Gadhafi’s fall and Meles Zenawi By Eskinder Nega.

August 26th, 2011 Print Print Email Email

Nero was famously eccentric in Roman times. He longed to be remembered for his theatrical abilities rather than leadership of one of the world’s greatest empires. But his other quirks were more horrifying than amusing. He imagined, for example, an implausible bed—yes, bed— which would commit murder. And there were the psychotic eccentricities of Russia’s Ivan the terrible who, as legend has it, had an elephant killed for refusing to bow to him.

Modern times’ eccentrics have generally been less deadly. There is, for instance, Mehran Karimi Nasseri, the Iranian asylum seeker who lived in the departure lounge of Charles de Gaulle’s Airport for many years. (He inspired Tom Hank’s fictional 2004 movie, The Terminal.)

At the opposite end of the pole, though, the modern age also has Libya’s ominous Muammar Gadhafi as a world famous eccentric.

Gadhafi was born in the great Saharan desert in 1942. His parents were Arabized Berbers. Libya was under the inept rule of Fascist Italy back then. But twenty years later, in 1961, with the first wave of decolonization on the verge of sweeping Africa, Libya was hastily transformed into an independent, and hopefully conservative, Kingdom by Western powers. But with next door revolutionary Egypt exciting passions across the Arab world, a revolution in Libya was only inevitable from the very outset.

Inspired by the success of Egypt’s Nasser and his free officers in the mid-fifties, radicalized young Arabs joined their countries’ militaries with the hope of eventually using them as revolutionary weapons, too.

And so a Nasser-awed, aspiring revolutionary Gadhafi, one of many like-minded youth in the Middle East, made his way to his nation’s military academy, where he was promptly accepted. Eight years later he was unexpectedly running Libya. Even he hadn’t planned it this way, though. It was a feat worthy more of fate than earthly being. Gadhafi was only 27.

His eccentricities were not really evident at first. But in retrospect, perhaps there was an early sign at Nasser’s funeral. Nasser died of a sudden heart attack only a year after Gadhafi’s accession to power in 1969. The Arab world was stunned. He had just presided over a pan-Arabic summit. Tens of thousands poured spontaneously into the streets all over the Arab world wailing in utter grief. On the day of the funeral, five million came out to pay their respects. And while tears rolled down the faces of PLO’s Chairman Arafat and Jordan’s King Hussein, the Arab world’s newest leader, Gadhafi, fainted twice. An unusually passionate man had come to power in Libya.

Over the next forty years he would go on to amuse the world with his all-female bodyguards; his “voluptuous Ukrainian nurses;” his outrageous statements (“HIV is a peace virus;”) pitched tents from where he conducted state business; and, of course, his memorably colorful attires.

But there were also his less amusing internal polices and blood-tainted foreign adventures. Though himself one of the Berbers, North Africa’s indigenous ethnic groups, he systematically suppressed their languages and cultures. (He called it “poison.”)He killed internal dissidents at will; those who escaped to exile were assassinated. His intelligence agents planted bombs on Pan AM flight 103, which blew over Lockerbie, in Scotland, killing hundreds. Obviously, the value of life carried little weight with him.

This reckless disregard for human life was again apparent in the early days of February 2011 when serious protests, inspired by the Arab Spring, against his forty years rule broke out in several cities. He struck with vengeance. And when protests threatened to overwhelm him, he recruited mercenaries to shed more blood. He counted on the potency of mass murder and apathy of the international community to prevail. But he calculated wrong.

Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi, who now leads Africa’s largest dictatorship, and who many suspect is calculating as Gaddafi did at first, should take serious note.

Killings enraged Libyans as it did Tunisians and Egyptians before them. Inexplicably and suddenly massacre failed to terrorize the young any more. Despite Gadhafi’s assertion that only a drugged youth could have refused to succumb to live bullets, hope is really what had fueled the protests.

Eric Hoffer had famously argued that it was hope not oppression that had made revolutions possible. And indeed neither Egyptians nor Libyans had more reason to rebel in 2011 than they did for decades. Too few were any more capable of imagining life free from the oppressive status-quo. Too many had been co-opted; many more had simply learned how to muddle through. But events in Tunisia changed everything. Change was proved possible. The people mattered, after all. And hope was born in the Arab world. There was then really nothing Gadhafi could have done to fundamentally change the course of events. Even without NATO’s involvement he could only have delayed not prevented his regime’s eventual demise. Hope is insuppressible. The surprise swift fall of Tripoli into rebel hands, despite numerous predications of a stalemate, underscores this fact.

Hope will come to sub-Sahara’s remaining dictatorships, too. The Arab Spring has already brought it to their doorsteps. It will not wait forever to get in. No one knows which sub-Saharan dictatorship will relent first. But that is almost irrelevant. What matters is that its spread will be unavoidable once it begins. The triumph of hope in only one sub-Saharan dictatorship will beget a continent wide African Spring, hopefully all peaceful. And as Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest dictatorship during Mubarak’s reign, was the Arab Spring’s golden prize, so will Ethiopia, sub-Sahara’s biggest dictatorship, be the golden prize for an African Spring. There couldn’t have been an Arab Spring without Egypt. There will be no African Spring without Ethiopia.

Hopefully, Meles understands this and is willing to do his country and Africa one big favor. When the time arrives, the inevitable must not be futilely resisted. This is the crucial lesson that should be learned from Gadhafi’s needlessly destructive finale. Ethiopia must and should avoid violence. If Ethiopia shuns violence so will most of sub-Sahara Africa. And only then will the advent of the African Spring be even better news than that of the Arab Spring.


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  1. The Eritrean one!
    | #1

    The horn of Africa is dealing with a new breed so called leaders but not like the ones in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian so called leaders not only did they betray their own comrades and people but they continue to betray and devastate the whole region of Africa for the interest of others. Meles and his boss Bereket Simon must be brought to the courts of law of Ethiopia and Africans- if there is any. They are responsible for taken the whole region back to the future over the past 20 years, they are responsible for the famine in Ethiopia as well as in Somalia, they are responsible for spreading the HIV/AIDS at a rate of 11.6% in Addis as well as the entire Ethiopia, they are responsible for looting Ethiopians to the bone as well as Ethio-Eritreans, they are responsible for exporting Ethiopian youngsters to be used as sex slaves as well as importing all paedophiles to Ethiopia, and they must be held accountable for not IMPLEMENTING THE PEACE AGREEMENT BETWEEN ETHIOPIA AND ERITREA. Had they implemented the peace agreement the Ethiopian and Eritrean people could have avoided many of the hardship they are facing today. Weyanes are the ones benefitting from both communities hardship and they must face justice now!! Susan Rice can not be a medator but a self promoter at the expense of Ethiopians and Eritreans!!

  2. Dawi
    | #2

    [[..he recruited mercenaries to shed more blood... ]]

    This has been refuted by many. The so called “mercenaries” are mainly Black Libyans who live in the South. Gaddafi supported the civil rights of Black Libyans and seems that have earned him their loyality. What is going to be their fate is something to wonder about. BTW, Gaddafi championed the cause of ANC, PLO and others. Mandela has honored him for that.

    The succesful “Arab Springs” are high HDI/GDP per cap countries in Africa so far. No similarities with the kinds of Ethiopia with low HDI/GDP per cap.

    How is “African Spring” going to be different than the past Ethiopians Springs. Should we expect a different outcome by repeating the same actions.

  3. Sheger
    | #3

    Min eynet comment mewwat mettabin?

  4. Sheger
    | #4

    But God is God and we are we after all. If you want me say me is me after all for what ever reason. Well ho well, ME IS ME honey.

  5. ABC
    | #5

    Mr. Eskinder I sometimes read your analysis of various polical issues and I appreciate your language and depth of your presentation. In this paper you tried to show us the success of Libya’s revolution and the Sub-Saharan Arab countries in general. It is clear that every body understands that thier leaders are dictators and the only way to remove is with mass uprising. But from my perspective and based on history to expect better future(democracy)from this part of the world is unfortunately almost impossible. My fear is these counties will go from bad to the worst leaders. The mass revolution in these countries continued this much long with persistence is due to partly religious issues not purely political.

  6. deyyo
    | #6

    The woyane came to power by violence and murder and there is no way they will be willing to gave up power peacefully. meles is a monstrous evil who is full of himself and has gone through all the intrigues a dictator is capable of doing. through purges, murder, black mailing and sheer bullying and intimidation he has wiped out all his opponents in the Tigre People Liberation front, tplf.

    there has to be some sort of fracture in the military to make any popular uprising meaningful. it is true that the top positions within the military are all occupied by former TPLF ‘tegadalay’; and they will do eerything possible to stiffle any uprising in the military. But the rank and file are ready for a change. What is required is a little spark and the whole thing could explode into a ball of fire.

  7. Bravo Second
    | #7

    Dear Eskinder Nega, no question your bravery is to be admired. Said that, Mr. Nega it is said that all that glitters is not gold. Myself a victim of dictatorship in Ethiopia and Eritrea I hope to see the current Arab Spring fulfill the hopes of the people where this revolution is taking place. Melles and Issaya will not remain forever and believe me they will not have history, therefore the concentration should be also to patch up the few social gabs that exist among us be it within Ethiopia and Eritrea and above all the people to people relationship between Eritreans and Ethiopians and free ourselves from old imperial and Dergue mentality and work for a new united country by all and for all that can play its roll in stablizing the troubled horn of Africa.

    Since I strongly believe you are a knowledgeable person, I don’t know if you have done it before or not, to give part of your time to constractive ideas that make your readers look to the future with hope. As for Mr. Melles and his administration it is exposed beyond the limit and I am afraid hammering it non stop might give it immunity in front of your readers or you will lose the sympathy of your admirers of whom I am one of them.

    Thank you.

  8. Sheger
    | #8

    Bekidusu getta bamlake Sim emasenachehulahu?????????

    Minim aleteyekum bicha tesimamulign. Abrachihu nuru. Hulum yehulachin any ways.

  9. Sam
    | #9

    Eskinder is good in reading history. His article here demonstates that fact. But what is happening in the Arab world and North Africa has little to do with past history, and has everything to do with the current world economic situation. In those countries where public uprisings became a must, the future was bleak for the great majority of the people. Young people graduated in great numbers to find themselves with no prospect in securing emloyment. Those who are working their salaries decrease in value because the price of food skyrocketed. The great majority keep watching the few well connected live like a king. The inequality between the have and have nots has never been stark as now. The few have it all, and the great majority seemed to have been cursed for perpetual poverty. Bring to the picture the novel innovation of technology: the prime example Internet. People become to know more than the propaganda of their delusional dictators. Ghaddafi’s deprature could accurately be understood under this picture. The conditions that paved the way for Ghadafi to go are conditions that will facilitate Mele’s depratue, but with one exception. Internet has no role in Ethiopia. EPDRF will try its best Ethiopia to be Internet free zone.

  10. Choma
    | #10

    I get tickled whenever my dear friend Eskinder writes about the GOE. Because that’s when I get the most thrill with my friends up north, Eritrea. I just tell them to read his article and watch them suffer. They can’t believe this guy can say what he has to say without the fear of retribution. Since they are unlucky enough to see the great economical progress my beloved is making in person, at least, they get to witness the political freedom the likes of Eskinder enjoy in Ethiopia. Some of them argue for real the whereabouts of this writer. So, my dear friend, keep your articles on coming. Those are teachable moments for those who don’t have them.

  11. Freedom is NOT free.
    | #11


    Why do you only think selectively?

    They are not high GDP nations at all: Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Jordan, Morocco, and Syria are not high GDP.

    The one thing they all have in common is: dictatorship/monarchy.

    Ladies and gentlemen, let the African Spring began!

    Freedom is not free.

  12. Sheger
    | #12

    If Ethiopia is a matter of survival for the world and it is, no question. Not that we got get treated this way. But
    I just went on Walta info web sight and I read some thing about an Ethopian red cross person said. Not to trust red cross people but he said after all that Ethiopia I’d doing well by giving or providing food for work. I though I missed some thing and I might did. Ethiopia where every one makes or farms food is working for food?????? Did I miss some thing
    May be I did just as usual. But how usual is that gonna be? Do I want it? No thanks.

    All I am asking is let’s all be fair to each other.
    Thanks in advance!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. love
    | #13

    I am not clear, if the majority of Ethio’s military is not all Tigrayans which is unlikely and the top generals are Tigryans, the army must realize that they cannot be ordered by generals if uprising starts and must not follow orders and do their own uprising. They only way a military should follow their generals is for the good of the country, and for the good of the people. In this case, clearly they must know that TPLF is not good for the country therefore they must disregard the generals of course the generals will fight tooth and nail but flee away. Why so far TPLF succeeded is because he has been allowing the army to live comfortably only to allow the status quo continue for its survival.

    There is so much similarity with what is going on with Libya and when TPLF as rebels took power. They were helped by West to oust the evil Mengistu, then in order to not let people suspect them, TPLF did everything opposite of Mengistu, still there were many suspicious of them, do not know who they were. Libyans are also baffled by their own rebels and what they really understood about libya or do the rebels only know within themselves as in the case of the tplf. Libyans only know the rebels are supported by the West obviously Libyans are not sure if the rebels are just working for the West. It seems like Libyans could heading as Ethiopia even worse because Libya is richer than Ethiopia. The rebels and NTC will be elected as transitional goverment and will be trained very well about neoliberalism, imf and world bank, they will be enriched while empoverishing Libyans then there will be privatizing of Libya’s resources as in the case of their oil. We are in a way luckier than Libya because TPLF cannot do anything to Ethiopia what they haven’t done already. The final big damage that is being done and is on the way is breaking Ethiopia apart. Since Libyans are tribes they might be disintegrated as well.

  14. Dawi
    | #14

    Freedom is NOT free:

    Please look at the World Bank Reports.

    The World Banks ranks Tunisia and Libya as Upper-middle-income economies ($3,976 to $12,275. Egypt, syria and Yemen are middle income countries.

    Ethiopia is Low-income economy ($1,005 or less)

  15. kentu
    | #15

    please dont comper libya with us they are alive we are dead. libya they every thing we dont have none but still they need more we have nothinh and even we didnt try something shame on us why we afraid from chickin meles i will tell you a american proverb , i have nothing i dont worry about any thing, but allmost we are talking 20 years do somthing for all this misiry are not meles was strong but we are weak.

  16. kentu
    | #16

    ethiopia became a nursing home 70 , 80 years old they becomerebels against eritrean regime plus a young thiefs, prostution, alcolic yoyng people feed by our money in shemelba refige camp in tigray so why didnt ask. we have enough poor, elderly ethiopians and we must stop this madnes.and they didnt do any thing yet for shaibia still they are in genet hotel

  17. ABC
    | #17

    Yes no comparison of current ethiopian economy with Libya. One time he was asked why he has agricultural ministry because his country is a baren land for agriculture. His answer was if we don’t need agriculture ministry, then Ethiopian has finance ministry when it doesn’t any finance.

  18. Jun
    | #18

    The author and all the comments show one thing. SHEER HYSERTIA and Laziness.

    How many here have travelled all over Ethiopia and talked to its people ? What they need urgently and what they desire for their children ?

    Once one can do that, one can then do ACTION to help the people and country. Stop moaning about Meles, he is not perfect. He will not be around forever. Politics and Politicians are not the answer and the solution to all ills. Only a very naive fool belives that.

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