Arkebe EkubayA secret U.S. diplomatic cable sent from Addis Ababa by Ambassador Donald Yamamoto indicates that central committee members of the ruling Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in 2008 voted to elect Arkebe Equbay as chairman of the party, but Arkebe declined the election. Read the full text of the message below:

08ADDISABABA3400 2008-12-22 05:39 2011-08-30 01:44 SECRET//NOFORN Embassy Addis Ababa

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S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 ADDIS ABABA 003400

NOFORN
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/05/2017
TAGS: PGOV KDEM PREL ET
SUBJECT: ANECDOTES ON RULING PARTY RIFTS

REF: A. ADDIS 3011
¶B. ADDIS 3188
¶C. ADDIS 1554

Classified By: Ambassador Donald Yamamoto for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

¶1. (S/NF) In a series of recent conversations with
individuals close to the government and/or to individuals
within the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic
Front (EPRDF) coalition, we have heard reports of several
looming rifts and internal tensions within each EPRDF
sub-party. While we cannot confirm the truth behind these
anecdotes as internal ruling party dynamics are among the
most closely held Ethiopian secrets, each appears plausible
and consistent with other personnel shifts in the recent past.

THE TIGRAYAN PEOPLE’S LIBERATION FRONT (TPLF)
———————————————

¶2. (S/NF) According to UK citizen Patrick Gilkes (strictly
protect) who is now a strategic planning advisor to the
Ethiopian Foreign Minister, in the summer 2008 TPLF party
Congress, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi did not receive the
most votes for party Chairmanship. Allegedly, former Mayor
of Addis Ababa and currently the State Minister for Works and
Urban Development Arkebe Equbay, long a TPLF Politbureau
member, received more votes than both Meles and Seyoum
Mesfin, the Foreign Minister and TPLF Vice Chairman. Gilkes
argues that, recognizing the center of gravity surrounding
Meles, Arkebe declined the party Chairmanship and Vice
Chairmanship. Gilkes reported that the vote of dissent
stemmed largely from lingering frustrations among the party
over the still-unresolved territorial dispute with Eritrea
over Badme (which the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission
awarded to Eritrea in 2002, but Ethiopia continues to claim
and occupy) as well as over the economic down turn which has
taken a huge toll on the Tigray region.

THE AMHARA NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC MOVEMENT (ANDM)
——————————————— -

¶3. (S/NF) Former TPLF Central Committee member and former
Defense Minister Seeye Abraha told us on November 3 of an
emerging rift in the senior leadership of the ANDM. Seeye,
who despite being out of favor with the government retains a
lot of long-held friends and contacts within the ruling
coalition, suggested that Deputy Prime Minister Adissu
Legesse and Advisor to the Prime Minister Bereket Simon
feature prominently in an emerging &status-quo8 faction,
while Capacity Building Minister Tefera Walwa may be
prominent among a dissenting faction. The ANDM ousted Tefera
from his Vice Chairmanship — and according to some news
reports from the Executive Committee — in September,
replacing him with Meles-confidant Bereket Simon. Seeye
suggested that the dissenters may be frustrated by the
pre-eminence of the TPLF in the Ethiopian Government (GoE)
and EPRDF without giving the ANDM a larger share of the pie.
He also argued that on-going tensions between Ethiopia and
Sudan, which has cost the Amhara region a large chunk of
territory, combined with the GoE’s response of sweeping the
issue under the rug may be another aggravating factor driving
the dissenters. Gilkes confirmed this information to
Pol/Econ Chief on December 18.

THE SOUTHERN ETHIOPIAN PEOPLE’S DEMOCRATIC MOVEMENT
——————————————— ——

¶4. (S/NF) In early 2006 as ethnic tensions in southern
Oromiya and the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s
Region (SNNPR) began to erupt, the Sidamo people — numbering
roughly seven million — began expressing frustration within
the SEPDM and EPRDF about not having adequate representation
in government. Patrick Gilkes argues that to placate the
Sidamo, the federal government orchestrated the removal –
officially a resignation — of ethnic Welayta SEPDM Chairman
Hailemariam Desalegn as SNNPR Regional President in March
2006, allowing ethnic Sidamo SEPDM Politbureau member
Shiferaw Shikute (alternate spelling “Shigute”) to take over
the post. While the move did respond to some Sidamo
complaints, the Sidamo reportedly still feel disenfranchised
by the fact that the GoE has not yet established the Sidamo
region as a formal administrative zone, which would provide
greater self-rule and access to targeted federal resource
transfers. At the same time, while Hailemariam’s move to an

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Advisor position, with the rank of Minister, within the Prime
Minister’s Office in April 2006 and as EPRDF Chief Whip in
Parliament in November 2008 (Ref. A), maintained him in
prominent positions, many Welayta allegedly still feel
aggrieved by the TPLF for his 2006 removal from the regional
presidency. Both Seeye and Gilkes suggested that the SEPDM’s
removal of ethnic Gurage Dr. Kassu Ilala, a former Deputy
Prime Minister, Economic Advisor to the Prime Minister, and
former SEPDM Party Chairman, may have also displeased the
small but influential Gurage community.

THE OROMO PEOPLE’S DEMOCRATIC MOVEMENT (OPDO)
———————————————

¶5. (S/NF) Some have argued that the OPDO’s backing of Prime
Minister Meles in the 2001 TPLF split was critical to his
survival and earned the OPDO Meles’ debt. As reported in
Ref. B, however, recent efforts to reconcile the banned Oromo
Liberation Front (OLF) with the GoE appear to have spurred
concern among the OPDO regarding the EPRDF’s support for the
party. The September return to Ethiopia of Ababiya Abajobir,
and rumored plans for OLF former leaders Leencho Lata and
Dima Negewo to return to Ethiopia in the spring of 2009,
however, may cause further uncertainty within the OPDO in the
months to come.

EPRDF-AFFILIATED PARTIES: FROM BENISHANGUL…
———————————————

¶6. (S/NF) While the EPRDF is a coalition of the four,
above-noted parties, several other parties have affiliated
themselves with the EPRDF and vote as a block with the ruling
coalition. While the EPRDF has not approved full member
status to many of these parties, their loyalty to the ruling
coalition has earned them a fair degree of autonomy to govern
their more distant regions. In the far west, the
Benishangul-Gumuz People’s Democratic Unity Front (BGPDUF)
has enjoyed broad discretion in administering its region.
The outbreak of brutal ethnic conflict, apparently
orchestrated by some Benishangul-Gumuz (B-G) regional
officials against the Oromos outside of Nekempt town in May
(Ref. C), however, embarrassed the central government. The
arrest of the regional vice president in response to the
clash presented a tolerable response by federal authorities.
Gilkes, however, argues that the GoE’s October 22 dispatch of
National Security Advisor Abay Tsehaye, Hailemariam Desalegn,
and then Federal Affairs Minister Siraj Fegessa to the B-G
capital to force the resignation of regional President
Yaregal Ayisheshum over the incident has sparked antagonism
among the BGPDUF who resent the encroachment on their loyal
autonomy.

…AND THE SOMALI PEOPLE’S DEMOCRATIC PARTY (SPDP)
——————————————— —–

¶7. (S/NF) An SPDP regional councilmember based in Dire Dawa
recently described for us SPDP intraparty tensions related to
the SPDP leadership’s adherence to EPRDF policies and
practices. The councilmember said that “in general the
(EPRDF established) Ethiopian Constitution is acceptable, but
the reality on the ground is different. There is no
intraparty democracy. The top leaders dictate, based on
loyalty. If you criticize, you are branded as the
opposition. Nor is there any intraparty dissent. SPDP
leaders trample their own regulations and by-laws. If you
point it out, they can sack you, prevent you from work, make
you subservient.” The SPDP regional councilmember said the
SPDP leadership’s autocratic tendencies simply reflect the
EPRDF’s authoritarian practices. “We are hoping for free and
fair elections and a level playing field,” he said, “but we
are not there now. It would be better if Ethiopia followed
global practices. The National Electoral Board is not free
and fair. The recent census was sad and unreliable. I don’t
even know how many people elected me.” The SPDP regional
councilmember added that “The police should be independent,
but they are not. They serve the EPRDF, not the public. If
the ruling party tells them to arrest someone, they do; if
ruling party says release them, they release them. The
judiciary is also not free and fair and just does the bidding
of the ruling party. People are prosecuted for their way of
thinking, not their actions. The police trump up charges,
such as ‘colluding with anti-peace elements’ and they can
even revoke the immunity of regional councilmembers. Roughly
17 members of the Somali Regional Council are in jail simply

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for expressing their views. I asked (SPDP leadership): ‘how
is it possible the party can be judge, jury and executioner?’
and they replied ‘because we said so.’ So, many of our
regional council member self-censor.”

¶8. (S/NF) The SPDP regional councilmember cautioned that many
in the SPDP are beginning to resent the EPRDF and their own
leadership. “The Somali region was historically neglected,”
he said, “but in the past 17 years there have been few
tangible changes and lately conditions are regressing. The
government has taken no action to solve the problem of water
shortages. We are all nationalist Ethiopians but within the
SPDP rank and file the mind-set is changing. Instead of
cooperating and helping Somali Region development, the EPRDF
(and SPDP leadership) dictates, arrests and intimidates.”

COMMENT
——-

¶9. (S/NF) Again, while we cannot independently confirm the
anecdotes reported above, the corroboration of many by
separate, unconnected sources and their correlation with
other known developments renders them quite plausible.
Independently, few if any of these dynamics is likely to pose
an immediate impact on larger scale GoE or bilateral
dynamics. At the same time, they do suggest an increasingly
tenuous degree of tension at the center for the TPLF to hold
things together. The competing priorities of clientelism and
ethnic patronage risks the GoE (and specifically the TPLF)
spreading itself too thin in responding to disparate demands
without adequately being able to respond fully to any.
Concessions within the ruling coalition also risks further
squeezing the opposition to please allies, which may further
contribute to the already palpable political tension in
Ethiopia as we move toward the run-up to the 2010 national
elections. As such, in the absence of outside encouragement
for the GoE to ease the crack-down on political dissent,
internal dynamics are likely only to lead the ruling party to
pursue its increasingly fragile current approach to
governance and control. Another concern is that Meles
himself was almost overthrown by the TPLF Central Committee
in 2001 and remains highly sensitive to criticism and changes
in TPLF attitudes toward him. End Comment.
YAMAMOTO