CSIS Ethiopia assessment of Meles’ successor read after a year

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By T, De Birhan Media Staffer 
14 August 2012 

Terrence Lyons, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) published a report on June, 2011 titled “Ethiopia: Assessing Risks to Stability”.  The Project commissioned by the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) and part of CSIS study series Stress Testing African States that examined the risks of instability in 10 African countries over the next decade: Angola, Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sudan, and Uganda. sketched out “some potential scenarios for the next 10 years, these efforts should be treated as thought experiments that look at how different dynamics might converge to create the conditions for instability.”

Lyons begins his assessment with three stress points. His two points stress that “Ethiopia in the short to medium term is likely to remain stable but brittle” and the country faces multiple security threats. His second point of stress is the most relevant to this piece. 

The choice of long-term successor  to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is likely to expose tensions within the the ruling EPRDF and its ethnically defined subparties, and exacerbate friction between some of Ethiopia’s volatile regions.  

In the overview section Layons adds “The decision as to who should succeed Prime Minister Meles will be a potential lightening rod for opposition and conflict”.  EPRDF which is led by Meles Zenawi, which Lyons calls “an experienced and shrewd”,  is also described as an ” extraordinarily powerful, effective political party” by the author. 

Intraparty sources of Conflict 

Lyons begins by stating that most most single-party regimes lose power often duet to “crisis over leadership succession”. EPRDF which is in the process of leadership succession, remains “untested” for its ability to cohere “without Meles”, according to the author. His paper further quotes a top official of Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organization (OPDO) as saying,

A high-level OPDO member said that while the Oromo were willing to  bide their time until 2015, if the OPDO doesn’t get the top position, “there will be trouble”. 

Lyons states that although some younger members of the Southern Ethiopian Peoples’ Democratic Movement (SPEDM ) have been promoted to senior leadership positions, such as Hailemariam Dessalgne, the fact that SPEDM is an amalgamation of smaller ethnic parties makes it “unwieldy base from which to control the EPRDF”. Although the author assumes a probable “elite pact” might be brokered to “rotate”  top positions as in Kenya or Nigeria, Lyons also argues that leadership succession is “a difficult process”. 

Lyons says that EPRDF is less likely to be challenged by the opposition forces in the coming two to three years however, it may be shaken and instability may occur due to two scenarios : competition for power within the ruling party/Intraparty splits and convergence of multiple crises. By  the former he means the potential power struggles and rivalries that may come during succession, mainly of the Prime Minister.  Lyons says, 

The question of succession is therefore likely to generate inter-ethnic rivalries, increase cleavages within the ruling coalition, and potentially create significant conflict and protracted uncertainty. Although the EPRDF has remained in power for more than 20 years, it sits atop centrifugal  forces that may erupt in the event of a leadership crisis.

The second scenario of  convergence of multiple crises means if urban disturbances occur in all major cities of Ethiopia simultaneously in addition to intraparty rivalries, border insecurity from neighboring countries and emerging opposition, can be a possible cause of instability and threat to the regime’s existence.

One year since it was written, doesn’t CSIS’ paper come meaningful especially with the “leadership succession” scenario? 

Read the whole paper by clicking Here . 

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