Sunday, 23 September 2012

Hailemariam Dessalegn: A Leader or a Manager?

On the 21st of September 2012, the urgently summoned Ethiopian Parliament appointed Hailemaram Dessalegn as PM and Demeke Mekonnen as Deputy PM. The new premier then  presented his acceptance speech to the Parliament and to the Ethiopian people at large. His speech stood in direct and monotonous defense of his predecessor’s legacy. The overarching logic of the speech was that the late Meles was the more than ideal leader of the century who not only dragged Ethiopia from the brink of disaster and complete collapse but also one who made Ethiopia to be one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The implication of this claim is that Ethiopia could not afford to try a new governance model. One could also spot a lot expressions loaded with emotions that were intended to beautify the main message.
                                                    Mr HaileMariam Dessalegn, Google picture

Based on the speech alone (, it is possible and even interesting to write a long essay, which might help us to better ‘guage’ Hailemariam’s inner world and his intended political trail. But for now, I wanted to focus on a single but important dimension, whether he demonstrates qualities expected from a leader/PM or a manager. Based on my ‘reading’ of his speech, I can safely conclude that Hailemariam possesses qualities that best qualify him as a manager than as a premier.

I identified four major and interrelated reasons why he ‘gaits’ himself more as a manager than a premier. Overall, if he ‘lives’ his speech, Ethiopia will likely continue to be one of the least developed countries in the entire world in terms of human rights, freedom, equality, technology, education, and all other indicators. Here are my reasons why I tag Hailemariam as the manager who by affinity, chance, or necessity takes a leader’s seat.       

One, Hailemariam is, according to his own speech, super concerned with how he gets to implement Meles’ visions and legacy. He said “we will attend to the visions and goals of our great leader, without revision and change”. He enumerated several policies and strategies such as the Growth and Transformation Plan, and other large-scale projects formulated by the previous leadership. His take was that all the policies and strategies are flawless and hence his leadership will strive to ensure effective and efficient implementation, for example by harnessing public participation. To me and perhaps to many people, an inflated focus on implementation and not on vision is a quality expected mainly from a manager and not from a premier.

Two, Hailemariam oriented a lot toward adapting to the already existing socio-economic and political environment. He mentioned and justified what Meles was used to narrate during the last couple of years: the scale of corruption, the quality issue in education, the agriculture versus industry-led growth, and all those nostalgic issues we are familiar with. This is a perfect adaptation to the existing political climate of Ethiopia. As a leader, he was expected to outline at least modest changes such as the unconditional release of political prisoners, the uncensored operation of media, the free expression of speech, the sidelined nature of the opposition and the Diaspora, and many more. Like an average manager, he was clearly preoccupied with ensuring order and the status quo.     

Three, he did not highlight the weaknesses of the government and the governing party and indicated no willingness to learn from weaknesses. He did not mention and learn from: terrible human rights records, skyrocketing prices, exodus of Ethiopians, ethnic conflicts, our borders, and a lot more. Like what managers often do to save their companies, he tended to protect EPRDF and avoid possible risks.

Four, he took it for grants that Meles’ political caliber and personality type is in no match with his own. His speech was full of unreserved judgments of Meles performance and bogus blessings. ”Eternal respect and grace be with the great leader” was perhaps one of his most shameful expressions. In a way, Hailemariam appeared a lot inferior, imitating, confidenceless, hesitant, anxious, and bewildered. This might be part of the reason why he preferred to profess more on implementation and adaptation than on vision and change. 


  1. Dear Dr. Teklu,
    Thanks for your thought provoking insights. Whether it is out of false modesty or otherwise, Hailemariam (indirectly)ridiculed himself in trying to glorify the late PM. That's of course a shame.
    On the other hand, did he have the real option to propose alternative courses of actions to those laid down by the late PM? I doubt whether the current political landscape allows him to propose sweeping political and economic reforms as you suggested. The entire political 'infrastructure' has been built up around one and only one person for the last two decades. Unless he wants to bump himself to the well entrenched political elite, what options did he have except glorifying the late PM and parroting him? Any otherwise attempt runs the risk of a protracted internal political strife which, I suppose, won't benefit country at this critical moment.
    Should we thus sympathize with him? That's tricky. If he really was testing the waters by 'parroting the late PM', that may be considered a strategic move with long-term benefits if, of course, he switches gear once he 'asserts power'. Otherwise, democracy, rule of law, and human rights would be off the table for another quarter of a century or so.

    1. This is a wonderfull take, Fitsum. Yes, there is a dilemma: either to declare and pursue change or to go the usual go. For me, the prime task of a premier should be conquering a new territory- i.e. shaping or tamming the rather restricting and barbaric political apparatus. The new premier must try this smartly despite challenges and even risks. If he prefers the status quo to desired change, he is much like a lame duck which finds itself in a large river.

  2. Some people might be doers, have to factor this fact. Would be nice if he engaged the community more so to understand his vision.


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