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Ezana Sehay 5/12/2018


The MO Ibrahim Foundation which among other things, recognizes and rewards African statesman/stateswoman who demonstrates exemplary leadership, is expected to announce its nominee for its 2018 award. Since its inception, the foundation has had difficulty finding suitable candidates [there were only five recipients in a decade] – That says a lot about the state of African governance, doesn’t it?

Fortunately, this time around there is someone who fits the statutes of the foundation and meets all the criterion it values in a prize-worthy leader: the former prime minister of Ethiopia, the Honorable Hailemariam Desalegn [PMHD].

Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s self-assured transition from academic to public service and in to the highest power in the nation are compelling evidence that there is more to the man than his famous infectious smile. Any one still saying other wise is delusional.

It is often said that politics wrought in the usually humble Hailemariam a personality, style, and stature. During his six-year tenure as a leader of his party and the country, he has demonstrated that he is a man of passionate views and courage.

Shortly after assuming power, Prime Minister Hailemariam had a sit-in with Ben of Ben began the interview by asking him “how it feels to step in to the foot” of his predecessor [PM Meles]. Mr. Hailemariam was gracious in his response… As grand as Meles’s achievements are -  he has no intention of replicating them. In other words, he intends to leave his own legacy. Since then we have been wondering what that legacy would be.

PMHD’s reign has been a time of promises and challenges. For six years slowly, imperfectly, and courageously, the man – unsung and unacknowledged – did lead his country in a way that appreciably improved the lives of citizens and brought honor to the nation. Most of the time he succeeded, sometimes he didn’t… But the man never feared failure. Because for him, it’s one thing for a leader to aspire high and fail, it’s another for a leader to aim low and succeed.

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In the diplomatic front, PMHD has continued where his predecessor left off… Has honorably represented his country and the continent at various global stages. Ethiopia under PMH has maintained regional security in congruent with its own, thus becoming a trusted friend which can be relied on.

At home, despite some structural problems and a stew of unrest in some parts of the country in the last two years, the economy had continued its remarkable expansion unabated. Notwithstanding the success in the diplomatic and economic arena; the political eco-system has been challenging to say the least. Although he led his party to a land-slide victory in the 2015 general election, PMH was cognisant of the inherent problems of corruption, rent-seeking, and regionalism, associated with his government. He stressed that deep and significant changes are indispensable for the survival of the party. He went on to say, the economic growth, peace and stability can only be maintained by a firm expression of political will to change as to heed the public demand.

Soon after he has taken a flurry of initiatives aimed at tackling those problems. But he has also burned through too much political capital on interparty fights which threatened the peace and stability of the country – eventually led to his departure.  

One of the distinguishing characteristics of PMH is that he is a consensus-seeker.  Some consider that as an asset other see it a liability. Sadly, the later has been found to be right; rule by consensus has been proven to be an exercise in political futility, especially with in the toxic EPRDF political situation. To make matters worse, the party has become too consumed with its own civil-war, to focus on the bigger picture, thus paralyzing the premier’s effort at addressing national issues.

Over time, those attitudes undermined support for the government beyond its core group of backers who share at least some of the party’s take on how to conduct it self in power. But great concern was/still is the corrosive effect of those attitudes have had on citizen’s confidence in the government and the institutions.

Nevertheless, PMH has remained popular through out – more popular than the party or government he led. And why not? The man has had an array of consequential achievements. But that wasn’t good enough for the good-natured Hailemariam. He couldn’t bear to see his party self destruct and the prevailing chaos in parts of the country. 

Of course, his first choice was to fix the party and find a remedy to what ails the national social eco-system. Thanks to a lack of support and cooperation from his comrades, he couldn’t do it. So, he took the next best [unprecedented] step, made himself the sacrificial lamb, so to speak. As he put it eloquently, “to be part of the solution”, he stepped aside to clear the way for someone else to step in and give him/her a chance to extricate the nation out of the toxic political swamp.

The decision made by PMH to resign should be seen as emblematic of plain but rare sanity. Power is addictive, and few are the number who either seek or find release from its insidious charm. It ruthlessly flatters the needful ego of many who pursue it with toxic efficiency.

They say, the soul which enters politics shrinks overtime. Politics exerts an ever-accumulating weight on those who practice it with honor, and there comes a moment in even the most promising career when the demands and compromises innate to its transactions overwhelm; or threaten to overwhelm, the principles of those who have embraced it. The wise few foresee that moment, when they pivot from ideology to practice, when the trades and concessions undermine the very objective they were engaged in to achieve. And having foreseen it, leave when it threatens to arrive.

If anything, history tells us that, too much time in office breeds a sense of ownership, insinuates a lotus sense of self-complacency, and a viral furry or arrogance. Nothing bloats the ego like being in charge, and nothing dulls one’s judgment or inflames contempt for the judgment of others as being in charge too long.

There fore, the politician who seeds power in a timely manner, under the sway of his own judgment, un impelled by the scorn weary voters and not shamed in to flight from scandals of his own devious devising or careless stewardship, is there fore a phoenix of his kind. Mr. Hailemariam belongs in that contracted circle.

PMH’s abrupt decisive farewell to the game points to him as one who didn’t confuse political success with operations of fate, or a charming understanding of his perfect indispensability to the Ethiopian people.

Furthermore, when a politician is successful, it takes courage to leave politics than to stay on. PMH’s voluntary departure is an instance of that sane brand of underrated courage.

As a national and party leader, Mr. Hailemariam was a necessary element of balance. It is a good thing for a country whose political leaders bath too frequently in sectarian politics, that there was one who didn’t take to those delectable waters. When ever there is a soft aura of agreeable thoughts on matters of national issues, it is imperative that there be a responsible dissenter at hand to irritate the lazy dogmas of the time, to add a little grit to the smooth sanctimonies of the politics of platitude. Such is the retired prime minister.

PMHD had the courage [and it takes courage] to defy the approved sanctities, none more so than the dogma of EPRDF non-transparency in the name of “democratic centralism” … And exposed the party’s internal squabbles which threatened national security.

More importantly, time and again, he gave evidence that he did not need, and surely did not seek, that esteem and well come of all “right-thinking people” in the political or press establishments.

His connection with the people, and his ready intuition of how people in less rarefied atmosphere work and live, gave real anchor to his judgment of ideas and the policies that flow from them. He knew well the ground on which ordinary people actually walk and had the instinctive determination to prioritize their views, apprehensions, and day-to-day concerns. Thus proving, that he wasn’t in politics for status, but service.

Finally, Mr. Prime Minister! During your tenure you have demonstrated humility, generosity, and wisdom. You have brought honor to your country, pride to your family and sense of achievement to your life. No one can ask for more.



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