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The Seamless, Democratic Transition that Dispelled Doomsday Scenarios

By Fantahun Belay Oct. 08, 2012

In his speech at the United Nations General Assembly, last month, H.E. Prime Minsiter Hailemariam Desalegn remarked on the events following the passing of the late PM Meles Zenawi as follows:

“There were indeed, as should be expected, doomsday scenarios bandied around about Ethiopia's future. But the people of Ethiopia- from north to south, from east to west, across the length and breadth of the country - were categorical in stating in unison how much they embrace the unity of the country, unity that celebrates their diversity and built on the bedrock of their federal constitution.”

Indeed, the remark is an accurate, albeit brief, summation of facts.

It was on August 21, at dawn, the Ethiopian people learnt that the Great Leader Meles Zenawi has passed away. The public media read the statement issued by the Council of Ministers which “with deep sorrow and grief, regrets [informed] the Peoples of Ethiopia that Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who has led our country for the last 21 years with great wisdom and far-sightedness, passed away on August 20th at 11:40 pm at the hospital where he was under medical treatment”.

The Council elaborated the circumstances of the tragedy as the late Prime Minister Meles had been showing remarkable improvement, after undergoing medical treatment in the previous two months. However, the Council said, Meles had had to be re-admitted back to hospital two days earlier due to a sudden infection, which led to his death, despite efforts by his physicians.

The statement was shocking to every Ethiopian. From the news-anchors, who read the statement, to the ordinary citizen, at home and workplace, the news was upsetting, their grief was visible. Some burst into tears blocking traffic on streets in Addis Ababa and elsewhere. Others stared on their TV and radio in disbelief, listening to the same statement again and again, as if they were expecting a correction. It was even more saddening revelation that Meles dedicated his time to the successful implementation of the 5 year Growth and Transformation Plan, despite nursing a serious medical condition for the past two years.

The statement was not wholly depressing, however. As it noted the comforting fact that: “Meles has left behind a solid democratic and developmental constitutional system. Today, his ideas and vision of change have become the ideas of change for 80 million Ethiopians.”

“The constitutional developmental democratic system that has been left to us by a great leader is built on a firm foundation. We will always be proud of his achievements, remain confident in ourselves and nurture the unshakable belief that the efforts at making Ethiopia's renaissance a reality have indeed become irreversible.”

The Council of Ministers has also assured Ethiopians and well-wishers that the nation’s policies will remain in place and there is no power vacuum. It noted that “His Excellency Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn will, in accordance with the FDRE Constitution, continue to carry out the responsibilities of heading the Council of Ministers”.

AT THE SAME TIME, however, several overrated analysts and media outlets have been busy drawing doomsday scenarios – ranging from a contest in the EPRDF leadership to take the top post to a nationwide chaos, from the cessation of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance dam to the disruption of Ethiopia’s role in conflict-resolution and peace- keeping across Africa. Some were simply uninformed or in the business of sensationalizing issues. Others were fantasizing, grabbing the opportunity to disseminate their wish in the hope that it might come true.

In the absence of any sign of disagreement in the top leadership and the public at large, the overrated analysts had to pick on minor events as an evidence of discord and quarrel in the top leadership.

They picked on discrepancies and inconsistencies in the media regarding the then Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegne, who was referred to as Acting PM, Interim PM, temporary PM or simply Dep. PM. Though the pundits took it as a sign of discord, in reality the editor of each media outlet decided based on his/her linguistic skills/preferences, his/her understanding of the Constitution and protocol norms. Neither Hailemariam, nor his colleagues had the luxury of time to dwell on such trivial issues. After all, it is not in the ruling party’s tradition to put emphasis on protocol and titles.

The pundits also tried to capitalize on the fact that an urgent Parliamentary session summoned for that week, to install a new Prime Minister, was cancelled as the MPs needed time to grieve. However, the cancellation not surprising, as it is known a Parliament session involves, depending on the weight of the issue at hand, a number of works ranging from preparatory committee meetings to informing the public about the decisions. More importantly, the MPs, as representatives of the peoples, cannot fail to attend the various events their constituency organized to pay tribute to the Great Leader. After all, this is not some elitist state, where the interaction between the MPs and their electorate is confined to lobby groups and TV advertisements.

Thus, the government announced that it has no urgent business than facilitating the national mourning and lying to rest the late Prime Minister. Though, in line with Ethiopian tradition, government and private offices allotted some time and resource to facilitate the national mourning, crucial activities, like the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam remained in full throttle. 

Following the successful funeral procession, the then Acting Prime Minister hailemariam desalegn appeared on TV to thank the nation and remind the nation it was time to turn our full undivided attention towards work.

AS THE NATION GOT BACK to work in full gear, so did the EPRDF.

The EPRDF Executive Committee held its regular meeting two days after the funeral to review the performance of the government and the party as well as to set directions. The Committee reviewed rural and urban development, good governance and democratic system building activities. Specially, the Committee deliberated on ways of increasing agricultural productivity and benefiting of farmer, on expanding the micro and small enterprises and the creation of jobs opportunities in the urban area as well as the works on the Grand Renaissance Dam, the rail way and the industrial projects.

The Committee also discussed and decided, as indicated in its statement, the need to revise plans for enhance performance, both at federal and regional levels, in terms of public revenue, private savings, controlling inflation, enhance export trade, in private sector activities.

The Statement issued at the end of the Committee’s meeting indicated that it has decided: “the direction placed to translate the remorse and trust of the public into real participation in the development to be prepared in the form of detailed plans and be submitted to the forthcoming regular meeting of the Council of [EPRDF] for approval and implementation.”

With regard to the electing a new leaders, the Statement stated that: “The Committee has also passed decision on the ways of assigning a leader in the vacant leadership position created following the sudden death of our great and visionary leader. Accordingly, the work of assigning the chairperson and deputy chairperson of the front will be done in the mid of this month, the committee indicated.”

UNSURPRISINGLY, THE PUNDITS picked only the last paragraph and interpreted it as they wished. They claimed the party couldn’t agree on a new leader. Though, the party didn’t say it will elect a new leader in its statement ahead of the meeting.

But for careful observers, it was clear that there was no anomaly. Instead, it was another confirmation that the system is working smoothly and as it should be.

It is known that EPRDF meetings first deliberate on past performance and future plans, and then assigns individuals and groups to lead the implementation. Moreover, elect party Chairpersons is the mandate of the EPRDF Council, not the Executive Committee. Thus, unlike what some expected, the Executive Committee didn’t digress from the by-laws and normal working methods of the party in a rush to fill the vacant position. But this is not a surprise to those who know EPRDF leaders are fostered in a party that prioritizes realizing grand plans and sacrifice rather than a lust for power and personal gains.

Nonetheless, the doomsayers busied themselves by drawing doomsday scenarios and allocating positions among senior EPRDF leaders to solve the imagined ‘disagreement’.

But, EPRDF leaders went on to preparing agenda documents for the Council meeting as well as running the day to day affairs of the country, including the customary new-year eve pardons, previously planned Military appointments, facilitating peace-talks in the Sudans, providing security assistance to the Somalia government, and the like.

Days after the Ethiopian New Year, on September 14, the EPRDF Council convened as planned. As usual, it dealt with major national and party issues in a logical and orderly manner.

Most of the two-day meeting focused on evaluating performance and setting directions. The Council deliberated on a document entitled “let us realize the Meles / EPRDF/ vision by ensuring the rule of the practice of developmental democratic outlook’’ and the progress on the 5-years Growth and Transformation Plan as well as on the summarized evaluation and directions of governmental and organizational plans for the current year.

The Council deliberated on economic issues and set directions and targets for the current year: To increase annual public revenue by 50%; to enhance export trade, import-substitution and foreign currency utilization; and to decrease the inflation significantly by mid-year.

The Council reviewed the reaction to the passing of the late PM Meles Zenawi and supporters as well as partners and legitimate opposition parties. On behalf of EPRDF members, the Council pledged to renew its “promise to strive with superior drive to bring to the target the stride of renaissance launched by our organization and your effort”.  It also underlined that the need to channel the broad public movement created in the mourning for the late PM to accomplish the Growth and Transformation Plan. The Council took time to reaffirm the party’s and the government’s commitment to advance its roles in regional and international levels.

IT WAS AT THE END of the two-day meeting afternoon, after setting major directions and plans directions, that the Council dealt with the issue of electing new leaders. Even then the Council didn’t rush to allocating positions arbitrarily rather in a scientific and systemic manner common to EPRDF.

The Council deliberated on a document titled “the building leadership and the stride of the Ethiopian Renaissance’’, which was compiled by the late PM Meles Zenawi and approved by the party Executive Committee last July. The Council deliberated on capacity building works to nurture and build leadership, to enhance the competence of governmental structure, on consolidating various public organizations and on fighting rent-seeking. The Council adopted the document as a basic document of the party, thus to be discussed at every level and be put into implementation.

Finally, in a secret ballot election, the Council elected by unanimous vote, among three nominees, Hailemariam Desalegn as the party Chairman. Demeke Mekonen was elected to serve as Deputy. Days later, on September 21, both Hailemariam and Demeke were elected as Prime Minister and Deputy in the House of Peoples’ Representatives.

The seamless, democratic, peaceful and orderly transition of power – the first in the nation’s history – did not only dispel “doomsday scenarios bandied around about Ethiopia's future”, but also proved the maturity and unity of the Ethiopian nation.

God Bless Ethiopia.

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