Takeaways from PM Hailemariam’s new cabinet appointments

Hailemariam Desalegn formed a new government this week after being re-elected as Prime Minister by a parliament controlled by his party, EPRDF, and allies.

In his new cabinet, the three deputy Prime Ministers kept their respective portfolio: Demeke Mekonnen, deputy Prime Minister and Social Cluster Coordinator, Debretsion Gebremichael (PhD) – deputy Prime Minister for Finance and Economic Cluster, and Aster Mamo – deputy Prime Minister for Good Governance and Reform Cluster.

Demeke Mekonen is also head of the EPRDF secretariat as of mid-2013 and likely to keep that post. Debretsion Gebremichael doubles as Minister of Communication and Information Technology, as he has been for more than a decade. Whereas Aster Mamo is Minister of Public Service and Human Resource Development, a position she assumed in April 2014 when she became dep. PM and the Ministry used to be called Civil Service.

Hailemariam also left the prominent Ministries mostly intact.Photo - PM Hailemariam's new cabinet taking oath

Tedros Adhanom (PhD) is still the Minister of Foreign Affairs, while Siraj Fegesa kept his job as Defense Minister. Similarly, Dr Keseteberhan Admasu and Shiferaw Shigute remained as Minister of Health and Minister of Education, respectively.

Tefera Derbew also kept his decade long position as chief of the nation’s agricultural development. His office, now renamed Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resource Development, is still among the wealthiest Ministries. However, the livestock section of his Ministry, along one third of his annual budget, is now assigned to another Ministry. Sileshi Getahun, who has been State Minister of Agriculture for the last decade, is appointed to the newly formed Ministry of Livestock and Fish Resources.

Kassa Tekleberhan, Speaker of the House of Federation, who replaced Bereket Simon in the EPRDF executive committee last month, is now appointed Minister of Federal Affairs and Pastoralist Area Development. The “pastoralist” part of the name was apparently added merely to emphasize an existing mandate of the powerful Ministry, established in the early 2000s when the ruling party started leaning to the right.

The Ministry is an equivalent of a “ministry of interior “supervising regional governments (especially the peripheral ones) and religious organizations. On which part of the mandate that the outgoing minister Shiferaw Tekelemariam (PhD) underperformed is not clear. Though Sheferaw has been in charge since 2008, he became a household name in connection with the Muslim protest movements.

However, he was also criticised of being soft on the sects of Orthodox and Protestant Christians. If the later was a factor in his eviction, the new minister Kassa Tekleberhan, who (used to) subscribe to the earliest form of EPRDF’s Marxist thoughts, might fare better. It is worth noting that Shiferaw, who belongs to Hailemariam’s home party SEPDM/EPRDF, was demoted from the top circle of the party leadership last August. His new appointment is to the newly-established Ministry of Environment, Forest Development and Climate Change.

The most eye-catching appointment must be that of Abdulaziz Mohammed, the vice president of Oromia state, as Minister of Finance and Economic Cooperation – which just got the last part of its name changed from “development”. Abdulaziz Mohammed, who studied Agro-economics in Haromaya University while leading the Eastern Hararge Zone of Oromia, is a risk-averse and decision-by-committee kind of person. That personality trait partly explains his fast rise in power in the last seven years: 2007 – Mayor of Dire Dawa, 2010 – executive committee member of EPRDF and first v/President and Head of Industry & Urban Development Bureau of Oromia.

Unlike his predecessor Sufian Ahmed, whose long-tenure as well as Meles Zenawi’s backing emboldened him to reject incessant requests for supplementary budget from line ministries; Abdulaziz Mohammed is likely to refer matters to the Prime minister’s office.

The same will be the case with Alemayehu Tegenu, who just left his decade-long Minister of Energy position, the newly appointed Minister of Cabinet Affairs. Alemayehu, who left EPRDF council last month, is unlikely to be assertive on ministers, as his predecessors used to do. Perhaps Hailemariam wants it that way. Unlike in the past, when the Minister of Cabinet and head of the PM office was held by a senior official of a sister party; for the last three years a low-profile official from Hailemariam’s home party, Debebe Abera, held the position. Now, its split into two further weakens the position: with Alemayehu taking the Cabinet affairs and Debebe poised to continue as office head.

The relocation of Redwan Hussien from his two-year long position as head of Government Communication Affairs Office (GCAO) similarly appears to be more about Hailemariam’s preference than much else. His successor Getachew Reda, graduate of the law schools of Addis Ababa University and Alabama University, has been promoted three times in the three years of Hailemariam’s premiership. Getachew Reda was first appointed as Press and Publicity State Minister at the Office of the Prime Minister in January 2013. Following complaints that his position conflicted with GCAO’s mandate, his title was changed to Special Assistant to the Prime Minister. In mid-2015, he got elected to the parliament as well as his home party TPLF/EPRDF for the first time.

Getachew Reda‘s appointment, as head of Government Communication Affairs Office (GCAO) with a rank of a Minister, got positive reviews even from some opposition commenters and members of the media. Partly due to his frequent appearance on VOA, even in the years when Bereket Simon embargoed appearance on that radio. His willingness to give quick remarks on a still-developing news story is also rare among EPRDF officials. Yet, it would be hasty to assume that his personal trait can translate into the government’s approach to the media. His new appointment as GCAO’s head, however, is consistent with his pre-2013 job as Director-General of the Public Diplomacy and Communications at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where he used to produce the Ministry’s weekly bulletin A Week in the Horn.

Redwan Hussien was among the new generation officials promoted on Meles Zenawi’s watch. He was promoted to the top circle of EPRDF and Head of Addis Ababa EPRDF office in 2008, then head of EPRDF secretariat in 2010 with the rank of Minister (officially titled PM Adviser of Public Mobilization & Participation). Redwan was relocated to GCAO in mid-2013, when Dep. PM Demeke Mekonen took charge of the Secretariat. His latest office, the newly-established Ministry of Youth and Sports, is seen as peripheral. But then, its budget is not much different from GCAO. In fact, GCAO is only as important as the proximity of its head to the Prime Minister. If Redwan’s relation with the PM has deteriorated, then he might be better off staying at a relatively distant Ministry until 2020, when Hailemariam might leave as per the new two term limits of the party.

Zenebu Tadesse, known in the international media for her controversial pro-gay tweet secured re-appointment to her post. Yet, her office is reestablished as Ministry of Women and Children, since the youth and sports sections went to a newly-established ministry.

The rest of second-tier and third-tier Ministries got the following appointments: Getachew Ambaye – Minister of Justice, Ahmed Abitew – Minister of Industry, Yacob Yala – Minister of Trade, Workneh Gebeyehu – Minister of Transport, Mekuria Haile – Minister of Urban Development and Housing, Ambachew Mekonnen (PhD) – Minister of Construction, Motuma Mekasa– Minister of Water, Irrigation and Electricity, Tolosa Shagi– Minister of Mines, Petroleum and Natural Gas, Abiy Ahmed – Minister of Science and Technology, Aisha Mohammed– Minister of Culture andTourism, Demitu Hambisa– Minister of State Enterprises, and Abdulfetah Abdulahi– Minister of Labor and Social Affairs.


* We will provide more data and commentaries in the coming week. For now, you may read the 2010 post ” Ethiopia – Who’s Who in the New Cabinet?” and the 2013 post Notes on PM Hailemariam’s Cabinet reshuffle

Daniel Berhane

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