Ethiopia: Meles Zenawi’s Legacy By Yared Ayicheh
Ethiopia’s leaders have come to power through blood line, coup or armed conflict. Our current head of state, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, came after a 17 years long civil war. According to himself, he was 19 years old when he joined the TPLF armed struggle to remove the military government of Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam. When Meles became the president of the transitional government of Ethiopia 21 years ago, he was a 36 year old high school graduate, communist ideologue, with no real public or business leadership experience. Meles was and still is a cadre, often the head cadre or the Awura Cadre in Amharic.
Early on, his uncultured social skills, extremely abrasive and abusive communication habits made it clear that he is neither a scholar nor a diplomatic politician. It is highly possible that spending his formative years in the deadly 1960s Ethiopian Student Movement, and exposure to ultra leftist ideologies have deformed his psychological make up in a way that is alien to how common Ethiopians perceive and relate with each other. Some have even suggested that the Sebhat Nega influence may contribute to his un-statesman like public brazen outbursts.
Our Prime Ministers’ entrenched communist worldview accounts to the way he perceives domestic and global economics. His recent comment that “neo-liberalism is dead” emanates from his tendency to validate and redeem his youthful ideological adventurism. According to one Wikileaks US embassy cable, a European diplomat made the comment to the effect that even though Meles understands economics his “ideological filter” is what fails him.
After 21 years in power, Meles’ failure to create a political system that is transferable and stable is one that pains me the most. Many believe the failure may be rooted in Meles’ ideology of the absence of a separation of state and party. I would like to add that it may be a lot more deep rooted than that. Meles’ path to power took him through 17 years old civil war. Paying sacrifice comes with a sense of entitlement: entitlement to power, entitlement to privilege. Meles and his cliques have not survived the trap of the sense of entitlement. Will their psychological deformation that took place during the armed struggle be their undoing? Time will tell.
On the positive side: Meles’ concern for the welfare of the Ethiopian peasants is something that I give him credit for. His focus and persistency to alleviate the deep rooted poverty that has ravaged Ethiopian generations for centuries is something that history should give attention too. However, I would not be surprised if his legacy will be marred by his toxic image of an ultra ethnocentric leader who many blame for creating an unnecessary rift by undoing some of the most delicate ethnic relationships, however unbalanced and unfair they were.
Meles’ perverted advocacy for Eritrea’s cessation is also something that will overshadow any of the good his leadership has achieved. I remember reading what a BBC reporter wrote about Meles’s speech in Asmara in the early 1990s. The reporter said Eritreans applauded more for Meles’ speech than for Issayas’. The political idiocy and immaturity that Meles and his central committee have committed that made Ethiopia into a landlocked nation will always be unforgivable.
Nelson Mandela is a leader I admire the most. It is not that Mandela was more intellectual than other leaders, but his long sighted vision to create a South Africa that moves forward instead of drowning in the incalculable suffering South Africans went through is something that won him a Nobel Peace Prize. Ato Meles’ inability to be a leader that mends broken relationships, which creates an Ethiopia that has dignity, a nation that looks forward and not backward, a nation focused on common heritage instead of division is legacy that is unredeemable and undoable.