News / Africa

Ex-Defense Minister: Ethiopia Faces Political ‘Crisis’

Ethiopia Prime Minister Meles Zenawi with First Lady Azeb Mesfin arrive at the African Union summit being held in Addis Ababa, January 30, 2011.
Ethiopia Prime Minister Meles Zenawi with First Lady Azeb Mesfin arrive at the African Union summit being held in Addis Ababa, January 30, 2011.
Ethiopia does not have a firm leadership succession plan if Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is no longer able to head the government, according to a former defense minister.

Seeye Abraha, who worked with Meles on the ruling party’s executive committee but who is now a member of the political opposition, said Tuesday that uncertainty and anxiety is growing over the nation’s leadership during the prime minister’s so-far unexplained absence. He blamed it on the country’s one-party electoral system and Meles’ one-man-rule style of governing over the past 12 years.

Seeye Abraha, former defense minister, in Boston, Massachusetts (Photo courtesy - Berhane Nguse)Seeye Abraha, former defense minister, in Boston, Massachusetts (Photo courtesy - Berhane Nguse)
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Seeye Abraha, former defense minister, in Boston, Massachusetts (Photo courtesy - Berhane Nguse)
Seeye Abraha, former defense minister, in Boston, Massachusetts (Photo courtesy - Berhane Nguse)
“They don’t have a system" [of leadership succession], Seeye said.  “This is a crisis situation and the dust has not settled.”

He said leaders of the ruling Tigrai People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and larger Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) parties had discussed a succession plan, but postponed any decisions until prior to a scheduled 2015 national election.

Meles has not been seen in public for about three weeks, even missing the African Union conference in Addis Ababa that was attended by 29 other heads of state or government. Some reports in the international press have speculated he is suffering from a serious illness and has been receiving treatment since June 26 in a Brussels hospital.

Information Minister Bereket Simon told reporters in Addis Ababa last week that a doctor has prescribed sick leave for the prime minister. Bereket assured the public that Meles is in “good and stable condition” and will return to work when he has recuperated.
“I have serious political differences with the prime minister and his party,”
Bereket, however, would not identify the illness or say where the prime minister was receiving treatment.  

Reliable news about the prime minister’s health has been hard to come by in Ethiopia. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the most recent edition of the independent weekly newspaper, Feteh, contained a report on the prime minister’s health, but that issue of the publication was confiscated by the government printing house.

Ethiopia 'approaching the end of the one-party system'

Seeye Abraha said he does not know where the prime minister is or the nature of his illness.

“I have serious political differences with the prime minister and his party,” Seeye said of Meles and the TPLF. But he said that now is the time for Ethiopia’s political and military leaders to work with the nation to plot a peaceful way forward.

“We are approaching the end of the one-party system,” Seeye said.

Seeye was commander of the TPLF’s rebel forces and a member of the small leadership team of TPLF fighters who ousted Mengistu Haile Mariam’s Derg leadership in 1991. They then created the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. Seeye was defense minister for five years and later led planning strategy for Ethiopia’s border war with neighboring Eritrea.

“The system does not depend on one person,” 
The former defense minister said he and Meles finally parted ways over continuation of the costly two-year war with Eritrea. Meles expelled Seeye and three others from the TPLF executive committee.

Then, Seeye was thrown in jail for six years on corruption charges he says were bogus. When he got out of prison, Seeye joined the opposition Unity for Democracy and Justice Party along with a former president, Negaso Gidada.

He left Ethiopia for the United States in 2011. Seeye, 59, now lives in Boston where he recently completed graduate studies in public administration at Harvard University. 

If Meles cannot lead, who will?

A member of the TPLF’s old guard, Sebhat Nega, told a VOA correspondent last week in Ethiopia that the government is functioning normally despite Meles’ absence.

“The system does not depend on one person,” Sebhat said, adding that whatever Meles’ medical issues are, the government is secure.

David Shinn, a former U.S. ambassador the Ethiopia in the 1980s, speculated last week that if Meles was aware of the need to plan for a successor, he would have had such a plan in place. He added, however, that if Meles’ health problem came on suddenly, the political fallout could be more serious.

“If this is a more abrupt situation, then it could be far more difficult,” Shinn said.

Opposition leader Seeye also warned of possible trouble, saying, any leadership transition would be difficult without Meles taking part. For the time being, Seeye said he believed a form of collective leadership was acting during Meles’ absence.

“I wish him recovery and I wish that he ends his political exit with a positive and constructive and historic note.”
Sebhat of the TPLF said such opposition speculation was the product of “wishful thinkers” hoping to take advantage of the current situation. He also denied that Meles ruled with an iron fist, noting the prime minister’s efforts to de-centralize government rule in ethnically diverse Ethiopia over the past two decades.

“He doesn’t have any hand in the affairs of the Oromo, of the Amhara, of the Tigre, or of the Afar, et cetera,” said Sebhat.  “He cannot have an iron hand. He can never be a despot.”

Does Meles rule by consensus or by fiat?

Seeye disagreed, saying that Meles has been consolidating power for years.

“Meles is not just the chief executive officer of the administration, he is the law of the courts,” said Seeye. “He could make his wishes the law of the land in a matter of hours.  That’s how he has been working.”

Despite his political differences with Meles, Seeye said he hopes the prime minister will recover soon.

“I don’t celebrate the pain of another human being or the passing of another human being,” Seeye said. “I wish him recovery and I wish that he ends his political exit with a positive and constructive and historic note.”

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Teshome Gebre from: Hossana
August 01, 2012 4:35 AM
God can give him a recovery soon!

by: Mulugeta Birhnau from: Hossana
August 01, 2012 4:33 AM
I wish him recovery and I wish that he ends his political exit with a positive and constructive and historic note

by: Samoa from: Ethiopia
July 27, 2012 2:57 PM
Dear Seye,
great respect for showing maturity, your best wishes for Meles to recover, despite your political differences. We, however, do not forget your quotes "TPLF cannot only win a war, it can make one as well"
In Response

by: kebede from: aeba minch
July 28, 2012 5:30 PM
Regardless of his past political stand, seye can play very significant roll in relation to peaceful power transition.his GOOD WISH for meles is just joke! after all he is politician ...has to say so!!!
In Response

by: Gemechu from: Heaven
July 28, 2012 10:10 AM
I join those who commend Seye for his matured, civilized and humane wishes for the ill PM. Great Seye, you are very much appreciated.

by: Yemane from: California
July 27, 2012 2:42 AM
I am commenting about the article which is writen on this page if Eritrean Athletes will defect during the London Olympics? I will asure you that even if you offer them a billion dollar, they will never defect their beloved nation. That's what some westerns are wishing. Eritreans are lerning about the west midia, history will change as of right now. You will never see Eritreans defecting. Every one will build the nation. Thanks to our beloved president.
God bless our leaders, people and solders.
In Response

by: Beminet from: Asmara
July 27, 2012 10:06 AM
Except of course, you, sitting from your Ivory Tower in California!! It is difficult to build a nation from LA!
In Response

by: Teddy from: nairobi
July 27, 2012 9:55 AM
Dear, brother Yemane is this the reality on the ground? you know what happened last couple of years in kenya all Eritrea n football players except 3 officials returned back home.what do said about this shocking news? pls don't cover up our problem speak freely ur not live in Asmara?
In Response

by: Care-Less from: Heaven
July 27, 2012 4:11 PM
This article is not about Eritreans or their athletes defecting....... so, why don't you guys leave us alone and comment under your article.

BTW, @yemane.... who's Eritrea's enemies? yeah! ... the best way to oppress your people is to tell them they've "enemies" all over the world ... trying to destroy Eritrea ... ooooooooohhhhh, here comes the boogy-man!
In Response

by: Yemane from: Cali
July 27, 2012 1:36 PM
Dear Teddy,

Read carfully to what i said. I did not denay about the Red Sea team. Red Sea is not the only team went in to play sport over seas. How many syclists, athlets, singers, musitans... been playing out side and returning to their beloved nation. We will not see defectors much from now on. Do not forget how many anemies are eger to see that, but it will not happen. Eritreans are smarter than that.

by: Al
July 26, 2012 5:44 PM
I am impressed Seeye, as most opposition activists blurt out hate and revenge in this situation, you showed what a really good human being should act and say. I feel the same, i wish the prime minister to be well soon....after all he is a fellow human being, makes mistakes as we all do.
In Response

by: Tsega Ze Ab from: Ethiopia
July 27, 2012 3:03 AM
Siye's comment is better that the bad Gidey.
In Response

by: MOLA from: SWEDEN
July 31, 2012 6:30 AM
Siye's can't misslead wiser men and woman list those who knew him for who he is. He is not different than Meles or Sibhat except that he lost the fight in the closed circle. His seemngly humane words clearly show his his hate to the man and his joy to the agony Meles is undergoing...

Any way be it Meles or Siye ... your days are gone ...
Time is for the young and the real human...
In Response

by: Anonymous
July 27, 2012 1:41 PM
Siye has shown a lot of political maturity over the past couple of years. Good comment.
In Response

by: molla from: addis ababa
July 27, 2012 12:12 PM
Seeye Abraha:Thank you !!! Though I have different Political Ideology from You,I have learnt special thing from your inside.I thing this is your true being.Oh! unique quality from the swarm of political opposition leaders who are bad wishers for their compatrait and humabeing.
In Response

by: tolcha from: usa
July 27, 2012 11:25 AM
Both Seye and Melese are the same creatures. Rather, I prefer Meles. Seye, comes out of prison and became a nice politicians. Had Seye been a prime minister, He would have been more dictator and arrogant than Meles. No one believes you Tigrian Juntas.

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