Handing over the baton

The Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front's (EPRDF) thirty six Executive Committee members for the next two years were elected by their respective parties this week. The party's succession plan is going in accordance with the design, some observers argue. On the other side of the aisle others deem that the plan, which the the party deliberated on introducing years ago has left many in disarray, write Mikias Sebsibe and Asrat Seyoum.

TPLF

The Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) conducted one of its highly anticipated Congress in recent years this week. The 12th TPLF congress held at the Martyrs Hall in Mekele, seat of the regional state, lasted for six days. Good governance and leadership succession were the top agenda on the table for the over 1,650 Congress members and topic of intense debate among the public in social media.

The regional administration was barraged with criticisms on good governance and development issues in Tigray. Abay Woldu, president of Tigray regional state, made some concessions stating that despite the changes in the region there remains a “mountain to climb”.

The Congress threw a first surprise by giving voting rights to founding members of the party who retired two years ago as part of the succession plan (metekakat). A call for their return was made by one member who alluded that the founding members were “forced out”.

The return of the veterans including Arkebe Oqubay (PhD) (advisor to the Prime Minister), Sebhat Nega (director of Ethiopian International Institute for Peace and Development), Seyoum Mesfin (Ethiopia's Ambassador to China) and Berhane Gebrekristos (Amb. - State Minister of Foreign Affairs) was greeted with huge applause from the congregation.

Election for the 45-member TPLF Central Committee was conducted on the fifth day. Debretsion Gebremichael (PhD), Azeb Mesfin and Fetlework Gebregziaber raked in the top three votes. Abay Woldu, wounded by criticism over his administration, came in 20th. His wife, Tirfu Kidanemariam, who was Executive Committee member, and Kindeya Gebrehiwot, who was member of the Central Committee and current president of Mekele University, did not get enough votes to be in the Central Committee.

One key figure who is also out of the Central Committee is Asmelash Woldeselassie, advisor of the Prime Minister and chair of legal affairs standing committee at the House of Peoples' Representatives for more than a decade. 

But there was no change in the chairmanship and deputy chairmanship posts of TPLF as both Abay and Debretsion retained their positions, respectively, after results of the nine-member Executive Committee membership election.

According to the party’s bylaw, members of the executive are chosen by the newly elected Central Committee members. The nine Executive Committee members will automatically become EPRDF’s Executive Committee members.

In the new Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) Executive Committee, there are three new entrants representing TPLF. Although new to the Executive Committee, all took part in the armed struggle and were members of the TPLF Central Committee. But among them Getachew Assefa, head of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), is perhaps the surprise inclusion.

Getachew, who rarely makes public appearances, set the tone of the 12th Congress by presenting a report that tainted the performance of the regional administration. And when the Congress elected the Central Committee members, Getachew garnered the fourth largest votes.

Getachew replaced Kinfe Gebremedhin as head of NISS after the assassination of the latter in 2001.

Fetlework Gebreegziaber, a veteran women TPLF fighter and current deputy director general of Ethiopian Financial Intelligence Center, is the other new entrant into the Executive Committee. She is a sister of Dawit Gebreegziaber, a businessman and former member of TPLF who made a scathing attack on the regional administration in an exclusive interview with the Amharic Reporter newspaper two weeks ago.

Addisalem Balema (PhD), director general of Ethiopian Commodity Exchange Authority, is also elected into the Executive Committee. Addisalem had served as Ethiopia's Ambassador to China. He also launched a book titled “Democracy and Economic Development in Ethiopia” last year.

The rest of EPRDF Executive Committee members from TPLF include Tedros Adhanom, Beyen Mekru, Azeb Mesfin and Alem Gebrewahid along with the chair and deputy chair of TPLF.

Seven veteran members retired from party duties including TPLF Central Committee Abay Tsehaye, Abadi Zemu, Tedros Hagos and Tsegaye Berhe. The congress voted in favor of keeping Abay Tsehay in the Central Committee but the veteran leader refused insisting that the party should stick to the original succession plan.  

ANDM

The Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), which will celebrate its 35th founding anniversary in November this year, held its Congress in Bahir Dar. The 11th Congress re-elected Demeke Mekonnen, Deputy Prime Minister, and Gedu Andargahcew, President of Amhara Regional State, as chair and deputy chair of the party.

The congress which concluded on Wednesday also replaced three of its 13-member Executive Committee, voting in three new entrants in their place.

Bereket Simon, policy advisor to the Prime Minister, will be one of the notable absentees from the Executive Committee. The veteran politician has been a constant figure within the EPRDF and ANDM Executive Committee. But he remains as member of ANDM’s Central Committee.

The same cannot be said about Ayalew Gobeze, who was appointed ambassador to Turkey in 2013. The former Amhara region president, who was an Executive Committee member, is not even elected into the Central Committee this time.

The third individual to be left out of the EPRDF Executive Committee is Tefera Deribew, Minister of Agriculture. Although the votes given to Tefera were not enough to keep him in the EPRDF Executive, he remains Executive Committee member within ANDM along with three others. His ministry was one of the sectors blasted for poor performance during the ninth EPRDF Congress held in Bahir Dar two years ago.

Their replacements include Kebede Chane, Minister of Trade and who was member of the ANDM Central Committee. His ministry has been criticized for poor performance during the GTP I period with export falling far behind the 2015 target of five to eight billion dollars. In the 2014/15 fiscal year export earning stood at USD 3.1 billion, nearly two billion less than the lower case scenario. Kebede was appointed Minister of Trade in 2012 after former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi sacked Abdurahman Sheik Mohammed.

Kassa Teklebirhan, speaker of House of Federation (HoF), is the other new entrant into the EPRDF Executive Committee. He became HoF speaker in 2010 and was member of the ANDM Central Committee.

Little known among the new entrants is Tesfaye Getachew. Tesfaye is head of Amhara region trade bureau and he has been in the Central Committee for years. 

The rest of the Executive Committee members include Alemnew Mekonnen, Binalf Andualem, Ambachew Mekonnen (PhD) and Ahmed Abitew, Minister of Industry.

Minister of Justice Getachew Ambaye is among those who missed out on the Executive Committee membership. He remains member of the 65-member ANDM Central Committee along with Zenebu Tadesse, Minister of Children, Youth and Women Affairs.

The party also bid an honorary farewell to veterans including Addisu Legesse, director of EPRDF Cadre Training Center, and Yosef Reta, former president of Amhara region.

OPDO

There was also a continuation of the top leadership after the conclusion of the eighth Congress by the Oromo People's Democratic Organization (OPDO) which was held in Adama.

President of Oromia region Muktar Kedir, who was elected chairman of OPDO after the demise of Alemayehu Atomsa in March last year, will lead his party until at least the next two years. Aster Mamo is also re-elected as deputy.

The announcement of the 15-member Executive Committee on Wednesday has brought with it some new names. There are three new entrants into the EPRDF Executive Committee including one elected to fill the void left by Alemayehu Atomsa.

Chief among the notable absentees from the Executive is Sufian Ahmed, who has been serving as Minister of Finance and Economic Development for close to two decades now. He was an ever-present figure within the EPRDF and OPDO Executive Committees. But he remains in the 81-member OPDO Central Committee along with Abadula Gemeda, speaker of the House of Peoples' Representatives. On the other hand, Alemayehu Tegenu, Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy, is out of the OPDO Central Committee and was not even among the nominees.

Abera Hailu, who was in the EPRDF Executive, did not manage to win enough votes to remain in the Committee. However, he has enough votes to stay as OPDO Executive Committee member along with five others. Abera is head of Tumsa Business and Investment, an Oromia endowment company.

Among the new entrants is Beker Shale, who became Director General of the Ethiopian Revenues and Customs Authority in 2013 as Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn reshuffled his cabinet. Beker’s inclusion into the Executive Committee can be regarded as a swift climb to the top echelon. Just two years ago, Beker was a new member of the OPDO Central Committee.

The other two new faces in the EPRDF Executive representing OPDO come from the party’s secretariat. They include Daba Debele, head of OPDO secretariat and former vice president of Oromia region, and Bezu Wakbeka, head of OPDO’s urban politics and organization division.

The other EPRDF Executive Members from OPDO include Workineh Gebeyew, Abdulaziz Mohammed, Driba Kuma and Omer Hussien.

SEPDM

Much like the other member parties of EPRDF, the Southern Ethiopian Peoples' Democratic Movement (SEPDM) also retained the party’s chairman and deputy chairman in the form of Hailemariam Desalegn and Shiferaw Shigute, Minister of Education, respectively.

The party concluded its four day congress on Tuesday announcing the list of 15-member SEPDM Executive Committee before its chairman Hailemariam flew to South Sudan to witness the signing of a peace deal which he has been brokering for almost two years.

There are two new entrants among the SEPDM Executive Committee members who will also be part of the EPRDF Executive Committee. After years of being a member of SEPDM’s Central Committee, Teklewold Atnafu has finally come to the fore. Teklewold, who is the Governor of the National Bank of Ethiopia (NBE), contested in the May 2015 elections in Boloso Sore constituency – the birthplace of Prime Minister Hailemariam.

He is joined in the Executive Committee by Melese Alemu, vice president of the Southern region and head of trade bureau.

The pair replaced Shiferaw Tekelmariam (PhD), Minister of Federal Affairs, and Alemayehu Assefa, former head of SEPDM secretariat and currently doing his PhD in environmental governance at Addis Ababa University. Shiferaw, however, makes it into the SEPDM Executive Committee along with five others whereas Alemayehu is not even voted into the 65-member Central Committee of SEPDM.

The rest of EPRDF Executive Members from SEPDM include Siraj Fegesa, Redwan Hussien, Tesfaye Beljige and Dessie Dalke.

Among the SEPDM veterans, the congregation bid an honorary farewell to Kassu Ilala (PhD), who was policy advisor of the Prime Minister.

Succession inception

“In the name of leadership succession [our] party is pushing away able and capable leaders out of office and is replacing them with supposedly younger batch of political leaders; and this is counter-productive,” echoed a participant at the 12th Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) congress held this week at the regional capital Mekele. This statement by the participant of the congress, who happened to be a clergyman, is by and large a skidding indictment of the reign of confusion that has befallen the members of the party and the public at large regarding its leadership succession plan.

The comment inherently reflected the difference in opinion among the party members and supporters of the oldest party of the ruling coalition the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), TPLF, regarding the retirement of iconic party leaders like Seyoum Mesfin, Arkebe Oqubay, Sibhat Nega a.k.a. Aboy Sibhat and the like from the top echelons of the party leadership back in 2013. This is perhaps fit to be verbatim of the week if only it was not in stark contradiction to what has been inscribed in the party ideological publication Addis Raey (New Vision) back in 2010.

As a matter of fact, in its detail account of the party’s succession plan, the publication asserted precisely the opposite. Leader that needs to be succeeded are not necessarily unfit for their position. It also argued that it is not even because of their age; rather it said most of these top political leaders earmarked for retirement are at their ideal age for leadership. “In some nations, these people are just in the right age to climb to the leadership position,” it said.

Leadership change in the past

The party publication rather put things into perspective when it comes to leadership succession. Basically, the publication acknowledges that the party throughout its life has had two distinct mechanisms by which leaders can be changed, and that the new ‘succession plan’ is another (third) addition to this. Interestingly enough, the two mechanisms are crafted in a way that reflects the two seemingly irreconcilable ideological elements: revolutionary and democratic.

Consistent with its revolutionary nature, the publication says, members of party would hold periodical evaluation of their leaders where executing capacity, personal discipline and most importantly political belief and devotion to the party’s ideological direction is put to test. Pursuant to such evaluations, party leader would either be promoted, replaced or moved to a different position. This, according to the publication, constitutes one mechanism whereby leaders are changed periodically in the party.

Apart from that, the document also discuses, another mechanism, which features periodical and democratic voting system, where party leaders are elected via a secret ballot mechanism. Needless to say this is to reflect the democratic nature of the party by design. According to the 2010 publication, the third mechanism dubbed the “succession plan” is the latest addition to the two existing systems which have persisted since the struggle days. Hence, this plan is significantly different from the other two.

For one, the leaders that would be leaving top leadership position do not necessarily have capacity limitation or deficit in terms of discipline, the publication argued. In fact, these leaders also have greater chance to win if they stood for elections. Generally, they are able, vibrant, experienced and valuable leaders of the party but they should be succeeded, it argues. As a matter of fact, it is the position of the party that succession should take place while the experienced leaders are still in the prime of their abilities, which apparently looks to be one area of confusion for the party members and the public alike.

Why fix…if not broken?’

The simple answer, according to the party document, is that the overall succession plan needs to happen before the party started to lose its experienced leaders to aging or health complications. The new generation of party leadership is supposed to rise to the challenge with the help of the experienced leaders, who would do the work from their advisory positions.

The document further elucidated this point saying, “leadership succession is not a marathon; rather it is a relay race where team effort plays a greater role.” It further explains that in many countries leadership succession is indeed a marathon race where those who are unable to continue fall out of the race while those who are persistent win it. It further expounds on the analogy and claims that the basic difference between the two is that in marathon those runners who fall along the way have absolutely zero contribution to the winner; nevertheless the relay winner is in fact a concerted effort of those in the relay team.

On other hand, back then, when the central committee of the ruling coalition EPRDF endorsed the third strategy of leadership change it has one other external force pushing it towards that decision. That is the time factor. According to the same publication, the time has come to think about leadership succession mechanism because many seasoned leaders in the party are individually asking the party to be relieved from duty citing long years of services and health complications.

In this regard, the likes of Tefera Walwa, one time Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister, is one of the first top EPRDF leaders to leave the party positions on his own personal will. This also looks to be the motivation behind drawing up an expedited succession plan (five years) in 2010. According to the original plan, the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, was supposed to be the last one leaving office after overseeing the succession process and installing new leadership entirely pooled from generation 2.0.

The basis

A point worthy of mention here is also why the party is dead set on having a well-oiled succession strategy and why time is of the essence. The party publication also offers a perspective as to why this needs to happen before 2015. Apparently, the whole thing is an outcome of the pessimism of the party over the opposition political parties in Ethiopia.

Basically, EPRDF believes that most of the viable opposition parties currently operating in Ethiopia are forces of destruction; forces who are working to reverse the gains made in development. “The main reason why countries like Taiwan and South Korea succeeded in achieving sustainable grow is because the agents of change (leadership) was able maintain its decisive role at the helm of the government for a longtime,” the publication argued. And by the time the leading party left office and was replaced by opposition parties, the overall national development agenda was firmly entrenched into the wider public; and hence the sustainability of the growth agenda was unshakable.

It is in this context that the publication argued in favor of taking matters into the party’s own hands. For one, the document said, we need to make sure that the Ethiopian growth and renaissance agenda have a higher level of consensus among the public. In fact, it says that this consensus should be at a level where the public itself would be the guard of the development agenda in the years to come. This goal can only be achieved if the party pursues strong public mobilization strategies.

“We need to make sure that the public understands the development agenda clearly and realize that it is one agenda which do not and cannot have any other alternative politically,” the publication argued. And this process, it says, should eventually lead to narrowing down the chance where the opposition groups could win public votes in national elections. This strategy appears to be paying off in the face of the recent election result which was a clean sweep for ruling party and its affiliates.

Nevertheless, the other side of this strategy is also to make sure that the party can transcend at least four and five generations if Ethiopia’s renaissance is really to take root. According to publication, this requires stable leadership succession process in the party. The year 2015 and the Mekele congress is perhaps the most critical in this regard since it is the year which is supposed to be the first milestone in the leadership succession process. It is a cut away year where EPRDF generation 2.0 is supposed to takeover completely.