The way forward after the death of Ethiopia’s Strongman

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After months of speculation about his fate, Ethiopian Prime Minster Meles Zenawi died the night of August 20, 2012. World leaders have highlighted the magnificent of the economic development that Ethiopia achieved under his leadership. However, human rights groups remember Prime Minster Zenawi’s government as “repressive regime”.
US President, Barak Obama, former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon and others recalled how Mr. Zenawi did a tremendous job lifting Ethiopia from poverty. South African President, Jacob Zuma and Liberian President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf   said that Africa lost one of its greatest leaders and thinkers. They mentioned his role in brokering the ongoing peace talk and negotiation between the Sudan and South Sudan. Others mentioned how Mr. Zenawi played a key role in reestablishing a central government in Somalia.
On the other hand, human rights groups like Amnesty International have been documenting and reporting on how Ethiopia has become repressive and shows zero-tolerance for dissent. Extrajudicial killings, torture, mass arrest, and repressive media laws have been major characteristics of the regime.In terms of geopolitics, Ethiopia has been playing a key role in fighting extremism in the Horn of Africa. In fact, the mainstream media underlined that the USA has lost its greatest ally in Africa. At the moment, there is fear that the peace negotiation between Sudan and South Sudan might be stalled. His death might have also a significant impact on the newly created parliament of Somalia. There might also be political crisis because Ethiopia’s political system has an ethnic component which is favorable to maintaining the status quo instead of following a constitutionally crafted procedure and initiating much-needed reforms. Some are already suspicious because the appointment of the deputy prime minister was postponed and it is believed that there is unfinished business in the inner circle of the regime.

Some members of the opposition at home or abroad see the death of Mr. Zenawi as the demise of the regime as a whole. Still there are some groups who believe that even if the incumbent regime shows willingness for reconciliation, negotiation, and broad based reform that includes the opposition, the latter does not count as it is in disarray. Raila Odinga, Kenya’s PM, told BBC that he fears there might be a problem in Ethiopia.

This is why nations do not need strongmen, but better and stronger institutions. In the absence of the strongman, the power vacuum it creates is not easily filled. Political analysts and regional leaders are already disillusioned about the future of Ethiopia.
The bottom-line is that to create a strong society we must set up strong institutions that can continue to function after any change in leadership. Furthermore, superpowers should drop the strategy of supporting strongmen, as it was the case of Ethiopia, whose autocratic regimes imperil human development.
By Ashagrie G. Abdi, AFJN Intern
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