Sekondi Accra

The May 2010 elections reaffirmed the grip on power of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). The party possess all but two parliamentary seats after an election that throughly trounced the opposition. The first order of business in 2011 for the EPRFD will be to get started on its five-year Growth and Tranformation Plan (GTP) for the economy and accomplish some internal restructuring.

Change has already started at the level of the EPRFD's component parties, as the next generation of leaders ascends the party ranks. The cabinet changes coincide with the release of Birtukan Mideksa, Ethiopia's famous dissident, after she served five years in prison. Although the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) has retained its chairman, Prime Minister (PM) Meles Zenawi, eight of its senior members announced their resignations at the 10th party conference in September 2010.

Hailemariam Mariam Desalegn was elected as vice-chairman replacing deputy prime minister Addisu Legesse which means that the EPRDF has intentions of following the lead of its member parties. Mr. Desalegn, who was chairman of the Southern Ethiopian People's Democratic Movement (SEPDM), was the first non-Amhara deputy chair since 1991. Following the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on August 20, 2012, Desalegn took interim control of the country as prime minister. Prime Minister Desalegn is the first Protestant Christian (Pentay) head of government in the history of Ethiopia. Due to his lack of ethnic affiliation to any of the main politically active groups, it is believed he could proceed to be the PM for the next three years.

Under Prime Minister Zenawi, changes to the party structure had been more esthetic than profound. There was evidence that the EPRDF may have been trying to usher a younger demographic through the ranks, but the opposition vociferously complained that it was nothing more than new faces backing the same policys. Desalegn's appointment as deputy prime minister and foreign minister in an October 2010 governement reshuffle did strengthen his position as a potential successor to Meles Zenawi in 2015. His party, SEPDM, had also gained two additional prominent ministries: defense and federal affairs. The addition of these ministries strengthen the party's relative traditional power bases in the (ANDM), (OPDO) and (TPLF). Two notable politicians who have given up their parliamentary seats, Bereket Simon and Seyoum Mesfin, may either retain ministerial positions or serve in an advisory capacity.

Before Meles Zenawi's untimely death, there was no clear successor. The TPLF is probably out of consideration because Tigrayans comprise just 6% of Ethiopia's population and the winds of change are ever increasing. The Amhara and Oromo, the two largest ethnic groups, argue that any successor should come from there own ethnic group. The stage is set for real political tension in the coming year. Meles's already strong position will be enhanced as new appointees become indebted to him and as any rivals are pushed aside. However, the opposition will continue in its attempts to present a united front, but the absence of a unifying leader coupled with ideological differences and a five-year span before the next election will make this difficult.

Foreign policy impasses in Eritrea, Somalia and, potentially, Sudan are causes of concern in Addis Ababa. The resignation from Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TGF) of Prime Minister Ali Sharmerke in September 2010 caused indignation in Addis Ababa, which strongly feels that the TFG is too fragile to indulge in internal disagreements. There had been some cautious optimism over Somalia, in view of some recent AU peacekeeping successes in Mogadishu. Ethiopia was more confident of international donar support for the TGF of President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. However, as the TFG has less than a year before the end of the transitional period, much remains to be accomplished.

The threat of the Somali al-Shabaab insurgency continues and, although Ethiopia insists its troops will not return to Somalia, any major advance by al-Shabaab could change its calculations. Ethiopia maintains that al-Shabaab is still receiving assistance and weapons from Eritrea, which feels some anger due to the recommendations of the International Crisis Group's September 2010 report stating that Eritrea is in danger of becoming a failed state.

Ethiopia will also be paying close attention to Sudan which has divided itself into two countries. Addis Ababa is comfortable with the south's separation from Northern Sudan but insists that the conditions of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement should be implemented. Relations with the government of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement in the south will have to be balanced against the reality that Ethiopia imports all of its benzene from the north. Addis Ababa does not want to antagonize President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan to the point where he might actively align with Eritrea.

The GTP may be the most ambitious economic program ever enacted by the Ethiopian government. This year (2011) will be crucial for implementing the foundation on a set of goals Meles claims will lead to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 and prepare Ethiopia to become a middle-income country. However, some economists think the plan may not be successful because its underlying assumptions flawed. However, the government may offer land leasing opportunities to countries like China, India and Saudi Arabia which could shore up any unsuspected economic miscalculations.

Ethiopia's latest budget provides for large investments into infrastructure, the primary focus will be the industrial sector, which currently stands at 13% of GDP. Efforts to increase industry will be insufficient for it to surpass agriculture, which accounts for 41% of GDP, as the most profitable sector. Under the GDP the government would like minimum agricultural growth of 8% and 14.9% in the best case scenario. The plan's vision for the metals industry, which recorded 10.2% growth 2009-2010 is annual growth of 20%. Increased industrialization will require more investment, for which the EPRDF will continue to seek from China and/or India.

The plan hopes to increase exports to 10 billion dollars a year within five years from their current level of less than 2 billion dollars annually. In the move toward boosting exports, stimulating increased remittances from abroad and encouraging private sector investment, the National Bank of Ethiopia devalued the birr by nearly 17% on September 1, 2010. The move became urgent due to the government's success in supressing the rate of inflation, which was as high as 64.2% as recently as 2008. Inflation stood at 5.7% by July 2010 and Meles said that the government was targeting annual inflation at no more than 6% over the next five years.

Real GDP growth in 2009-2010 was estimated at 8%, down from the double-digit rate achieved in 2008-2009, but the government remains confident the economy will return to higher growth rates throughout the next five years. Addis Ababa's increased construction is set to continue as is the rapid expansion of regional capitals. Cement and concrete production will also increase as building intensifies. The GTP would like for all the Kebeles (local administrative centers) to be connected with infrastructure (roads/power). Even though this is well into the future, increased connectivity will necessitate more rural development. But rural progress comes at a high price.

The Ethiopian government is forcibly displacing indigenous pastoral communities in its Lower Omo Valley without adequate consultation or compensation to make way for state-run sugar plantations and the construction of Africa's highest dam, the Gibe III hydropower project. The Lower Omo Valley, one of the most remote and culturally diverse areas on the planet, is home to around 200,000 people from eight unique agro-pastoral communities who have lived there since antiquity. Their way of life and their identity is linked to the land and access to the Omo River.


Official Data

Prime Minister

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