The Tragedy of Meles Zenawi’s Ingenuity

August 1, 2012

Ever since Meles Zenawi forced his way to the helm of power in Ethiopia in 1991, at no other time did he lack answers or excuses for major news in the air concerning Ethiopia. Starting from the early days of his appearances on Ethiopian Television, it is fair to say that his ingenuity at giving answers during such public discourses attracted much attention. His quick quips and depth of dishonesty could easily buy him unsuspecting believers or turn away innocent observers for good. To wit, when a local journalist cornered him around 1991 with a serious question regarding a certain crime that was committed by his party, which had been widely reported, he surprised his listeners by quickly answering that he heard about the crime for the first time from the journalist. His body language of insensitivity about the issue, however, appeared to betray his posture for innocence.

His ingenuity about no lack of answers over the last 21 years appear to be found nowhere in the last several weeks. The contradictory sound bites coming from various circles about his health and whereabouts have unmistakably highlighted the tragedy of his ingenuity that took him to various national and international venues. For 21 years, he has been leading a now over 80 million society that has a long history starting from ancient times; he has even recently picked up the call for Ethiopia’s renaissance.

As of today, no institution of the government he has been leading for the last 21 years has come out with a definite answer about the bizarre sound bites regarding his health and whereabouts, which range from he is dead to he will be coming back to work in a matter of days. Given the magnitude of the issue and its implications locally, regionally, and globally, he has utterly failed to make a meaningful official statement or prepare institutional capacity for any eventuality going forward from these sound bites. Such a failure in the 21st century perhaps borders on a colossal anecdote of biblical proportions in Ethiopia’s long history of leading itself and making a significant presence at the continental to global levels.

His death would probably be marked with an unheard of failure in leading any country at any time. He has disappointed many and pleased few. In Tigray People’s Libration Front, he is probably remembered most for this political grouping’s split in the aftermath of the 1998-2000 war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. He is charged with what seems to be treason against Ethiopia in favor of Eritrea to which his mother is a citizen. The conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea remains unsettled. In Ethiopia, he has brought about a highly charged political landscape that may be epitomized by the accusation that he allowed members of his ethnic group, which count for less than a two digit percent of the Ethiopian population, to lord over the remaining vast majority. He has used the Ethiopian Parliament Hall as a chamber to insult alternative voices that have constitutionally sanctioned constituencies. He has told the world that his party could amass 99.6 percent victory out of a presumably democratic election in Ethiopia. Globally, his known and yet to be known human rights records are nearly unparalleled. With his limited formal training, he has spoken on various occasions about climate change, which many have questioned and some have even gone to the extent of calling it the greatest hoax.

His conscious absence and silence for several weeks when the local and global communities are wondering about his health and whereabouts would only reveal the level of his leadership immaturity that many observed innocently in his quick quips and were turned away from the outset of his assumption of power in Ethiopia.

Historically, he has gone to great lengths to force his prominence in Ethiopian politics that the possibility of his conscious absence and silence could not be farfetched. He has thrown the second man in the TPLF to jail under dubious circumstances. After controlling power in Ethiopia, he negotiated with the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) to have each front’s armies to be encamped only to later unilaterally unleash his force against OLF’s encamped army.

In the aftermath of the 2005 legislative elections in Ethiopia, which led to the death of nearly 200 civilians under his command, he entered into political negotiations with the leaders of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) political grouping. He forced his way to end the negotiation that was mediated by the country’s elders at a time that the head of the Elders Committee was out of the country. He later threw back to jail one of the CUD’s leaders for merely explaining to her audience the circumstances of the release of the CUD leadership that Meles Zenawi had thrown to jail. As she testified, Meles Zenawi subjected this young and upcoming Ethiopian political leader to inhumane jail conditions.

Whatever the possibilities may be, that he is either seriously ill for undisclosed reason or consciously absent and silent for a politically calculated selfish reason, the tragedy of his ingenuity has been unraveled by the sound bites of the last several weeks in the absence of any institutional clarity, which appears to be unparalleled in our time.

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