Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi appointed Hailemariam Desalegn as his deputy while making changes to his Cabinet, government spokesman Shimeles Kemal said.
Hailemariam replaces Addisu Legesse and will also oversee the Foreign Ministry, previously headed by Seyoum Mesfin, Shimeles said in a phone interview today from Addis Ababa, the capital. Hailemariam is currently the deputy chairman of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front and is the former chief whip in parliament, he said.
“He is a long servant to the country in different capacities,” Shimeles said. “He has shown exceptional leadership skills and caliber. He is one of the rising stars of Ethiopian politics.”
The EPRDF won 545 of the 547 seats in the Horn of Africa nation’s parliament in elections in May. A European Union observer mission declared that the vote failed to meet certain “international commitments.” The U.S. National Security Council said it was “concerned” about the observers’ findings.
Shimeles wouldn’t comment on whether Hailemariam, whom he said is “in his 40s or early 50s,” may succeed the prime minister. Meles, a 55-year-old former Marxist guerrilla, has pledged that the next five years will be the last of his 19-year rule.
“This will become known at the end of the term,” Shimeles said. “You can see from past declarations from the prime minister and others that a succession will take place. You can see some reflection of this in the lineup. Several young ministers have been appointed.”
Shimeles said other appointments announced today include Sinknesh Ejigu as minister of mines, while the finance, agriculture, energy and defense portfolios were left unchanged.
Ethiopia is Africa’s biggest coffee producer and the continent’s second-most populous nation, after Nigeria.