Posted December 5, 2012 in News

Who is in charge of Ethiopia? Hailemariam talks, Debretsion rules

by Jawar

Two things are surprising and interesting about the latest cabinet appointments; the increase in the  number of deputy prime ministers to three, and moving Tewdros Adhanom from ministry of  health to foreign affairs.  During its meeting to select Meles’ successor, Bereket told journalists that the EPRDF executive committee, considered and dismissed the possibility of appointing three deputy prime ministers. Is this constitutional? Why reversal of the decision now?



The succession process has revealed some of the ambiguities of the constitution. In the past, the party has pretended to  follow the constitution, at least procedurally. Now, it seems the party is abandoning even that procedural formality. When questions arose regarding the succession process for the position of Prime Minister and how long the post could remain vacant, the party argued that “what is not specifically prohibited is permitted” to justify prolonging Hailemariam’s swearing in. It was also using similar arguments to buy time in order to reach agreement on filling vacant cabinet posts. The absence of clear stipulation in the constitution came in handy. However, the party did not even bother to explain its decision when it came to promoting military officers before the new prime minister was sworn in.

 The constitution does not contain specific details on how the deputy prime minister should be appointed. But it refers to it in singular, “the deputy prime minister.” Therefore, according to legal experts, the appointment of three deputy prime ministers could “ be challenged” and in any such challenge a “stronger argument can be made of  the  unconstitutionality of three deputies rather than the other way”. However, the experts note that referring to the newest two appointees as “Ministers with the Rank of Deputy Prime Minister” might been devised  to get around the constitutional issue. The government could argue that Demeke Mekonnen is the actual deputy Prime Minister, while the other two are just ministers with the rank of deputy, which means they might have the benefits but not necessarily the power Demeke has. Experts point to the case of several advisers with rank of ministers but who do not actually lead any ministry and hold no ministerial offices. Yet, regime affiliated media outlets have been proclaiming that ‘there are three deputy prime ministers’. This shows that, despite shying away from officially declaring it as such, the government would like the public to believe there are three deputies.


Why three deputies?

There seem to be three reasons for adding two more deputies. First, most commentators attribute the change  to the need to ‘balance’ ethnic representation. It is said that the addition  was made to appease the Oromo and Tigreans.   Therefore, by adding two more deputies, each of the four coalition members are given a semblance of representation at the top executive office. The TPLF has  come under fire from its own rank and file for relinquishing the top two posts following the death of the Chairman. Hence its hoped that having a seat the top executive table would loosen the uneasiness and insecurity being felt within the organization’s base. The OPDO has been unhappy with its dwindling shares at the federal government, and the resentment has gotten worse recently after being left out of the Prime Minister and Deputy posts, causing full blown revolt of the mid-ranking cadres. Yet  its unlikely that deputizing Muktar Kedir would satisfy the OPDO.  The grievance from OPDO’s rank and file is not just about loosing out in the federal shares, but mostly about TPLF’s regular interference in their internal affairs.  Promoting Muktar,  without  even consulting his parent party,  is been perceived  a  vindictive measure by the TPLF  as pay back for OPDO resistance to accept ,  the oligarchy’s  handpicked choice as its chairman.

However, balancing ethnicity is not the only motive for increasing the number of deputy prime ministers. Reducing the power of the new prime minister is another, if not the primary, agenda behind this scheme. Appointing multiple deputies for a chief executive has been in experiment at regional level in the past few years, particularly in Oromia and the South. For instance in Oromia, following the highly contested removal of Abadula Gamada, his successor, Alamayehu Atomsa was assigned four vice presidents. Each of the deputies were given three to four government agencies or departments to supervise. The objective was to ensure that the new president does not control sufficient rent and challenge the central government like the predecessor did. And it worked.  The scheme, exacerbated by poor health, made Alemayehu the weakest president of Oromia to date. Another negative consequences is that the scheme paralyzed the regional administrative activities by further complicating the bureaucracy.

A modified version of this scheme is being used against Hailemariam. While we are yet to learn which specific ministries will be put under each of the deputies, it is presumed that the ministries that will come under Debretsion’s  ‘economy & finance cluster’ would include Trade, Revenue and Customs Authority, Finance & Economic Development, Industry, Urban Development and Construction, and his own  Communication & Information Technology.  This means Debretsion would have control over the banking system, import &export, telecommunication, mines, taxation and the electric corporation which he  already leads as board chairman.    It is not clear what Muktar’s “Reform and Good Governance cluster’ mean, but the following ministries are said to be included; Justice, Federal Affairs,  his own Civil Service. The ‘social cluster’, such as  Education, Social& Labor Affair, Health, Culture& Tourism, Women, Youth & Children would come under Demeke Mekonnen.

It is said that “the most important” ministries and agencies—defense, intelligence,  and foreign affairs–will remain under direct control of the Prime Minister. The catch is that, despite such formal authority, it’s unlikely for Hailemariam to exercise real power over these  portfolios. For one,  as  Rene Lefort recently opined, the military  has been  “bunkerized”,  and has become “a sort of state within the State.” So much that “Meles himself had to acknowledge the autonomy of the military command” which, by the way,  is almost entirely made up of Tigreans. The army has already demonstrated  its insubordination to the new Prime Minister  through  unconstitutional  appointment and promotion of  37 mostly Tigrean generals just a week before Hailemariam was sworn in.

While there was an effort in 1990s’ to diversify the composition of the army, an experiment that was reversed from 2006 onward following the purge of the Amhara and Oromo officers, there was never such attempt on the intelligence branch. Therefore, both in composition of its manpower and political loyalty,  the intelligence still remains virtually a branch of the TPLF organization. Moreover, Debretsion has been a member of the ‘Security Committee” that used to be chaired by Meles and oversees the various spy networks such as military intelligence, internal security, counter espionage and information security (which he was in charge). With current promotion as deputy of both TPLF and the premiership, it’s likely that  Debretsion will assume  control of the ‘security committee’, if not formally, surely practically.

Hence the three deputy scheme does not only strip Hailemariam of direct control of ministries but also ensures significant executive  power  returns to TPLF’s hand. Since it already controls the military, intelligence and foreign affairs, by devising a scheme that enabled it  to bring the economy under its fold, the TPLF has ensured that the four main pillars of power remain in its control, effectively neutralizing any danger that might come from loss of the chief executive post.

Adhanom being groomed?

The transfer of Tewdros Adhanom from ministry of health to foreign affairs is both surprising and a significant development that indicates what might be in store come 2015. It is surprising because many anticipated the acting deputy foreign minister, Berhane Geberekirstos, would be confirmed. It appears that the opposition from Tigrean hardliners, motivated by his Eritrean origin and his close association with Bereket Simon, have succeeded in blocking him. Yet replacing him with Adhanom,a health professional with little diplomatic experience, is least expected. It is obvious that TPLF wanted to keep the post; yet there are still several Tigreans with experience in foreign affairs.

Three possible factors jointly appear to have helped Adhanom to land  the foreign affairs post. First, it appears that he is the one choice that is acceptable to rival factions of the TPLF. Although of Eritrean origin, Adhanom is known to avoid factional bickering and maintains good but distant relation with king makers on both sides. Moreover, the hardliner Tigrean nationalists have been given de facto premiership with Debretsion, hence they have to give up foreign affairs. Second, it is a gesture to the West who has been aggressively promoting him to emerge as the next top leader. In addition to his widely praised performance at ministry of health, he is also considered a reformist liberal with pro West attitude compared to the communist crowd that is attracted to the Chinese. Third, it was long rumored that Tewdros is being groomed to take over the premier post. Towards this goal, this appointment is apparently meant to  give him opportunity to further acquaint himself with diplomatic affairs and establish international connection. It also removes him from dealing with domestic affairs that could earn him adversaries who might work towards undermining his rise in 2015.

The flip side is that Tewdros can fade away like Seyoum Mesfin at the foreign ministry. Not having a pulse on domestic politics may deny him a shot at the top office. Moreover, the simultaneous promotion of Adhanom and Debretsion from rival factions of TPLF might have been a win-win solution that helped the party avoid blow up of confrontation right away, but it is only delaying the inevitable. Debretsion was recently appointed deputy chairman of the TPLF, with all indication that he will take the chairmanship soon when Abay Woldu steps down. Aside from his strong influence in the intelligence branch, Deberetsion is now given control of the country’s economy and financial affairs. He also seems to be already attempting to become the intellectual heir of Meles. Last month he was said to have gathered staff of universities and lectured them on various plans and objectives of the party, in a manner that mirrored what Meles used to do.  Suffice to say that, for all practical purposes, Debretsion is now the de facto premier of the country.  For the next two and half years, while Tewdros will be building his international reputation and expand his network, Debretsion will be further consolidating control over domestic affairs dashing any expectation that Tewdros will be the party’s candidate for the premiership. In the mean time, Hailemariam will be busy preserving Meles’ legacy, until one of the above two takes over and start  writing his own.

source: http://www.gulelepost.com/2012/12/03/who-is-in-charge-of-ethiopia-hailemariam-talks-debretsion-rules/