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Ethiopia: More turbulence ahead for Ethiopian Airlines

The imminent ousting of Mesfin Tasew Bekele, who has been CEO of Ethiopian Airlines since March 2022, prompted the chairman of the board Girma Wake to step down unexpectedly last week.

The resignation earlier this month of Girma Wake as chairman of Ethiopian Airlines (EAL) was as sudden as it was unexpected, even if it came on the heels of weeks of behind-the-scenes wrangling between him and the company’s sole shareholder, the Ethiopian state. Girma disapproved of the decision to replace CEO Mesfin Tasew Bekele with commercial director Lemma Yadecha, whom Girma considered too inexperienced. The departure of Mesfin, who was made CEO in March 2022 (AI, 20/05/22), is said to be imminent.

Ethiopian Airlines’ 11 June statement announcing Girma’s resignation – three days after it took place – offered no explanation for his departure and Girma himself has not given a reason. The company did not reply to our request for comment. A key player in Africa’s leading airline, Girma was recalled to its board in 2018 and appointed chairman a year ago by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Serial departures

After last year’s resignation of long-standing CEO Tewolde Gebremariam, Girma’s return was meant to steady the airline’s course, and many expected him to stay on for a while. The octogenarian has a 30-year history with EAL, including as CEO between 2004 and 2011. He was immediately replaced as chairman by Lieutenant General Yilma Merdasa, who had been on the board since January 2021 after commanding Ethiopia’s air force since 2018.

Tewolde’s departure plunged EAL into a period of turbulence from which the company is struggling to emerge. Several people close to Girma took advantage of the instability to climb the EAL ladder. Chief operating officer (COO) Mesfin Biru replaced Nigusu Worku as the head of the airline’s international services, and Retta Melaku, a middle manager, became COO. Lemma Yadecha himself seized the opportunity to replace Esayas Woldemariam, who was dismissed in April 2022, as commercial director. However, this regional executive, who has held EAL positions in Malaysia, Burkina Faso and France, still has little experience in the upper echelons of the airline.

Africa Intelligence.