Ethiopia: Meles’ and Mengistu’s visits to China By Eskinder Nega

August 19th, 2011 Print Print Email Email

This was a bitter sweet visit for Ethiopia’s increasingly precarious PM, Meles Zenawi. It was obvious he traveled to the Orient savoring the ensuing headlines. His cheerful mood was apparent as he boarded the chartered Boeing that was to ferry him to the Middle Kingdom. He was mysteriously all smiles.

Unbeknownst to many that day was Chinese approval of 500 million dollars in new loans to Ethiopia. Meles was due in Beijing to proudly preside over the official signing ceremony. What could the near bankrupt West do but look with marked tinge of envy? Certainly, no one would miss this cunning Chinese response to Hillary Clinton’s provocative “beware of Chinese colonization” June 2011 speech in Tanzania. And he would be in the spot that any leader in power for two decades naturally craves most, the international spotlight. In addition, there will of course be the 500 million dollars to take back home as proof that he still is, despite lingering uncertainty generated by the Arab Spring, an international player to be reckoned with. There were ample reasons to be upbeat.

But curse the hunger. It changed the narrative.

Somehow, there was more interest about the separate 55 million dollars food-aid offered by the Chinese; a paltry tenth of the loans generously extended in this age of financial pandemonium.

Meles wanted to speak about investment and loans when he met Wen Jiabao, the Chinese Premier. Economics dominated his thoughts.

But Jiabao had a crisis—yes, he called it a crisis!— in mind.

A crisis? What crisis? Have demonstrations broken out in Addis? Meles wasn’t smiling anymore.

“China will stay with Ethiopia to cope with the current crisis (hunger), beef up cooperation and strive for common development,” an unsmiling Jiabao told the media after the meeting.

To any one who read between the lines, this was the Chinese version of a public snub. Meles wanted economics to dominate his visit and hoped to limit the looming threat of famine to an afterthought. The Chinese opted for the opposite. They clearly wanted their guest to sensibly prioritize his needs by feeding the hungry first. And they let the world know, albeit by way of their customary doublespeak. There were only muted promises of investment. Much more was said about hunger.

Few days later, President Hu Jintao reinforced the official line when he met Meles in the Southern city of Shenzhen. I am concerned about hunger in the horn, he told Meles. This time there wasn’t even mention of other issues, at least as far as the media was concerned. There was no ambiguity. Hunger, not trade and investment, was center stage, much to the dismay of uppity Meles Zenawi.

Almost unconsciously, China has acted like the rising super-power it is. Confronted with irrefutable proof of a humanitarian disaster in the making, China has for the first time asserted real leadership far beyond Asia. For any one who cares to take notice, here is a historical milestone. Beijing could no more indefinitely stave off the responsibility of moral leadership that comes with world-power status.

The last time the Chinese snubbed an Ethiopian leader was in the 80s. Beleaguered Mengistu Haile-Mariam was in Beijing to complain about “imperialists” sabotaging his socialist revolution and plead for aid. But with ideologue Mao long dead, reforming Deng, then firmly in control of China, was in no mood for revolutionary rhetoric.

“Negotiate with your opponents and concentrate on feeding the people,” advised Deng.

Mengistu was outraged. He left Beijing not only disappointed but also angered. The audacity of Deng had unnerved him. He had excuses for his problems. The insurgents were little more than nuisances, they were not a real threat. Negotiating with them, he reckoned, would only be making a mountain out of a molehill. And ever the orthodox ideologue, drought not flawed policies bred Ethiopia’s hungry millions. He was not to blame.

In the end, of course, Deng was to be proved right. Even from a distance, his foresight was striking. But by the time Mengistu was finally prepared to heed his advice, it was too late.

Meles is not the only despot who sees more than there actually is in the rivalry between the West and the Chinese in Africa. Fantasies aside, unlike the cold-war era, when two world views were competing for world domination, the ball of contention is entirely different these days. The Chinese may aspire to eventual economic primacy but are perfectly cognizant that they offer no plausible alternative to liberal democracy. Their interest in Ethiopia, or indeed any where else in Africa, has always been exclusively commercial in the post-Deng years. Like the Japanese before them, they have neither politics nor world-view to export. Soft power remains an unchallenged domain of the West.

But with almost a million Chinese now living in Africa and trade having expanded spectacularly from 6 billion to 100 billion dollars in less than a decade, Chinese perspectives must inevitably broaden. Too much is now at stake. No more is it feasible to look askance when genocide was in play, as was the case in Sudan. No more is it possible to pretend that all is rosy as millions go hungry, as is the case with Ethiopia. Not only has China become rich and strong enough to make conscience an imperative but bad publicity is famously bad for business.

It’s time for a dose of imagination in Chinese foreign policy. A budding superpower could do more than merely oppose the West. And perhaps banning the sale of jamming devices would be the best place to start. It has tarnished China’s image.

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Fight tyranny from your PC. Abugida is blocked in Ethiopia. Keep posting articles on your facebook pages, which are available in Ethiopia.

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The writer can be reached at: serk27@gmail.com.

  1. The Eritrean one!
    | #1

    I think we can safely call all the weyanes pimps and prostitutes for many reasons of day-today activities, 1- their diplomacy of,
    “my behind for the west and mouth for east; and my behind for the east and mouth for the west”; 2- for child trafficking all over the world, 3- for exporting yournger Ethiopia all over middle east, 4- for looting Ethiopia to the bone, 5- for creating chaos in Ethiopia between one ethnic to another, 6- for creating unnecessary enemity between all commonities in the horn of Africa.

  2. wonde
    | #2

    thank you, Eskinder.

    The Eritrean One, yerasua siyarbat yesew tamasilalech, which is equivalent to saying ‘you busy body!’

  3. aha!
    | #3

    Very good analysis of the stance of Chinese regime during the Derg regime and the TPLF/eprdf regime, an ethnic-based multi-layer, hierarchical political model to a militatory and totalitarian dictator ship of the Derg regime, hinged on defending Ethiopian unity and territorial integrity of Ethiopia against the liberation movements. The Chinese then were not bent on ideological rehetoric, but of economic development despite freedom and democracy, while holding on to their Maoist ideology.

    In the process they were not only opening up the consumer market to Africa and to the USA through the US corporatins based in China with cheap labor to export products to both continets I presume. What is missing in your analysis, they were also engaged in the exploration projects for oil to satisfy their appetite for oil for expanding manufacturing industries and transportation for the source fosiled fuel energy, which brought them to the point of dominating the world economy, with leasing land in Ethiopia to satisfy their demand for food and commercial crops. The path they took in terms of economic development is also different from that of USSR, of which one of them is Russia.

    Despite the lack of concern for droght and famine crisis, for which it secures humanitarian aid from from the western democratic countries, as well as long term funding of budget support, the economic development program follows the Developmental State Economic theory/Capitalism in the East Asian style of economic development before democracy for which there is no contradiction with their style of economic development before democracy to supplement the possible decline of funds from the western democracies due to finacial crises. Whether the funding comes from IMF or from the China Government, the silent majority of Ethiopians carry the debt but not the benefit from participating in the economic, human and infratructural development of Ethiopia, due to lack of economic and political freedom and the God given liberty of the indiviuals, superceding ethnic and secessionist rights.

  4. Anonymous
    | #4

    You have no country to go or talk about. Just like 90% of poor Eritreans, sit and collect welfare. You can dream of being like Honk Kong or whatever. @The Eritrean one!

  5. Letiyebelu
    | #5

    China has a new ideology: ” I am a communist but my friendly country can be a devil or democrat for which i do not care an ounce”. China has failed its moral obligation and is acting like a cat looking for any kind of rat to eat. China is despots’ last safe-haven. china is providing despots with jaming technology to block free speech and block people’s quets for freedom. China is the new wild animal devouring around with little sense of mercy.

  6. aha!
    | #6

    What is more intriguing is using western capital to apply on East Asian Style of economic development before democracy in what is known as Developmental State Economic Theory/Capitalism, and for the pro-democracy movement of UDJP to endorse it with their slogan of “no change but durable democracy” in a country where economic development preceeds democracy, economic development by the few, and democracy for the few known as TPLF and TPLF affiliated enterprises.

  7. gragn Ahmed
    | #7

    CHINESE ARE NOT READY TO BE SUPER POWER. THAT IS ALL THAT MEANS. CHINESE GO WITH THE FLOW. THEY SUPPORTED SUDAN UNITY AND NOW THEY ARE BUSY WITH SOUTH SUDAN.

    THEY SUPPORTING LIBYA GHADAFI AND IF YOU WATCH CHINESE TV IT IS ALL ABOUT SYMPATHY FOR LIBYA. BUT IN THE END CHINESE ARE NOT READY TO INTERVENE IN ANY ARMED CONFLICT BY SENDING THEIR TROOPS. UNTIL THEN RUSSIAN AND CHINESE INFLUENCE IS A FAR FETCHED CRY. WEST SETS THE BAR. SAD TRUTH.

  8. Jacob
    | #8

    Well written… Excellent observation….However, the statement that says “But by the time Mengistu was finally prepared to heed his advice, it was too late.” is misplaced. Mengistu was never prepared to do anything different. It is because of the moron and tyrant Mengistu that Ethiopians are suffering now.

  9. Sheger
    | #9

    Not that we have to believe everything people say but, thank you Eskedir.

  10. ABULA
    | #10

    Too much Abesha STYLE TWISTING. MR. ESKINDER YOU ARE READING JUST BEYOND THE FINE LINE. IT IS JUST THE WAY WE HAVE BEEN THOUGHT IN PSYCHOLOGY 101 ABOUT CERTAIN BEHAVIOURAL DISORDER. WONDERFUL ENGLISH BY THE WAY!

  11. Dawi
    | #11

    Eskender described Clinton’s “beware of Chinese colonization” and in response Jintao “snubbing” Meles while at the same time both filling his pockets with millions. One should wonder what is going on here?

    [[,, And perhaps banning the sale of jamming devices would be the best place to start. It has tarnished China’s image. ]]

    You must be kidding man to talk about “tarnished China’s image”? We don’t need to read Chinese to know that China has perfected censorship techniques and is now serving as a model and mentor for other authoritarian governments around the world.

    The dichotomy of Eskender is amazing. He dreams of both West and East to straighten up the Meles Dictatorship knowing that both find Meles to be their ideal partner at this juncture.

    As an Ethiopian I say any leader who plays both sides right like the Meles Dictatorship successfully should be complemented. We have to admit the Meles Dictatorship is at the top of its game.

    China’s grain production quadrupled from 1950 to 2010. For the past 60 years, China has, with just 7–8% of the globe’s agricultural land, fed about 22% of the world’s population. These days they buy grain from the outside world to put in storage for emergency. Ethiopia can do same.

    If the Meles Dictatorship takes Messay’s reconciliation proposal we can achieve similar kind of trasformation in a short time.

  12. The Eritrean one!
    | #12

    Anonymous or should we safely call you weyane beneficiary: pray to god the blood of innocent people of Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea will not appear on your door step sooner than later. No foreinger or outsider spilled or created more chaos in the horn of Africa like your aiga jungle products, weyanes, in the past 20 years and continue to do so. The boxer shorts of Tony Blair, George Bush or the mini skirts of Frazer and now Susan Rice may have been protecting you under the disguise, “our allies of the horn”, but not for long. Your midget is having a sleepless nights and you can witness his latest butt kissing of Chines officials or in real world it is called, “my behind for the east and mouth for the west”. We hope you have built enough big walls in the villages of adwa and mekelle. Until then please enjoy your looted resources that you have accumulated in the past 20 years or so.

  13. Tedklai
    | #13

    When will you Ethiopian teach yourself how to wean yourself from panhandling? I think it has found a deep root in your psyche that it has become an addiction you can not free yourself from. Where are all those ‘proud’ Amharas who used to tell us they are people with ‘glorious’ history and steely self respect? We have known those from Tigray as those beggars who used to roam the streets of Asmara begging and driving everyone of crazy with their persistence begging. Now you let this ugly dwarf woyane with an eternal history of begging to be your leader? You lazy bums!!!! Wake up and get up!!! We Eritreans are on the right path to glory, a glory that will manifest itself as industrially and therefore economically advanced. Just look what our leader was doing during his trip to Uganda? He was visiting factories and gathering ideas, if any. We Eritreans are different and different in our industrious culture and psychological make-up. I can tell an Eritrean standing alone in the crowd of a thousand Ethiopians from a mile away. And you can too if you know us very well. So you all lazy Oromos and Amharas wake up!!! The world around you is moving forward and you better catch the train before it leaves the station near you.
    I just came back from Asmara. While I was there, I visited Keren, Agordat, Assab and Massawa. This is my first trip since I left home more than 37 years ago. I am an experienced business man with my own small enterprise. From what I have seen, Eritrea is on its way to becoming the Singapore or Taiwan of the Horn. Everywhere I went, I was coming across industries humming and or new ones being started. I am not saying that is everything is copacetic and there is room for improvement. For a new nation like ours which just came out of a devastating civil war that raged for 30 years, the priority is to reconstruction and that is exactly what is being done now. South Korea, Malaysia, Brazil, Taiwan, Singapore and Indonesia were not democratic by the Western standard in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and most of the 80’s because their priorities were developing their countries industrially and thence economically. And that is what they did and that is what exactly taking place in my country. Our leaders have had their minds for long now and they will take the proper steps to bring Eritrea up to snuff with the tenets of political reformation. They will.

  14. ERETREA
    | #14

    Ethiopia :white mans burden.

  15. ERETREA
    | #15

    @Anonymous

    80 ‘WEAK’ Ethiopian arrested in Malawi

    The Maravi post- Raphael Tenthani

  16. Abel
    | #16

    #4 tetenake yasregizal !!!!!!!!!!!!!!You are on denial you need mental treatment.

  17. Tazabi
    | #17

    [[..South Korea, Malaysia, Brazil, Taiwan, Singapore and Indonesia were not democratic by the Western standard in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and most of the 80’s..]]

    At least our Dictator has written a thesis on Developmental Economics subject looking into the above countries you mentioned. What exactly is the ideology of Shabia today?

    Maybe be Isaias can learn a thing or 2 by reading Meles’s writing at Columbia U. web-sight. Isaias the one time mentor now learning from the Professor is Shabia’s predicament today. For you however, luckily, the taxonomy of Meles is even closer to an “Eritrean” therefore, no worries. It has to be better than Isaias, the son of a “beggar” who is leading you to reach where few men has gone before, the Qaddafi-fairy-land.

    Your dictator is not known for intellectual pursuit of subjects like Economics let alone the area of Developmental Economics path you talked about. He is known to re-invent the wheel during “liberation” time and still stagnated in that era. His hobbies of welding sculptures and carving wood is fine but are the wrong subjects to become like Singapore. So how you get there is a mystery to me.

  18. gemoraw
    | #18

    Dawi,

    “If the Meles Dictatorship takes Messay’s reconciliation proposal we can achieve similar kind of trasformation in a short time.”

    you kidding? what kind of reconciliation? incorporating puppet opposition leaders into the tplf machinery will not solve the problem. tplf owns and runs the biggest business chain in africa. tplf people control 98% of key military commanding positions in the ethiopian defense force. we have a minority tigre ethnic group spreading its tentacles into the economy and the security complex. the struggle should be to dismantle this tigre people parasitic front from ethiopia. we will do it. we have nothing to lose. tplf will lose everything.

    Messay Kebede is doing their job just to save tplf. He is no different than Andreas Eshete.

  19. aha!
    | #19

    The argument between Tazabi and Ted klai is not not only out of context in the light of the context in this article, other than to label it as the Amharic saying goes, “kezinjero konjo min yimerartuual” in terms of their intellectual/professional attributes. What they have in common though they intiated the liberation movement of ethnic and secessionist politics and/or policies that is/are stipulated in the constitution, and Ethiopian is undergoing another round of liberation movements. After the secession and sel-determination of Eritrea from the colonial Empire of Ethiopia and the establishment of ethnic and secessionist politics and or policies with underlying totaliarinism was inplace and Eritrea was established under a dictatorship, both the leadership of TPLF and EPLF were exploiting Ethiopia together, until they disagreed to live together
    in an equal basis and disagreed on certain issues and parted from each other, resulting in war skirmishes over the border between the two provinces which other wise would not have happened if Eritrea remained as part of Ethiopia, despite the continuation of exploitation under the current system of ethnic federalism and secessionism.

    The disussion about the attributes of these leaders in terms of their intellectual properties does address the system they created nor to the topic under discussion. What we have now are the old liberation movents under the controll of TPLF, and the new liberation movements under sponsorship of EPLF and aspiring to ride under the coat tails of Ginbot 7, by foringing an alliance instead of a merger, the outcome of which is dubious.

  20. Dawi
    | #20

    gemoraw:

    I support Messay’s “Manifesto” so that all “elites” can participate in Ethiopia’s Transformation.

    That will invite all Ethiopian professionals to participate in nation building. The lack of capacity of the present Developmental State will be solved thus shortining the time it takes to be a middle income country. The choice for Meles is 10 years VS 30 or more without Messay’s “Manifesto”.

    We have read of the retiring of 500 or so military officers lately; it shows the direction Meles is heading.

    Obviously what TPLF owns is under Meles’s Dictatorship.

    As the Developmental State is his vision, I have no doubt what ever resources in his hands will be used for that purpose. Even if we assume the lions share shall be used to appease his original gorrila warfare support base of TPLF/EPDM, it is still in part and parcel of our country.

    I think Endreas has served his country with all his short comings than many of us will ever do. He IMO is a realist that dealt with reality in the best way possible; instead of running away for a 2nd time. He didn’t create it but stayed in his country serving the best way he can. If Messay is willing to do same even though he was thrown out of job and country by Woyane government in the past, he has my respect as a man.

  21. Dawi
    | #21

    aha! said:

    “What we have now are the old liberation movents under the controll of TPLF, and the new liberation movements under sponsorship of EPLF and aspiring to ride under the coat tails of Ginbot 7, by foringing an alliance instead of a merger, the outcome of which is dubious.”

    That is why Messay’s “manifesto” is the right pass. It is trying to build a bridge between the “old” and the “new” liberation movements.

    In my opinion the bridge should be open to EPLF as well.

  22. HELELE HANBABE
    | #22

    THANKS ESKINDER AS USUAL! THE CHINESE ARE PLAYING CLEVER FOREIGN POLICY IN ORDER NOT TO BE CONSIDERED AS A SOCIAL IMPERIALIST. THEY HAVE LEARNED A LOT FROM THE COLD WAR RIVALRY CONFRONTATION, ESPECIALLY, FROM THEIR SUPPORT FOR UNITA REBELS IN ANGOLA, WHICH THEY THEMSELVES RECOGNIZE NOW AS A MISTAKE. THE CHINESE HAVE GREAT INTEREST IN AFRICA AND ARE BUILDING POSITIVE IMAGES IN ETHIOPIA FOR THE FACT THAT ETHIOPIA IS THE PLACE OF AFRICAN UNION AND A LOT OF UNITED NATIONS BASED ORGANIZATIONS. WHILE BUILDING A POSITIVE IMAGE IN ETHIOPIA AS A STAGING GROUND FOR THE REST OF AFRICA, THE CHINESE DO NOT WANT TO SEE THE HUNGER CRISIS TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE FEBRUARY 1974 SPONTANEOUS REVOLUTION TYPE TO ERUPT AGAIN, WHILE SEEING THE ARAB AWAKENING, ESPECIALLY THE FALLING OF GADAFFI’S REGIME. SO, ESKINDER IS RIGHT. THE CHINESE DO NOT LIKE CHEAP CLEVERNESS LIKE THT OF MELES’. THEY HAVE SMELLED AN INDISPENSABLE PUBLIC UPROAR IN ETHIOPIA IN THE NEAR FUTURE. BUT, MELES RULES OUT AS USUAL. I GUESS THE CHINESE HAVE A PROVERB SIMILAR TO “MEKEREW MEKEREW, EMBI KALE MEKERA YIMKEREW”. AND IF MELES WILL BE GONE, THEY WILL NEGOTIATE WITH THE INCOMING VICTOR AND ASK FOR FORGIVENESS AND REDRESS WITH MONEY AND INVESTMENT. THE CHINESE ARE NOT FOOL BALEQE BAQELA!

  23. gemoraw
    | #23

    Dawi,

    you are wrong once again. talking about the participation of “all elites” will make sense in an environment where the ideas and opinions of all participants are given equal opportunities and where the wining ideas are chosen based on majority vote or consensus. this will not happen with the Meles regime. Meles is everything. He is even above the parliament, which is supposed to be the ultimate source of power and authority in the country. didnt he refuse to inform the national assembly about the casualties endured by our troops in somalia?

    tplf is not just a one party government. it is a fascist regime built upon ethnic loyalty. the four key common institutions that bind the federal government together, namely, the national bank, the foreign ministry, the federal government/prime minister’s office and the army, are owned by tigreans. in some places they may put up make-belief non-tigreans in the front while there are core tigre people from behind as vice chairman or minister deta.

    the struggle is not yet for democracy and freedom. it is first and foremost about destroying the tplf economic hegemony.

  24. freedom
    | #24

    think Gaddafi not Mesay.

  25. Dawi
    | #25

    gemoraw & freedom :

    [[…Meles is everything. He is even above the parliament….]]

    Exactly!! – According to Messay Meles is going to be made the “KING” or the father of the Developmental State, if you will. Meles selects the PM and the parliament approval is necessary…etc. Remember Messay is not proposing some “liberal democracy” if that is what you’re assuming.

    Messay has elaborated the idea on Ethio-tube.

    “think Gaddafi not Mesay”
    God forbids we don’t become Libya. Thanks god Meles is not as backward & stupid as Quadafi.

    My friends, the debacle only just began. “What you see is what you get…..you ain’t seen nothing yet”

    Libya is going to go to hell probably decades backwords from where they were few months ago. If you think about $5000.00 average income was bad, after the revolution it is going to drop less than half for a long time to come.

    I guess as cursed people of Libya, it is the best they can do with the stupid Quadafi as head of State.

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