Minister Junedine Sado is on his way out, becoming the first Minister to be sacked in post-Meles Ethiopia.
Junedine’s departure was a foregone conclusion by early August, when he challenged the party position in an op-ed published in a private press: One of the gravest offences in the eyes of his colleagues. But his case became a hot talking-point in Addis Ababa streets in the last two weeks, following his demotion from the leadership of OPDO, the Oromiya region wing of EPRDF, and after rumors indicating a possible legal action surfaced. Junedine’s
The public reaction was mixed.
The news that Junedine’s involvement in a construction of a Mosque using Saudi finance has gotten him chastised was welcomed by those who deem the matter long overdue. Actual or perceived impartiality of officials is often blamed, by one or another grouping, for the mishandlings of local religious issues, ranging from rituals to land allocations.
Yet, Junedine’s saga has also aspects that invoke sympathy in the average Ethiopian. For one, our heart goes, often than not, to the one on the losing end. Plus, he made a public appeal, in a humble op-ed, days after the private press reported his wife’s detention.
Junedine’s confirmed the detention, indicating further that it was minutes after she was left the Saudi Arabia Embassy with 50,000 Birr and 500 copies of the Holy Quran. He denied any wrongdoing as the cash was destined to a Mosque, recently built on his mother’s land, in Arsi zone, with funds from the Embassy. Junedine argued, he had no option but turn to the Embassy, as the Mosque was the last wish of his deceased mother, underlining that all his dealings were made in his private capacity rather than as a Minister of Civil Service.
Some commenters are sympathetic to Junedine for reasons other than seeing him as a man who had his wife detained while trying to fulfill his mother’s wish. They saw Junedine as a victim of some other conspiracy, as it seemed improbable a senior EPRDF official would be demoted for a single, apparently harmless trespass.
Indeed, presumably, several variables, individually or in combination, impacted Junedine’s case at the different stages.
Granted, in EPRDF’s Gimegema (meetings of performance appraisal) proceedings, a single misconduct by itself doesn’t usually entail a severe disciplinary measure. In fact, almost all the time, every participant of the Gimgema is admonished on several counts – underperformance, misdeeds and attitudinal tendencies. As a political meeting, not a court, most of the claims are bound to be mere allegations. Still, the concerned person is expected to concede if the allegations are seconded by several members. Failing that, in and by itself, would be deemed as misconduct – ‘unwillingness to take criticism’. Not to forget the rest members who would deem conformity to the group mandatory. The Mosque case, then, would be what the EPRDFite call a ‘concrete demonstration’ (megelecha) of Junedine’s problems: A concrete case of misconduct that also reflects the individual’s political unfitness.
In his op-ed, Junedine told us he declined to the demand to apologize. Though he didn’t provide details, he could only be talking about a self-criticism in EPRDF and OPDO leadership meetings, which would be reported to the two-yearly party congress scheduled for later this year.
Why would he refuse to make a self-criticism as he probably had done hundreds times in other cases, even when he didn’t fully believe in it? The existence of procedural and political flaws, big or small, in his handling of the Mosque is hard to deny. While self-criticism is all most guaranteed to save himself and his wife from severe repercussions?
Did he feel cornered, unfairly treated, thus acted emotionally? A probable but unconvincing explanation for a politician of his stature. Or, did he feel uncomfortable to play along with the bigger political action that probably unfolds soon – for which his case would be cited as a precedent?
We shall note, EPRDF’s gimgema forums usually emphasis on a theme deemed ‘the primary challenge of the system’. Currently, the Muslim protesters’ issue tops the agenda, especially in OPDO who governs a region with the largest Muslim population and the spot of a few fatal clashes in this year.
And, Junedine’s case, on the other hand, even to the extent he publicly admitted, embodies issues that partly triggered the current Muslim protests.
In the past few years, the government has been pushing the dominant religions to closely monitor affiliated activities. A religious activity has either to be independently registered with the government or under one of the existing religious institutions. A move resented by some – especially in the Orthodox Christianity and Muslim communities – as their activities were put at the mercy of the bureaucracy of religious leaderships whom they see as inefficient and political. Again, the government has been bent on limiting the influence of foreign finance on local organizations. It is a public knowledge that Saudi finance was one of the rationales behind the 2009 CSO and NGO legislation.
Junedine’s conduct stands in contradiction. In fact, one may ask, why didn’t Junedine save himself of the trouble of building and managing a Mosque by engaging the Majlis(Ethiopian slamic Affairs Supreme Council)? Was he or the Embassy unwilling to go through the Majlis? As his wife went to the Embassy even after the inauguration of the Mosque, when was he planning to transfer it to the Majlis? Was the later even made aware of the construction of the Mosque and about the Imam in charge of the rituals there? Does this imply Junedine’s position regarding the government’s recent religious policy? Many questions, few answers.
For all we know, Junedine might have acted recklessly and his failure to formalize his dealings might be mere case of corruption, though he strongly denied any misappropriation. It is probable personal rivalries might have compounded his case. Yet, his refusal to make a self-criticism rather challenge the party’s position in public could not be explained by mere emotionality due to his wife’s detention. In fact, he is not the first Minister to read his wife’s detention on a newspaper.
Perhaps, Junedine foresaw he was to be made example of – to assert the government’s resolve to push through its current policy. The party might soon start warning and purging lower officials, on similar grounds, saying ‘we didn’t even spare Minister Junedine’.
It appears he had the option to play along, hoping for a political rehabilitation. Somehow, he decided otherwise.
Note: (This article was written on the first week of Oct. 15, 2012, but delayed for a completely unrelated reason).
Subsequently, on Oct. 21, Indian Ocean Newsletter reported that Junedine was prevented from boarding an international flight (see here). However, according to unofficial sources, he travelled shortly after to a South-East Asian country for medical treatments. It is not clear if he has returned yet.
Recently, the Amharic bi-weekly, Ethiopian Reporter, claimed recently, citing unnamed sources, that a motion to remove his legal immunity will soon be presented for Parliamentary approval, .
Junedine’s dismissal from his post as Minister became official on November 29, when PM Hailemariam appointed a new Minister of Civil Service.
On the other hand, Federal government prosecutors filed charges against Junedine’s wife, alongside 20plus individuals and organizations, on allegations of terrorism related crimes. (You can read full text of the charges here – [Amharic])
Please check the archives for more on the issues raised above.
* This article is published as part of the “Post-Meles 2012″ Special Edition of this blog.