In the aftermath of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s passing politicians and analysts are contemplating on key questions facing Ethiopia. Who will replace him? Will there be a radical change in the structure of the regime? And what impacts will such development have on the country, region politics and global politics? My view is that there will be structural changes in the organs of the regime and those changes will weaken whatever government emerges in Addis Ababa.
I divide my piece into five parts and discuss each separately. The five sections are TPLF’s Traits, Puppets in Regions, Regional Politics, International Politics and Political Trends. I discuss these in a way that look like separate subjects but all of these serve the same purpose of advancing the argument that the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) led regime is weakening forever for the better for opposition and beyond.
Since Meles took TPLF over in 1985 at the founding conference of the Marxist-Leninist League of Tigrai (MLLT), he has introduced intolerant within TPLF structure as his party main traits. His first victims were Aregawi Berhe, head of TPLF military, and Giday Zeratsion, TPLF Vice Chairman. Meles thought both of these leaders were independent and would likely challenge his ideas at the conference thus he purged them. His next victims were TPLF original politburo Members, Seye Abraha, Military Bureau, Tsadkan Gebretensai, Chief of Staff, Tewelde Woldemariam, People’s Bureau, Gebru Asrat, Social-Economic Bureau, Aregash Adane, Alternate Member, Awaalom Woldu, Social-economic who he purged in 2001 over small differences emerged during the military conflict with Eritrea (see a source below, p. 169 to 192).
Meles perfected this tactic of purging any power brokers in TPLF organization that did not pledge his or her loyalty to him. By perfecting this practice of purging any independent member he thought was a challenger to his authority, he was able to consolidated and centralized political power and economic power with a group of subordinates who served at his pleasant.
By achieving this, however, he created two problems for the current TPLF. One is this has pushed able TPLF comrades out from TPLF and increased a number of yes man around him. In the current TPLF leadership, yes-men he created will not be able to provide strong leadership and this will have a greater impact in weakening the organization because those with strong leadership capabilities have left the organization. The other is his nondemocratic practices is preventing TPLF from selecting a new leader without battle over who should be at its helm.
The reason why Meles was able to achieve monopoly of power was because partly he was in the bush and partly by pushing other original power brokers out. In the current political condition in the country, no person can attempt and achieve Meles ‘s monopoly of political power and succeed. Any new leader that takes over as the chairman of the TPLF, that person will be weak than Meles was.
Puppets in the regions
TPLF created puppets in each region of the country, such Oromo, Amhara, Ogaden, Benishangul, Gambella and other regions that serves as it representative to these regions and they are not answerable to their people in their respective regions. These people have no political bases of their own to stand on their own because their people view these people simply as tools TPLF has used to suppress their aspirations.
Meles has appointed these individuals without the consent of the governed in each region to enforce his policies in these regions. These people, called presidents to be exact, have become reliabilities for the regime images at home and broad due to the fact that they have become more brutal. If a new leader takes the leadership of Ethiopia, he likely will accept the fact these regional puppets have been playing damaging role in TPLF quest to continue to rule the country.
Thus these regional puppets will likely be replaced within the first year of the new leader to start with a clean slate. Dismissing puppets will not have fundamental impacts on road to a democratic state but they will bit move the country to where repressions, which have been the hallmark of the regime, less occurrence.
Meles role in the regional politics as the dominant player will now give away to other regional leaders. Candidates are many in the regional to take his position; Eritrea president, Kenyan president, South Sudanese president, Sudanese president, Ugandan president, Somali president and future Ethiopian prime minister. Kenyan prime minister, if he elected and became Kenyan president in this year elections, he is likely to become the spokesman of the horn of Africa. Such development would be important dynamic in changing from a region a tyrant was it spokesman to a region a democrat is it spokesman. This will benefit opposition parties in long term because Washington main information in the region will be coming from a democrat, not from a tyrant.
It is not likely that because of Meles’ passing, there will be instability in geopolitical arena some fear. Meles policy toward his neighboring states was a policy of bulling them to fear him rather a policy based on a mutual interest. With Kenya as the main spokesman for the regional there will no longer be a bulling state. Kenya has no history of bullying other states to get it way.
As political brokers within TPLF led coalition joust for positions, there is an added dimension to this competition. The U.S. and China have been competing for the ear of Ethiopia, but this war has not been fought in an open because these powers interests have not clash and Meles has been able to satisfy both parties without angering the other.
The U.S. interest has been to have Ethiopia pledge support for U.S. fight against Islamists and send its soldiers to it frontline while China has been to dig up natural resources from underneath Ethiopia soil. Meles was able to provide each party it full interests: Meles has sent young Ethiopia to fight Al Shabaab in Somalia and allowed China (and other Asian partners) unrestricted access to search for natural resources throughout the country.
As TPLF appoints a new leader, both China and the U.S. would likely try to pull the new leader to their own self-interest. If the new leader failed to accommodate both U.S. interests and China interests there is a tension because no party that wants to lose Ethiopia to the other party.
The removal of the last government was not because TPLF and its allies alone but because the high politics between the United States and the Soviet Union came into close. The Soviet Union lost to the United States and Soviet Union alley in Addis Ababa lost power.
Currently, the U.S. has more advantages than China in the battle to maintain more influence in Ethiopia. Although Ethiopian opposition parties in the United States are not unified in one front, the U.S. can mobilize and unify them by providing necessary resources and pressure whatever government emerges in Addis Ababa to accept their presence. Such efforts by the U.S. will allow it to send better educated Ethiopians who care about democracy to participate in the future government in Addis Ababa. This will be more beneficial for both Ethiopia and the U.S. in that it guaranteed democrats in Addis Ababa.
Jury is still out for what the future hold for Ethiopia. Yet, there are two developments one has to look at carefully. One is, if Hailemariam Desalegn becomes the prime minister, he would not be able to consolidate political power because he does not have any strong political base of his own than the TPLF. What he would likely do is to govern the country by committee, which is TPLF ministers will have a greater say in the governing of the state. If he adopts this policy, he will be a weak leader, but it will allow him to stay longer in power. But if he does not adopt this policy and try to consolidate political power through tradition means of dismissing and appointing his own allies, TPLF ministers will resist his attempt to consolidate power and they will likely push him out from power.
The other development is if TPLF decides it does not need a cover to govern the country and therefore it seeks to assert its authority by appointing another Tigre as a prime minister. Such development will create negative reaction in the country for the fact that citizens have been complaining about Tigre monopoly of political power and economic power in the country. But such development creates an opportunity for changes, because the new leader will not have any problem consolidating political power and attempting to change Meles’ course, by dismissing current regional puppets and creating political dialogue with opposition parties.
In any case, TPLF led regime as an organization will be weakened forever and the prospect for democracy advancement will likely comes much closer because a weak government in Addis Ababa will improve the chance of the opposition to make inroad and advance democracy in the country. A weak TPLF is better for the prospect of democracy than a strong one.
If the government that emerges in Addis Ababa tries to negotiate with its political opposition opponent, there is a challenge it would face. The ideological differences between the opposition parties will challenge the regime to which one it wants to negotiate with. Currently there is the liberation front- such Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and other parties that believe in re-arranging the Ethiopia. On the other side is the Ethiopia First –such Ginbot 7, Medhin, Andinet, and AEUP that believe in maintaining the Ethiopia state as it is.
These ideological differences would force the regime to choose ideological parties that are more in line with it beliefs. The dominating force within the current regime is the Ethiopia First force and that naturally would mean it would attempt to negotiate with it even though it is currently negotiating with ONLF, a part of the front that wants to re-negotiate the state in equal footing. But there is another important factor to consider in this likely scenario – that is currently the Ethiopia First ideological opposition does not poses threat to the regime other than damaging its image abroad like the front that is armed and poses immediate threat to the regime in various places.
Apee ojulu can be reached at email@example.com. Feel free to send him your comment, question, or/and concern you may have regarding this article.
Berhe, Aregawi, p. 169-192, “A Political History of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (1975-1991).”