Ethiopia after Meles Zenawi: From Uncertainty to Renewal or “Dead Certainty” that an Era has Ended?

By Morten Bøås
December 13, 2012

About The author
Morten Bøås, PhD, is a senior researcher at Fafo’s Institute for Applied International Studies. He has written extensively on African politics and development. His work has appeared in a number of leading international journals, including Journal of Modern African Studies , Politique Africaine , Third World Quarterly , Global Governance , and Journal of Intervention and State building. He has also published a number of books, including the much-cited African Guerrillas: Raging against the Machine (Lynne Rienner, 2007), co-edited with Kevin Dunn, and The Politics of Origin in Africa (Zed Books, forthcoming), co-authored with Dunn.

Meles Zenawi’s death marks the end of an era, and the question is therefore how the regime will deal with the resultant uncertainty. The Meles legacy will be debated for years, but certain things cannot be denied. Meles was not only integral in rebuilding Ethiopia’s political system, but his era was also one of unprecedented economic growth. The state that Meles built has real institutional capacity, but his legacy is also clearly one of a democratic deficit in terms of individual political liberties.

There is currently both a new and an old generation of leadership that will have to steer the state in the immediate post-Meles era. However, any changes to the system will have to come from within the regime, as the opposition is too weak and fragmented to play a driving role in the short to medium term.

The new leadership will likely not substantially change Meles’s approach to foreign policy; the question is whether its members can run the country’s foreign policy with the same authority and credibility as Meles. The new leadership will have to pay attention to a number of difficult relationships that Meles monitored very closely, including those with Somalia and Kenya and the two Sudans, and the troubled relationship with Eritrea.

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