Ethiopia - Leadership

Meles told Parliament that he selected his cabinet on the basis of ability and dedication to implement the EPRDF's five-year development plan. The 17 members were carefully chosen from different ethnic groups and political affiliations. The new regime prides itself in establishing a government based on the recognition of "ethnicity" as a legitimate form of assigning rights and liberties. This concept was anathema to the previous regimes, which were grounded on the uncontested right of the Amharas, who traced their ancestry to the Solomonic dynasty, to rule. As Prime Minister Meles stated, "Ethnic identity cannot simply be wiped away… It has always been part of life in Ethiopia and always will be. The best thing is to see it as a blessing, not a curse. We should not hide, or else it will break out in some hateful manner."

The political vision of the EPDRF began with strong Marxist-Leninist convictions. Over the years, the vision has evolved into a cautious embracing of democratic thought and free market principles. Meles is reputed to have favored multiparty elections with participation of all organizations in Ethiopia.

The U.S. Department of State described the human rights record of Meles's government as generally poor but improving. Serious problems, such as extrajudicial killings by security forces, remained. Ethiopia has been criticized for the handling of Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrean origin since the outbreak of the border conflict in May 1998. More than 67,000 Eritreans left Ethiopia for Eritrea, most of them deported, and some 1,200 males are being held in internment camps.

The Ethiopian government's commitment to peace, specifically on the Eritrean border, has increased, and in 2002 Meles won the top honor award given by the U.S.-based World Peace Awarding Council. His efforts to end the war with Eritrea were recognized, as well as work he has done to aid national reconciliation in Somalia and the Sudan.

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