Opinion: A new president in Amhara region takes the helm, cautiously

In addition to this, the mainstream focus of his fairly articulated speech has touched on the longstanding identity and border disputes which the Amhara regional state is experiencing with its neighboring regional states

Merhatsidk Mekonnen Abayneh, For Addis Standard

Addis Abeba, July 30/2019 – It is exactly one month and eight days from that gloomy and frightening Saturday afternoon when the vibrant city of Bahir Dar was terribly hit by the horrifying and cold-blooded murder of Ambachew Mekonnen, (PhD), President of the Amhara Regional State along with his two other colleagues while on duty on June 22 2019.

Now that the troubled region has been trying to stabilize and gradually come to terms with the devastating reality, the Central Committee (CC) of ruling Amhara Democratic Party, (ADP), has managed to nominate a new successor to fill the power gap and take over the top ladder of the regional state government. Following this nomination, The Regional Legislature *the Council) held its final parliamentary session for the outgoing Ethiopian Fiscal Year and has formally and unanimously endorsed the nomination of Temesgen Tiruneh Dinku on July 22 2019 through acclamation pursuant to Art. 59 Sub-Art. (1) of the 2001 Revised National Regional Constitution in effect.

It needs to be noted that Temesgen will remain in office only for the following ten months should the sixth upcoming National and Regional Elections take place in May 2020, given that the country is normalized and the necessary preparations are finalized before the huge public undertaking.

Reflecting on the past, making sense of the present and visualizing the future

In his inaugural address to the Region in particular, and the country at large following his parliamentary endorsement, Temesgen, 44, did not shy away from first praising the regional parliament in particular, and the Amhara people as a whole for honoring and thus generously providing him with this opportunity to lead the proud populace of Amhara whom he publicly qualifies as wise, inclusive, hard-working, brave, thoughtful, loving, humane, selfless, religious and culturally rich, among others.

Policy directives aimed at spearheading his forthcoming plan of action

Amhara regional state is known for its abundant natural and strategic resources such as tourism and mining, both of which never tapped to a full extent and exploited for the lasting and multiple benefit of the broader inhabitants therein and the concomitant improvement of their basic livelihoods at best. Hence, there is no wonder if the key and central message of the newly appointed president’s acceptance speech largely revolved around three important and interdependent priorities: striving for sustainable peace with the enforcement of the rule of law; promoting private investment; and creating job opportunities for the unemployed youth out there in staggering numbers.

In addition to this, the mainstream focus of his fairly articulated speech has touched on the longstanding identity and border disputes which the Amhara regional state is experiencing with its neighboring regional states, especially that with Tigray. Giving due recognition to the lingering problem that looms large, Temesgen has made it unequivocally clear that no violent means and methods will ever be applied to resolve the existing identity and border misunderstandings and disputes with our neighboring regions. According to him, only legal and peaceful mechanisms will be utilized in an utmost collaboration together with the relevant bodies, although he gave little or no explanation of details of his proposal.

Arguably, it remains to be seen, regardless of its gentle and stabilizing tone, how his modest and conciliatory approach to the already toxic and distasteful political environment will play out particularly in view of the stringent and dire position of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) which has recently declared to distance itself from “working closely” with ADP, leave alone desiring to negotiate the territorial status-quo. Further polarizing the two regional states ability to work together in good faith is also the counter response issued by the ADP a day after TPLF’s statement was issued.

Admittedly, the Amhara regional state government has yet to fully recuperate and recover from the astounding shock in the aftermath of the tragic incident of June 22 2019. Come what may, quite a dozen of critical issues are adversely affecting the region and its population within and outside of the region. Needless to say, they are poised to massively confront Temesgen’s presidency; he has assumed office at the time of trying circumstances. In his own words, pacifying the entire region, consolidating its grip of power and remaining vigilant vis-à-vis the growing anarchy and lawlessness will take the lead in the list of his immediate priorities of action.

What to hope for

In an uncompromising defiance of anti-peace and extremist elements bent on creating widespread havoc and insecurity in all corners of the region, Temesgen’s reassurance to combat organized violence and thereby restore public confidence in the capacity and strength of his government has been echoed several times in the same speech he has delivered to the Regional Legislative Assembly. Although he did not vow to crush various armed groups outside the ambit of his government, he appeared firm and determined to reassert and consolidate the monopoly of legitimate violence which should remain with the state as of necessity, a sensitive matter not just in his region but outside.

In the meantime, he reminded the the Amhara people to diligently work and perform fairly on the economic front regardless of security threats and peace constraints. Yet, he equally called on them to wake up and always remain alert to protect the peace and security of the entire regional state.

With regard to the anticipated exercise of the double responsibility in view, his citation of the proverb, allegedly from a dignified Wollo Muslim cleric in the middle of his speech was particularly touching indeed. Temesgen alluded to the narrative that someone who, once upon a time, approached a local religious forefather only to provoke him with a rather challenging question as to why he needed a strong lock for the door to his house against intruders and burglars so long as he claims that Allah was his principal protector from all evils, in the first place. But the Father’s automatic reply was: “I believe in Allah; Yet, I also make sure that the door to my house is always kept closed tightly and safely enough.”

In an effort to supposedly inspire the working spirit of his people so that they would not fail in their normal duties and responsibilities having been overwhelmed by the multiple predicaments facing them at the time, “We are not fools who are unable to sow and grow crops like millet simply for fear of possible attack by invading birds”, he said while assuring the people’s deputies.

Finally, he informed members of the Council of his intentions to overhaul and reform the existing Regional Cabinet when the region’s parliament begins its next session at the beginning of the new Ethiopian Year in September 2012 (EC).

The other significant appointment presented by the new Chief Executive and unanimously approved by the House at the end of its proceedings on July 25 2019 was that of Aghegnehu Teshager who will occupy the Regional Peace and Security Bureau, a post vacated by the laid Bir. Gen. Asaminew Tsige, the alleged perpetrator of the June 22 assassinations.

It is to be recalled here, amid the ongoing investigation being carried out by a 38-member strong team consisting of the Regional and Federal police and prosecuting officers, nobody has so far been formally indicted for that horrific criminal act. But public intellectuals advise both the regional government and the people that alone should not, in any way, be taken as an easy pretext and mere excuse for the dereliction of duty and henceforth urge for the resumption of work afresh and even with more commitment and dedication by having overcome the saga.

The new president is stepping into such delicate minefields. In what sounded to be mindful of one of the major challenges facing him ahead, for example, Temesgen was quoted on Saturday July 27 expressing the utmost importance of his commitment to open his doors for peaceful possibilities to “work with all other regions” in order to protect the safety and security of the Amhara people living across the country. The days, weeks, and months ahead will present Temesgen with a crucial test to his measured, politically matured and cautionary start. AS

Editors Note: Merhatsidk Mekonnen Abayneh is a senior expert in law as well as peace and security studies. He is serving in the capacity of a Chief Legal Advisor to the President of the Amhara National Regional State, Ethiopia. He can be reached at:  clickmerha1@gmail.com

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