Legacy of African Leaders: Meles Zenawi Versus Nelson Mandela by Dula
Over 100 heads of states including Obama and Castro were present for Mandela’s funeral service, while a handful of African leaders like Al-Bashir of Sudan, Museveni of Uganda were present for Meles’ funeral. Mandela state funeral appeared more genuine, spontaneous, full of love and celebration unlike that of Zenawi which was shrouded with secrecy (cause of death still unknown) and appeared orchestrated and staged managed by the party. Mandela stands out in many ways.
While Mandela fought to end Bastustanization and oppression in South Africa, Zenawi on the other hand was the architect of Bastustanization in Ethiopia driving schism and wedges among Ethiopians.
Mandela gave up power peacefully, while Zenawi did everything in his power to keep it including voiding election, jailing opposition leaders, and killing peaceful demonstrators against rigged election.
Mandela brought very diverse people together, while Zenawi broke the long standing unity and nationalism that made Ethiopia unique and that withstood Western colonialism into a breaking point.
A writer for Aljazeera expressed Meles’s legacy as follows ” The late Meles Zenawi ……practically reduced Ethiopia into a landlocked, bantustanized, and impoverished country thanks to his Stalinist organization in the name of TPLF. “ Aljazeera, December 9, 2013 “Ethiopia and Eritrea: Brothers at ware no more” Ethiopia and Eritrea: Brother’s at War
The World and South Africans will dearly miss Mandela, I am not sure that will be said of Meles by those who really know his true legacy.
Zenawi was given bigger than life farewell at the end by his supporters and some citizens, despite his tarnished legacy. By force or by volition, Ethiopians throughout the country were engaged in praising, wailing, and crying for Zenawi, The wailing and the crying for Meles was primarily due to the fact that most dictators become father figures for the majority of the people, especially for the youth, with the help of the state controlled media, where such leaders are lionized on a daily basis. So anxiety and fear set in because a vacuum is created by the death of a dictator in Ethiopia or North Korea. This is primarily true when the state controls the media; nobody knows the true state of affairs in the country.
For a country as poor as Ethiopia, the parade, the display and the ceremony for Zenawi was excessive. The attempt was to rebrand, redefine and humanize Zenawi to justify continued control by the ruling party. Zenawi was praised for everything in the world, but not for his wrongs, such as for genocide he committed, for the war he waged to make Ethiopia landlocked, for creating ethnic gerrymandering or for excessive control of the economy by his ethnic party and his cronies.
Though no dictator is lionized after death to the extent Zenawi was, however, thanks to re-branding by a well organized party, TPLF, Zenawi’s profile looked better in death than in life. Those who might have expected the TPLF machine to self-destruct after the passing of Zenawi should have a second thought because the machine is highly organized, and exceedingly efficient in manipulating the Ethiopian state in any shape or form it wishes. In a manner similar to a cult, the regime has finessed how to manipulate the media and get the people organized to behave accordingly. A farewell of such depth, organization, fanfare is only possible under a dictatorial regime.
Zenawi was rebranded as a great leader instead of an ethnic or Marxist dictator, as the opposition has often called him. So the idea of worrying about ones legacy doing the right thing may go out the window provided if one has a well organized party like Meles did. Overall, in life or death, Meles or his party succeeded in hoodwinking many people in Ethiopia and around the world by creating a different persona.
For three months, the system in Ethiopia was completely shut, no business license was issued, even no wedding ceremonies were held, millions of dollars was spent to materialize Zenawi’s after-life grandiose with burst out of a 21-gun salute. Most leaders in his shoe, such as Benito Mussolini, Nikita Khrushchev, or Joseph Stalin, did not get such honorable departure.
During his reign, Zenawi never met ordinary citizens in public; never traveled without massive security, and if he did, streets were closed, and he was completely isolated from public view. However, in death, he was lionized by ordinary people that he tried to shun for security reasons.
In Ethiopia most people cannot afford Aslekash or hired help to instigate crying or mourning for the dead. However, the rich, kings and dictators, can afford to hire such people, as it appears Zenawi benefited from such practice where hundreds of people were employed to show case his invented popularity to foreigners and Ethiopians. Would this manufactured and manipulated ceremony dissipate as the public and the world knows the real legacy of Zenawi?
Zenawi’s Ethiopia is a landlocked and impoverished country. At last the world gets a chance to see its true state of affairs, world leaders who praised Meles without checking the facts will be put to shame.
Innocent students were massacred at Addis Abeba University for opposing the secession of Eritrea from Ethiopia; hundreds of people were killed in the aftermath of the 2005 election, and hundreds of thousands of people were imprisoned during the same period. During the last 22 years, hundreds of other innocent people were killed in other parts of the country due to ethnic policy of the regime, and the recent killing of Ethiopian Muslims for asking their freedom to worship without government interference has to be also mentioned.
Although Ethiopians throughout the Diaspora held a memorial service for the thousands of victims of Meles Zenawi, but they were given no media coverage, while Zenawi was memorialized in grand scale for weeks by his party and those who benefited during his 22 years of rule. The grand finale for Meles was beyond expectation and more than deserved by a leader who used force to take power and to stay in power.
Zenawi ruled Ethiopia with an iron fist and bloody hand. According to Human Rights Watch, “Ethiopia’s citizens are unable to speak freely, organize political activities, and challenge their government’s policies – through peaceful protest, voting, or publishing their views – without fear of reprisal.” Despite these abhorrent statistics, and dire economic conditions for two (2) decades, resembling other dictatorial regimes such as North Korea or China, Meles Zenawi dared to claim that he received 99.6% of the vote in the last fake election.
Zenawi was a dictator par excellence in applying the Machiavellian system of divide and rule. Unlike other dictators, he carved out a positive image abroad by partnering with top PR firms, opportunistic and ill-informed Americans, despite being highly-detested at home and abroad by the majority of Ethiopians. Like other dictators, he controlled the army, the police, 100% of the land mass, industry, and denied Ethiopians access to technology, thus forcing the greater number of Ethiopians to eke out a meager living, often with the help of Western food aid or flee the country to places like Saudi Arabia, Yemen, South Africa and other places despite facing real and present danger as refugees.
So why is Zenawi memorialized? Like North Korea, his supporters want to maintain the current system by giving one of the bloodiest dictators a facelift and by rebranding him as a great leader. By giving him a humane face, his supporters believe that they can justify staying in power for years to carry the torch of their great leader.
Zenawi’s critics were jailed, killed or chased out of the country. Ethiopia has more journalists exiled or in prison than any country according to New York-based Human Rights Foundation. In addition, Ethiopia was found to be one of the failed states following countries like Somalia, Chad, and ranks 174 out of 180 countries in terms of human development index.
Given these facts, Zenawi should be remembered just as another dictator, except he was exceptionally good in hoodwinking the world to the contrary. In the meantime, he left Ethiopia totally unprepared and desperately behind the curve in access to technology, human and economic development.
In the end Zenawi was just a tyrant beyond comparison who employed voodoo economics to exaggerate his economic achievement, denied Ethiopians their basic freedom, rigged elections, and humiliated and desecrated their religion, history, identity and humanity.
All said and done, the West has to bear some responsibility for piling praises on a dictator without unveiling his dark secret, genocide in Gambella, cyber jamming, and the strangulation and evisceration of the Ethiopian media, intellectuals, as well as monopolizing the economy by his clan.
At the end, the world may find out that Zenawi may have hoodwinked the West, eviscerated the Ethiopian economy, it nationalism, and its institutions. If all this is true, unlike Mandela, Zenawi will eventually be remembered as nothing but a charlatan
The article was based on “Legacy of Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia (1991-2012) by the same author.