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Azeb Mesfin, Meles Zenawi’s widow resisted the nomination of Hailemariam Desalegn as Prime Minister and tried to remove him from the ticket.
Azeb during the meeting argued that Hailemariam lacked the capacity to navigate difficult situations and she instead nominated Sufian Ahmed, the long-serving minister of finance, whom he she described as head and shoulders above the former and possessed better leadership capacities. However, other TPLF old-timers were already on board with Hailemariam who was picked up by Meles as his preferred successor. They were rather sceptical of Azeb’s motive, suspecting of her harbouring the thought of taking over the helm herself, by placing someone loyal to her, the author tells us. At another meeting few years later, Seyoum Mesfin, one of the TPLF’s original founders, complained about how Hailemariam was put under pressure as he was unable to live and work in the palace for two months when Azeb had refused to leave the palace. He also said she bullied the Prime Minister, by telling him to step down from Meles’ chair.
Abiy had just been elected to head his party, replacing Lemma Megersa, in what was widely believed an operation to enhance his chances of becoming prime minister. The author tells us that Abiy had not always been an active participant in central committee meetings, save for giving terse and unassuming comments from time to time. But he was increasingly becoming more assertive and started making lengthy speeches. At one meeting, he even rebuked veteran party members for pretending to know everything while denigrating the younger members as ignorant, a remark the author found interesting and daring.
Some of the more interesting episodes involve the meetings and events in early 2018 that saw Abiy Ahmed, the leader of the OPDO, elected chairman of the party and consequently Prime Minister of the country. This was six weeks after Hailemariam Desalegn announced his resignation, citing obstacles and pressure from certain corners that undermined his leadership, as he told the party meeting, even though that was not how he characterized in a televised address before.
A TPLF member pushed the outgoing Prime Minister to clarify what these obstacles were and why he decided to throw in the towel, and Hailemariam sharply turned the question back on him, “Haven’t you attended the TPLF central committee meeting?” The message was not lost on the examiner and other participants, because the pressure on Hailemariam emanating from the TPLF circle was discussed and assessed in that meeting, the author says.
From the narration, we could understand that TPLF brass leaders were not keen on Abiy Ahmed from the very start. The person that they had in mind was, maintains the author, Shiferaw Shigute of the Southern People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM), whom they probably saw as an easy figure to manoeuvre. But for their party, they had decided not to put their hat in the ring, for fear that election of TPLF member as prime minster would likely to deepen divisions within the coalition.
Rather, the plan was to manage to wangle their way out of dividing Amhara and Oromo and backing the South. That was why the TPLF’s Alem Gebrewold forwarded the name of Shiferaw as the first nominee for the preliminary election of the three candidates the party agreed to name, which made TPLF’s intentions clear, Berhane says. “But the group dubbed “Team Lemma” and others, including Hailemariam Desalegn had already sorted out this and came armed with the plan, something which was not known by the TPLF,” the author writes. Lemma Megersa presented Abiy’s name as the second nominee. “But then objections were heard against Abiy’s nomination, five from TPLF, two from ANDM, and one from SEPDM bitterly opposed the nomination. Abiy himself and the other seven OPDO members reacted to the opposition and made their cases why he could make a good candidate.
Finally, by securing the substantial votes of OPDO, ANDM, and more than half of the southern party, Abiy’s nomination was accepted. This has visibly got Shiferaw and TPLF leaders anxious. But the principal question was who would be the third candidate, Demeke or Debretesion. Whose votes should be divided? Subsequently, an ANDM member proposed Debretsion, something that was fiercely opposed by him and other TPLF participants. OPDO, ANDM, and SEPDM partially supported the candidacy of Debretsion. But he again objected to his nomination. Vote was cast for the second time and the party members remained adamant, and Debretsion was kept as a candidate. The calculation from “Team Lemma” seemed to be transformed into a reality,” Berhane chronicles.
Abiy won 108 votes out of 180, while Shiferwa Shigute collected 59, meaning Abiy would take over as the new prime minister. Debretsion got just two votes. “In his victory speech, Abiy promised to fulfil the responsibilities bestowed upon him. Then another EPRDF, another story, another book,” the book concludes.
Considering the information that formed the basis for this book is mined from his own notebook, one cannot but admire the author’s note-taking skills and excellent memory. That is even more remarkable when we learn that there is still more information that he has not made available because of its sensitivity to national security. Unless it was recorded and transcribed, or minutes consulted, I still find it hard to comprehend how he could manage to do it. The book does offer a real insider’s glimpse."
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