Hailemariam: Zenawi’s Doppleganger?

Hailemariam: Zenawi’s Doppleganger?

By Kaleb

It was in May 2011, at a World Economic Forum meet at the beautiful South African coastal city of Cape Town. The WEF, the biggest not-for-profit foundation to come out of Switzerland, has just

decided to host their 2012 meet on Africa in Addis Ababa. Many well-wishers lauded the decision as it will undoubtedly shed a positive light on the country’s battered image. The then newly minted Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Ethiopia, Hailemariam Desalegn, was at hand to receive the baton from South Africa.At a press conference organized at the conclusion of the May 4-6 event, Hailemariam was on the stage to do the customary ritual of gloating at the opportunity to host such a prestigious forum and to preview what agendas will prevail in the meeting which was a year away. The Economist Group journalist was willing to ask that pesky question of whether the event will allow opposition leaders, human right groups, and journalists that are critical of the government in matters of political and economic administration. He has a reason. Two years prior, in 2009, the Economist Group has had to cancel a well-publicized international investment event at the last hour only because the Ethiopian government was adamant in its insistence not to invite the political opposition to air their alternative opinion in matters of the country’s economic and investment policies. Hailemariam was initially conciliatory in his answer. He did say if the franchise so deems it necessary that some opposition parties could be invited. The journalist wanting a much clearer answer asked him which opposition parties could be invited. Hailemariam was brisk in his answer to put it mildly. He accused the prodemocracy opposition operating in the capital of receiving funds from non-other than Al Qaeda . ‘This is absurd’ was the reporter’s measure of Hailemariam’s accusation in the final news published on the media group’s signature magazine’s website. 

He has done several one and one interviews with local and international journalists. Almost all encounters are filled with various degrees of gaffes delivered in amazing level of certitude and confidence.

Between then and now, a lot has changed. Hailemariam has now become the Prime Minister of the country in the most improbable of political ascent in the country’s recent history.

The whole nation haven’t had the chance to hear from its recently selected Prime Minister except for a couple of highly choreographed and by some accounts awkward speeches and parliamentary political shows. It was in this background that the Qatar based Aljazeera announced that Hailemariam will be the guest of its signature Q & A program Talk to Aljazeera . In the middle of the week a less than one minute teaser video of Hailemariam declaring with gusto that he will fly to Asmara immediately to negotiate with Isaias Afeworki is released. The famously stubborn Isaias has been unwilling to get into any form of negotiation prior to the actual demarcation of the border. The broadcaster’s featuring of the teaser as a new breakthrough was misleading equally perplexing was Hailemariam’s fervency in his declaration.

Almost the whole 25 minute was a show of Hailemariam trying hard to copycat his predecessor in style and line of reasoning. The interview was replete with accusation of the political opposition of terrorism, gloating over the ever disputed double digit economic growth claim, sullying the ever stronger Ethiopian Muslim’s peaceful movement, extoling the virtues of his predecessor, and brazenly declaring that he would fly to Asmara for negotiation if Isaias is willing to accept him as if Ethiopia’s demand for negotiation hasn’t been the major stumbling block for more than a decade now. Hailemariam even obliged to call Isaias Afeworki various names.

Hailemariam has made a few other jaw-dropping outright denials which amounts to a whopper. He has contemptuously belittled the surge of Muslim civil resistance in the country as a bunch of extremists who want to install a religious order in a diverse and secular Ethiopia. His characterization belies the numerous news bulletins the same broadcaster has run over the course of several months often supported by current video footage from Addis Ababa and other regional towns in the country.
Asked about the refusal of the Ethiopian government to send the national football team for a scheduled qualifier game in Asmara, the Prime Minister declared that he has no knowledge of the refusal to meet in Asmara. The news was carried by several international news distributors two days prior . His lack of knowledge on such cardinal issues in government decisions reinforces the long held perception that he is only a political lightweight doing the biddings of the powerful TPLF faction.

Most of his replies to the recurrent question of poverty, land grab, emigration into Yemen via often times deadly routes were a recycle from Meles’ former answers-the three Ds rule. Deny, demagogue, and decry.

His predecessor was adroit at getting out of interviews such as this one usually intact thanks to his shrewd political prowess and his potential to for brute political dishonesty. As seen in several of his previous interviews, Meles would make some tactical admissions in the country’s challenges and policy failures. Hailemariam was a different breed. His certitude and smugness was astounding. The journalist’s disbelief was palpable in his evident lack of depth and poor command of English.

A lot of his arguments were simple workaday talks. His defence lacks political nuances and a good deal of them were delivered in what can be classified as rude and unbecoming tone. In one particular instance he used ‘whatever-whatever’ as a filler reminiscent of an adolescent teen refusing to toe her parents’ line.

Overall the interview didn’t tell us anything new in terms of changes in how the country is governed. Hailemariam is absolutely sure of himself and he is not even willing to acknowledge a single misstep and hint any possible changes in policy or style of governance. The grumble on the social media and the news coming out of the country paints a starkly different picture.

Runaway inflation, starvation, growing repression, rising unemployment, rapidly rising population, growing younger demographic, religious tension, ethnic mistrust, and internal power struggle with in the EPRDF coalition are some of the recurring news coming out of Ethiopia these days. These informations do not sit well with Hailemariam’s characterization of growingly fair and tolerant Ethiopia.



Posted on December 12, 2012, in News, Politics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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