF||Tigrean|
|Bereket Simon||ANDM||ANDM||Tigrean (Eritrean)|
|Kuma Demeksa||OPDO||OPDO||Unknown (Tigrean/Amhara)|
It is astonishing that despite the nominal diversity of parent parties and government agencies represented, all but one of these individuals are from a single ethnic group, Tigre, which makes up just 6% of the country. That sole member is Hailemariam Desalegn, the soon-to-be prime minister. Although a founding member of the the Amhara National Democratic Movement (previously Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement), it is a well known fact that Berekt Simon is an Eritrean Tigre. In similar fashion, despite the fact that he is a founding member of OPDO, the ethnic identity of Kuma Demeksa is rather ambiguous. In this WikiLeaks report, former US Ambassador Donald Yamamoto writes that “Kuma Demeksa, a.k.a. Taye Teklehaimanot, was born in Oromiya Region of Amhara parents in 1958.” However, Kuma’s comrades from the days of Eritrean POW and later in the Tigrean desert claim that he was a Tigrean, an assertion supported by his classmates in Gore (Ilubabor) who testify that his parents spoke Tigrigna.
Regardless of his ethnic identity, another WikiLeaks report sheds light on why Kuma, just like Hailemariam, has been included in the shadow government. During his time as a defense minister, the American Ambassador evaluated him as a “figurehead deferring overwhelmingly to Tigreans like Samora and Prime Minister Meles on substantive military issues.”
Aside from the ethnic dimension, the composition of this shadow government also points to which one of the TPLF factions have the upper hand, at least in the short term. The absence from this “caretaker committee” of heavyweights such as Abay Tsehaye, Sebehat Nega (the party’s godfather), Abay Woldu, and Arkebe Oqubay – individuals considered guardians of the ‘original’ TPLF – suggests that the conservative wing has been pushed aside. The choice of General Se’are Mekonnen – rather than his boss, General Samora Yunous, who is still formally the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces – further strengthens this suspicion.
Note that this faction has been pushing for Arkebe to replace Meles for some time. In fact in 2008 they almost achieved that objective. According to another WikiLeaks report , during the 2008 TPLF party congress Arkebe “received more votes than both Meles and Seyoum Mesfin, [but] recognizing the center of gravity surrounding Meles, Arkebe declined the party Chairmanship and Vice Chairmanship.” Patrick Gilkes, at the time strategic adviser to Meles, who provided this information to the Americans, “reported that the vote of dissent stemmed largely from lingering frustrations among the party over the still-unresolved territorial dispute with Eritrea over Badme … as well as over the economic downturn which has taken a huge toll on the Tigray region.” In a previous article I wrote that “a possible split along factional lines could result in the conservative elements launching an attack on Eritrea in order to generate nationalist support. Such a split could also catalyze the disaffected population to seize the opportunity and go out to the street to bring down the regime.” Moreover, the current set up of rule by committee of equals ( minus the outsiders) is not sustainable. Sooner or later one of them, the first among equals will have control by purging challengers and securing loyalty of the rest, like Meles did in 2001.
Therefore, this shadow government is a worrisome development as it creates a multiple stress situation which could increase the chances of instability in a post Meles Ethiopia. First, although one group appears to have the upperhand, it only signals the looming intra-TPLF factional struggle that will likely play out in the weeks and months to come. In the absence of a clear front runner to TPLF’s chairmanship, and the split among veterans (i.e. Seyum Mesfin & Berhane on side; Sebehat, Abay Tsehaye & Abay Woldu on the other), this could fracture the rank and file and the large base of the party.
Another stress point comes from the affiliate parties who will be unhappy with the re-imposition of the Tigrean monopoly as the only real powerhouse. While they lack the military force to wrestle for power, they can use the administrative apparatus at their disposal to passively undermine the ruling elites. Lacking a decisive singular leader like Meles and bogged down into their own internal friction, the Tigrean elites will have difficulty ensuring loyalty of the surrogate parties. In fact, in order to reinforce themselves, the warring factions of TPLF are likely to reach out to the surrogate parties, elevating them into active participation in the scramble to fill the vacuum left by Meles.
The potential administrative paralysis that results from a factional struggle could lead to a third stress point–exacerbation of the widespread grievance among the population. We have already witnessed the tell-tale signs of this over the past two months. Following Meles’ disappearance, it was reported that capital flight spiked, investment slowed down, foreign exchange reserve was suspended, and many infrastructure projects were put on hold as the prime minister’s office could not approve them. Thus, the looming power struggle could worsen the economic situation making the already high cost of living unbearable, particularly for the urban dwellers. This economic problem, when added to the (unemployed) youth bulge and catalyzed with the emerging social media savvy movements, will have intense external pressure on the status quo.
It is unfortunate that instead of using this opportunity to put the country on the path to an open society with equitable distribution of wealth and power, the ruling elites have chosen to further alienate the rest of the country , risking an uncertain future for themselves and the region at large.
Jawar Mohammed is a graduate student at Columbia University, and a political analyst with focus on the Horn of Africa. His articles are available at www.gulelepost.com. He can be reached at email@example.com