June 28, 2009

New blood for Ethiopia?

28 June 2009

By Daniel Howden

On the surface of it, the announcement by the leader of Africa's second most populous nation that he wanted to stand down before the next election ought to be a cause for celebration.

Photo: The TPLF Dynasty. Ready to step down?

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said he had "had enough" after 18 years in power and called on the rest of his generation of leaders to follow him. The continent is blighted by leaders who forget to leave - as the passing away of Gabon's Omar Bongo after 42 years in office reminded everyone this month. And Zenawi, the former guerrilla leader who emerged from the armed struggle against the Marxist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam, had appeared to be following the familiar path from revolutionary to entrenched autocrat.

Once hailed among a bright new generation of "renaissance" African leaders, Zenawi's time in office has become increasingly associated with repression. His fellow leaders, Yoweri Museveni and Niger's Mamadou Tandja, are busy rewriting constitutions to prolong their stays. And the Ethiopian's closest contemporary, Isaias Afewerki, has turned next-door Eritrea into a quasi-prison state.

However, the former medical student has hinted that he would not stand again. His most solid statement to date appeared to acknowledge some of the uncomfortable truths facing his Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). Led almost entirely by Zenawi's ethnic group, the Tigray, who make up only six percent of the population, without some move to broaden support, the party would face an even worse electoral shock than it suffered in 2005. Then a brutal response that included the killing of more than 150 demonstrators and the arrest of thousands of protesters sufficed for the EPRDF to hold on to power.

Zenawi said it was "very likely" a new leader would not be Tigrayan. "The party needs new leadership that does not have the experience of the armed struggle," he said.

Ethiopia's premier, however, said there was "zero" chance that opposition leader Birtukan Mideksa would be released to contest the election. - Foreign Service

Source: Sunday Independent

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