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Ethiopia: What Happens If Meles Zenawi Can No Longer Govern?


Ethiopia does not have a firm leadership succession plan if Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is no longer able to head the government, according to a former defense minister.

Seeye Abraha, who worked with Meles on the ruling party’s executive committee but who is now a member of the political opposition, said Tuesday that uncertainty and anxiety is growing over the nation’s leadership during the prime minister’s so-far unexplained absence. He blamed it on the country’s one-party electoral system and Meles’ one-man-rule style of governing over the past 12 years.


Prime Minister of Ethiopia Meles Zenawi.
Prime Minister of Ethiopia Meles Zenawi.

“They don’t have a system” [of leadership succession], Seeye said. “This is a crisis situation and the dust has not settled.”

He said leaders of the ruling Tigrai People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and larger Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) parties had discussed a succession plan, but postponed any decisions until prior to a scheduled 2015 national election.

Meles has not been seen in public for about three weeks, even missing the African Union conference in Addis Ababa that was attended by 29 other heads of state or government. Some reports in the international press have speculated he is suffering from a serious illness and has been receiving treatment since June 26 in a Brussels hospital.

Information Minister Bereket Simon told reporters in Addis Ababa last week that a doctor has prescribed sick leave for the prime minister. Bereket assured the public that Meles is in “good and stable condition” and will return to work when he has recuperated.
“I have serious political differences with the prime minister and his party,”

Bereket, however, would not identify the illness or say where the prime minister was receiving treatment.

Reliable news about the prime minister’s health has been hard to come by in Ethiopia. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the most recent edition of the independent weekly newspaper, Feteh, contained a report on the prime minister’s health, but that issue of the publication was confiscated by the government printing house.

Ethiopia ‘approaching the end of the one-party system’

Seeye Abraha said he does not know where the prime minister is or the nature of his illness.

“I have serious political differences with the prime minister and his party,” Seeye said of Meles and the TPLF. But he said that now is the time for Ethiopia’s political and military leaders to work with the nation to plot a peaceful way forward.

“We are approaching the end of the one-party system,” Seeye said.

Seeye was commander of the TPLF’s rebel forces and a member of the small leadership team of TPLF fighters who ousted Mengistu Haile Mariam’s Derg leadership in 1991. They then created the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. Seeye was defense minister for five years and later led planning strategy for Ethiopia’s border war with neighboring Eritrea.

The former defense minister said he and Meles finally parted ways over continuation of the costly two-year war with Eritrea. Meles expelled Seeye and three others from the TPLF executive committee.

Then, Seeye was thrown in jail for six years on corruption charges he says were bogus. When he got out of prison, Seeye joined the opposition Unity for Democracy and Justice Party along with a former president, Negaso Gidada.

He left Ethiopia for the United States in 2011. Seeye, 59, now lives in Boston where he recently completed graduate studies in public administration at Harvard University.

If Meles cannot lead, who will?

A member of the TPLF’s old guard, Sebhat Nega, told a VOA correspondent last week in Ethiopia that the government is functioning normally despite Meles’ absence.

“The system does not depend on one person,” Sebhat said, adding that whatever Meles’ medical issues are, the government is secure.

David Shinn, a former U.S. ambassador the Ethiopia in the 1980s, speculated last week that if Meles was aware of the need to plan for a successor, he would have had such a plan in place. He added, however, that if Meles’ health problem came on suddenly, the political fallout could be more serious.

“If this is a more abrupt situation, then it could be far more difficult,” Shinn said.

Opposition leader Seeye also warned of possible trouble, saying, any leadership transition would be difficult without Meles taking part. For the time being, Seeye said he believed a form of collective leadership was acting during Meles’ absence.

Sebhat of the TPLF said such opposition speculation was the product of “wishful thinkers” hoping to take advantage of the current situation. He also denied that Meles ruled with an iron fist, noting the prime minister’s efforts to de-centralize government rule in ethnically diverse Ethiopia over the past two decades.

“He doesn’t have any hand in the affairs of the Oromo, of the Amhara, of the Tigre, or of the Afar, et cetera,” said Sebhat. “He cannot have an iron hand. He can never be a despot.”

Does Meles rule by consensus or by fiat?

Seeye disagreed, saying that Meles has been consolidating power for years.

“Meles is not just the chief executive officer of the administration, he is the law of the courts,” said Seeye. “He could make his wishes the law of the land in a matter of hours. That’s how he has been working.”

Despite his political differences with Meles, Seeye said he hopes the prime minister will recover soon.

“I don’t celebrate the pain of another human being or the passing of another human being,” Seeye said. “I wish him recovery and I wish that he ends his political exit with a positive and constructive and historic note.”

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11 thoughts on “Ethiopia: What Happens If Meles Zenawi Can No Longer Govern?

  • July 27, 2012 at 9:26 am

    Dear Seeye,

    You are one of the few wise people who can rescue our country from the current crises. You know the secrets of tplf and you can lead an armed resistance to oust the corruption.

  • July 27, 2012 at 10:09 am

    PM Meles, his ghost is leading the country upto now. He torture the minds of even TPLF’s like Sibhat etc. He learned and acquired knowledge of torturing and psychological maneuver over the poor TPLF’s. Still in his bed in coma state, he is leading them. funny how they paralyzed like that

    The people of Ethiopia are also under his Ghost and we think that no one to replace him.

    Lets come out from all the illusions. Meles though he work hard to divide the people, i don’t think he achieved what he planned. So lets grab the opportunity to democracy and freedom. Lets forget him from now on.

    For Ato seye, good to get education/Harvard. It is encouraging for people who say ‘”‘m 60, i cannt learn no more”. you showed that we can learn anytime in our life.
    You should humanity towards Meles zenawi’s personal illness. ya correct we all are human being after all. we are not happy in once suffering. Though he is a lesson to many TPLF’s that this is time to change. It is a lesson that they shouldn’t work for the country instead of destruction and division among the Ethiopians . Time is short for them.

  • July 27, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    This is the most comprehensive reporting I have seen since the controversy of Melese’s sickness/death. I agree with Seeye’s assessment.

  • July 27, 2012 at 6:26 pm

    So, this report is based on ex-minister and current opposition political member who got caught helping his brothers corrupt the country. Poor article.

  • July 27, 2012 at 11:45 pm

    Siyyee had killed as many as malles did the inocent Ethiopian people. there is no diffrence between two diffrent hyneas except their color. Now, my speculation is our country is moving in the wrong direction like it has been for the last 150yrs. I am afraid that it would be like seyria and other countries rulled by dictator. Here is my suggestion: The rulling party must negotiate with other parties like OLF, Madrak, and others to restore the order of the country. Once it has been incontrolable, no one could hold it down because it is not united country; it has been tribally rulled country for the las 150yrs. Meles has barried many mines in the ethincity of Ethiopia any one who thinks that they can rulle Ethiopia like Amhara did in the pas, they can only put benzine on the fire if they try to attemp to reverse what have been acheived so far. What we need now is that Every Ethinicity are must integrated politically, Economically, militarly, and given right to own their state or regines natural resource while respected for their culture and language. Other wise it would be difficult for any one to rulle it like before.
    you can have my word on it.

  • July 28, 2012 at 5:22 am

    I am not sure what EPRDF plans are on the leadership succession. I hope and I believe, there must be something for a smooth succession. One thing though I do not agree is the wishful thinking of most of the other parties. All of them do not have any plan or policy for the country. They only know to complain against the current leadership, they never gave us alternative way out. As one of the idiots commented here, some of them are still in the dream of ousting the government by force…. this is the silliest idea to think.

  • July 28, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    give to all people to use their own opportunity if there is democracy in ethiopia,this is the time of end up to kill innocent people,puting people in gail,tortuching….this is the time for our people to become one of the democratic country as a world member.

  • July 29, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    It is unfortunate that the politics of Ethiopia is going backward in the 21st Century. What I can tell is pray, pray and pray regardless of relgion to restore the freedom and legacy of Ethiopa. We need to pray for those leaders who are hungry for leadership too.

  • July 31, 2012 at 11:18 pm

    I think we are being very short sighted in that the fundamental solution for the Ethiopian people is not whether Meles survived or not. It shouldbe how to secure the empowerment of the people for life, liberty and happiness and the government to derive it’s just power from the people. Therefore, the struggle should not be how to overthrow this dictator, or that. Infact, that has been the culture of our country for long time now and it has not proved any fundamental change, rather it has kept us in this visous cycle of distruction. Just putting my 10 cents there!

  • August 2, 2012 at 4:30 am

    Having read every article and people’s comment on what they think about meles absence, here my comment. There is no way Meles would be all right come back, as far I’m concerned he is dead. The people of Ethiopia has a right to know, its 42 days since his absence and no one wants to give clear indiction of where he is and when he might come back. Its in interest of the ruling party to not let us know, so they can buy time to sort out best way running the country with out Meles. The fact that it has been so secrete just tells me that he is dead, if he is fine and should be back soon, then it should be very easy for them prove that, ( maybe video and an interview for God Sake,) because why would they want to build such hysteria and speculation about something that is not true. By doing they are only making more people angry and working to go against him- I don’t think that’s what they want as party, Meles is dead, I just hope that we get peaceful transition.

  • August 6, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    every thing is secret in ethiopia currently. meles has been sick,which is not some thing new. but what makes me angry is that why the government tells us the death of our leader? they told us even his sickness after we heared it from others. i suspect that they themselves have no idea about the pm. i have reason to say this.everybody now that meles decides everything without consulting them. so how could he tell them his illness which is something personal? therefore i cannot blame them (gov’t officials)because they are as strangers as we with the issues of meles.


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