ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s ruling coalition on Saturday approved Hailemariam Desalegn’s appointment as prime minister to replace Meles Zenawi, who died last month, the government’s spokesman said. He will be sworn in early next month when parliament reconvenes, Bereket Simon told a news conference in the capital Addis Ababa.
Hailemariam, who took over in an acting capacity after Meles’ death, also becomes head of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), the ruling coalition of parties.
The 47-year-old former university dean rose quickly through the ranks when he turned to politics, serving as president of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region in the southwest of the country from 2001 to 2006 before being named as an advisor to Meles.
His selection as Meles’ deputy in 2010 was a major surprise, partly due to his relatively young age. He was widely seen as the late leader’s protege and in recent years replaced Meles as chair of a number of parliamentary committees.
After taking power in 1991 from Mengistu Haile Mariam’s military junta, guerrilla fighter Meles became one of the central political figures on the continent and drove domestic economic growth into double figures.
An astute economist, Meles advocated a blend of heavy state spending and foreign private investment, focusing lately on energy and infrastructure projects.
However Ethiopia remains one of the world’s biggest recipients of aid, and average incomes are roughly a third of those elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa.
Many Ethiopians complain that while Meles forged closer business ties with global powerhouses such as China, that did not translate into more jobs for Ethiopians and about three-quarters of the population still live on less than $2 a day.