Ethiopian Politics Some Ups, Some Downs

Ethiopian politics seems to be witnessing changes as a function of its driver - Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. There are many arguments being made about the impact of his premiership. Whereas some see changes picking up speed, in a very Ethiopian way, others dismiss the changing attitudes as an all too familiar trick of governance. Nevertheless, it could be said that some sort of change is happening.

The unusual tolerance beginning to be witnessed in the Ethiopian political arena seems to be convincing many people that there is a glimmer of hope in the development of accommodative political policies from the side of the ruling party. Skeptics warn that it is too early to take any stand at this point in time. They say that Ethiopian leaders are still walking on a tightrope and every step they take in advance requires wise decisions. Optimists, however, have also every reason to believe that changes are going to come for the better.

With the coming to the fore of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, following the untimely death of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, everything seemed bleak as a deep grief hovered over the Ethiopia political atmosphere. The new Prime Minister was said to be totally committed to playing the role of the deceased, both in words and in gestures. Every time he delivered a speech, he mentioned that everything was done in order to realise the visions of his predecessor.

Some people hastened to judge him as a replica of Meles and a figure head engineered by the invisible hand of power from within the innermost orbit of the ruling party. In due course, however, Hailemariam slowly but surely started coming out of the shadows and began to be a master of his own merits.

This trend was observed in many instances, but more-so when he first presented his government’s performance report to the Members of the Parliament (MPs). For the first time in a couple of years, Hailemariam tried to be honest to the truth, or closer to the truth, in saying that the gross domestic product (GDP) growth of the country was only around eight percent. This assessment is far divorced from the double digit growth rate syndrome.

This percentage growth economics was a standing joke of some critics, such that the figure was quested as a symbol of representation. This revelation came to pass unnoticed. His presentation may not have been too authoritative and ministerial, but it was a humble and earnest report.

The new chapter of change came in earnest when the Semayawi Party and its supporters went to the streets of the capital a week after the 50th Anniversary of the African Union. This protest was the first in eight years. Youngsters of all beliefs and sects participated in the demonstration, which was held peacefully.

Demonstrations are not big deals in Africa these days. But, the Semayawi Party’s was rather different in its nature. It was an expression of democratic rights in the context of the anti-terrorism act, which was one of the issues the demonstrators demanded to be repealed. The police force were deployed not to beat demonstrators, but to protect them.

It was a big success for the Semayawi Party, but no less victorious for the ruling party. It was a reflection of political tolerance and a step in the direction for accommodative politics.

That, of course, is not to say that the government’s tolerance was swallowed by all officials. Some of the incumbents hastened to give press releases, unlike other times, and used every angle to downplay the protest. They commented that the Semayawi Party was trying to interfere in the due process of law.

The other point raised was that they tried to reduce the number of participants down to smoothers and alleged that it raised the Muslim issue. Yet, the statement did not go down well with the government’s reaction expressed as  a victory of tolerance.

The other major juncture was the exposure of suspects of crimes related to corruption in the national customs authority. “Things are falling apart”, one of the suspects was quoted as saying by the state media – a quote later reverberated by other reporters. It was just the dawn of setting things in order.

Then followed the first press briefing by the Prime Minister, as he gave audience to members of the press. This was again a moment of revelation, where Hailemariam came into his own, facing a variety of questions. It was also at this moment that the Premier explained professional issues, more or less, in a scholarly syllogism, rather than adapting an evasive approach to answering questions using semantics and satire.

Another significant mark of tolerance was allowing the peaceful demonstrations and rallies held at Gondar and Dessie towns. Again the reaction, which were unbecoming of the ruling party’s usual approach, had clearly derived to dissipate tensions and depress the anger of the people subscribing to the basic idea of national reconciliation. This has been a request often rejected as a notion that was taken as asking too much.

There seems to exist less mutual mind-reading amongst some officials of the ruling party, however. Some of the office holders in the regional offices seem to consider being open to the public demand as a sign of defeat. When called by distant media outlets, they either opt for not answering phone calls or give lame excuses of being in a meeting. It is as if they have nothing else to do to execute their duties, other than closing themselves in a conference room 24/7.

According to other observers, the recent reshuffle of officials made by the Prime Minister could also be a sign of freedom from bondage. This, of course, could be a farfetched argument that may take some time to be proven right.

Some people try to draw similarities between the recent political history of the United States of America and the recent Ethiopian politics. The US has its first African-American President in its political history, through Barack Obama, as predicted by the famous song “A change is going to come”. If America, why not Ethiopia?

By Girma Feyissa

Published on August 11, 2013 [ Vol 14 ,No 693]



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