More than 1000 members of the ruling EPRDF’s movers and shakers are gathered in the lake city of Hawassa, the capital of the Southern Nations Nationalities and People’s Regional state, (SNNPR), in what is largely seen as the most decisive congress of the collation ever since its existence 27 years ago.
EPRDF’s congress is taking place in the immediate wake of the separate congresses by each of the four major parties to elect and reelect new and existing members of their respective executive and central committees. Accordingly, each party: Oromo Democratic Party (ODP), Amhara Democratic Party (ADP), Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Southern Ethiopia People Democratic Movement (SEPDM) have delegated nine executive and 45 central committee members to make up the 36 and 180 executive and council members of EPRDF, who will be calling the shots at the ongoing congress.
In addition to evaluating the party’s performance under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who assumed the position six months ago, the congress will elect a chairman and deputy as per its long standing tradition. The election will be a test of PM Abiy’s leadership. But despite mountain evidences that EPRDF as a collective is no longer a party governed by the centrality of unanimous decisions, the congress is expected to reelected PM Abiy as chairman, hence the prime minister until after general elections are held in 2020.
But getting PM Abiy Ahemd reelected is “the least of the worries for all the sister parties that make up the EPRDF”, said a senior official and executive member of SEPDM who spoke to Addis Standard on conditions of anonymity. “What is on top of everyone’s mind is the recognition among these parties that PM Abiy Ahmed’s chairmanship of EPRDF is besieged by a series of failures to assure the safety and security of Ethiopians across the country,” PM Abiy’s rise to the helm was quickly followed by multiple outbreaks of ethnic-related violence which saw the death of hundreds and displacement of close to 1.5 million Ethiopians almost exclusively from the east, west and southern parts of Ethiopia, which, together with the existing displacement of above one million from the Somali and Oromia regional states bordering cities, towns and villages, made Ethiopia’s rank in internally displaced people worse than that of war ravaged Syria and Yemen, according to UN figures.
The congress is also happening at a time when many are questioning on whether or not EPRDF will remain the same party it has always been for 27 years. If the preceding congresses of each of the four major parties and the decisions they took, from changing of names to logos to the composition of executive and central committee members, is anything to go by it has become visibly clear that the sister parties that governed themselves based in most part on a centrally agreed upon principles of revolutionary democracy have taken their own routes, with ADP even publically questioning if it is any longer willing to follow revolutionary democracy, a vague concept except for those practicing it, as a guiding principle. But despite this, a breakup of the EPRDF as a coalition looks farfetched at least at the ongoing congress.
Most important but receiving the least attention is the possibilities of incorporating EPRDF’s “satellite parties” governing what’s casually known as Ethiopia’s periphery: The Somali, Afar, Harari, Gambella, and Benishangul Gumuz regional states, into EPRDF’s full membership. It is not clear if decisions will be made at the ongoing congress, but many predict that at least the Somali People Democratic Party (SEDP), the party governing the Somali regional state and is led by a reformist president Mustafa Omer, may become the first to join.