Ethiopia’s Foreign Policy One Year After Meles Zenawi – an Opportunity for Transformation.

Filed under: News In English |

Burco-(BM)Today, on 24 August 2013, a year has passed since the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, the man considered to be the leading architect of post-Derg Ethiopia.

Following his death, the future of a resurgent Ethiopia hung by a thread. Uncertainty mounted in the vast country of over 80 million inhabitants, with over 60 diverse ethnicities and two major religions that have cohabitated uncomfortably for decades.

The death of Meles did not result in friction or major collapse, nor did it lead to impermeable divisions within the ruling party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).

The EPRDF leadership handled the succession process deftly and out of public sight, mainly in line with its five-year succession plan of 2011, allowing the late Zenawi’s deputy prime minster, Hailemariam Desalegn, to step into the position of Prime Minister until the general elections in 2015.

The legitimisation of, and overwhelming vote of confidence in Desalegn (representing a minority from the South) as leader of the EPRDF by the 180-member party council in September last year signalled the grip of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) within the ruling party.

Moreover, it illustrated a concern with the fragile ethno-religious equilibrium and porous political alliances that have been at the centre of Ethiopian politics since the founding of the EPRDF in 1989.

Irrespective of the tense political situation and delicate transition of 2012, according to the World Bank’s June 2013 Ethiopia Economic Update, economic growth over the past decade has averaged 10.7%, making it one of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world.

However, Ethiopia’s relative stability and remarkable economic growth rates do not mask the domestic fault-lines – religious and ethnic – that have a profound impact on the country’s foreign policy, and particularly the country’s role in the Horn of Africa.

The degree to which Ethiopia under Hailemariam Desalegn can re-engineer the domestic order to reflect democracy as one of the country’s foreign policy stated doctrines remains an obstacle to a bolder Ethiopian diplomatic and economic role within and beyond the Horn of Africa.

Regional security as domestic stability

With the exception of Kenya, with which Ethiopia has a stable border and cordial relations and free movement of people, including Kenya’s constructive role in the Ogaden conflict, the country’s regional policy is navigating a myriad of security challenges that interact dangerously with its domestic stability.

The country’s unstable borders include an defensive Eritrea to the North, a fragile Somalia to the south, and South-Sudan and Sudan uneasy co-existence around its western borders.

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