The Untold Stories: The political shocks without shock absorbers accelerated the death of Meles Zenawi

One of the new breeds of African leader’s comrade Meles Zenawi has died at the age of 57. The legacy of the late Ethiopian Prime Minister will be split between criticism over his human rights record and recognition for being an ally of the West against what they call terrorism.

While the cause of his death remains a mystery for many people within Ethiopia and outside, what is certain though is that he had not groomed a clear successor in line to take power. Whether the current Deputy Prime Minister who constitutionally is second in line, will be respected by the army and other close allies of the late Prime Minister remains a puzzle that political analysts and theorists within the political academia cannot answer with precision at this moment in time.

As I have mentioned above when then- US President Bill Clinton toured Africa in March 1998, he hailed the Ethiopian leader, along with Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda as new kind of African leaders who the West could do business with. Like President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Meles Zenawi despite being both staunch allies of the West, their style of autocratic governance has garnered scorn from human rights groups.

When Meles Zenawi came to power in 1991, he argued that the success of any government depends on the policies of integrating the masses in decision making “The … provisional government unwaveringly believes that it can solve all the present problems together with the broad masses of Ethiopia. However, we can do this only if all the people come out in unison to implement our planned undertakings. Above all, let us contribute our share in our respective areas for the prevalence of absolute and complete calm, in towns and rural areas”

A change of guards without fundamental change: After helping to oust Mengistu Haile Mariam’s Communist military junta, which was responsible for hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian deaths. Meles became prime minister in 1995 with a lot of expectations from all the corners of political spectrum with the hope that he will fundamentally change the political ugliness that had characterized his predecessor Mengistu Haile Mariam. Although Meles Zenawi is highly praised for economic transformation of Ethiopia, bringing it out of a hugely difficult period following Mengistu’s rule , he is equally blamed for failing the people of Ethiopia with his ruling party by focusing on building his own authority in recent years instead of building up government institutions. According to Lefkow of human rights watch: ”I think on the human rights side his legacy will be much more questionable. The country remains under a very tightly controlled one-party rule and this will be the challenge for the new leadership, to take advantage of the opportunity that his death presents in terms of bringing Ethiopia into a more human rights-friendly, reform-minded style of leadership,”The Ethiopian leader was faced with external and internal political pressure, though he won accolades for economic progress; human rights groups have long denounced Meles’ government for its use of arbitrary detention, torture, and surveillance of opposition members inside Ethiopia. The ONLF, an opposition group that mostly consists of ethnic Somalis, has openly clashed with the government, including in 2007 when Ethiopia sent troops to Somalia to fight al-Shabab militants.

At the end of 2006, Somalia’s UN-backed government asked Ethiopia to send troops into Somalia to try to put down an Islamist insurgency. Ethiopian troops moved into the country and captured Mogadishu, but the Somali population rebelled against what it saw as an occupation and Ethiopian forces withdrew in 2009.Ethiopia again sent troops to Somalia in early 2012 as part of an increased international effort to pressure al-Shabab. Uganda, Burundi and Kenya all have thousands of troops in a coalition under the African Union, though Ethiopia’s forces are not part of the coalition.
Earlier in Meles’ tenure, from 1998-2000, Ethiopia fought a border war with its former ally and comrade Isaias Afewerki the President of Eritrea, a conflict that resulted in tens of thousands of deaths.New breeds of African leaders become Darling Dictators of the Day

It is a shame that these so called new breeds of Africa are praised by the West not on merit that they deserve but on the assumption that they can be used as a press button for their political and economic interests. Uncompromising attitude on democracy this is what all these news breeds of African leaders have in common, they don’t tolerate any dissent, Kagame in Rwanda has not only politically persecuted his political opponents but has also murdered them within Rwanda and outside. Indeed, like so many rebel generals who have made the switch to civilian leadership, Kagame places a high premium on loyalty and discipline, likes to operate in secrecy, is comfortable using violence and threats of violence against his enemies, and tends to equate criticism with treason.

Camouflaging as a saint, he doesn’t appear motivated by wealth or luxury, either for himself or his relations, never the less; he is regarded as one of the richest people in Rwanda owning through proxies most of the business empires in Rwanda and some luxury Jets abroad. It is unfortunate that many admirers of these African dictators what they don’t realize is the fragility of the economic progress they make in their respective countries. There is no doubt that both Meles Zenawi and Paul Kagame are credited for radiating a quality of intense seriousness that is both impressive and intimidating with the most dynamic and effective leadership in Africa today, and also ruthless, repressive and intolerant of criticism.

As I mentioned in my previous article, despite all the shortcomings in what the West stand for, democracy and human rights, the fans of both Kagame and Meles Zenawi , who include Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Bill Gates and the CEOs of Google and Starbucks, the tinderbox nature of post-genocide Rwanda and the representation of the West by Meles Zenawi in the conflicts in Somalia , justify their strong hand and poor human rights record. For example the fact that Rwanda is ranked 183 out of 195 countries suppressing freedom of the press, outweighed by the fact that the per-capita GDP has tripled.

Also, the West lives with the guilty knowledge that it was Kagame and his rebel army who stopped the genocide, while we dithered and blundered, and Kagame has been skilful and relentless at using this guilt to his advantage. Therefore there is no doubt that Meles Zenawi has died a natural cause, but the timing and speed has been the work of much pressure and stress exerted by both external and internal factors. It is also unfortunate that some of these human rights abusers leave the political stage without being accountable to what they did.

Whether Kagame will live to answer some questions regarding disappearance of his colleagues, decapitated, or killed Rwandans we don’t know, but what we do know is that human beings have the same fate, whether you think or people call you a strong person, you will never be stronger than death.

Jacqueline Umurungi
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