Thursday, 6 September 2012

The Church and the State: Signs and Seals

Following the deaths of the late Patriarch Abune Paulos and PM Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia finds itself at a crossroads. Ethiopians are eager to know what trajectory their country is likely to take. Unfortunately, a lot secrecy surrounds with regard to leadership succession and power transfer, and hence, it seems difficult to confidently make a sensible analysis. But there are some signs and 'seals' both at the church and State levels that grossly point to a degree of optimism and skepticism, respectively, in the future. Comparatively, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church (EOTC) seems in a pretty better shape so far and seems more resilient than the State. This post analyzes the implications the signs and the seals have on Ethiopian society.  

The State
                                            Map of Ethiopia, Google picture

The only certain development (seal) at the State level is the absence of unity and strength. This is why we do not still have a PM. Hailemariam Dessalegn was, following a decision made by the Council of Ministers, briefly introduced as acting PM by Government Communications Office and the media until the burial ceremony of the late PM. The event made it clear that Hailemaiam is just Deputy PM and Minister of Foreign Affairs. What was funny was that some foreign diplomats such as Susan Rice of the US addressed him as acting PM whereas government people used his official (previous) title. This conflict of interest could perhaps be considered a major public relations disaster for the government, and for the Communications Office particularly. 

Then came the Executive Council meeting of EPRDF, from which the public expected the news that would confirm the nomination of Hailemariam as PM. That did not materialize either. We have learnt that the issue is postponed until the first week of September, when the General Council (ምክር ቤት) of EPRDF convenes following Ethiopian new year- 2005. So, who is leading the country now, the president, the Deputy PM, or the seven gentlemen who formed a committee of a certain kind? No one but the ones at the national palace knows for sure.  

Why does the nomination of a PM take this long? What is the implication of not having one at the front seat? As to the first one, it could not be simply because of the presence of strong collective leadership in the EPRDF although the party has already left a clue in support of that assertion. Even in the presence of a powerful collective leadership, a leader's role is decisive, at least from efficiency and image perspective. The only plausible reason seems rather the fierce fight among EPRDF parties and individuals to claim the top position. This explanation seems hard to rule out for now.

The implication is that the current state of EPRDF seems more fragile than before. That the late Meles was the master mind behind nearly all grand policy initiatives and projects testifies to the fact that the governing party will no longer be any strong. And this should lead to some kind of consensus in the government to mediate and finally work with the opposition. In order for this scenario to happen, there must first come a promising and compelling coalition from the opposition camp, which we do not see so far. It seems opposition politicians simply wait until they get a letter of invitation from Arat Killo. But am not denying the subtle efforts being made by some political groups and individuals. Their struggle seems so insignificant that it could not be felt by the public. We do not yet see strong leadership capability both from the governing party and the opposition camp.      

Despite that, there are some signs that seem to convey the intention of the government, that Hailemariam could still be the favorite figure for the vacant post. That Hailemariam addressed Ethiopians last Tuesday on national TV partly testifies to this. His speech was, to start with, different from what we are used to. He addressed nearly all segments of society, from young to the elderly, male and female, intellectuals and farmers, Diaspora and street children and others. It seems that he considered himself as part or head of the new leadership, who would be assisted by the old one. 

One could pick several points from his speech. One, he sells the message that he is as accommodating as needed, by merely calling upon all classes of society. Although one could argue that it is inefficient to address people by referring to their classes, I found it interesting and shows to me that the person could be genuine enough when it comes to dealing with the various portions of the population. This is some change in and by itself as we did not hear this from his predecessor, at least. Two, he is claiming that all the people who attended Meles' funeral are enthusiastic supporters of the government. This conclusion is baseless and illogical. It was much better for him to communicate the message that the government is thankful to what the people did that time. 

Three, he appears change phobic in that he promised to continue all what Meles has left behind. But there was no context to this talk- what does "we will implement all the great initiatives of Meles" mean? Does that refer to all policies and reforms made before? Will he continue having a heavy hand on the opposition, for instance? Will he continue putting media people into prisons? Does that mean he will 'save' the government's terrible human rights records? Does he afford to sell our fertile lands to foreigners in no price? We need to be sympathetic to him however: he has not yet officially assumed the position and could not technically declare change at that very first speech. I do not think that he affords to be a PM who just executes what was put on table by his predecessor. 

Four, he warns that the government has zero tolerance and ample might for those who try to abort or retard the development initiatives. This was patriotic enough and was communicated in just a single sentence. 

In conclusion, a lot issues remain unresolved and unknown. We do not yet know enough about Hailemariam and he needs to be given the opportunity before we judge his political caliber and trajectory. The positions and daily operations of the government are not clearly known either. There is a general but felt sense of skepticism, from the public, when it comes to positively exploiting the opportunity available at the State level. But as to the church, there are promising developments that require further nourishing.   

The Church

                                  The EOTC home synod, Google picture

EOTC is also in 'fever'. The death of the late patriarch seems to open a new chapter in its history. The main and first authors of the new chapter are the Holy Synod, the highest decision making body of the church. Following the patriarch's unexpected death, the synod accomplished morally and spiritually commendable deeds. 

One, they have focused on the positive and not the negative legacies inherited from the late patriarch. They acknowledged his contributions although he did some of the most terrible things to the church. Two, they organized a modest funeral ceremony and spiritual services, not as extravagant as Meles'. 

Three, the vacant position is immediately filled in by selecting an acting patriarch, who is being assisted by the Permanent Synod (ቋሚ ሲኖዶስ) and other newly nominated eight Abunes. Four, they have already started discussions regarding possible reconciliation with the Holy Synod abroad. Five, they expressed in unison the need to execute all past decisions made by the synod in their extraordinary meetings (several decisions were not executed simply because of the lack of interest from the late patriarch). 

Six, they have endorsed a 14 day prayer programme (ጸሎተ ምህላ) so that God will help them to succeed in all fronts, including in the choice of a great patriarch, see their minute below. This is the best one could expect from a religious institution in times of turbulence. To me, this is the seal to and on everything. 

Based on all these, I could safely argue that the Holy Synod is dealing with the matter in a very responsible and spiritual way and timely. We Christians and Ethiopians at large need to stand by their sides. If we do our part well, 2005 will usher national reconciliation, unity, lasting peace, and development for Ethiopia.     


  1. Good points as usual, Dr. Teklu. Let God help us to see our country's and Church's renaissance.

  2. God bless you Teklu what a beautiful article. I love The message and i will do my part when it comes The tsom and tselot. The state is as you discribed is under one powerful group and Hailemariam has to comply no matter what.

  3. WOW, an impressive analysis!!!! I like it very much. Keep it up!


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የኢትዮጵያ ኦርቶዶክስ ተዋሕዶ ቤተ ክርስቲያን ሕወሓት - መሩ መንግስት ከመጣ ጀምሮ ዘርፈ ብዙ ችግሮችን በመጋፈጥ ላይ ትገኛለች። ኦርቶዶክስንና አማራን በተለየ መልኩ ለማዳከም ከተቻለም ለማጥፋት የትግሉ ዓላማ አድርጎ...