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Political Resignation Is Not Quitting! : The Value of Dignified Exit From State Leadership

By  DR. Gasahw (PhD, M.So.Sc., M.A.)

Political resignation serves as a vital ingredient in the recipe of democracy, embodying the functionality of a well-operating system. It underscores the presence of accountability, which relies on robust institutional frameworks that facilitate scrutiny among the branches of government through mechanisms of checks and balances.

Within such a system, leadership transitions occur for various reasons beyond routine elections. These range from legal transgressions to public discontent, lapses in judgment, or failure to meet societal expectations. In all instances, the integrity and bravery of leaders are demonstrated by their willingness to assume responsibility for any wrongdoing that occurs under their administration, whether or not they are directly implicated.


Conversely, in environments characterized by tyranny and systemic dysfunction, where power is seized through means other than the consent of the governed, instances of political resignation are rare. Reluctant tyrants often cling to power, viewing it as their inherent right, and fear facing retribution for the abuses and atrocities they have perpetrated against their people. Their reluctance to relinquish control stems from a deep-seated apprehension of the consequences they may face.


However, history has shown that even if dictators aspire to indefinite rule, the rightful owners of political power—the people—inevitably bring about the downfall of tyrants through violent means.


Nevertheless, leaders who choose to resign at the appropriate moment, recognizing the escalating public discontent resulting from their failure to fulfill their duties, establish a legacy of righteousness through their adherence to the nation’s laws. History commemorates such individuals for their role in averting national destruction and preventing loss of life. Their timely resignations are not viewed as acts of surrender or signs of weakness; rather, they are seen as demonstrations of heroism, exemplary moral integrity, and evidence of prioritizing the nation’s interests over personal gain, prestige, or the pursuit of power.


The narratives surrounding President Richard Nixon’s resignation and the rare Papal resignation within the Roman Catholic Church serve as compelling examples of the inspiration found in such acts of heroism.


Throughout history, political resignations have occurred across various systems of government, whether presidential or parliamentary, and have also been observed in the corporate world, civil societies, and other spheres of national leadership. While some resignations are timely and graceful, others are delayed or only occur after intense resistance. The latter often leaves a lasting scar, whereas resigning from power with dignity leaves behind a legacy marked by refinement and integrity.


In the realm of faith, Papal resignations are a rare occurrence, yet they do happen. In 2013, Pope Benedict XVI made the unprecedented decision to resign from his position. While the official reason cited was his advanced age, which hindered his ability to fulfill the duties of the Papal ministry, it is speculated that other factors, such as media pressures and a desire for a quieter life, may have influenced his decision.


This resignation marked the first of its kind in over 600 years, since the resignation of Gregory XII in 1415, which aimed to resolve conflicts between opposing Popes. Despite Pope Benedict XVI not appearing significantly old, his choice to step down may have been driven by a need for respite from the demands of his role.


On the day of his resignation, it is reported that he placed a flower on the memorial of Pope Celestine V, who similarly resigned from his papal responsibilities in 1294 after just five months, preferring a return to his former monastic life. Pope Benedict’s visits to the grave of Celestine V illustrate his respect for the decision to relinquish power in favor of a simpler, more devout existence in seclusion.


From various perspectives, it becomes evident that resigning from such a revered position is not an act of quitting or disgrace, but rather an act of inspiration for future leaders. It leaves behind a legacy characterized by humility, devotion, and a commitment to higher spiritual ideals.


In the ever-evolving global political landscape, resignations are not uncommon occurrences. South Africa, in particular, has witnessed significant leadership changes, with figures like Thabo Mbeki and President Zuma yielding to pressure and stepping down. Presently, President Cyril Ramaphosa grapples with similar challenges, the outcome of which remains uncertain.


Meanwhile, in Ethiopia, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s resignation followed intense internal strife, notably stemming from the uprising in the Amhara and Oromo regions. His failure to broker a political resolution to Ethiopia’s mounting tensions ultimately led to the collapse of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a regime predominantly influenced by the tyranny of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).


This vacuum in leadership paved the way for the Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organization (OPDO) to seize the opportunity and assert itself within the EPRDF/TPLF power structure, thereby continuing the trajectory of governance in Ethiopia.


In Europe and the Western world, countless leaders have stepped down at different times, and some have resulted in the collapse of whole governments, inducing fresh elections. In the United Kingdom, twelve prime ministers have resigned since the onset of the 20th century, each departure marked by unique circumstances. Recent examples include Liz Truss, Boris Johnson, Theresa May, David Cameron, and Tony Blair. Truss’s brief tenure as Prime Minister in September-October 2022 ended abruptly, attributed to internal party dissent and perceived incompetence. Boris Johnson’s resignation in September 2022 followed controversies surrounding his handling of multiple crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic and allegations of ethical misconduct. Theresa May’s departure in July 2019 stemmed from her failure to secure parliamentary support for her Brexit deal. David Cameron resigned in July 2016 after the Brexit referendum, facing criticism for his campaign handling. Tony Blair’s resignation in June 2007 marked the end of his ten-year tenure, overshadowed by controversies surrounding the Iraq War and dwindling public support.


Italy is also another example. It earned its reputation as a country ‘without government’ owing to the high frequency of leadership resignations and government collapses. Silvio Berlusconi’s multiple terms as Prime Minister were marred by legal troubles and scandals, leading to his resignation in 2011. Mario Monti succeeded him but resigned in 2013 amidst political gridlock and economic challenges. Enrico Letta’s brief tenure from 2013 to 2014 ended due to internal party strife within his coalition government. Matteo Renzi’s resignation in 2016 followed a failed constitutional referendum, signaling public discontent with his leadership. Paolo Gentiloni assumed office in 2016 but resigned in 2018 after his party’s poor performance in the general elections. Giuseppe Conte’s resignation in 2021 resulted from a coalition collapse, paving the way for Mario Draghi’s appointment as Prime Minister. Japan,  Germany, France, and many European countries experience untimely discharge of leaders from their responsibilities. Strictly this happens mostly in democratic countries. Unfortunately, in most tyrannical systems, especially in the underdeveloped South, leaders await “death” to separate them from their public offices and the sales of power.


Resignations in the Prsidential systm of Gevernment: True Legacy of the ‘Water-Gate’


In the annals of presidential history, few figures have left as indelible a mark as President Richard Nixon, mainly due to the events surrounding the Watergate scandal that led to his resignation. However, the United States of America boasts a rich tapestry of leaders, many of whom have profoundly contributed to the nation’s legacy.


Among these luminaries, some stand out as pivotal figures who have shaped American history. Thomas Jefferson, celebrated for authoring “The Declaration of Independence,” and Abraham Lincoln, renowned for his leadership during the Civil Rights movement, are just two examples. George Washington, revered as the nation’s founding father, set crucial precedents for presidential conduct and governance.


Additionally, presidents like Harry Truman, who formulated the “Truman Doctrine” as part of his containment strategy during the Cold War, and Woodrow Wilson, whose Fourteen Points laid the groundwork for the modern international system and inspired the formation of the United Nations, have left enduring legacies.


Furthermore, leaders such as Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was celebrated for his military leadership during World War II, and Barack Obama, known for his transformative healthcare policies, have significantly impacted American society.


These examples illustrate how the greatness of presidents is measured not only by their accomplishments during their time in office but also by the lasting effects of their policies and leadership on the nation and the world.


Ironically, President Richard Nixon earned a place in the annals of presidential history despite facing numerous challenges during his tenure. The decision to resign as President in the presidential system carries a significant cost compared to stepping down as prime minister in a parliamentary system. In a presidential system, the President is typically popularly elected through direct votes, whereas in a parliamentary system, the prime minister is determined through party nomination, which often relies on a handful of decisive ballots. Nixon’s resignation holds considerable weight precisely because he was directly elected as the President of the Nation.


The Watergate scandal ultimately led to his resignation and cemented his place in global memory. Nixon might not have garnered as much attention or recognition without this scandal.


History has vindicated him, recognizing his commitment to upholding the American Constitution and the rule of law by gracefully relinquishing power at the appropriate juncture, unscathed. Nixon, arguably the most resilient President, faced numerous setbacks in securing the Republican Party nomination and winning the presidency. Despite these challenges, he persisted, ultimately triumphing in the presidential elections of 1968 and 1972 with resounding victories. In his own words, “I have never been a quitter,” he asserted in his resignation speech on August 8, 1974. It’s crucial to acknowledge that, given his formidable resolve, Nixon could have defiantly clung to power, prolonging the legal process. However, instead of needlessly prolonging the legal proceedings, he chose to humble himself and step down. His priority was to safeguard the credibility of American democracy, understanding the importance of not perpetuating a divisive debate while the world watched. With the benefit of hindsight, we can now recognize Nixon’s significant contribution to the preservation of the American Constitution and the rule of law through his timely resignation.

What lessons might African leaders glean from such a narrative, particularly those grappling with crises and uncertain about whether resignation from state leadership signifies the end or merely a shift in trajectory?


Lessons for Africa through Prisms of Water Gate: Resign! ‘Wait Not-Until’ Death Come’!


Resignations in presidential systems hold significant weight compared to parliamentary systems due to differences in how leaders ascend to power, the scope of their authority, and the exercise of their immense power. The Watergate scandal offers several noteworthy observations: First, it underscores the efficacy of the American system’s checks and balances, which compelled President Nixon to resign. This demonstrates the robust interplay among the branches of government.

Second, the saga showcases the power of individuals with unwavering integrity to withstand corruption and hold their superiors accountable. Attorney General Leon Jaworski exemplified this by prioritizing the law over loyalty to Nixon, ultimately leading to Nixon’s prosecution. Third, Nixon promptly ceded power without unnecessarily prolonging the process. Fourth, it highlights the efficiency and integrity of various governmental departments, such as the FBI and CIA, alongside the judiciary, in upholding their values and responsibilities. This collaboration facilitated the swift resolution of a crisis involving a popular second-term president. Fifth, it underscores the importance of respecting opposition parties and maintaining the boundaries of power, even in the face of political tensions.


Conversely, in dictatorship systems, such principles are unimaginable, as they operate without the checks and balances that characterize democratic governance.


In contrast to the voluntary resignations typical of democratic nations, leadership changes in Africa frequently transpire through coercion or force. While confident leaders may willingly step down, others, such as Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, and Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, were ousted amidst popular uprisings or military interventions.


Under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s administration in Ethiopia, the rule of law has been severely compromised, if not altogether absent. Article 2 of the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”


By the UN’s definition of genocide, Ethiopia is currently experiencing genocidal actions. Mass murders are rampant, opposition organizations are being dismantled, their offices forcibly closed, and children are dying from hunger. Additionally, foreign forces have invaded the country, seizing a portion of its territory, with no one being held accountable for these atrocities. Military leaders, engineers, artists, and journalists are falling victim to mysterious and uninvestigated murders, with Prime Minister Abiy being implicated directly or indirectly in many cases. Despite the grave human rights abuses and crimes being committed under his watch, there has been no effort from other branches of government to hold Prime Minister Abiy accountable. Instead, he continues to enjoy support, even from the Parliament, which fails to call for his resignation.


The Parliamentarians, elected to represent their constituencies, have seemingly abandoned their duty to oversee the government’s actions. They turn a blind eye to the humanitarian attrocities unfolding in regions like Amhara, Tigray, parts of Afar, and Southern Ethiopia, effectively enabling the Prime Minister’s unchecked abuse of power.


Despite witnessing the suffering and starvation of millions of Ethiopians, Parliament remains silent in the face of the Prime Minister’s abuses of power, extravagant spending, and lack of accountability. If Prime Minister Abiy refuses to step down voluntarily, it falls upon the Parliament to fulfill its constitutional duty and utilize mechanisms such as a surprise government shutdown to compel an end to his tenure.


Tragically, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed appears to be inviting the specter of “death” through armed revolt. While it may be understandable that leaders bent on tyranny are unlikely to resign willingly, this article appeals to rational leaders at all levels of government to reject the temptations of power and luxury and work to salvage their country. Otherwise, all officeholders during this critical historical period would be complicit in the crimes unfolding before them.


The best way is to make mass resignations from all public high posts, starting with President Sahlework Zewde, who had some credentials even before she became President. Most feel that she has a special responsibility to lead by example by stepping aside from Abiy’s genocidal government at least for Three reasons: First, She owes Ethiopia as the most successful person and a privileged diplomat with a long career. Second, she can lose nothing as she has far better status without carrying the title of President.; Third, President Sahlework Zewde was the most celebrated and seasoned diplomat in the African and UN International spheres. It is a shame to continue as a president of Ethiopia to a prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, whose leadership has a record of pervasive attrocities against targeted ethnic Ethiopians from Afar, Amhara Gurage, and Tigray area. Therefore, the Ethiopian people demand immediate dissociation of the President from Abiy Ahmedi’s administration.


During the five years of Abiy Ahmed’s administration, under which President Sahlework belongs, an estimated two million Ethiopians have tragically lost their lives. As this article is being composed, reports emerge of a recent genocide in Merawi town, Gojjam province, where more than 1000 individuals are feared to have been brutally massacred. In response, an Emergency Decree has been issued, with the highest-ranking military commander overseeing operations in Amhara calling for Abiy Ahmed to be summoned before the International Criminal Court (ICC) as well as facing charges in Ethiopian courts.


President Sahlework Zewde should have tendered her resignation to express her disapproval. Similarly, Supreme Court judges, military generals such as General Abebaw Tadesse, police commanders, all cabinet ministers, and members of parliament should have resigned, given the crimes committed during the past five years. Failing to step down at the appropriate moment risks facing the regrettable consequences of popular insurrection. African political leaders can draw valuable lessons from historical events such as Watergate and President Nixon’s resignation if they seek forgiveness. Alternatively, they may face the fate suffered by figures like Muammar Gaddafi of Libya or Saddam Hussein of Iraq.


Act in accordance with ethical principles and Resign!





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