The Ethiopia Meles left behind.
Isayas A. Sep 4, 2012
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was laid to rest on September 2, 2012. He died due to an infection that followed to what seemed a very successful surgery for a stomach ailment. So promising was his recovery that government officials were telling us the entire time that he would be assuming his duty in a few weeks’ time. Meles should not have died this early especially due to an infection but he has! My prayer is with Azeb and the children -Semhal, Senai and Marda. May God give them the strength to overcome the sorrow. I realize that Azeb on her own is a very strong talented woman, a caring mother and leader which Meles probably knew thus why he left everything on her shoulders early on.
But who is Meles the politician who millions are mourning for and what kind of Ethiopia did he leave behind?
Meles the leader died working hard day and night to transform Ethiopia in to a prosperous and peaceful country which he certainly was envisioning light at the end of the tunnel. And Meles the person and tegadalay (fighter) died upholding the promise of his fallen comrades. He stood steadfast and defended TPLF’s legacy like no other tegadalay.
I was not lucky to have met Meles in person but I was lucky to have understood early on what Meles the leader and political was all about. I was always one step behind him in understanding him politically but I always knew Meles was a kind and caring individual and certainly one of a kind intellectual.
Prior to his funeral I saw thousands of mourners flocking to Meles’ residence to pay homage. I was amazed, ecstatic and saddened all at the same time. I was sad because I really wanted Meles to see the love, affection and respect people had towards him. I thought to myself that he may have died not knowing since my assumption is he died without giving too much time for reflection. I was amazed to see the palace that was protected like no other place on earth become a people’s house. The palace (Meles’ residence) was full of ordinary people from all corners of Ethiopia and I was ecstatic to see and hear how profoundly the message of the growth and transformation was being echoed by the people as they were paying respect to Meles’ body vowing to continue what he started and consoling themselves reiterating that his idea would live in the hearts and minds of all Ethiopians.
But , what kind of Ethiopia did Meles leave behind?
Many in the west praise PM Meles for his intellect and his government’s performance in regards to turning the economic situation of the country for better. For sure, Meles’ government has done wonders to turn Ethiopia’s economy on an upward trajectory. The economic engine is warming; all it needs is changing the gear and continue rolling. The people want the Growth and Transformation to succeed so much so that the public is expecting the EPRDF leadership to do all in their power to see the successful completion of the first phase of the plan. It is not an understatement if I say the public is in no mood to accept mediocre performance from the EPRDF leadership from here on.
The West is also quick to highlight human right issues and the narrowing of democratic space under PM Meles government. It is no secret that Ethiopia is a developing democratic country. It has cemented the democratic pillars that will carry on the burdens of democracy. I always thought some in the West were deliberately tarnishing Meles’ government in the handling of human rights issues and attempting to coerce the government. And I still do since what I have seen and witnessed is quite a different story thus makes me boldly to state the West has erroneous assessment of the country’s progress. Here are a few points that I would like to highlight to refute the erroneous assessment of the West.
1) On Individual rights - The people of Ethiopia are owners of their destiny. Unlike the old Ethiopia, today all Ethiopians feel a sense of ownership to the state of affairs in the country. I witnessed many people who travelled from the far corners of Ethiopia paying tribute to PM Meles. One of the speeches read at the funeral ceremony was by the regional president of Somali region and he read it as a proud Ethiopian who would do anything to keep Meles’ legacy of making poverty history. In summary the Ethiopia Meles left is at peace with itself and with its proud people promising to make Meles’ vision a reality.
2) On democratic Space - Ethiopia has a wide space for all kinds of political opposition groups. There are many private papers serving different interest groups. So wide and large is the space, even religious institutions are included to serve the diverse interest of the society! Also, what I witnessed is that the majority of the people in Ethiopia are not consumed by politics. The people are really engaged in the economic battleground. The West needs to understand this reality. Meles left a population that is equipped with a clear priority and that is to continue focusing on the growth and transformation path.
3) On EPRDF- Almost all opposition groups in Ethiopia do appreciate the democratic space the EPRDF government has ensured for all to play. Their beef with the EPRDF is not so much about space. They know no one is blocking them from going around the country to talk to people. They just do not want to go outside Addis Ababa. In fact they seem to bet their luck on flying to Washington DC and reaching out to foreign embassies. So it was not the Meles government or the EPRDF government that has narrowed the space for the opposition but their own limited scope of understanding that the power lies with the people. The West can help Ethiopia’s progress and partner in the great scheme of efforts to establish a vibrant multi party system. In my opinion all legal oppositions must make a sincere effort to start bottom up and not top down approach.
Meles left an Ethiopia that is not suited for idiots as Susan Rice put it. Meles worked hard to serve the interest of the people and he was bold and courageous in his resolute stand to be of service to the Ethiopian people. I watched an archive video where Meles was telling the farmers of Sokota to deny some corrupt officials their vote if they were not providing service to the majority of the populace. He basically told them the power was within them and assured them that the constitution ensured their right.
Ethiopia is no perfect country, but PM Meles has left a firm foundation where mistakes can be corrected without much tribulation. PM Meles has single handedly turned millions of Ethiopians to think positive and to remain upbeat on the growth and transformation plan. Meles has left us an Ethiopia with a development agenda and with millions of people equipped with a grandiose idea, which I dare call Meles’ idea founded in his party the EPRDF!
Meles died making history, a splendid history indeed! Too bad he died of infection which could not be prevented in spite of the advancement of medicine. I hope lessons have been learned and we will not see a leader die of overwork in the future. Many others and I certainly feel Meles was allowed to work long after he became ill! And that is the only negative feeling I heard people talking amidst their grief.
Note: I did not want to mix the extremist in this commentary but to be fair I would like to tell them I saw Alamudi, Samora, and Enderias walking straight up and breathing. What I did not see is a live walking and breathing extremist! Where have the extremists gone?