What you need to know:
- The gist is that to varying degrees, Ethiopia and South Africa are anchor states in their respective eastern and southern Africa regions.
- Putting Ethiopia and South Africa side by side on matters demography and geography is feasible.
South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma resigned on Wednesday 14 February and was replaced by Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday 15 February.
Last week, the transition from the Zuma to the Ramaphosa era came to closure with a major cabinet reshuffle.
In Ethiopia Prime Minister Desalegn stepped down Thursday, February 15, but the transition remains in a nervous abeyance as a new leader has not been named.
Political developments in Ethiopia and South Africa are of immense significance because of the fact that they are big African states.
At roughly 110 million people, Ethiopia is second only to Nigeria’s approximately 200 million people.
South Africa with an estimated 58 million people is the sixth largest African nation by population, after Egypt, DR Congo and Tanzania.
By size, South Africa and Ethiopia rank nine and 10 respectively out of the continent’s 54 nations.
Both make the list of Africa’s top 10 countries by economic size.
The gist is that to varying degrees, Ethiopia and South Africa are anchor states in their respective eastern and southern Africa regions.
Instability borne of political schisms in these states has far reaching ramifications not just internally, but externally.
Should internal strife in Ethiopia boil over into an armed conflict, the huge refugee burden in the horn of Africa could get worse.
Putting Ethiopia and South Africa side by side on matters demography and geography is feasible.
Ethiopia’s bullish economic growth places it along South Africa continentally. However, on the crucial matters of politics, attempting to strike similarities between Ethiopia and South Africa is akin to comparing oranges and apples.
For instance, it is unfathomable that South Africa would go the way of unstable Africa states.
For instance, the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked South Africa at number four out of 44 Sub Saharan African countries in 2017, designated as a “flawed democracy”. On the other hand, Ethiopia was ranked 30 and “authoritarian”.
Let’s take a closer look at the structures of the African National Congress (ANC) and the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), the governing parties.
The ANC is known as a tripartite alliance comprising the ANC-core, the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions.
Power politics in the ANC is driven by the jockeying among alliance partners in addition to influential entities such as the ANC Women’s League, the ANC Youth League and the former armed wing of the ANC during the anti-apartheid, the Mkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association.
In this state of play, no single politician or ethnic community can ride roughshod over the so-called “organisation”.
By contrast, things get murky when one seeks insights into the EPRDF. Well, it is a coalition of four ethno-regional political parties: Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organisation, the Amhara National Democratic Movement, the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front.
The EPRDF is a complicated coalition and, in East African Community parlance “coalition of the unwilling”.
Meles Zenawi, the late Prime Minister, was the undisputed leader of the coalition drawing on his control of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, which is in turn the predominant party in the coalition.
Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn rose to the leadership of the coalition on account of his chairmanship of the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement, seen as a junior partner in the coalition. He remained a paper tiger.
The contrasts couldn’t be starker! Significantly, it is clear that the setups of the ANC and the EPRDF tell us a lot about why the South African transition is turned the corner while Ethiopia’s leadership changeover remains unfinished business.
It is a case of two big states pursuing different political paths.
The writer is a lecturer at University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa [email protected]