Addis Fortune (Addis Ababa)

Ethiopia: Fineline-the Revolutionary Democrats Have This Cunning Ability To...

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The Revolutionary Democrats have this cunning ability to spice up an otherwise and seemingly uneventful weeks in the political landscape. Keeping tight lips on their intentions about a possible cabinet makeover, they took the nation by surprise last week, appointing new ministers and creating additional portfolios.

Those with access to the officialdom and little more curiosity could have connected the dots when the office of Tewodros Adhanom's (PhD) at the Ministry of Health was cleared earlier the week, gossip disclosed. It was an indication that something was in the offing, claims gossip.

His appointment as the new Minister of Foreign Affairs, a vacant cabinet portfolio since September 2012, was one of the five made on Thursday by Hailemariam Desalegn (HMD), the prime minister who had held that same position for the last two years. Tewodros' was one of the three most talked about appointments.

The confirmation by Parliament of Debretsion Gebremichael (PhD), minister of Communications & Information Technology, and Muktar Kedir, chief of staff of the Prime Minister, as deputy prime ministers, has indeed stimulated public discourse. Contrary to what people were led to believe, however, the two deputy prime ministers' positions are not as fully fledged as the one held by Demeke Mekonnen since September, claims gossip. The devil is in the detail, so to say. Not too many seem to pay attention to the fact that the two ministers were appointed with the rank of deputy prime ministers, gossip claims. This has its own constitutional, legal and organisational upshots, according to some at the gossip corridor.

Neither is it the first time for the Revolutionary Democrats to appoint more than one in the deputy prime minister position, gossip recalls. Last week's appear to be a comeback of the first years of their administration from 1995 to 2000. Tamrat Layne had to share the title with Kassu Illala (PhD), who was also head of economic affairs in the Prime Minister's Office. Later on, in 1997, Tefera Walwa took the position of deputy prime minister from Tamrat, after the later was deposed in October 1996.

HMD has attributed his administration's creation of two additional portfolios in the "rank of deputy prime minister" to the completion of a study made to reinforce his cabinet and the efficient exercise of its executive power.

Not many at the gossip corridors bought this justification, gossip observed.

It is rather viewed mainly as a political manoeuvring made in response to a growing discontent in the rank and files of the OPDO and the TPLF, and those pushing this from behind, claims gossip. It is seen as a pre-emptive move by one faction among the EPRDFites, ahead of an intraparty political battle anticipated in the run up to a convention planned for February 2013, claims gossip. Creating triple portfolios of deputy prime ministers were an idea EPRDFites had opted not to take back in September, gossip claims.

In that, the alterations made last week might have come a little earlier than originally anticipated, hence why a narrowly limited people even within the loop of the Revolutionary Democrats had wind of it, according to gossip.

Now that the EPRDFites have created three "clusters" in managing the business of the administration, Demeke is responsible for social affairs, while Debrestion coordinates ministries operating in the finance and economic sector. He is viewed more of a technocrat man than a politician; thus, considered not to be challenged in delivering what is expected of him, claims gossip.

It will be a trying time for Muktar, however, who is responsible for coordinating ministries in the area of good governance and reform, two vexing matters that are precarious fields to his party, gossip observed. Should he fail to succeed in pushing for positive changes, so does the standing of the Revolutionary Democrats in the eyes of the public go down the hills, claims gossip.

Another interest of appointment was that of Tewodros to the foreign office, according to gossip. For he is popular in the international arena and the diplomatic core in Addis, "two thirds" of them are pleased with the news, claims gossip. The "one third" who may not be happy could be those working in the health sector, and felt a loss of their most favourite minister, claims gossip.

Nonetheless, if there is anything those at the gossip corridors see Debrestion, Muktar and Tewdros share in common, it is their closeness to Azeb Mesfin, a widow to the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, claims gossip.

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