1 November 2012

East Africa: How Will Ethiopia Fare After Zenawi?

Photo: Gijs vant Klooster/FAO
A high rate of livestock deaths is reported in the Ogaden region due to drought and other factors.


Just a couple of months after Ethiopia bid farewell to Meles Zenawi, a new wave of expectations is sweeping across the country and the region over what the future holds as new Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn tries to consolidate power.

Depending on which side you are, Desalegn has his hands full. Zenawi who passed on after cancer complications left behind big shoes for Desalegn to fill in steering the country to new heights.

The internal dissent which Zenawi had courted for many years is unlikely to end soon. Human rights organisations both at home and abroad are already tearing into the government's record, Ethiopian Muslims have intensified demands for their rights, while dissenting groups such as the Oromo Liberation Front, the Ogaden National Liberation Front and the Benishangul People's Liberation Movemen are now sens- ing that the transition period could present them with a fresh opportunity to press for their demands.

It is the haste with which the new regime is moving to make peace with some of these groups that is telling and indeed this has surprised both the opponents and supporters of the regime.

If peace is one of Desalegn's top priorities, then he may have realised that holding together the country is more important than his personal ambitions.

But then just like Zenawi before him, can he be trusted? But in this regard, Desalegn's strategy seems to have backfired at least with BPMLM and the ONLF.

In the ONLF case, Addis Ababa admitted that peace talks brokered by Kenya had broken down. Which begs the question whether there may be a golden era beyond Meles Zenawi? Such hurried dealings have now started raising doubts in the minds of Ethiopia's regional and western friends whether the new Prime Minister can posses a different touch from his predecessor.

Two months ago, policy makers in Addis Ababa were quick to announce that they had reached a deal with Benishangul leaders Jafar Zarooq, Ahmed Altom Brooza and Alhadri Hashim over a new roadmap to peace. But subsequently, BPLM denounced the agreement giving an indication that the new Prime Minister will have to dig deep to come up a new formula to bring them to the negotiation table.

BMLP which has been fighting the government for 17 years represent a significant threat to a country whose security is vital for the region.

The group's demands are pegged on perceived injustices perpetuated by Zenawi and other past regimes which are now being extended by the new Prime Minister.

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