Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn resigned on February 15. He is “employee of the month” for March not for what he did, but what he failed to do. In the five and a half years in which he presided over Ethiopia, he allowed the country to drift towards turmoil. Ethiopia today is at grave risk of internal conflict and is unable to play its essential role as a bastion of stability and peacemaking in the Horn of Africa.

Hailemariam came to power following the sudden death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in August 2012. He came from the background of an educator though he had served as a government administrator for a brief period of time. He is a follower of a Pentecostal religion. These qualifications were not the ideal background to rule a highly hierarchical society. Added to this was the fact that Hailemariam never was part of the liberation war of 1975-91 or the revolutionary politics that preceded it. This background put him as an outsider to the liberation war veterans he was supposed to lead.

In his five and a half years as Prime Minister, Hailemariam had great opportunities for moving Ethiopia forward. He needed to address social crises and major failings in the political system. But in his time as a “leader” he failed to show the leadership that the country needed.

As the country’s chief executive, Hailemariam could say he knew groups who considered themselves above the law, which (for example) had their own prisons. He failed to act upon this. He was a leader to publicly admitted that his government’s decisions–including his own– were never based on evidence and failed to act to correct them. He failed to understand that the main of task of leadership was to mediate and balance contending interests and make decisions. Rather, it seems that Hailemariam thought he could make every one of his colleagues and coalition partners happy by agreeing to whatever they proposed despite the opposing nature of their interests. So he ended up disappointing all. Rather than demonstrating leadership qualities he thought he could cling to power by playing his coalition partners against one another.

Hailemariam stepped into a position that had been created and dominated by Meles Zenawi, who had run Ethiopia from the center with his formidable political skills. Meles left a legacy of great achievements and huge failings—including the withering away of the institutions of the ruling party. Hailemariam defined his task as making Meles’s legacy continue. He failed to have one of his own. He kept the office of the PM for five and a half years without being a leader and left his party’s coalition members go their own way. This eventually allowed Ethiopia to drift, leaderless, into its current turmoil and confusion.



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9 Responses to Employee of the Month: Hailemariam Dessalegn

  1. Dawit says:

    This depiction of events is unfair to the Hailemariam Deslegn.He came to power with little political experiance while his role was considered ceremonial.He should get recognition for trying to bring some changes prior to his resignation.
    Such as the release of prisoners and even admitting when he was wrong, which is unprecedented in Ethiopian politics. With all due respect, Gebrehiwot is not an impartial observer here. He can’t just wash his hands off now that things are complicated. The respectable thing to do here is to take responsibility for past actions and find ways to resolve the situation.

    • Ethio says:

      Dawit, based on what logic do you wish to exonerate the contemporary power-holder from responsibility and bring-in the writer who, ofcourse, payed everything he could for positive change in his country but has been so long since he left any political position?

    • From Mulugeta Gebrehiwot:
      Dear Dawit,
      Indeed, you are right to say that the entire mess in the country is not Hailemariam’s making. I emphasized this point when I described “the legacy” that he inherited and claimed to maintain. He did release political prisoners, albeit without a proper policy to explain how this would happen. I am sure you remember the communiques that came out from his administration a day after the leaders of the coalition– including himself– appeared in the media and stated that political prisoners will be released. It said both: ‘we don’t have political prisoners’ and ‘what is said is to release some people following the procedures for providing amnesty.” The release was later to credited to the impact of continued popular unrest, rather than a deliberate policy decision of the government. We will have another PM soon; in discussing what Hailemariam ‘did’ and ‘did not’ do, I offered a humble intervention intended for to the incoming incumbent rather than the outgoing one.

      • Dawit says:

        May be it was not intentional but your article comes off as belittling the ex prime minister. To your point about deliberate policy decisions, that was never the practice in ethiopia. We have been running around putting out fire for a while now. Hailemariam simply followed precedent. When the party was pushing ethnic federalism agenda in illiterate poor communities, it should have listened to expert warnings about breaking generations old traditional fabrics holding communities together. Hailemariam is not to be blamed for any of it. The only blame he should get is for accepting the position in the first place. He should have said ‘thank you! but no thank you!’ and let tplf deal with the mess it created. As for incoming incumbents, my predictions are nothing will change unless the tplf cc changes, that’s where the real power lays.

  2. E says:

    You make it sound like the current turmoil is Hailemaiam’s fault. It is not. Ithas been festering. It is sad that people like Meles who rule with an iron hand are seen as heroes, while an open inclusive leader is seen as a weakling. He resigned because he refuses or can’t continue with the status quo. And for that i admire him. He is employee of the year and i mean itnot sarcasticly like your article

    • From Mulugeta Gebrehiwot:
      I am sure you have read how I described the legacy that Meles left behind. We may differ in terms of our appraisal of Hailemariam as a chief executive. I am saying he never acted as a leader, leave alone an inclusive leader. We need a leader capable of making decisions and providing leadership, not someone whose role appears to be not bigger than a master of ceremony.

  3. Ethio says:

    E, we have to distinguish between open and feeble people. And, are you sure he resigned because he refused to continue with the status quo? Do not you think this contradicts with what he explicitly said? I think he is the employee of the year the way the writer said it, alas.

  4. zekarias says:

    I see Ato Mulugeta’s points. Ato Hailemariam, in all fairness, took the premiership suddenly and without much preparation. Indeed, he proved to be not a decisive leader either. That was then but how about now? Given Ato Mulugeta’s extensive experience in conflict and peace, I would like to hear his opinion on how the current PM would fair given he is also an ‘outsider to the liberation war veterans he was supposed to lead’?

  5. ዮሃንስ says:

    ሙሉጌታ! ህልም ዶ ኢልካ ሎሚስ…በልንዶ ነእሽተይ ልዚ ደመናታት ሎሚ ግልህ ለብል ፈንወና!

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