By Marthe Van Der Wolf
Government officials say Hailemariam Desalegn will be the next Prime Minister of Ethiopia. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs is known as a soft spoken and humble man.
Hailemariam Desalegne is currently the acting prime minister and the foreign minister and will be sworn in as prime minister and run the country until elections in 2015. Ethiopian officials say the constitution will be followed.
Former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi died on Monday.
The ruling party holds all but one seat in parliament, making it unlikely that Hailemariam’s appointment will be opposed. Mr. Hailemariam has been foreign minister since 2010 but is not well known across the country.
Getachew Reda of the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry has been working closely with Hailemariam for the last few years. Getachew describes Hailemariam Desalegn as a leader with good people skills:
“Hailemariam, is very humble, very friendly,” said Getachew. “The sort of person who will not shy away from drawing lessons from everybody, whether subordinate or whatever. He’s the kind of person that tries to create consensus among colleagues.”
A lot of nice words are generally spoken about Hailemariam and Getachew Reda says the new leader can also be tough when he has to be.
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“Ethiopians know when to be tough,” he said. “Even here as a foreign minister within the government structure there are times that you could be surprised. I can assure you, when it comes right down to it, Hailemariam is like all of them he can be tough.“
The outside world does not know this side of Hailemariam and former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia David Shinn says if he is going to be in power, he should show his tougher side to the outside world.
“It remains to be seen whether he has that toughness or not,” said Shinn. “He is going to have to show Ethiopia and the other countries in the region and international community that he is capable of doing that.”
Next to his character, Hailemariam’s ethnic origin is most frequently discussed. Unlike the top of the ruling party, he hails from the South and not from the north of Ethiopia.
Ethiopian political analyst Jawar Mohammed of Columbia University says that the appointment of Hailemariam is mostly symbolic.
“He is not going to have the slightest of power in hand, he is going to be used as a puppet,” he noted. “It will make it extremely difficult for the Amhara and the Oromo opposition as well as affiliate parties to criticize him the way they have done because to criticize somebody from the south who was more marginalized then the two bigger ethnic groups would be politically unwise and politically incorrect.”
Jawad says Meles Zenawi was in power since 1991. Whether the new prime minister will be able to hold his position for that long remains to be seen.
“I doubt he will have power close to Meles because Meles power comes from his own personal assertive nature,” Jawad said. “And second is he was part of the armed struggle. And he built his stature, authority and command while he was still in the armed struggle. By the time he took power, he was the undisputed leader of the TPLF and also the undisputed leader of Ethiopia.”
The ruling party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, or EPRDF, will hold its party congress in September.