Ethiopia: Meles Zenawi’s Legacy By Yared Ayicheh

July 13th, 2012 Print Print Email Email

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.

  1. Harbo
    | #1

    —ረዘም ቢል ጥሩ ነበር……አንደጣመ አለቀ

  2. Neway Wedaju
    | #2

    Melese is a narcissistic megalomaniac leader of TPLF who has done a lot of damage to Ethiopia and its people. He is a guy who was welling to inflict unnecessary harm to fellow country men and women and enjoy prolonging it. He has never felt allegiance to Ethiopia. He was born Eritrean and will die Eritrean, there nothing that will change that now. Ethiopians will fell a relief from his departure from the scene. But Eritrean might have something to miss about him.

  3. Sharew
    | #3

    Talk about Melese’s legacy?To me he is worst than Youdit Gudit,than Gragn Mohamed.Melese is inkokelish for himself.I have question for you mr.,Yared yaicheh Is mr.Melese he Eretrian or Ethiopian?Or is there any difference between the two in the first place if so where do you place Melese?I clearly know the answer to that question.I will give it this way.He is Eretrian who ruled Ethiopia for the last years pretending as one.His legacy:he will be rememberd as an insecure vulgar.

  4. Berta
    | #4

    Meles should be known for these most famous remarks of his as an “Ethiopian leader”: “The people of Tigray: let it be most welcome that i am created out of you”. Another time he expounded this further by saying: “The people of tigray are the golden tribe” (by implication others tribes are rags and hence the famous “gold vs rag” ethiopian tribal political contrast thereafter). These powerful tribalism expressions define the alpha and omega of the person of meles zenawi. meles is a die hard tribalist one that almost needlessly committed genocide to reinforce the petty image of tigray in power. Meles can not be reinvented into what he is not.

  5. ወይዘሪት እንትና
    | #5

    Dear Yared,

    I agree when you said Meles is psychologicaly deformed. Actually he grew up in a jungle and his mind is just like jungle animals. My question is isn’t it 21 years good enough to civilize an animal?

    አውሬ እንክዋን ሰው ይለምዳል ምነው ሀያ አመት ሙሉ ጭንቅላታቸው እዚያው ጫካ ዱር ቄረ? የኢትዮጵያን ህዝብ ሙሉ ለሙሉ የጫካ የዱር አራዊት ህይወት ካለመድክ ብለው እንደአውሬ ሲያዲኑት ይሀው ሀያ አመት አለፈ ምነው መለስና የዱር ጓደኞቹ እንደአውሬ ካልሆነ እንደሰው መኖር መሰልጠን አቃታቸው በሀያ አንድ አመት?

    ገበሬው ከቀዬው እየተፈናቀለ ከብቱንና ያፈራውን በማደበሪያ ዕዳ እየተነጠቀ አዪደለም እንዼ? ወይስ በወረቀት ላይ የሰፈረውን ማለትህ ነው? ለሁሉም ኢትዮጵያችንን እግዚአብሄር በጥበቡ ከዱር አውሬዎቹ ይገላግላት ብቻ አሜን

  6. Zinash
    | #6

    Reading the above piece, one can assume that the author is the beneficiary and supporter of the ethnical fascist government of Meles Zenawi. Meles Zenawi is a fascist and racist and his legacy will be fascism and racism. He hates the country called Ethiopia and has inflicted a lot of damage on it. He has denied the poor farmers of Ethiopia their basic rights and holds them his political hostages. His eviction and displacements of the poor Amhara farmers is a typical exaample. In fact Meles Zenawi has very intense and deep hatred towards the Amharas.

  7. Deriba Guru
    | #7

    Intellectual from last paragraph
    Good. But, is intellectualism a prerequisite for Leadership? Or rather so called intellectuals are self absorbed eccentrics who are notorious in lacking in team work thus failing on the first hurdle in leadership test. Is it a cry to get into power through the back door simply because one is so called intellectual? Intellectualism, a European chauvinist self-fulfilling and opportunistic preoccupation and a throw back from Stalin (himself never was one in the ‘true’ meaning of the term) had been rooted in the Ethiopian Student Movement and sadly still carries on unabated. Let’s pose a question. Could leadership be something magical only some are endowed with it-A case in point is our past leaders despite their failings who were able to bring together multitudes of ethnic groups and lead them to defend themselves against the scourge and humiliation of colonialism which our African brothers and sisters still suffer from to date? Mustering such a unified force against a well resourced enemy I believe is no mean task. Yet they never designate themselves as intellectuals. Yet rather being intellectual is criticizing these exceptional leaders focusing on their failings rather than looking at the bigger picture, what they have achieved.
    Just in case I am no fan of the subject of your article either-just to bring into perspective the term Intellectual being the mother of all solutions. End.

  8. Henock Abebe
    | #8

    Meles’ deeply belligerent policies, behaviours and approach to the people of ethiopia elicit no more than my pity, contempt and hate. A country capable of so much, has stalled for more than 2 decades, and unless this tyrant is deposed, or at least replaced by a more moderate, unifying figure, either his regime will collapse, or worse, the entire country. Ethiopia needs change if it’s to survive in the long term as a sovereign country, a shadow of the once great empire it was.

  9. Sharew
    | #9

    [Deriba Guru ].

    I think your inquiry to the issue the writer of this article raised is interesting. I myself was prompted to write a similar comment last week in Ethiopian review, in response to a blogger who goes by Geeheze.It happened that this blogger gave us lists professors who he said would be future Ethiopian leaders. I thought I need to respond to this writer and I did. Sadly the Er.admin Elias kifle refused to post it.

    What we now have in some circles such as Ethiopian review is a forum where only few individuals with some special interest can promote views that are in line of Elias Kefle’s political leanings. I have no problem for Elias kefle to promote his political view, however I am against him calling his site as “Ethiopian” when in deed real Ethiopian views is being muzzled. I am saying this I wrote to him repeatedly and refused to give explanation to me.Then, I made it clear to him I will made it clear to the Ethiopian community at large.
    Coming to the point you have raised, there is nothing wrong to speak about intellectualism and the role of educated citizens.However, we must fight discourage the notion that Ethiopian politics is reserved only for those who hold PhD’s.

    Not even the well-developed democracies strictly require politics to be reserved for acadamicians.Neverthles, curently some individuals and news sits are purposefully encouraging the promotion of personality cult.
    Some writers are openly declaring their bias by attaching themselves and openly declaring their admirations of a particular political leader. This is growing phenomena I noticed when some callers after an interview of a leader will say I admire and love so and so politician.
    I really think this form of accommodation that is only giving some leaders to be interviewed in the media by neglecting others is a dis services to our community. Personally I like to see equal chance be given to all leaders. For instance I never heard any interview from Bertukn Medeksa or her appearance in the media or Obang Meto etc.I wander though if Phd degree is requirement for a politician to make headline news. Personally, prefer a leader with integrity, honesty and a humble standing than a towering intellectual hope we are not prescribing in future Ethiopia Plato’s philosopher knig.We need real democracy and not scientific or intellectual dictatorship.

  10. Bright Hope
    | #10


    @Deriba Guru
    Intellectual does not always mean scholar. Intellectual means rational or scientific. One can be intellectual without being scholar. I see the writer’s point that way. A dumb leader like George Bush or Mengistu are disastrous because they fail to have a sound model of reality in their perception. Without a rational and scientific model, we are left with the whims and impulses of the brute, the religious or the simply brutal savages.

  11. Deriba Guru
    | #11

    @Bright Hope
    Sorry if I have offended you. I was just trying to bring things into perspective & didn’t mean for you or anybody else to get excited into angry & irrational rage. I hope you share my view that if we have to go forward we need to talk about the merits of these things. Otherwise, we will all be a piece of dead meat. By the way this is not being intellectual but simple common sense. Hope you agree.

  12. sharew
    | #12

    [Bright Hope]

    Mr philosopher,I don’t know how you come up with the definition of intelectual to be as rational or scintific.philosophers define intelectual as follows.Intelectual in some philosophical systems is a vital force that directs an organism toward self-fulfillment.
    What does sound model of relity has to do when it comes with self centered would be leaders? Ignorance and denial this existential and comenly seen phenomena in Ethiopian socity in the last four decades is not part of the solution.Perhaps you might think it is out of place to disucuss this issue now;I think common observation and the current politcal phenomena calls for it.By the way thre 99% Ethiopians ae not brutes or savages as you have stated.The are a force to be reckoned to make or break future leaders in the ballot box. It is not important for you you set your mind in the clouds over this issue.

  13. በላይ
    | #13

    አሁን መለሰ ሞተ ነው ምትሉ? መሞቱስ ባልከፋ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. Daniel
    | #14

    One of the best articles I have ever read on this website. I agree with the first comment, “ij yaskoretmal”. The article is such a balanced one that I bet it would have been an accurate depiction of the leader’s legacy if you had written about the controversial decision he has made through the years.
    I totally agree with you on your assessment of Meles’s decision on the Eritrean secession issue and his failure to create a transferable and stable system after more than two decades in power. Unlike many Ethiopians who admire him for his eloquence, I, like you, think that one of his weakest qualities is his abusive communication habits. He could have attracted many scholars to work in his administration had he been charismatic. His failure to heed on the South African experience is also something he and his friends may regret for the rest of their lives.
    Nonetheless, I think you could have written many positives attributed to the man. You only mentioned his struggle for the poor. In his later years, he had tried to forge a chinese-like GTP. The projects he has started are exemplary to any leader who comes after him. His ability to keep the nation stable from interference of foreign forces is also worth mention.
    I would have liked it if he can overcome whatever is his illness and pass the baton peacefully but odds are that is less likely to happen. I wish him health after all he was an Ethiopian leader who spent most of his time (by forgoing his other needs) working for the betterment of the people regardless of how he tried to carry that out.

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