ADDIS ABABA (Bikyamsr): Despite a certain level of optimism in Ethiopia after Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced a new “unity” government that includes a more ethnically diverse Cabinet, many in Ethiopia are questioning if it is just lip service to the people and more of the same political machinations that marked the previous two decades of dictatorship in the country.
“I don’t know if this is going to be anything more than a few new faces to mask the same policies that have kept us poor for too long,” an Addis Ababa shopkeeper told Bikyamasr.com on Sunday. “I want change, but is this going to be it?”
Desalegn appointed two new deputies to his government in a power-sharing move between the country’s four ethnic-based parties in the ruling coalition government.
Desalegn’s party holds the lion’s share of seats in parliament, which has many wondering if the change will only be window dressing on the political scene.
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 on Sunday in the capital.
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,” he was quoted by Bloomberg news agency as saying.
Since Desalegn became prime minister following the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on August 20, many Ethiopians have hoped that the country would witness a newfound political future that would change the status quo of governance and lead to more representational democracy.
To date, many Ethiopians are still waiting.
There is a growing debate over the future of Ethiopia’s political situation, with many calling for dramatic changes to the current status quo of absolute power by the ruling party.
In September, leading Ethiopian political thinker and professor Alemayehu G. Mariam said the time is now for Ethiopia to have “radical improvements” in its social and political climate following the death of Zenawi.
“I say today is the perfect time for all Ethiopians to bury the hatchet of ethnic division, religious sectarianism, regional conflict and human rights violations,” Mariam wrote in an opinion article. “It is the perfect time to shake hands, embrace each other and get our noses to the grindstone to build a new democratic Ethiopia where the rule of law is upheld and human rights and democratic institutions respected.”
He argued that the situation facing Ethiopia does not need to be a painful process of change and that the new leadership should learn from the past two decades and its impact on the people.
“Today, not tomorrow, is the best time to put an end to historic hatreds and resentments and open a new chapter in Ethiopia’s history. Today is the best time to unchain ourselves from the burdens of the past, close the wounds that have festered for generations and declare to future generations that we will no longer be prisoners of resentments of the past,” the professor argued.
There is a tentative hope that democracy and human rights can be part of the transition away from authoritarian rule.
Still, many experts have pointed to the reality that Ethiopia is unlikely to see democracy or a change in the status quo, despite the two decades rule of Zenawi coming to an end.
For a university student group made up of Christians and Muslims, which they have dubbed themselves “Concerned Ethiopian Students” they are hopeful that the change can be made for the better.
“We have long face this kind of attack from the government if we speak out, so we really want to see democratic change in Ethiopia because it will mean a better country for all,” the group told Bikyamasr.com.
“Ethiopia deserves a country that is not ruled by one person, but a place where citizens and the people have a say in our future.”