Following the death of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi made public, Ethiopians have been overwhelmed with activities in his memory, as his unexpected death left the nation in a grip of uncertainty. The induction to office of his successor was hoped to break a month long ambiguity over the historically violent political transition. The landmark oath Hailemariam Desalegn made on Friday, September 21, 2012, in Parliament showed the country is still under the shadow of Meles.
Members of parliament, who cut their three-month recess short and gathered on Friday morning on Lorenzo Teazaz Street, have displayed such mixed feelings, rather a reflection of the nation's ordeal following the loss of its strongman. Yet, MPs were observed to ease, hugging each other followed by friendly exchanges of pleasant words in front of the main hall of Parliament.
For a moment, it had seemed they projected a feeling that the worst was over, and all they needed to do was to endorse the two individuals the ruling party had picked to award tickets for the Prime Minister and Deputy Minister offices.
Despite the momentousness of the day, that another individual was about to be installed as Commander-in-Chief of the Ethiopian Defense Forces, and the meeting was dubbed "extraordinary", Parliament on Friday had an aura no different from its days before recess back in July 2012. Many MPs were seen acting in a "business as usual" mood; after all, all but two MPs - Girma Seifu, from Forum for Justice & Democratic Dialogue (FJDD), a.k.a. Medrek, and the independent Ashebir Woldegiorgis (MD) - belong to a party and its affiliates that control 99.6pc of seats in the lower house.
It is a ruling party that remains with a firm control of the legislative house, which installs the executive branch of government. Under Meles's watch, it evolved to become more powerful than any branch of government in two decades of the Revolutionary Democrats, attributed to their iron-fist culture of democratic centralism.
Perhaps unanimity of views has given way to diversity of attire. Most MPs, largely men, were dressed with bright color suits, while their gender counterparts were clad with darker dresses, including Shetaye Menale, deputy speaker of Parliament.
Taking their seats around 9:30am, half an hour late from the scheduled time, they were still exchanging greetings and pleasantries. Close to 376 MPs have attended this historical assembly, which witnessed notable absences from prominent MPs such as Azeb Mesfin, widow of Meles, Tewodros Adhanom (PhD), minister of Health, Redwan Hussein, head of EPRDF Secretariat, and Bereket Simon, chief of Government Communications Affairs Office. The later has travelled to China, leading the EPRDF delegation that met with counterparts from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Other veteran politicians such as Seyoum Mesfin, current Ethiopia's ambassador to China, was seen seated in a gallery reserved for invited guests.
For Parliament, it was a session deliberated in a conspicuous absence of Meles since its first installation in 1995. Yet, party operatives were determined to ensure his overriding legacy intact: From putting his picture inside Parliament to keeping his seat vacant; and from a one minute silence to vows for keeping his promises alive, the late Prime Minister was ubiquitous during the brief one and half hour session.
Hailemariam was no different. His 18-minute and seven-page address to Parliament incorporated the adjective "Great Leader" attributed to Meles seven times. If there was anything his address to Parliament says, it is the resolve of the party to keep "Meles's legacy" and ensure continuity of policies.
Hailemariam has paid Meles tribute last week for putting the country as one of the three fastest growing economies in the world, from a backdrop of what he claimed was "near disintegration back in 1991."
"My responsibility above all is one of ensuring the continuity of these policies and of honoring his legacy," Hailemariam told MPs late last week.
He was thought to have been installed as a Prime Minister after Parliament returned from recess, and Girma Woldegiorgis, president of the Republic, addressed the joint session of both houses in the first week of October.
"There is no need to call an extraordinary meeting of Parliament," Bereket had told members of the media at the Hilton the night Hailemariam and Demeke were elected.
Nonetheless, Hailemariam's international duties that required him to be mandated by a legislative body compelled the EPRDF Executive Committee to meet subsequent to his election, thus decided to call MPs for extraordinary meeting, according to a senior member of the ruling party.
Foreign policy affairs and international relations will be where Hailemariam tested during his debut as a new Prime Minister, according to a technocrat who has been working under Meles for over a decade. Credited to Meles's unyielding drive to see the completion of GRD, as part of flagship projects to realize the GTP, it will require a canny and savvy politician to sail through international and regional geo-politics to mobilize resources.
"The construction of the Renaissance Dam is our flagship project," Hailemariam told Parliament.
Meles gave "top priority" for GRD, which will have a generation capacity of 6,000MW, when it is completed, according to Hailemariam. He pledged to "do everything" in his power to see it completed ahead of schedule, in 2015. He also disclosed his intention to "double efforts" and "speed up" public infrastructure projects launched under Meles such as roads, railway lines, and telecom infrastructure, all designed to be finalized in 2014/15.
Hailemariam and his team will no doubt have a lot to catch up.
The GTP's scheduled time table for several projects lags behind, although the ruling party declared its satisfaction in its performance evaluation. Nonetheless, the plan to build 34Km of light-railway network in Addis Abeba remains in an initial mobilization phase, while progress in the public housing sector trails behind schedule. The government had aimed to construct and transfer 150,000 condominium units across the country before 2014/15 fiscal year. Only 22,000 units have so far been completed.
Neither has the country advanced much in realizing the government's plan to see cereal productivity increased from 17Ql per hectare to 22. Ethiopian farmers remain to have a national average productivity of 17.8Ql in 2011/12, according to data from the federal Central Statistics Agency.
Hailmariam, however, sees days where such enormous challenges be encountered in a type of leadership he described as "collective leadership."
"It'll indeed be the responsibility of us all to work, on the basis of collective leadership, to ensure the continued implementation of existing policies and strategies," Hailemariam told MPs.
Ironically, ardent critics of the ruling party seem to have developed a "wait and see" position to the unprecedented political development within the ruling party and the government it leads. The response from opponents of the regime is largely mute, if not an overly positive among skeptics. Many Ethiopian facebookers were expressing their best wishes to Hailemariam, hoping that he represents some sort of change.
"Remarkable amount of optimism abound FB," Tessema Belay, a regular in posting messages on his Facebook page, observed.
But if change comes at all, it won't be farther than handling issues in a different way, Girma, MP-Medrek, foresees.
"We may not see a significant change to come sooner," Girma, who neither objected nor abstained the installation of the Prime Minister and his deputy, told Fortune.
Not surprisingly, Ashebir, the lone MP elected under independent platform, was pleased the way the ruling party handled the succession plan.
"When those who never took part in the armed struggle against the military regime are appointed, it shows how the party is determined to see the baton passes to the new generation," he told Fortune.
It was a power succession process praised by the United State government as "historic, peaceful, and constitutional."