News / Africa

Hailemariam Tapped as Ethiopia’s New Leader

Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hailemariam Desalegn attends a meeting for the Joint Political Committee between Sudan and Ethiopia in Khartoum December 24, 2011.
Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hailemariam Desalegn attends a meeting for the Joint Political Committee between Sudan and Ethiopia in Khartoum December 24, 2011.
ADDIS ABABA — Government officials say Hailemariam Desalegn will be the next Prime Minister of Ethiopia.  Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs is known as a soft spoken and humble man.
Hailemariam Desalegne is currently the acting prime minister and the foreign minister and will be sworn in as prime minister and run the country until elections in 2015.  Ethiopian officials say the constitution will be followed.

Former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi died on Monday.
The ruling party holds all but one seat in parliament, making it unlikely that Hailemariam's appointment will be opposed. Mr. Hailemariam has been foreign minister since 2010 but is not well known across the country.
Getachew Reda of the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry has been working closely with Hailemariam for the last few years. Getachew describes Hailemariam Desalegn as a leader with good people skills:
“Hailemariam, is very humble, very friendly," said Getachew. "The sort of person who will not shy away from drawing lessons from everybody, whether subordinate or whatever. He’s the kind of person that tries to create consensus among colleagues.”
A lot of nice words are generally spoken about Hailemariam and Getachew Reda says the new leader can also be tough when he has to be.
“Ethiopians know when to be tough," he said. "Even here as a foreign minister within the government structure there are times that you could be surprised. I can assure you, when it comes right down to it, Hailemariam is like all of them he can be tough.“

The outside world does not know this side of Hailemariam and former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia David Shinn says if he is going to be in power, he should show his tougher side to the outside world.

“It remains to be seen whether he has that toughness or not," said Shinn. "He is going to have to show Ethiopia and the other countries in the region and international community that he is capable of doing that."

Next to his character,  Hailemariam’s ethnic origin is most frequently discussed.  Unlike the top of the ruling party, he hails from the South and not from the north of Ethiopia.

Ethiopian political analyst Jawar Mohammed of Columbia University says that the appointment of Hailemariam is mostly symbolic.

“He is not going to have the slightest of power in hand, he is going to be used as a puppet," he noted. "It will make it extremely difficult for the Amhara and the Oromo opposition as well as affiliate parties to criticize him the way they have done  because to criticize somebody from the south who was more marginalized then the two bigger ethnic groups would be politically unwise and politically incorrect.”
Jawad says Meles Zenawi was in power since 1991. Whether the new prime minister will be able to hold his position for that long remains to be seen.

“I doubt he will have power close to Meles because Meles power comes from his own personal assertive nature," Jawad said. "And second is he was part of the armed struggle. And he built his stature, authority and command while he was still in the armed struggle. By the time he took power, he was the undisputed leader of the TPLF and also the undisputed leader of Ethiopia.”

The ruling party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, or EPRDF, will hold its party congress in September.

  • The casket containing the body of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi arrives at the Addis Ababa International Airport, Ethiopia, August 22, 2012.
  • The body of Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is escorted upon arrival in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa early August 22, 2012.
  • Ethiopian women in black gather to mourn as the body of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi arrived in Addis Ababa, August 22, 2012.
  • Ethiopians carry posters in Amharic reading "Meles We Love You" as they gather to mourn as the body of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi arrived in Addis Ababa, August 22, 2012.
  • Ethiopian national flags fly at half mast in Addis Ababa, August 21, 2012.
  • Officials move a portrait of Meles shortly after the announcement of his death in Addis Ababa, August 21, 2012.
  • Ethiopian government spokesman Bereket Simon (R) makes the official announcement of Meles' death in Addis Ababa, August 21, 2012.
  • U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with Meles at the London Conference on Somalia, February 23, 2012.
  • The late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi arrives with his wife Azeb Mesfi for the 18th African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, January 29, 2012.
  • Meles speaks to reporters after meeting with Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf in Cairo, Egypt, September 17, 2011.
  • Meles and other world leaders pose during a group photo at the G20 summit in Toronto, Canada, June 27, 2010.
  • Meles lifts his cap to salute supporters of the EPRDF party at the Meskel Square in Addis Ababa, May 25, 2010.
  • A poster featuring the prime minister displayed in downtown Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, May 2010.
  • U.S. President George W. Bush chats with Meles during a meeting with Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi for talks on combatting international terrorism, the White House, Washington, December 5, 2002.
  • German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder welcomes Meles to Berlin, Germany, February 5, 2002.
  • Meles and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet in Moscow, Russia, December 3, 2001.
  • UN Secretary General Kofi Annan with Meles before their meeting in the office of the prime minister in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, April 30, 1998.
  • Salim Ahmed Salim, Secretary General of the Organization of African Unity, meets with Meles in Addis Ababa, June 28, 1995.
  • Meles accompanies Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as he arrives at Addis Ababa's African Hall to attend a meeting, June 26, 1995.

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Comment Sorting
by: Anonymous
September 03, 2012 10:26 AM
VOA really? It takes you a whole day to review a couple of paragraphs of comment?

by: concerned
September 02, 2012 9:43 PM
What I don't understand is how is the government allowed to be so secretive? It is not proper in anyway to just all of a sudden announce "the leader is dead" after saying he was fine, recovering etc. There has to be much much more explanation than that. How did he die? Right now we are still going off of the rumors that he was sick with this and that cancer. There needs to be an official explanation and accountability. How do we know this wasn't a coup if there is no explanation? The journalist are supposed to be asking these questions and holding governments accountable to the people, in the case of local Ethiopian journalist I understand that may not be possible at times, but even the international media hasn't pressed at all yet. I wonder if they are waiting for the burial and then will ask, because I find it extremely unacceptable not to be told the details into what caused his death.

The second thing that bothered me, minor when compared with the first issue I have, is if it's true the government ordered bars, restaurants etc. to not play music then that's clearly not democracy although they claim they are operating under democarcy. Government offices may be ordered to do this and that "in honor" but not private places of business or residence. If one doesn't like or support "the leader" then in a democracy one is free to behave as one likes and even celebrate during his death.

by: Abba Bogibo from: Addis
August 27, 2012 5:22 PM
The sudden death of our prime Meles Zenawi is heartbreaking news for me and for my family, and for Ethipians and Africans as a whole. I consider my Prime as a father of Ethiopian renaissance, and a father of millions of poor peoples of Ethiopia. He has been struggling to enable his people feed three times a day, as he has ones dreamed and said it in public. While his dream is on the verge of coming true, the news of his sudden death mourned all our people. His great efforts and brilliant ideas have put on truck our multi ethnic federal constitution a milestone for our country's stability. I extend my condolence to all our citizens and friends of Ethiopia. Prime Meles, in all his restless life from childhood to his end, devoted his might and main to his nation, he has brought immortality to his mortal life. Ethiopia will remember the great hero forever. Rest In Peace!

by: SakredAngel from: Addis Ababa
August 25, 2012 6:07 AM
This is the first time in my life that a forced but smooth transition is going to be underway for Ethiopia. The deputy now the PM, Hailemariam I think will have a very difficult job filling the shoes of the late PM, Zenawi. However, I think he will bring something different to the table as long as he is smart in making decisions and not be engulfed with power. Having said that, him coming from a minority tribe, being a protestant and having a minor part in politics will make him stronger over the coming years! We all should be patient with him not expect much...
In Response

by: alem from: addis baba
September 18, 2012 9:21 AM
unexpected death of our PM shocked to me i done a lot of things to us . i expect more from mr Hailemariam . i think has good potetial and ability but lets support him and lets give him power . i urged on the word minority tribe .this is not the time to think about tribe that is 18th century thinking
In Response

by: bg from: addis
August 26, 2012 10:59 AM
yes i have to add mite your comment dear, being from minority might not big issue to ace accordingly. But personal capability has big impact on the process so far. As i see Mr. Hilemariam had practical experiences in the south region while he was regional president. I think that southern region is off course small Ethiopia in its ethnic complexity. While he was coming to governing the region, their was political and ethnic unrest as well as other problems, he managed the situation. he did the same thing in ministry of foreign Affairs. ANYhow late give him a chance and see the result, since he is scholar, may come with some sort of difference.

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