Thursday’s resignation of Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn amid unconfirmed reports of a leadership split in the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), may have surprised many. But to the man who for the past 6 years has presided over what is widely reported as Africa’s fastest growing economy, says his departure is for the good of his country, and he believes something greater will come out of it. But will it?
Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resignation comes just a month after he was applauded following his government’s release of around 6,500 prisoners and detainees (including political opponents) in a bid many saw as an attempt stymie social upheaval, as well as a sign heralding a new era of political reform and reconciliation.
But the move, just like the rosy economic figures, did not quell the Ethiopians’ perennial demands for greater democracy which in recent months escalated into the worst anti-government protests in over 25 years, leaving scores dead or injured.
The main reason I have submitted my resignation is because I hold the firm belief that it was necessary for me to tender it as part of a solution aimed at ensuring lasting peace and guaranteeing democracy in our country going forward.
“In an effort to address the challenges currently facing the country in light of the public’s legitimate demands for development, democracy and good governance, the EPRDF and the government have commenced a number of reforms. Reforms that are currently underway and that we are striving to successfully implement…in an effort to fulfil my responsibilities as a party to these reforms, I have officially tendered, of my own volition, my resignation from the leadership of both the EPRDF and the Government,” he explained in a statement.
“The many questions and grievances that have been raised by the public require and demand answers… as poverty is the primary cause of the many problems we currently face, it must be confronted at every turn by continuing the good work we have started across the country,” said the 53 year old civil-engineer turned politician.
Desalegn took over both the Premiership and the leadership of the ruling the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) following the death of Meles Zenawi . The handover turned the relatively unknown young politician into to one of Africa’s most influential leaders.
“The main reason I have submitted my resignation is because I hold the firm belief that it was necessary for me to tender it as part of a solution aimed at ensuring lasting peace and guaranteeing democracy in our country going forward,” he explained further.
Since taking over from his Zenawi, Desalegn has spearheaded his predecessor’s ambitious and far-reaching economic reforms and goals to turn Ethiopia into lower-middle income status by 2025. And according to both World Bank and IMF figures, the last 10 years have indeed, seen Ethiopia consistently achieve double digit Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth and one of Africa’s largest infrastructure investments.
Last month a statement by the IMF had this to say: “Ethiopia has recorded annual average GDP growth of about 10% in the last decade, driven by public investments in agriculture and infrastructure. The poverty rate has fallen from 44% in 2000 to 23.5% in 2015/16. In 2016/17 GDP growth is estimated at 9 %, as agriculture rebounded from severe drought conditions in 2015/16.
Industrial activity expanded, with continued investments in infrastructure and manufacturing. The current account deficit declined in 2016/17 to 8.2 % of GDP from 9.1 % the previous year, reflecting lower drought-related imports and lower public sector capital goods imports.”
In addition, the statement revealed, foreign direct investment (FDI) growth, was 27.6 % due to investments in the new industrial parks and privatization inflows and its international reserves at end-2016/17 stood at $3.2 billion, while growth was expected to stay high in 2017/18, at 8.5%
The state-owned Ethiopian Airlines has also increasingly added to the country economic fortunes becoming Africa’s biggest and most lucrative (as well being the world’s fastest growing) airline.
Ethiopia has recorded annual average GDP growth of about 10% in the last decade, driven by public investments in agriculture and infrastructure. The poverty rate has fallen from 44% in 2000 to 23.5% in 2015/16. In 2016/17 GDP growth is estimated at 9 %, as agriculture rebounded from severe drought conditions in 2015/16.
But despite all the economic development leaps, Ethiopia has lagged behind in terms the political freedoms and democracy.
In 2015, months of anti-government demonstrations spread across Ethiopia, leaving many dead and prompting parliament to declare a 10-month state nationwide state of emergency in October 2016. The state of emergency did quelled the worst of the violence, but periodic uprisings still occurred and have since worsen in the past few months, particularly in the Oromiya Province (which surrounds the capital Addis Ababa) where there has been violent suppression of of those protesting against government seizures of their ancestral land for urbanisation. There have also been protests in other regions such as Amhara.
The Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organization and the Amhara National Democratic Movement, have been at the forefront of protests calling for more political reforms and involvement.
On Tuesday, 13 February, Desalegn was forced to release from jail, the dissident Oromo fedaralist Bekele Gerba, dropping all treason charges against him, much to the celebration in his swelling ground of supporters, to whom Desalegn appear to address when he concluded in his parting speech:
“In order to alleviate these concerns [in our country], I call on the public-at-large to maintain the togetherness of our society as has been practiced across generations and to continue to play their part in the development of our country.”
Desalegn resignation has since been accepted by the Executive Committees of both the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM) – of which he was Chair and the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).
He will be replaced at the next congress of the EPRDF, at a date yet to be announced, there after, the House of Peoples’ Representatives of Ethiopia will subsequently approve this election and endorse his successor as the new Prime Minister. Until then, Desalegn will continue to serve in his current capacity.