How to Win Back the Soul of the EPRDF: Leadership (Part 1)

By the Strathink Editorial Team

“We cannot but feel deeply insulted that, at the dawn of the new millennium, ours is one of the poorest countries in the world,” he said, adding that “the darkness of poverty and backwardness” had dimmed the country’s once proud and powerful reputation.

“A thousand years from now, when Ethiopians gather to welcome the fourth millennium, they shall say the eve of the third millennium was the beginning of the end of the dark ages in Ethiopia.”

Meles Zenawi

In 2007 (western calendar), Meles Zenawi heralded the third millennium as the beginning of the end of the dark ages in Ethiopia. Today Ethiopia stands on a precipice of success or failure to achieve the stated goal enshrined in Ethiopia’s constitution: to build a political community founded on the rule of law and capable of ensuring a lasting peace, guaranteeing a democratic order, and advancing our economic and social development.


The soul of the governing party, the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), seems to be lost somewhere. What was once a supremely confident political movement—certain in its goals and roadmap for Ethiopia—is stumbling. How it regains its footing will determine the destiny of its 100 million people, now accustomed to an upward trend of economic growth and political development.

No one can dispute that the party is in trouble. The trouble began with the passing of Meles Zenawi five years ago. Meles Zenawi was the proverbial glue that held together the Ethiopian state and the ruling the party. Today, both the party and the state are experiencing the growing pains of a country that is both very old and very new at the same time.

Meles Zenawi occupied a unique place in Ethiopian history where historical determinism—the belief that economic forces determine, shape, and define all political, social, cultural, intellectual, and technological aspects of a society—was driven and accelerated by the force of the party’s sheer will to succeed.

In other words, Ethiopia’s economic miracle and state-formation was fast-tracked by the party’s leadership, commitment and work ethic. Meles Zenawi embodied these very qualities that gave form and function to a rather ambitious agenda for a country emerging from decades of political, economic and social stagnation.

Meles is no longer there to articulate a strategic vision for the state and bring together the moving parts of the vast party machinery to make this vision a reality.

Today Ethiopia is undergoing a crisis of significant proportions. Corruption, although not comparable to other African countries, is undermining the integrity and legitimacy of the state based on the high standards it has set for itself. Ethnic tensions are high. There appears to be fundamental disagreements on the roadmap for economic growth. The parliament has lost its robustness and vibrancy since the last election—serving only as a rubber-stamp institution. The four parties of the ruling coalition are no longer working in concert with each other, instead acting alone and, in some cases, in competition.

Ethiopia, in one form or another, has existed for millennia. The contemporary Ethiopian state is just a little over 25 years old and the ruling party—the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front—is just a few years older. The party, a coalition of the OPDO, based in the Oromia Region; the ANDM based in the Amhara Region; the SEPDF based in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region; and the TPLF based in the Tigray Region, is at a crossroads. Who will win the soul of the EPRDF will determine the future of the state.

And the stakes are high.

The Strathink Editorial Team has no inside knowledge of the personalities or events happening within the party. We are reading what the general public is reading. And we offer no specifics on the way forward. What we hope to do in this article is simply to present a narrative that raises some key questions that our readers might have about how the party plans to move forward in addressing the problems that are afflicting the country.

Our conclusion here is pretty simple but maybe it is important to state it. Today’s problems require a coalition of party leaders who can provide the strategic leadership and strategic management to translate ideas into reality. Without strategic leadership, there are no ideas going forward. Without strategic management, ideas cannot be transformed into actions. The party needs both visionaries and technocrats working together with the Prime Minister to pull Ethiopia out of this current morass and move the country forward.

Finding Leadership: Vision and “Know How”

 The role played by Meles Zenawi in developing and implementing the blueprint for “Ethiopia rising” cannot be overstated. In 1991, the remnants of the Ethiopian state, following decades and decades of misrule by a king and a military dictator, were a crumbling foundation of empty edifices. It took a visionary political imagination to see past Ethiopia’s devastation and envision the possibilities of what Ethiopia could become.

Meles was able to provide the leadership that made imagination a reality. Who but Meles could have had such a clear picture of how to achieve the economic miracle that we see today. Meles was able to see past the dysfunction and re-build the country’s political and economic infrastructure piece by piece. Institutions were created or reformed to address both the short-term and longer-term goals of the political system and developing economy. He understood both the big vision and the details that would push the state and economy ahead.

Moreover, he was able to strategically manage the politics of the EPRDF and his own party, the TPLF, past the many pitfalls that could compromise its integrity. This was done not without its problems but, in the end, Meles prevailed.

The challenges facing Prime Minister Hailemariam’s leadership today are a result of the last decade’s extraordinary rise on all fronts—economic, political and social. Ethiopia’s new narrative includes being seen as an economic powerhouse, robust international partner in peacekeeping and assuming a leadership role on the continent. At the same time, this new narrative includes government corruption, ethnic tension, and the absence of political space for the opposition.

The Prime Minister needs the support of the EPRDF’s four party leadership to meet the new challenges of “Ethiopia rising.” Alone, he can take the country only so far. He needs both the “old guard” and the “new guard” to come together in a concerted effort to move the country forward past the obstacles of party dysfunction and disunity.

Who are these leaders who can stand behind the Prime Minister?

Who are the leaders who can work with the Prime Minister to address the fundamental weaknesses of contemporary Ethiopian politics and institutions? Who are the leaders who both lead their own party forward but work together within the EPRDF to mend relationships and forge a unity of purpose in governing the country? Who are the leaders who have the courage to eliminate rent seeking from the highest level to the grassroots level of the party?

The party needs to articulate a vision for the country that takes into account the new realities of contemporary Ethiopia. Meles put in words a blueprint for a post-Mengistu government that would embrace public sector-led growth. He was able to envision and articulate a trajectory of democratic governance that is Ethiopian-led.

Meles argued that the EPRDF viewed democracy as a core belief because he believed that democracy was not just a choice for the country but also a fundamental condition for survival. Democracy, according to Meles, was contingent upon: 1) the public’s confidence in the constitution as the cornerstone of a democratic system; and, 2) government institutions to facilitate promoting and sustaining a democratic culture.

Today the vision for Ethiopian democracy and economic growth needs further refinement to take into consideration a changing Ethiopian reality. How can the current ethnic federal system be improved to adapt the current reality? How can there be greater clarity between the role of regional government and the federal government? How do leaders balance regional issues with national interests? How can the leadership manage ethnic tensions within the region and across regions? What is the balance between promoting regional economic interests and national economic interests?

These are just a few examples of the big questions facing the party and the government. We don’t know the answers. What we do know is the need for a consultative process to begin to articulate the vision for Ethiopia that will move the country ahead in the coming years.

 If the strategic leadership provides the vision, the technocrats provide the know-how for getting things done. Political discussions provide the vision—the “what” in terms of setting goals. The “how” is the policymaking process.

Why do the party and the state need technocrats? The longstanding debate between democratic and technocratic decision-making has no place in the developmental state. There is an obvious need for a combination of both approaches. And although the current cabinet is composed of many technocrats recruited from academic life, there is a gap in the understanding of how to operationalize the political vision—maybe even in the political vision itself.

We would like to offer here an argument in support of the critical role for think tanks in democratic governance. Think tanks translate political ideas into action through policy analysis. A think tank provides data-driven analysis of policy options and their consequences—both intended and unintended. If the leadership provides the vision to the party (the heart) then the technocrats provide the operationalization of the vision (the brain).

Think tanks serve a number of purposes in governance. Think tanks are empirically based to translate ideas into actions. At the same time, think tanks can raise new issues, expand policy options and present alternative viewpoints that challenge the status quo.

This is critical in a country such as Ethiopia for three reasons: 1) think tanks are crucial drivers of public policy, providing a data-driven framework for policy analysis, formulation and measurement of impact; 2) think tanks, through research analysis, can provide innovative solutions for social problems outside the political discussion; and 3) a think tank provides the political space for dissent in a constructive environment that channels opposition politics into meaningful action.

Ethiopia is far from the country it was 25 years ago. The governing party should be stronger and more agile in terms of articulating and operationalizing a vision for Ethiopia. Ethiopia today has no shortage of experts—technocrats—across sectors. What is lacking is: 1) a blueprint for Ethiopia moving forward; and 2) the intellectual capital to operationalize the blueprint into policy.

Let’s give an example.

Improvements in health and education combined with demographics have created a “youth bulge” that is healthier and more educated than any other generation in history. This demographic only remembers life under EPRDF. Their outlook and aspirations are fundamentally different than previous generations. They carry unlimited information in their pockets with their mobile phones. They are a generation globally connected to knowledge, markets, services and community. What are their aspirations? How do they view their government? How do they fit into the economy? How do they view ethnic identity? The federalist arrangement? Who do they see as their leaders?

How can the party serve their interests if their interests are not understood?

Without data-driven information, the party can make incorrect assumptions about a critical demographic with dire consequences. It was youth who drove the revolution against the monarchy. It was youth who went to the field to fight against military oppression. It is youth today who are taking to the streets in places like Oromia and the Amhara Region.

It is time now to use social science tools to understand the “why” of Ethiopian problems and develop policies to address the “how” in resolving these problems.

Political space can be expanded not only through political discussion but also through policy dialogue that helps leaders see problems from different perspectives.


 The Prime Minster stands first among equals in addressing the many and complex problems of a nation launched on an upward trajectory of staggering economic growth and democratization. He cannot succeed with out the support and intellectual capital of the four member parties working together towards common goals.


The EPRDF requires a reset to take into account the new realities of Ethiopia’s growth and development. This reset requires both strategic vision and technocratic skills to translate ideas into actions. Critical problems such as ethnic identity and conflict, the growing pains of federalism, and economic marginalization can only be addressed through rigorous, data-driven analysis that provides policy options for the leadership.

Check back for Part 2 of this series.














13 Responses to “How to Win Back the Soul of the EPRDF: Leadership (Part 1)”

  1. dagmawi says:

    The article Wes well researched and informative I hope you will shade light on some other stuffs too

  2. Asgedom says:

    Amnesty amnesty amnesty in every aspect let us start over govt doesn’t have a team which accomplish govt policy they will help there own network and punish whom they don’t know,but once amnesty is declared we will see the benefit and the confidence.

  3. eldalkachew says:

    you used to sing and praise the TPLF for their ethnic based system and today you assume all what you used to advise.
    There is no any advise in this pieces exccept praising Meles

  4. melk says:

    Dear Think thanks
    It is a።wonderful idea which can only update EPRDf how about the others? The other half part ot this nation? If democracy is a must dose for the country the democracy should not be for US for them means for others not needed what i understand from the article is that only and only maintaning EPRDF all the mechanism of this nation will work!Toltaly wrong
    Let me explin what the current opportunity of the nation which Eprdf cannot and will not understand,the nation is transfirming from rural thinking in to a civilized urbanized thinking where the party and all members r peasants and far from such modern uderstanding of the youth thier kids which r 25 years cannot speak what thier father died for it is worthless to speI’m and. And and –

  5. Since the states of Afar, Somalia, Gambella and Benishagul Gumuz do not have a national Party representation; I would suggest combining two states not for administrative but for party representation. For example Party A will represent Tigray and Afar States. Party B will represent Amhara and Benshagul Gumuz states; Party C will represent Western Oromia and Addis Ababa; Party D will represent Gambella and Southern Nationalities and Peoples; Party E will represent Western Oromia and Somalia. This will force those states to interact outside ethnicity and make Ethiopia stronger. Just an idea. Any other ideas?

  6. Aradom Sabo says:

    I would have said this is a well written article if I believed the problem in Ethiopia is lack of good governance only, but it is deeper than that. The problem Oromo and Amhara youth are raising today is foundational. They believe there is Tigrian dominance within EPRDF and until that issue is addressed in a satisfactory manner everything else is irrelevant. So far, what I have seen coming from TPLF officials is denial. If you keep denying what is obvious everything else you say becomes mute.
    Forgive me for being blunt but I find your article deeply flawed and substantially lacking for not confronting the real issue head on. Let me be frank, I don’t share your view of the former Prime Minster. I didn’t think he was visionary in the right sense of the word. He was clever when it came to putdowns but never possessed the quality of being a leader. He, more than anybody else in Ethiopian politics was divisive, ill-mannered and vindictive. He had his chances to forge a new beginning for Ethiopia, he blew it. What we see today is the result of his failure and the suggestion things could and would have been different if he were alive is an insult to common sense. Unlike you, I believe what is happening today is a direct result of his utter incompetence.

  7. Wedi sewra says:

    Weyane is done. No
    More agamewe are here to ensure that happen.
    We Eritreans are working day and night to give hand the oppressed people Amhara and Oromo.
    Minority rule is dead, you can take that to the bank. No more agame,
    We will turn you back where you were begging for food leftovers,
    Trust me we are working on that take my word.
    Libi tigray tiwyway is stop beating no more deceiving and line.
    Good luck see you in hell

    • wetar says:

      Wedi Sewra,

      How come Eritreans who could not save themselves from Isyas Afeworki who made them his personal salves give hand to us? Your EPLF is dead long time ago! Do you know what I mean, you bumpkin Eritrean! 27 years on your country is one of the poorest nations on planet, exporting countless illiterate and unskilled immigrants to the rest of the world.Thanks to your master, present day Eritrean youth is useless. I would advise you to give hand to your fellow compatriots particularly Eritrean prostitutes wandering in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, not to mention those in Khartum and Addis Abeba.

  8. uh pig head says:

    clueless democracy,
    your Meles was institutionalized himself rather than establishing and promoting democratic institution. so how do you dare enough to poke your clueless think.
    Man is mortal but do immortal deeds.

  9. Gureza Gisila says:

    This is a very dishonest approach and does not even remotely address the root causes of the challenge facing the country. To attribute that the problem to the death of Meles is a total misplacement and misreading of the situation in Ethiopia. The current PM has been labouring to preserve Meles’s legacy. He had no his own policy, strategy and vision. The current call by the public is about just, fair and equitable utilisation of national resources. It is about fair representation in federal institutions. It is a call for fight against corruption and ensuring good governance. These are not issues created after the death of Meles.They were there when he was in alive and in office. The old guard is equally responsible. Agree with one commentator that your analysis is flawed. And that will not help anyone. Hiding our problems and attempts to cover them up in the past is costing the nation dearly. We cannot afford to hide our deep rooted problem in the country. The healing will only come from addressing and confront our problem head on. Yes there is need to join hands but first agree on the identifying the problem.

  10. wetar says:

    This article desperately seeks to canonize one of Africa’s despot dictators, Melese Zenawi. I know not why the editorial team is stuck in the mud seeking personality cult of an ethno-nationalist dictator who is no longer alive and who hasn’t left any legacy even his own ‘comrades’ within the EPRDF can pick. But, judging from the content of the article some questions are in order.

    1. Soul. “The soul of the governing party seems to be lost”, laments the article. Yet, it doesn’t tell us what the soul of the EPRDF was; nor does it explain how a Front which is an inanimate object can have soul as much as the living. I couldn’t glean any from this piece.
    2. The Glue. Was Zenawi the glue that held together the Ethiopian state and the ruling party, as the sycophant editorial team would like us to believe? Has not the Ethiopian state existed long before the ethno-nationalist took the helm? Given Ethiopia’s long history, he could not be the glue of the Ethiopian state by any standard. But, if the assertion that he was a glue to ruling party is true, then the members of the coalition did not have any common principles, and so were simply subservient of an owners of a solo proprietorship. It is, therefore, logical to see ‘coalition’ stumbling in the absence of its owner.
    3. Was the parliament “robust and vibrant” during Zenawi’s time? Unless the team deceives itself, the parliament has been a rubber stamp of decisions made by him, not even the executive. Can the team cite typical instances in which members of parliament acted according to the dictates of the constitution? Be honest to yourselves.
    4. Corruption. Was Zenawi truly against corruption? Wasn’t he the one who used the anti-corruption law to punish his political opponents while simultaneously giving his supporters leeway for embezzlement?
    5. Democracy – the editorial team must be joking about the statements it made concerning democracy. Who created and sustained the democratic deficit, if not Zenawi?
    6. Notwithstanding that all, if the ‘glue’ is gone, what is the point of making a long-list of recommendations? Isn’t that self-defeating? I think the odd of getting or making visionary leadership out of our present-day rulers is closer to zero. The chance of doing so was gone some 17 years ago when the EPRDF was fully take over by Meles Zenawi, who brought around him the unthinking and the sycophant to sustain his power! The problem we are facing now is an outcome of that, and the way out is not as simple as the ‘strategic thinkers’ would like it be. Think differently please!
    7. Most importantly, however, I am surprised why the editorial team forgets to quote Zenawi’s assertions of the 90’s, given the ethnic conflicts and violence the country is currently in? Indeed, this article would have been better positioned if it quoted Zenawi for his unpopular saying which goes, “the Axum Obelisk – what is it for the Wolayitas?”. How about this: “What have the Guraghies to do with the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela?

    The article is short of answers to these questions. Would the 2nd part of the series be any better? Wait and see!


  1. […] opined that the ruling Ethiopian People’s’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) is ‘in trouble, lost, stumbling, at a crossroads,’ or as Tigrayan activists put it, it “is being eaten alive from […]

  2. […] opined that the ruling Ethiopian People’s’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) is ‘in trouble, lost, stumbling, at a crossroads,’ or as Tigrayan activists put it, it “is being eaten alive from […]

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