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Observations in post Meles Ethiopia

By Meley meleysib@yahoo.com, Sept. 19, 2012

1. Smooth and Peaceful Transition

Contrary to widely spread speculations both at home and in the Diaspora, EPRDF has demonstrated its political maturity, more than ever before in the last two weeks. That the transition went smoothly to the new generation of leader’s as hinted both in the constitution and prior decision of the party (Metekakat) is a big step forward. More importantly the fact that the party has set term limits (two term maximum and retirement age of 65) on the Chairman of the party is even more significant development that many have not yet observed it well. This decision is perhaps the most radical decision ever made by EPRDF when it comes to the power of its leaders. The assumption is that the four coalitions of the Party will then have a fair chance of sitting at the helm of power. This will serve as a stimulus to work more on the leadership capacity of the parties as it is normal to expect that only those who are competent will win the competition. We believe also that the four parties will also have the chance to occupy the chairmanship that ensures the equality of the four coalitions.

Our constitution did not set the term limit for the Prime Minister and the fact that this gap is now regulated at the party level is a point worth appreciation in showing the level of maturity within the Party. The argument so far has been that so long as the party wins elections, it can choose the same chairman as PM indefinitely. This is in a way as contrary to democratic practices. True that, parliamentary systems are lead by a party or coalition of parties that secure ’50 plus 1’ majority but parliamentary practice has its own term limits. In the United Kingdom, if a party wins consecutively in three elections, the PM must hand over the third term to a new person. This is a convention. In Germany it so happens that either a party does not win three elections or there is a coalition and hence the fact dictates a maximum of two term for the same PM. The same applies to India in the post Congress Party era. It is now a coalition and very unlikely for the same person to serve three terms. In fact both in India and Germany there is no requirement that the party chair will become the PM. As we all know, none of the current PM’s are chair’s of the party. Thus there is a diffusion of power in the party. The practice that the chairman of the party that won election becomes automatically the PM has its roots from the United Kingdom. Let it be known though that our constitution is deliberately designed along the German constitution and not along the UK practice.

The relevant section of the constitution dictates ‘The Prime Minister shall be elected from among members of the House of Peoples’ Representatives.’ It does not say, the chairman of the party that secures a majority in parliament automatically becomes the PM. In previous parliamentary practices (1995 and 2000) the PM was nominated but parliament did vote in his appointment. The shift from the German type to the Uk practice evolved after 2000. In 2005 and 2010, all intents and purposes the party informed the parliament its decision on the PM and parliament did not vote/appoint him. The current practice in relation to the transition seems to fall in line with the latest practice. The party has decided and its decision will be informed to the parliament or are we to say parliament has approved the nominee. It may sound hair splitting but this is a very crucial new development that rules out any possible competitor in parliament. For example what if the party fails to agree on one candidate? Should not it be wise to leave that to be resolved by parliament that has more democratic credentials?

Leaving the above point for further analysis and coming back to the current smooth transition, democratization is a difficult job for countries like ours that has suffered much owing to centralized and repressive regimes for ages but it begins from small steps. The decisions of EPRDF in the party conference are big steps in the right direction. One point however is worth mentioning. I do not think the Oromo factor is something that Ethiopia can afford to ignore. May be that there is no competent candidate for now but the rumors in town on the idea of having two or more deputies for the PM was not out of context. Public institutions are like group photos. With group photos everybody wants to see his/her image first and then see who is funny, tall, short, kostara etc etc. Everybody wants to see his image in public institutions as well. Without compromising quality/competence it is vital to be more representative as it enhances legitimacy of public institutions.

2. On the Future Relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea

The current stalemate between Ethiopia and Eritrea is something that needs resolution sooner or later. I know things are easier said than done but we need to have a clear road map. It is unfortunate that this matter/challenge is transferred to the new leaders of Ethiopia but taking into account several factors I would like to pin point possible way outs that ensure a win win solution for both countries.

EPRDF has insisted for long to respect the right to self determination of Eritrea. The idea was based on the fact that this will ensure peace in the region and we know that many were unhappy about the position of EPRDF on this issue. Those who supported it or approved it tacitly were mainly convinced on the reason that if Eritrea’s secession will bring lasting peace to both countries, so be it. Yet we know the events that caused the devastating war of 1998-2000. Peace is now as illusive as it was in 1991 and even worse, it has now regional implications. I do not think war is a solution for the current stalemate. The major worry for the Eritrean elite is the fear that Ethiopia might wage war anytime to ensure access to ports or to have a puppet leader in Asmara. Ethiopia has strategic interests apart from ensuring free access to the ports in Eritrea. Eritreans might need free access to Ethiopia for investment purposes.

The border between Ethiopia and Eritrea is the biggest and hence Eritreans interest in this regard is natural when compared to its other neighbors. There are also psychological and cultural factors that cannot be ignored in the process of resolving the conflict. Hence it is vital to articulate clearly the material and non material interests at stake. Ethiopia and Eritrea can negotiate to enter into a new binding treaty that among others include: Ethiopia to ensure Eritrea that it will not threaten its sovereignty in the future. Ethiopia could also allow Eritreans to invest in Ethiopia and be treated like Ethiopians in this respect. Ethiopia could also stop assisting Eritrean opposition groups.

Eritrea will allow Ethiopia to have free access to its ports and cease its efforts to destabilize Ethiopia. Ethiopians could also be granted the right to invest in Eritrea. Perhaps this can be further developed if negotiations are going to be held but to reduce the current stalemate to merely Badme and other contested borders misses the whole context that gave rise to the current stalemate.

3. Inflation

Ethiopia’s economic progress is impressive and by now is beyond doubt. Yet it faces some critical challenges but wanted to focus on inflation. Inflation is very critical and I am not sure if the party has understood how much it has affected the potential middle class in Ethiopia. A wider section of society is suffering because of the ever increasing inflation in the country. It is an issue that needs to get a top priority if we are to minimize the fast growing dissatisfaction. Some items may have to be stopped from being exported until food security is addressed at home. Hard currency that is being wasted in importing useless goods such as packed juice, expired chocolates and non essential items need to be shifted to some more critical items. Salary needs to be adjusted in relation to inflation and prices in the market.