At the end of its executive and central committee meetings this week, Ethiopia’s ruling party announced Demeke Mekonnen’s departure as deputy president of the party.
His retirement, seemingly on a voluntary basis, did not surprise many. Leaking reports from insiders suggested that Demeke had been requesting retirement for several years. However, the party, as reported by some Ethiopian media outlets, was not ready to bid him farewell, at least for the past two years. Notably, his retirement coincided with the Federal government’s all-out military campaign in the Amhara region, where Demeke is from, now entering its seventh month. He faced criticism for his silence as Abiy Ahmed’s government intensified rights abuses in the Amhara region, including extrajudicial killings, drone attacks on civilians, and rape. In August this year, during a diplomatic engagement as Minister of Foreign Affairs, he mentioned ongoing efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict in the Amhara region. However, progress seems elusive.
The party organized a farewell event this week and Demeke had a message to convey. “The lack of peace in different parts of the country and the multifaceted damages—death, internal displacement, and social crises—are heart-rending,” he said.
Many questioned whether he expressed discontent within the party before the announcement of his retirement. Demeke, an influential figure within the ruling party, is believed to have played a key role in ending Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) dominance at the Federal government level.
However, it appears that he did not use his leverage effectively, or perhaps his leverage was not strong enough to effect change. Tens of thousands of ethnic Amhara were slaughtered in the Oromia region and other parts of the country.
It seems that Demeke believes that security and political problems in the country could be resolved through constitutional change—a matter to which Abiy Ahmed’s government has shown little or no interest. In his speech, he emphasized the importance of working together to effect “a constitutional amendment to build a nation that is prosperous and conformable to its citizens.”
Although Demeke has retired from his party position, his departure from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Ministerial role is yet to be announced.
Who is Demeke Mekonnen?
Initially, his academic background was in biology, earning a B.Sc. degree from Addis Ababa University, and he taught in high school for several years. Later, after joining politics, he earned a Master’s degree in conflict resolution, according to sources.
He joined the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF)—a coalition crafted by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)—after guerrilla forces toppled Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam’s government in 1991. He began his political career in the Amhara regional state and served, among other roles, as deputy president of the region.
At the Federal level, he initially served as Minister for Education under the late Meles Zenawi’s administration. He became Deputy Prime Minister after Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s death and still holds that position. In the last three years, he has also served as Minister of Foreign Affairs, in addition to his Deputy Prime Ministerial portfolio.
His service to the ruling Prosperity Party and its predecessor EPRDF spans nearly 32 years, as he himself puts it during a farewell speech.
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