I read an Amharic article posted on Aiga Forum describing at length the leadership qualities of Abay Woldu, the newly elected president of the Tigrai Regional State Administration. This is the Namaaya to his Inikii, as it were. The writer—though his name was withheld for reasons I have no way of knowing—details at length Abay’s experience as a freedom fighter, administrator and as a self-less leader who does not care a hoot about publicity. Though not particularly privy to him personally, I have every reason to believe the guy is indeed everything the writer said about him and then some. Where I felt somewhat a bit put off reading the article though is the tone with and—perhaps the timing in—which these laudatory remarks were made.
I have problems with the tone mainly because it was very much unlike any you would hear about many other leaders in the EPRDF. True, there have been all kinds of people raising all kinds of issues with the leadership qualities of all too many EPRDF leaders—including, as it were, that of Meles Zenawi.
I remember having one gone nearly physical with a friend of mine back in 2001 for suggesting that Gebru and et al’s departure from TPLF was more a blessing than a curse merely because my friend thought—in so many words, I might add—that Haleqa Tsegai was never a substitute for Gebru to which I replied that Tigrai would never sink lower than it did under the latter. As it turned out, although not a typical ‘leader’ of magical qualities, Haleqa nonetheless proved to be as dedicated—and genial to boot—a leader as they come. That there were not too many people willing to praise him to the skies did not detract from the fact that he was, at the end of the day, TPLF’s soldier. As for the likes of my friend who thought Gebru and Seyee’s departure did mark an unceremonious end of history, the story could not have ended more disappointingly.
We may not be nostalgically singing of ‘the good old days’ of Tigrai under Haleqa, but we know for fact he did everything he could to make things work in that region as much as any other leader of the party. So too will Abay. That TPLF has put its entire political weight behind him—not to mention his arguably illustrious career since day one—is reason enough to put faith in the guy.
To those who are ill-disposed towards the system, even Meles Zenawi’s now almost universally acknowledged leadership qualities are far too hard to swallow. Rather than the songs and poetry that we now so often come across, his works—works that have positively affected literally tens of millions of people—speak louder in his praise. Meles and many of his ilks do not need a popularizor not only because that is not they have all along fought for but because, when it comes right down to it, no amount of SHIRDEDA or tirade can detract an inch from the monumental success that they have made possible through their toil. That the likes of Meles don’t go out shopping for vain glory, if anything, is a measure their integrity—the stuff, as Al Pacino would have it, out of which great leaders are made.
To go back to the topic that got me writing this in the first place, Abay Woldu for all we care does not need the kind of ‘popularizing’ that the writer ventured into in so a cringe-inducing fashion—not at least in the tone the writer used in this particular piece in Amharic.
I am also equally bothered by the timing since it makes it sound like readers have to countenance Abay-the-unsung-heroes elevation to the number one position in Tigrai—and number two in the party. It smacks of the kind of unnecessarily apologetic remarks that some even naively make in regards to whether the party’s ‘metekakat’ policy is indeed working by pointing to the lack of highbrows newly joining the party ranks.
Tigrai—and Ethiopia for that matter—does not necessarily need dozens of PhDs swarming the corridors of Dejen in order for metekakat to come full circle. Although far from being PhD-basher myself, I believe commitment to the cause of the nation and the humility to seek to learn from others is what it takes to get the people of the country where EPRDF believes they deserve to be. In that respect, Abay has what it takes and then some which does not necessarily mean that he has reached the pinnacle of his career. As I believe he would agree, this is hardly cut-and-dried assignment in which there are easy answers to difficult problems.
To its credit, Meles Zenawi’s EPRDF is never complacent with even the best of its performances and there is nothing to suggest that it perhaps have let its guard down when it came to selecting Abay to the top-seat in Adishindhun. My hope is Abay will not allow himself to doubt that he may not after all be equal to the task and succumb to the folly of trying to ‘advertise’ his leadership qualities. That he has served the party and the region with distinction for as long as many of us lived is reason good enough to get him where he is.
My discomfort at reading the article in Amharic is this. Rather than conveying the right message about a guy who has so unflinchingly gave his all to the cause of the peoples of Ethiopia and that of Tigrai in particular, it kind of sounded like a totally amateurish—and uncalled for no less—praise to somebody whose work leaves little doubt as to his well-deserved qualifications to lead the very region he has been serving in different capacities for literally decades now. To the extent that leadership is the function of one’s experience, it does not necessarily have to be that of the past. As far as leaders are concerned, their future is far more important—and in equal measure more decisive—than their past however illustrious it may have been. I have every confidence that Abay will prove me right.
The Writer can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org