Ethiopia surprises itself with peaceful transition after Meles
Fears that unrest would follow the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in August may prove unfounded in Ethiopia, a Western ally in the troubled Horn of Africa.
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He says that since a dissenting TPLF faction and allies were ejected in 2001, the party has been ideologically united. The cohesion, he says, extends to the EPRDF's more than 5 million members, many of whom pack the civil service, public enterprises, and rural administrations.Skip to next paragraph
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The conformity of thought stems from the EPRDF's top-down approach, with members learning doctrine from Meles after his shift from a Marxist rebel to a governing reformer and finally to him admiring China and the Asian Tigers and slamming Western-imposed neoliberalism. Although Meles introduced a market economy, the party still sees itself as a group of revolutionaries leading the transformation of impoverished masses, and believes in the necessity of the state owning all land and dominating key sectors such as telecoms, energy, and banking.
Middle-income country by 2025?
For now, the teachings of the "great leader" remain unchallenged. Interpreting public grief at Meles's passing as a renewed popular mandate, Hailemariam and officials have vowed to achieve his vision to transform Ethiopia into a middle-income country by 2025.
This, they say, will be done by a technocratic "collective leadership," applying his prescription of using loans and state power to build infrastructure, deliver services, and boost industry, while anchoring Ethiopia's "renaissance" on the advancement of smallholders, who constitute perhaps 80 percent of a population of 94 million, by improving farming methods.
"My responsibility above all is one of ensuring the continuity of these policies and of honoring his legacy," Hailemariam said after he was sworn in at a Parliament that has one opposition member out of 547.
Despite the existing democratic deficit, the peace and the continuity have reassured donors, investors, and strategic partners, such as the United States, who view the government as an effective spender of aid and an accommodating ally in the battle against Islamic extremism in Somalia.
Doubters, such as political analyst Jawar Mohammed from Columbia University in New York, say that the maneuverings at the top of a decapitated TPLF and ongoing turmoil within the sidelined politburo of the Oromo party reveal a fragile state of affairs.
Another obstacle to achieving Meles's vision is the ambition of economic plans in a nation where exports topped $3 billion for the first time only last year. These include plans to borrow billions for state enterprises to invest in efforts to become a top sugar exporter; and to fund domestically what will be Africa's biggest hydropower plant, the $5 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, to turn Ethiopian into an electricity hub for East Africa.
The long-term goals are also lofty in an economy that is growing but plagued by high inflation and unemployment. From 2007 to 2011, when output officially increased around 11 percent annually, Ethiopians' per capita income went from $230 to $400 a year, according to the World Bank. The bank's lowest threshold for a middle-income nation is average per person annual earnings of $1,026. It will need remarkable, consistent progress to achieve that by 2025.
Perpetuation of Meles's system will mean the opposition, the media, and civil society remains muted as the EPRDF continues restricting dissent. An immediate test for the government is how to deal with Muslim protesters who are objecting to the arrest of leaders detained for spearheading a campaign for greater religious freedom. Followers of Islam make up at least a third of the population in the historically Orthodox Christian-ruled nation.