After Meles – implications for Ethiopia’s development
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The death of the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi in August 2012 has raised serious questions about Ethiopia’s political stability and development trajectory. Meles built up a complex web of relationships that conjoined domestic political forces with foreign investors, leading the country towards impressive rates of growth and substantial achievement of some development indicators. Indeed under his rule Ethiopia’s national image began a slow transformation from famine-plagued nation to a fast-growing country which was at the heart of a new global realpolitik in Africa.
This briefing considers the development prospects of the country following the death of Meles, who was at the centre of all state activities and the leader of the dominant political party in Ethiopia, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). Indeed as the authors assert, the challenge now is whether Ethiopia’s institutions, dominated at all levels by a single party, can transition to greater pluralism and, if so, enable the country to approach middle-income status by 2025. Furthermore, the authors ask whether there will be a resurgence of ethnic regional violence – in such a large diverse state – against central authority and the continued dominance of the EPRDF.
The document provides a succinct overview of the current political/ development environment in Ethiopia. Important points raised include:
- Will his successor, Hailemariam Dessalegn, be able to manage the EPRDF machine? Members of competing elites may fight for its control and ethnic movements on the periphery could be emboldened to exploit a perceived power vacuum
- Will perceived economic development and prosperity will willingly be traded for political instability – even by those at loggerheads with the central state?
- China was seen as an important donor, but there are questions being raised within Ethiopian circles – the country has also reached out to other non-conventional donors such as Turkey, Brazil and India and opened its doors to U.S. geostrategic interests
- Although Ethiopia has made important progress in reducing poverty its economic challenges are dominated by the need to find secure livelihoods for what is now the second largest population in Africa and by the acute vulnerability of its major economic sector, rain-fed agriculture.
The authors conclude by highlighting a number of key factors for post-Meles Ethiopia:
- With the appointment of Hailemariam, the EPRDF regime remains entrenched and the current opposition is too divided, disorganised and lacking its own clear objectives to pose a credible challenge
- A new political pluralism would challenge the current system to the core – if this is what is seen as needed for the ruling elites to hold on to power – forcing change or retrenchment based on whether they can hold onto the economic reins whilst loosening their grip on the political sphere
- A shift to greater economic liberalisation and political ‘glasnost’ may not be in the offing but the EPRDF may come to appreciate that its survival will increasingly rest in detaching the economy from political interests that capture benefits and control access to the economic levers.
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