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September 17, 2012

Former U.S. Diplomat Lauds Selection of Ethiopia’s New Ruling Party Leader

by Ashenafi Abedje

Ethiopia’s ruling party has elected acting Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn as its new chairman. The vote by the Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front puts Hailemariam in line to become the next Prime Minister. 

David Shinn, former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia, said he is not surprised by Hailemariam’s elevation to the party’s top spot.

“I think it was almost predictable in that Hailemariam was being groomed by Prime Minister Meles to succeed him. I think a lot of thought has gone into this selection,” he said.

Shinn said all of the speculation, particularly in the Diaspora, that Meles will be followed by another Tigrayan, was “widely off the mark.”

The former diplomat, who currently serves as Adjunct Professor of International Affairs at the George Washington University, explained what he sees as the importance of the EPRDF Council’s decision.

“I think it’s trying to acknowledge that the EPRDF must broaden its base, reach out more widely to different ethnic groups, and that the Tigrayan leadership, which in the past has controlled so many of the key slots, has to share more power,” he said.

“After all,” Shinn noted, “Tigrayans constitute only 6.1 percent of the population.

The former diplomat said with the new hierarchy, there will likely be more consultation within the EPRDF, not necessarily the TPLF, the dominant party in the ruling coalition.

“Someone who is as relatively new to the position as he (Hailemariam) is cannot be expected to have the kind of authority Meles had,” said Shinn.  “Hailemariam will have to rely more on advice from other members of the EPRDF for key decisions.”

With the change in leadership lead to possible policy changes? Ambassador Shinn doubts there will be significant policy departures.

“There will inevitably be nuanced changes. Whether there will be really significant changes, it is very difficult to predict,” he said. “I’d hope in the government’s approach to the pace of democratization, opening of the political process and handling of human rights issues, that there will be significant change.”

Shinn said whether or not the emerging leadership undertakes such changes will determine how the West will view the new government. For now, he said, there’s a long way to go in improving those aspects of Ethiopian policy.

Listen to interview w/ Ambassador David Shinn