Response to Meles Zenawi. Eskinder Nega (Addis Ababa)

May 28th, 2010 Print Print Email Email

Imprinted in popular imagination is the image of Meles Zenawi quivering, focused; and clearly at one of his heights of oratory as he ranted against the Algiers Technical Arrangement in one of his most—he has several— press conferences. (more…)

Imprinted in popular imagination is the image of Meles Zenawi quivering, focused; and clearly at one of his heights of oratory as he ranted against the Algiers Technical Arrangement in one of his most—he has several— press conferences.  “We will not relent until Shabiya(the Eritrean government) leaves our land without any precondition. No negotiation before then. We reject the Technical Arrangement put forth by the international community to avert war.”

Later, when his party’s leadership imploded, which pitted the core senior leadership against him, his ardent allies came to his defense by citing his brilliant performance at the press conference depicted above. “It tipped the balance of public opinion in favor of the war,” they said, refuting his opponents charge that he is intuitively inclined against patriotism.

What his defenders did not say, but which he was to admit at a future date, was that he did not believe in what he had said. He was on the record (secretly) in support of the Technical Arrangement. He was in effect lying when he passionately raged against it at the press conference. Of course, his narrative is slightly different, insisting that he did it as a “disciplined solider” of his party; since his duty is to express his party’s, not his, perspective. That may very well be true; at least from the perspective of his Leninist roots. But what has lingered in the back of the public’s mind ever since has been the passion with which he spoke in favor of something he did not believe in—the power of his pretense.

Meles is unquestionably an intelligent man. It is unfathomable for anyone to seriously ponder whether he actually believes that the credibility of Ethiopia’s electoral process hangs only on the process and not the outcome—though admittedly that is the case in some other countries. The dynamics of Ethiopia’s history, and not merely its distant era but no less its violence ridden recent past, is dead against the one party dominated democracy in ethnically and religiously homogenous Japan that Meles oft cites to rationalize the dominance of his party. Or is Meles convinced, as Francis Fukuyama was immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall, that history has ended with the triumph of the EPRDF ,and historical cleavages do not matter any more? That they have—to borrow a renowned Marxist phrase—withered away, paving the way for one party to garner 99% of parliamentary seats in multi-ethnic and multi religious Ethiopia?

Very unlikely. Perhaps some in his party’s top leadership may think so; but not sophisticated Meles. He is far too smart, far too well read; and more notably, far too cynical. The Meles Zenawi that was citing Japan and Sweden to journalists on Wednesday in support of his party’s outrageous margin of victory is the same Meles that years ago publicly tore apart the merits of the Technical Arrangement that he cherished in secret. The only difference is that his power of speech is somewhat diminished this time. Asked by a journalist how he feels about the absence of the opposition in parliament, he replied offhandedly, unable to find words for the lengthy rhetoric that he is fond of : “ I feel nothing”

But feel he does, as was evident when he responded to another journalist who had queried about an election related issue. “ We thought we would get anything between 50 and 75 % of the vote,” he said,  with a tone that was less sure and firm than usual. “We neither projected nor expected to get 99%,” he added, almost thinking out aloud about his overzealous cadres, who have now pushed him beyond the pale in the international arena; where he was until Monday—the day the “election results” were announced—a rising star.

And for the first time in two decades it seems that his relationship with one of the powerful actors in the international arena, the Americans, is poised to suffer—though it is not clear to what extent. Meles thinks he has the edge, though. “Ours is a two way relationship,” he said at Wednesday’s press conference, confident as ever. “ Our relationship is not reliant on the interest of only one party.” But he may be overestimating how much the Americans continue to value the information they acquire about Somalia from his—in the words of the Economist magazine—“bare knuckled security.” Johnnie Carson, for example, the low key Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, acknowledged that the election was “calm and peaceful”, but used uncharacteristically strong words to highlight his government’s displeasure: “We note with some degree of remorse that the election were not up to international standards.” The State Department was even bolder: “Steps to be taken to level the playing field( for the opposition) will influence the future direction of U.S.- Ethiopian relations.” Not exactly the words of a party that is worried about the effects of a severed relationship. But Meles promised “not to grovel to get aid” on Wednesday; a message he delivered in exactly the same words to the EU, too.

“Our understanding was that EU Observers were here to report only on the raw facts of the election, which they did well,” said Meles to an Ethiopia journalist who asked about the observers’ preliminary report. “But like we feared they have transgressed their mandate, and are dabbling in politics.” And he went on to speculate about the mission’s motive. “They are trying to create room for political meddling in the future,’ he said conspiratorially. Nonetheless, he is confident that his relationship with the EU, which, contrary to the precedent set over the past six decades all over Africa, believes that aid is crucial in reducing poverty, as opposed to rapid economic development, will not suffer. “The EU Foreign Minister has sent us a message, and she assures us the relationship will continue,” said Meles. Which way the relationship goes, however, is also reliant on how the opposition is perceived, say diplomats. “A strong and viable opposition is a strong incentive for us to consider change,” said one of them to me.

Meles’ legendary temper, while mostly subdued on Wednesday, flared briefly, ignited by a question about Anna Gomez, EU’s chief observer in the 2005 elections. “( Berman) and Anna Gomez are fundamentally different. Anna Gomez is a lair. I have some respect for this year’s observers. I have absolutely no respect for her,’ he lashed out at her, his voiced slightly raised. “ She is now openly advocating armed struggle as the only viable means to bring change to Ethiopia. She has become a war-monger.” Needless to say, a charge that is utterly fallacious.

Little noticed, but of significance, was the question he was asked about the opposition’s alleged result in Tigary. “They got more than I expected,” he said, no doubt a bit petrified. The non- EPRDF vote, allegedly about 17,000 out of a total of 116,000 in the preliminary results, is proportionately more than the opposition’s alleged results in Oromia and Amhara. Perhaps the clearest message form the electorate—suppressed though it is—that EPRDF’S hegemony is resented; and menacingly, brewing just below the surface.

But the bombshell of the press conference was to come when he was asked if he foresees the day when the EPRDF becomes an opposition party in his lifetime. ( He is in his mid 50s, and expects to live several decades more.) “ I can’t be sure,” he said, calmly and seriously. I will spare you the absurd rhetoric that ensued. And here is where I think a citizen’s response to Meles, from me, one of tens of millions of Ethiopians who aspire to nothing more than see the day when our votes will not be stolen in our lifetime, is warranted: You will be mightily surprised in your lifetime, Sir!!! Mark my words!!!

  1. wiyane
    | #1

    meles is dami in the world

  2. aha!
    | #2

    Yes, we have a very good response about the election process from KAEUP with all the handicaps about the causes to the election process, rigging of votes may be one of them, demanding for a rerun. Instead you are trying to brain wash us about the brilliance of the Prime Minister, in the same fashion as in the aftermath of the election of 2005, only to conclude with “aspire to nothing more than to see the day when our votes votes will not be stolen in our life time”.

    As far as I am concerened, I aspire to see all Ethiopians, rally around the goals for unity, territorial integrity, sovereignity of Ethiopia and Ethiopians to overpower the TPLF/eprdf regime and abolish ethnic and secessionist politics and/or policies from Ethiopia in order to avoid a three-way thug of war among TPLF/eprdf, the would be Tigrai-Harena/fdd/efdr with its new teletafi parrties on ethnic agenda, and KAEUP, EDP, and others in favour of the silent majority Ethiopian tax payers to whom every Ethiopian in the Diaspora as well as in Ethiopia are accountable to. We will still have a credible alternative for the alliance on the war on terrorism, while maintaining Ethiopian Nationalism and Ethiopian interest in a free and democratic society.

    Please stop aggrandizing individuals and focus on their party platform, in order to objectively resolve the political and economic crises of Ethiopia.

  3. Drama
    | #3


  4. weyane leba
    | #4

    kaeup??? what is it? it is joke.less than lidetu party.

  5. Mekuria
    | #5

    Meles’s Absurd Fallacy about Japan and Sweden
    May 31, 2010 By: admin Category: Top-stories

    May 31, 2010 / Birtukan Haile

    What we have in Ethiopia today is not a one-party-dictatorship but a one-man-dictatorship. TPLF has ceased to exist as a party since Meles came to the helm and certainly since 2001 when the party split into two. We have to, therefore, make a distinction between a one-party-dictatorship and a one-man-dictatorship. That helps us to stay focused on the real issue. Meles is using all kinds of tricks to stay in power as long as he could by hiding behind a none-existing party. He wrongfully and misleadingly cites the cases of the Japan ’s Liberal Democratic and the Swedish Social Democratic parties as precedents of staying in power of one party for too long in the democratic countries.

    However, there is no parallel, none whatsoever, between the circumstances under which those parties in Japan and Sweden stayed in power for a long time and the circumstances under which Meles is staying in power in Ethiopia . Let me give just a couple of reasons, among dozens, why Meles’s comparison is absurd, baseless, shameless, outright lie and only self-serving.

    1) The parties in Japan and Sweden were elected in free and fair elections where all the necessary institutions for a democratic pluralistic society are in place, alive and well, and functioning at the full gear. Needless to say, the precursors for a democratic pluralistic society include institutions such as an independent and vibrant free media ( both print and electronic), independent judiciary, independent civil societies, independent military, security and police forces, independent civil service professionals at local levels to provide basic services and, not least, an independent election board. Whereas these preconditions for democracy are fulfilled to the fullest extent possible in Japan and Sweden , they are literally none existent in Ethiopia . If any, the very few that were fledging right around the 2005 sham elections have been completely eradicated by subsequent deliberate measures taken by Meles after he was dealt a humiliating defeat in the hands of the Ethiopian people at that election. Today, whatever ‘free’ institutions Meles claims exist in the country are only those that he created or overhauled in order to use them as his additional arms of repression. All those institutions that exist in name only in Ethiopia today have become part and parcel of the repressive machinery that Meles uses to make sure that he stays in power as long as he could.

    2) Whereas in Japan and Sweden , there had been one-party-dominances for a certain period of time in their recent histories, IN ETHIOPIA WE HAVE A ONE-MAN-DICTATORSHIP. Let me explain. In the case of Japan , the Liberal Democratic party had been in power between 1955 and 2009 with short interruptions from August 1993 to April 1994 and from June 1994 to January 1996 when the Japan New and Socialist parties were elected to power, respectively. Let us focus on the Liberal Democratic party that stayed in power for a total of nearly 50 years in Japan in the said period. Politics is about power. Political scholars like Salancik and Pfeffer (1977) describe power as “the ability of those who possess power to bring about the outcomes they desire”. What makes a party a party is not only its political program but also the people that stand behind the program – those individuals especially the party leaders who implement those very programs of the party. In a democratic society, it is not only the programs or a particular set of policies that decide the fate of a party in a democratic election but also the individual leaders in the party that are the faces and personifications of the party, its program and its policies. For instance, in the U.S. , the Democratic and Republican parties get elected to power or deposed from power alternatively not because they keep changing their party programs but because they keep changing party leaders (nominees). More often than not, the majority of the electorate decides its way of voting based on the personalities of the leaders of the competing parties more than the programs of the parties. That is just the nature of politics. The point I am trying to get to here is that it is not only what party is in power that is important but also who is (President or Prime Minister) in power is as important if not more.

    Furthermore, in Japan , though they kept one party in power for an extended period of time in their recent past, they kept changing their prime ministers. The turnover rate of the prime ministers in Japan is even more than the turnover rates in other democratic countries that kept swapping parties in power in the same period of time. For example, Japan had 28 Prime Ministers in the nearly 50 years the Liberal Democratic party had been in power. This translates to an average of less than two years in power for each prime minister. This is an irrefutable testimony to the functioning democracy, accountability of the party and the government to the people and, more importantly, the power of the people to change their government freely.

    In order to further expose the fallacy of Meles’s baseless comparison, let us just take his own example and put things in perspective. Even since Meles came to power through the barrel of the gun in 1991, Japan has had 13 prime ministers while Meles – the same person – has stayed put in power in Ethiopia . Japan had 12 Prime Ministers when the Liberal Democratic party had been in power between 1991 and September 2009 after which they lost to the Democratic party that is currently in power. The same thing is true for the Swedish Social Democratic Party though the turnover rate of the prime ministers in Sweden was much slower than in Japan . Sweden has had 5 prime ministers since Meles came to power. The U.S. and the U.K. , each has had 4 Presidents and Prime Ministers, respectively, since Meles killed his way to power in 1991. Even in a one-party-dictatorship China , they have had three presidents and three prime ministers since Meles took control of Ethiopia in 1991 and started to terrorize the Ethiopian people to continue to hang onto power as long as he can. Even a one-party-dictatorship remains to be a remote luxury for the Ethiopian people. What we have in Ethiopia is not even a one-party-dictatorship but worse – it is a one-man-absolute-brutal-dictatorship. If there is a need for a comparison, the only one Meles might be compared with is Kim Il Sung of North Korea .

    No hiding for Meles behind a one-party-dictatorship. When Meles uses the cases of Japan and Sweden as healthy examples of a one-party-dominance, he is attempting in futile to deflect the real attention away from himself; namely, from his one-man-absolute-brutal-dictatorship. Currently, Ethiopia is not under a one-party-dictatorship but worse – it is under one-man-absolute-brutal-dictatorship. The sham election Meles orchestrated last week is yet another reaffirmation of this fact beyond any reasonable doubt. With his stupid 99.9% fake “victory,” Meles left this time around no wiggle room even to his Western financiers who normally come to his defense, no matter what, with occasional little slap on the wrist for his excesses.

    Moreover, driven by his never ending and fathomless myopia, Meles has been falsely pledging to relinquish power in five years. For Meles, it is one day at a time. Meles does whatever it takes to get through the day. Meles has no qualms, none whatsoever, to making an empty pledge today that he relinquishes power in five years only to renege on it when the time is around the corner. He makes those empty pledges in order to just diffuse the heavy pressure he is under at that moment and to deflect the attention from the real issue at hand today. Once he gets over the hurdle in front of his face, he reneges on his words with total ease and with no compunctions, none whatsoever. After five years, Meles will again fabricate another lie to stay in power for another five years as he just did before the last week’s orchestration of the sham election and the cycle continues. I, for one, do not believe for a nanosecond that Meles would leave power on his own unless he is forced out somehow someway. That is unthinkable. But let us just assume for the sake of argument that he would leave in five years. Even if he leaves, he would bequeath power to none other than to his own wife. The person at the very top of the shortlist of the replacements in the eventuality of his ‘departure’ has always been his wife whom he has been grooming for a long time. She would serve as a place holder until one of their children is old enough to assume power. Meles would never allow a peaceful transfer of power to anybody other than to his own immediate family. Since the TPLF is no more an institution but a private unlimited company of Meles and his family, the TPLF would never be able to elect its own leaders freely. This is yet another evidence that Ethiopia is under a one-man-absolute-brutal-dictatorship and not under a one-party-dictatorship.

    On the other hand, it is my understanding that everybody is trying to make sense of Meles’s latest nonsense act, namely, his declaration of the fake “99.9% election victory.” Even his staunchest supporters who receive the crumbs of the bounties of Meles’s one-man-absolute-brutal-dictatorship are dumbfound and in disarray to come to their master’s defense. Ethiopia has been made a laughing stock around the world by Meles’s 99.9% fake ‘victory’. Meles himself looks to be taken aback by the extent of his own stupidity and uncharacteristically ran out of words to defend it. Despite his extraordinary attempt to display an ecstasy of a ‘victor’ over his ‘fresh 99.9% mandate’ and a calm of a ‘veteran leader,’ Meles in his most recent press conference was unable to hide his embarrassment even at the mere mention of the number ‘99.9% victory’ by the journalists and visibly preferred to refer to it rather as a ‘landslide.’

    Speaking of numbers, we know why Meles has hand picked ‘10.1% annual GDP growth’ for his propaganda of ‘the speedy economic growth’ Ethiopia has been ushered into under his watch. It is because the number is just high enough to brag ‘a double digit economic growth rate’ but low enough to avoid the embarrassment of the World Bank/IMF and hence would not warrant their closer scrutiny. But, why ‘99.9% election victory’? It is a puzzle we all are trying to solve. Why is Meles unable to tolerate even his loyalists and allies like Lidetu Ayalew and Ayele Chamiso in his parliament? Why is Meles forced to take such a desperate action? Commonsense is, the seating of these loyalists in his parliament appears to enhance the image of Meles in the eyes of his Western bankrollers.

    As for the Ethiopian people, Meles fell out with them as soon as he usurped the throne and used the power of the office to abort and squander the real shot Ethiopia had at a democratic transition following the demise of the Derg. Since then he has continued to embarrass and drop off one after the other those who wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. As if that were not enough, Meles put the last holdouts, his Western financiers, on the spot with his May 23, 2010 absurdity. What forced Meles to decide to embarrass his Western donors and severe his essential lifeline? Although how far they would go to punish such uncalled for absurdity and naughtiness of Meles remains to be seen, his Western financiers are visibly shaken and disgusted. As stupid as it might sound, the message of “99.9% victory” is very clear and it is as much for his Western bankrollers as it is for the Ethiopian people who knew it all along anyway. The clearest message Meles wanted to get across in no uncertain term in his so called “99.9% election victory” is that he has turned decisively East with no room left for any doubt.

    However, despite the empty bravado and pompousness of Meles, what we read between the lines is that Meles is playing the very few cards left in his hands. This very last card (the 99.9% victory) Meles inadvertently played tells us that he is running out of cards. He has already been cornered and it is our responsibility to push ahead until the long journey of the Ethiopian people to freedom, democracy and justice comes to its logical conclusion.

    In politics, defining your opponent, rival or enemy, whatever you want to call it, gives you a decisive advantage over your opponent. By cornering and forcing Meles to declare the fake “99.9% election victory,” we have defined Meles more clearly than ever before and have exposed his true color to both his foes and friends. This is a major milestone in our struggle. Now, whether or not the West is willing to see the unmistakable true color of Meles or whatever the West decide to do, we, the Ethiopian people, should continue with our struggle for freedom, democracy and justice. If the West finally decide to come to the side of the Ethiopian people and to the side of supporting and promoting the values they claim to cherish, we say welcome home and embrace them with open arms. We know right from the outset that there are lots of bumps, more downs and a few ups on the long road to freedom, democracy and justice and we will continue to forge ahead, no matter what, until the final victory. We know we might lose battles here and there, but sure we are we will ultimately win the war. We also take note that our relentless efforts are slowly but surly paying off. Meles has been cornered and he is playing the last few cards left in his hands.

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