Haile Mariam Desalegne (born 19 July 1965) is an Ethiopian politician who has served in the government of Ethiopia as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs since 2010. Following the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on 20 August 2012, Haile Mariam was named acting prime minister. He is the first Protestant Christian (Pentay) head of government in the history of Ethiopia
Haile Mariam was born in 1965 in the Boloso Sore district of the Wolaita Zone in southern Ethiopia. He studied and spent most of his youth in the area.
In 1988, Haile Mariam obtained a Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the Addis Ababa University. He subsequently worked as a graduate assistant in the Arba Minch Water Technology Institute (now Arba Minch University). After two years of working in this capacity, he won a scholarship to Tampere University of Technology in Finland and obtained a masters degree in sanitation engineering. Upon his return to Ethiopia he served in different academic and administrative capacities, including the dean of the Water Technology Institute, for 13 years.
Haile Mariam is from the Wolayta ethnic group of Ethiopia, an Omotic community which forms the principal population element in Ethiopia’s Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region. Leaders of Tigray and Amhara origin (Habesha or Ethiosemitic) have traditionally dominated national politics over the last 200 years, sharing power during the Zemene Mesafint (“Age of the Princes”) with a succession of other Afro-Asiatic statesmen of mainly Cushitic background. Haile Mariam would be the first fully non-Habesha and non-Cushitic head of Ethiopia’s government in the nation’s history, Mengistu Hailemariam notwithstanding.
Haile Mariam’s name is in Geez, Ethiopia’s Orthodox Church liturgical language, and means “the power of St Mary”. His official name of address is Haile Mariam, the second name being his father’s name. The name of his father, Dessalegn, is Amharic for “I am happy”.
Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, he became seriously involved in politics as member of the EPRDF (Ethiopia’s ruling party) and became the deputy president of the SNNPR. He replaced Abate Kisho who was removed from power on corruption charges, but it is believed that Abate was demoted for supporting the anti-Meles Zenawi faction when the TPLF (the core of the EPRDF) split in 2000. Another widely accepted belief about Abate was that he was less educated and exercised poor leadership while he was in power.
Southern Nations, Nationalities, And People’s Region
He was President of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region (SNNPR) from November 2001 to March 2006 and was promoted as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs in October 2010. He has been performing leadership roles as deputy Chairman of EPRDF, Chairman of SEPDM, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs.
His service term has been as follows: Public Offices: V/President of the SNNPR (2000–2002); President of the SNNPR (2002–2005); Member of the House of People’s Representatives (2005–present); Social Affairs Special Advisor to the PM, then Public Mobilization & Participation Special Advisor to the Prime Minister (2005–2008); Government Chief Whip, with a Ministerial portfolio (2008–2010). Party Posts: Member of the Executive Committee of the EPRDF and the SEPDM (2000–present); Chairman of the SEPDM (2002–present); Deputy. Chairperson of the EPRDF (since Sept 2010).
After his tenure as President of the SNNPR, Haile Mariam worked in the Prime Minister’s Office as the advisor on Social Affairs and Civic Organizations and Partnerships for two years. In 2010 Haile Mariam was sworn in to dual ministerial positions as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Acting Prime Minister
On the 21st August 2012, Haile Mariam took interim control of the country as acting prime minister. According to the Ethiopia Ministry of Information, the leading party, EPRDF, will convene in the coming regular meetings to elect a Prime Minster until the next General Election. Due to his lack of ethnic affiliation to any of the main politically active groups, it is believed he could proceed to be the PM for the next three years. Haile Mariam was already working as a Foreign Minster and a deputy PM.