Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn is once again at odds with the powerful TPLF branch of EPRDF ruling party, according to sources connected to his adminstration. This time the dispute is on government response to Oromo protests in Oromia region, according to a journalist of an English weekly paper who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals.
Hailemariam, an ethnic Welayta native, does not have the military background and the political power that former Tigrayan Prime Minister Meles zenawi had. Meles was the executive head of the Tigrayan Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) for over thirty years. Even though various ethnic groups are well represented inside the Ethiopian military, most of the top executive positions are held by Tigrayans. Some reports claim that around 70 percent of the country’s top generals and military leaders are still ethnic Tigrayan today, even though Tigrayans makeup only 6 percent of the Ethiopian population.
The Govt source said TPLF military chiefs wanted to stop the peaceful Oromo student protest early before it turned into riots, but there was “lack of leadership and policy from Arat Kilo,” (refering to the Menelik Palace were the PM resides. )
Despite their small numbers in the country, Hailemariam’s ethnic Welaytas are said to have significant presence in the mid-level positions in the army and federal force. However, TPLF’s military heads complain that Hailemariam portrays a “soft leader” image and the police has been overstretched with nonstop demonstrations for months. They say the public is emboldened to take their angers to the streets since Meles died. Since 2013, millions of Muslim Ethiopians have been protesting in the cities while the “legal opposition” groups have also organized various protests, sometimes without permit. But the recent Oromo protests have irritated the TPLF military authorities the most, as some OPDO (another EPRDF branch) members have provided covert support.
The source said Hailemariam’s chances of being re-elected to lead EPRDF ruling party are slim. Hailemariam has also been under American pressure to deliver a peace deal in South Sudan, though some TPLF army officials are suspicious of the Sudanese opposition.
TPLF military chiefs claimed South Sudan peace deals signed in Addis Ababa are symbolic but meaningless on the ground because the rebel leader Riek Machar does not have full control of opposition fighters.