Bloomberg News

Ethiopian Prime Minister Changes Cabinet to Give Ethnic Balance

November 29, 2012

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn appointed two new deputy premiers to share the leadership of the government between the four ethnic-based parties of the Horn of Africa nation’s ruling coalition.

The second and third deputies are Muktar Kedir, a former adviser to the prime minister and leading member of the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization, and Information Technology Minister Debretsion Gebremichael, who is also deputy chairman of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, Hailemariam told lawmakers today in the capital, Addis Ababa. Demeke Mekonnen, the education minister and leader of the Amhara National Democratic Movement, was appointed as a deputy prime minister in September.

The appointments reflect a balancing act within the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, said Jason Mosley, associate fellow of the Africa program at London-based Chatham House. “They’ve now got all four parties represented within the prime minister and deputy prime minister slots.”

Hailemariam leads a multi-ethnic bloc from southern Ethiopia in the ruling party. He was appointed prime minister in September following the death of former Premier Meles Zenawi on Aug. 20.

Ethiopia, the continent’s second-most populous nation, is a key U.S. ally in its battle against al-Qaeda in the region. Ethiopian troops in December invaded Somalia for the second time in four years to join the battle against al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda’s Somalia affiliate.

Meles, an ethnic Tigray who ruled Ethiopia for 21 years after leading a victorious rebel movement and who oversaw one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies, died from an infection contracted while he was recovering from an undisclosed illness.

‘Awkward Phase’

Today’s changes confirm that the EPRDF is in an “awkward phase” as it tries to “rule by committee” and replace a leadership dominated by revolutionary fighters, Mosley said in an e-mailed response to questions today.

“Hailemariam is not in a position to centralise power, whatever his personal inclinations might be,” he said.

Among other changes, Tedros Adhanom, the former health minister and a member of the TPLF’s politburo, was appointed foreign minister, Hailemariam said.

Debretsion, whose ministry oversees the state-owned Ethio Telecom monopoly and who is also chairman of the board of Ethiopia Electric Power Corp., will coordinate the economy as a deputy prime minister, Hailemariam said.

Muktar’s portfolio as deputy will be governance and he also will become civil service minister, replacing Junedin Sado, whose wife is being tried on terrorism charges.

Tedros is succeeded at the Health Ministry by former state minister Kesete Birhan, Hailemariam said. Tedros was given the 2011 Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Humanitarian Award for his leadership of Ethiopia’s health program. His strategies helped to reduce the mortality rate for under-5s by 28 percent in the past five years, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

To contact the reporter on this story: William Davison in Addis Ababa at wdavison3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at asguazzin@bloomberg.net


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