The first transition is manifest in Ethiopia’s “collective leadership”. Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn’s legitimacy is largely indirect – due to his selection as number two by Meles – since his personal legitimacy is deeply flawed. He hails from Woleyta, one of the southern marches of the old Abyssinian empire, peopled by those formerly called “barria”, a term which means both Black and slave, and his political base is here, and therefore narrow. He is not a Copt, like all his predecessors, but belongs to a small offshoot of Pentecostalism considered heretical even by other Pentecostals.[2]Aware of these handicaps, Hailemariam, “a frontman without teeth”[3], restricts himself to seeking consensus.

By contrast with Meles’ ukases, there has been a return to collective decision-making, one of the main markers of the TPLF in its heroic era. The debates can be heated, their echoes sometimes overflowing even into the public sphere. They begin in the top echelons of the EPRDF’s four parties, and are then taken up in one of the multiple committees that Hailemariam has formed around him. In the absence of consensus, decisions are postponed indefinitely. If consensus is reached, it is supposed to apply to everyone, in accordance with the immutable principle of “democratic centralism” and the society’s legendary sense of hierarchy. However, depending on the degree of adherence, decisions may either be implemented right down to the smallest administrative echelon, be partially implemented, or sink without trace beneath the weight of specific antagonisms.

This decision-making process, inevitably lengthy, often messy or incomplete, must also remain within strict boundaries: the so-called “Meles legacy”. As the single common referent, it is the cement that holds this collective leadership together. However, while it has enabled it to remain – relatively – functional, it has also frozen it: no one quits the roadmap designed by Meles, despite the generated need for movement brought about by fast-changing conditions.

In addition, in traditional Abyssinian culture, a decision must be long-considered. Having always acted in accordance with their position on a particular rung of the ladder of power, most of the leaders find themselves floundering in a horizontal decision-making process. They have to learn efficiently how to make a collective leadership work. Last but not least, no one wants to put their head above the parapet. None of the leaders feels strong enough to veer off the roadmap for fear of all the others joining forces to put him out of the game. Finally, while the power struggle has not yet been overtly launched, everyone is jostling for position, either as a player contender or as a member of the winner’s camp. The state is like a ship that has lost its captain, with no one in the crew able or willing yet to take his place, which continues to advance but with an increasingly stuttering engine, and along an unchanging course. This cannot last.

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