Meles Zenawi

Louice Tapper Jansson,

Correspondent (Politics)

ADDIS ABABA – Corruption and economic difficulties have long been frequent in sub-Saharan Africa. This is often blamed on bad leaders who cling to power for decades. However, the new leadership in some countries brings hope of change.

It was in August last year when the Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi passed away, after more than 20 years in power – first as president and then as prime minister. He was well respected, even by those in opposition, for transforming the country “from lost cause to model pupil”. When the leader died, many feared the stability would disappear too.

New Prime Minister,  47 year old Hailemariam Desalegn, has now been in power for six months. Although many feared this change of leader would cause “political violence”, the country is relatively calm. This could be due to the successor’s reluctance to impose any noticeable changes. In fact, he has stated that it is in his intention to continue the work of Mr Meles.

Even though Mr Meles said he had intentions to transform Ethiopia to a true democracy, he was not confident enough to accomplish this move. A democratic shift happening anytime soon is now unlikely. A lot of uncertainty for the future has risen among party leaders since Mr Desalegn came to power.

The new leader has decided not to implement economic liberalisation until after the election in 2015, this combined with his supposed lack of authority might increase corruption in the country.

Keeping history in mind, what direction in terms of economic and democratic progress the country will take appears to depend on the political leader. For instance, the rise of the South African economy as well as the increasingly sense of inclusiveness in the 1990’s was much due to Nelson Mandela. Since his retirement and Thabo Mbeki as a replacement, much went backwards again.

Mr Mbeki refused to accept the “link between HIV and AIDS”, which caused millions of deaths. Jacob Zuma, who was the next person to take over the presidency in 2009, has been criticized for not putting enough effort in solving the issue of corruption. These are suggested to be the cause for the economic downturn in South Africa in the 21st century.

The uncertain political and democratic development in Ethiopia and South Africa can be found in other countries of the continent as well. Human Rights Watch stated in its World report for 2012 that although Rwanda (in which the parliament has a majority of women – 56%) showed progress in 2011 in terms of social structure “freedom of expression and political space are still severely restricted”.

The Guardian reported  that it was a “great year for women in power in Africa”. For instance; Joyce Banda was elected president in Malawi in April, Fatou Bensouda of Gambia became the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in June and, in July, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma became African Union’s first female leader. Hopes are that the rise of women in power in African countries will lead to a better governing, as they can bring forward women’s issues that had previously been neglected by African leaders.

Hadeel Ibrahim, Executive Director of the Mo Ibrahim foundation, said that the fact that three women have been given powerful positions in the political scene in Africa is a sign for progress and improvement.

Image Courtesy: World Economic Forum, Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 | Wiki Commons