The coalition government Congress in a few days will elect a successor of Meles Zenawi, who died on August 20. The uncertainty and delays are concerning all those who question the effects that a change of leadership could bring to the nation and entire Horn of Africa. MISNA discussed the situation with Emilio Ernesto Manfredi, an analyst with the International Crisis Group and expert on the area.
In a little under twenty days, the government of Addis Ababa freed two Swedish journalists detained for months and opened peace talks for Ogaden. Are these the first signs of change determined by Meles Zenawi’s death?
Both these decisions didn’t come about in a mere two weeks, considering the most significant in 20 years for the coalition government (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front – EPRDF), which suddenly found itself without its charismatic leader. Diplomatic sources also claim that the decree for the release of the two Swedes, accused of supporting terrorism after filming scenes of fighting in the Somali Ogaden region, was actually signed by the late premier. Other initiatives, such as peace negotiations with the ONLF (Ogaden National Liberation Front), must be cautiously evaluated, to ensure that they are not actions aimed at boosting the image of the country, recently overcast in the eyes of donors.
The delay in the election of the deputy premier Hailemariam Desalegn as prime minister is stirring up rumors of divisions in the majority and the ruling party. Is this mere speculation or is there some truth?
Internal divisions in the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) is possible and is more preoccupying than any in the EPRDF coalition, made up by the nation’s four main ethnicities: Amhara, Tigray, Oromo and Populations of the South. In Zenawi’s party in particular, there is a ‘faction’ of loyalists that support Desalegn. A second group that includes Zenawi’s wife, Azeb Mesfi, an experienced politician and businesswoman, that will back the consensus candidate if guaranteed a key post in the new government. Then there is the extreme group, who rejects a premier from the minority Wolyta ethnic group from the south, and threatens to return to Tigray and demand independence.
So Desalegn’s election could be at risk?
The scenario unfolding indicates he will be elected – pushed also by pressures from the US ally that sees Zenawi’s deputy as a guarantee of stability – but followed by a complex string of nominations and assignment of posts, aimed at sharing power. A sort of ‘Solomonic’ solution to balance a situation generated by twenty years of personification of leadership.
What are the future perspectives for Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa?
It is improbable that Ethiopia leaves the path traced over the past twenty years, but it will emerge weakened by the death of its charismatic leader, especially due to the absence of a political class able to replace him.
It is also in this optic that we need to see the peace talks with the separatist movement of the Somali majority region 5, Ogaden. The government of Addis Ababa was pushed toward dialogue by the need to secure the border, especially due to what is unfolding in the past days over the border in Somalia, where in Kismayo after the defeat of the al Shebab insurgents local clans, historically tied to the people of Ogaden, will return in command.
So the internal and regional problems are closely correlated…
In Addis Ababa, though not only, the Islamic communities staged harshly repressed demonstrations and protests. It is foreseeable that in an undemocratic nation, with a weakened government and repressed and silenced opposition, there is an escalation of frustration of a part of the society denied their rights and voice. If the nation’s internal stability should waver, it will undoubtedly and radically change foreign policy and military commitment, from Sudan to Somalia.