Hailemariam and Meles: Two Sides of the Same Coin?


Hailemariam Desalegn

(Ezega.com) Many people were excited to see that the EPRDF did not fail the country and the Prime Minister Power transition was peaceful. Regardless of many speculations that there was an inside conflict in the party regarding who should take the place of the late PM Meles Zenawi, the party kept its word for peaceful transfer of power and assigned the person approved by many. Though it is hard to call it a power transition in the strict sense of the term (since the power still belongs to EPRDF), the transfer of power was relatively satisfactory. In fact, the appointment of Hailemariam relieved many from worries stability of the country.


However, beyond security, Hailemariam has different meaning for Ethiopian politics. Though he insisted from the very beginning of his appointment that he will absolutely commit himself to the visions of the ‘great leader’ and his mentor Meles Zenawi, the hope that there might be change never disappeared from the minds of many citizens. Since Hailemariam is a new blood for the EPRDF, with absolutely different background, expecting that he might have slightly different priorities and visions for the country cannot be unreasonable.


Even when again and again the new PM proved that he could hold a single statement without mentioning Meles Zenawi, by the mere change of a person on power, things are expected to change at least in approach. However, on Tuesday, in his first appearance in Parliament to answer question from the MPs and defend the positions of his government, Hailemariam underlined and showed the fact that there is no change and the people should assume that Meles Zenawi is still in power.


Both what he said and what he failed to say reminded many exactly of Meles Zenawi. Hailemariam Deslagn from his word choice to his humor, from his gesture to his positions and tone exactly imitated Meles Zenawi. He used the terms, the answers, and explanations, with the same tone as his great mentor. For those who followed his speech closely, the resemblance between the two was incredible.


However, this similarity was not just a perception by viewers. When asked by the only opposition member in the parliament, Ato Girma Seifu, that the PM should not use Meles Zenawi in all of his speeches since it might also be an excuse to run from responsibilities, he said there is no way he will leave Meles out of his speeches. Ato Girma also suggested that it was enough to thank Meles Zenawi at the beginning of the speeches and that there is no need to mention him repeatedly. However, Hailemariam did not seem happy with this comment and question.


“Meles will always be part of everything we do and we will always be grateful and committed to his strategies and vision. People might assume that this is a new leadership and there will be different approaches on matters. They might also hope to use this leadership for their own advantage since they assume it lacks experience and clear direction. That is not the case here. Everything is exactly the way it was. EPRDF is still in power and the visions of the great leader are most certainly the priority. There should not be any expectation for change from the previous approach,” he underlined with a strong tone.


For the questions on economy, foreign policy, quality of education, good governance, democracy, inflation and the celebrated double digit growth of the country, Hailemariam responded using Meles’s name, words and vision as a justification.


He said the Ethiopian economy is expected to sustain an average 11% growth in the current fiscal year. Ethiopia also managed to sustain the same double digit growth for the last two years according to Hailemariam. “This is an opportunity many countries wish to have but they do not get it,” he underlined mentioning the brilliance of the ‘great leader’ should take a credit for this incredible achievement. Hailemariam also said the inflation rated has declined from 40% to 19%. “This is the result of measures taken by the government. We have subsidized the export of staple food products such as wheat and food oil and overseen other factors to stabilize inflationary pressures,” he told the parliament.


On foreign policy, Hailemariam reassured Ethiopia will keep its commitment to peace and security in the horn of Africa. Remembering the success of the South Sudan and Sudan in peace negotiation and the formation of a new government in Somalia, Hailemariam praised Meles Zenawi for his lifetime dedication to ensuring peace in neighboring countries. “Ethiopia will continue its effort of stability in the region. We are ready to negotiate and come up with diplomatic solutions with any of our neighbors. We will also keep our mediator position to solve problems in the region,” he said.


“We will not interfere in religious affairs as religion wouldn’t do the same in politics,” Hailemariam underscored on the issue of the current controversies on religion and government interference. “However, we would not tolerate political activism under the guise of religion. We will do whatever it takes to make sure the observance of the constitution,” he said.


In fact, it is not that anyone expects Hailemariam to come up with different positions or new answers to questions in only one month of his takeover as a PM. However, the expectation that he might show a distinct personality in his presentation and approach seems to have suffered a blow (at least to some) after his first appearance in the Ethiopian Parliament. Then again it is only one month. Leadership persona takes years to develop and reveal itself in full. Let’s wait and see how things unfold in the years to come.

Seble Teweldebirhan is Addis Ababa based Reporter for Ezega.com

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