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Ethiopian PM Hailemariam: Little known with big challenges
Ethiopian leader Hailemariam Desalegn pledges to 'continue legacy' of former strongman Meles Zenawi as he is sworn Friday; PM faces significant domestic and international troubles
AFP , Friday 21 Sep 2012
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Hailemariam
Hailemariam Desalegn walks in Addis Ababa during an official function, 17 August, 2012. (Photo: AP)

New Ethiopian leader Hailemariam Desalegn, relatively little known and long overshadowed by his late mentor Meles Zenawi, faces tough challenges at home and in the volatile Horn of Africa.

In a rare peaceful handover of power for Ethiopia, former water engineer Hailemariam, 47, was sworn in Friday as prime minister to succeed Meles who had ruled with an iron fist since toppling dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991.

In a country long dominated by its major ethnic groups -- most recently the Tigray, the ethnic group to which Meles belonged -- Hailemariam notably comes from the minority Wolayta people in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region.

President of the region for five years, he was a close ally of Meles and was appointed to be deputy prime minister and foreign minister in 2010 after the ruling coalition party's fourth win, a landslide victory.

Hailemariam, deputy chair of the ruling Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) for the past two years, was promoted to party chairman last week.

But within the EPRDF some of the most influential figures -- members of Meles's ex-rebel group turned political party, the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) -- hail from the northern Tigray region.

Hailemariam, while a protege of Meles, is therefore seen as an outsider by some, although many expect an outwardly smooth transition with little change in policy.

But he will face tough regional challenges, including relations with arch-foe Eritrea, which split from Ethiopia in 1993 before the two spiralled into a bitter 1998-2000 border war, and whose troops still face off across the frontier.

Neighbouring war-torn Somalia, where Ethiopian forces are battling Al-Qaeda linked Shebab insurgents, as well as tensions between Sudan and newly independent South Sudan, will pose major regional hurdles for Hailemariam.

At his swearing in on Friday Hailemariam pledged to "continue Meles's legacy without any changes."

"Many see (Hailemariam) as a figurehead, part of a gesture by Meles and the ethnic Tigrayans to give more prominence to other ethnic groups," said Jason Mosley of Britain's Chatham House think-tank.

But Mosley also said that the choice of Hailemariam -- who will remain in the post until national elections in 2015 -- was a sign the ruling elite is "intent on maintaining the status quo" of Meles's stable, if authoritarian, rule.

However, the International Crisis Group (ICG) think-tank suggests Hailemariam's appointment may be "window dressing, designed to placate potential critics, while the Tigrayan TPLF elite keep real power."

Hailemariam -- in Ethiopian tradition, known by his first name, meaning "the power of Saint Mary" -- is also a Protestant, the first to lead Ethiopia, where the majority of Christians follow Orthodox traditions.

But others say Hailemariam's position outside the Tigray power base could in fact prove a strength.

"His ethnicity is considered an advantage, because it is a minority in a multi-ethnic region and, most importantly, not from the numerically dominant Oromo or Amhara," the ICG added in a recent report.

Critics also point to his relatively young age, lack of experience and the fact he was not part of the rebel movement which toppled Mengistu, unlike many in the ruling elite.

Instead, Hailemariam, who studied civil engineering in Addis Ababa, was completing his master's degree at Finland's Tampere University when Mengistu fell.

"He is a political novice, he has not been part of the old guard, he has not been in the bushes fighting with the rebels when they fought against Mengistu," exiled opposition leader and former mayor of Addis Ababa Berhanu Nega told the BBC.

"He is a Medvedev for a group of Putins in the ruling party with their own internal squabbles," he added, drawing parallels with Russian political dynamics.

Rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have appealed for an end to what they criticised as a crackdown on opposition groups and journalists under Meles, but there is little beyond rhetoric to judge how Hailemariam will act.

The new prime minister has spoken enthusiastically about ensuring democracy and accountable rule for the country, and two Swedish journalists jailed under Meles were released last week.

Like Meles, Hailemariam has praised Ethiopia's close ties to both the West -- most notably Washington -- and to China, a key trade partner.

Speaking at the opening of the US embassy in Addis Ababa in 2011 he praised the "long-standing and time-tested relationship" with Washington, while he told Beijing's state broadcaster CCTV in July that Ethiopia's "cooperation with China is a win-win approach."





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tadele
24-09-2012 08:34am
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continution of the tiger man strategies
just the new prime minister can possibly succss his friend meles zenawi be brav like meles we are on side of you thank you from weyane
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6



truth
23-09-2012 11:53am
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the_reality
tigray still runs ethiopia. Hailemariam is just our stooge! haha amhara and oromo keep cryin
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5



You neglected the majority
22-09-2012 03:47pm
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Ethiopian PM Hailemariam
Shame on you. You've never mentioned a single thing about Ethiopian Muslim plight who are 55 to 65% of Ethiopian population which is the fact on the ground. The Ethiopian government, media, etc is controlled by coptics since Ethiopia established in 1887. This new PM doesn't look like he is solving Ethiopian Muslims suffering either. I don't know when will the Ethiopian Muslims will share power like Lebanon, Nigeria, India, etc. If this not happen then they will look for other means like S.Sudan and Eritrea.
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Ftwi
21-09-2012 03:27pm
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yes but
Hailemariam has challenges ahead, but 80 million Ethiopians are behind him. Ethiopia will regain its natural glory no matter what
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3



Myself
21-09-2012 03:20pm
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shame
Former Mayor of Addis??????? shame on you Ahram, we are more curious than your hidden agenda to our great nation. Dr. Berhanu Nega Has never been a Mayor of Addis. Your statment shows simply whom you are looking to create hole in this nation. shame on you. Meles was little known to be PM or President but out smarted by greatest learning skills--Reading and by his ability and courage to selfesteem where intelectual leadership has proved at its best. Shame on ahram, and Abay will be dammed
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2



belachew
21-09-2012 03:00pm
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Power balance is needed
The most problem in Ethiopia is always seeing one group as the enemy and obstacle by the other. This hinders the great benefit the country would get. The ruling class pushed by the external force/pressure will demolish the other , mostly the small group is empowered to kill the large . This has been done for the last 120 years and we did not get rest for centuries . If others will leave us alone I think we can do the power balance. For 640 years the Oromo people has been ruled by Geda and it was full of blessing and peace. At the same time the northern part was also been led by their own people without much dominion . Now since mostly the international force group interest is becoming of the paramount important than our right we could not get peace , rest and prosperity. I see they put for us the all fearing person , with out rest in the fear assassination . They support him to dominate the many and even demolish them. We suffered a bloody assassin in the last decades , would it con
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1



Belayneh wine
21-09-2012 02:01pm
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Let's give him time & see what's he doing.
What so ever , the man has got the post & it's better to give him time & watch what happens next. And also don't forget that politics is a dirty game. P/s all the concerning make it a little bit smooth.
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