Meles Zenawe : A Matter Of Perspective

Human rights lawyer vs. trained healer

Meles Zenawe is dead. Long live Meles Zenaw! Looking back at his life one can with no exaggeration say that Meles was no ordinary human being. Meles was an institution. With the exception of the great Mandela, Meles had no intellectual equal inAfrica’s leadership pool. He was not only a visionary in what he wanted for his country but he was also focused on his mission.

But like all human beings Meles was not perfect and at times one cannot help but despair at what happened to the young revolutionary Meles as the years went by.

His legacy as it has been endlessly told and retold is a mixed one. He took outEthiopiafrom the country that had defined the face of famine to one that could proudly display the best that Ethiopian could be.   Here there is no contest, No ifs and no buts.

But what happened to the other face ofEthiopia. What happened to the struggle to the legacy that Meles and his band of rebels had given their lives for. Where on the road to redress the thousands of years of feudal violence was this core ideas of the abolishment of servitude, the abolishment of exclusion, and arbitrary Governance vanish.

In the first years of his rule the young Meles had really tried to be inclusive. He had reached out to the Amhara and Oromo, Kembata and Ghurages and other intellectuals both inside and outside the country. He had decreed the inviolability of the right of the people to be respected and to be proud of their heritage.  But these entrenched powers were not interested. Nothing short of abdication of his power could satisfy them.

Instead of trying to change a system that they found abhorrent to them from the inside they wanted to do it from the outside. They squandered twenty years of their lives by being negative and contributing nothing for their country for their region or for their Continent.

This is not to say that the Tigrean intellectuals and bureaucrats did not play their mischievous games. They had insidiously tried and to some extent succeeded in leading Meles astray. In a country were the Government was the sole employer, they wanted it all for themselves. Without ever having contributed anything to the revolution, they demanded first claim of the spoils of war.

His feeble attempt at freeing the press and at setting the rudimentary basics of the right of expression turned into a vilification propaganda war. The so called free press ended up being the cats’ paws of the semi intellectuals of the Diaspora and the remnants of the Mengistu regime. It was this kind of rotten mentality that Meles had to contend with and  it  was an opportunity squandered like no opportunity before. If only all sides could have shown some wisdom, maturity, balance, judgment, Ethiopian democracy that so many died for wouldn’t be in the sad state it is today.


The so called opposition (EPRP, MAISON, ONEG) claimed they were the true representatives of the Ethiopian people but wanted to remakeEthiopiain their own image and in the image of their fathers and their fathers before them. They never seemed to grasp that the World had changed. They claimed they wanted to give the Ethiopian people democracy. Mark the word ‘Give’ like as if democracy is one’s right to give or to withhold. When and were the Ethiopian people mandated them to speak for them I haven’t found a trace of evidence so far. Some like the clown Dawit Woldegiorgis even had the temerity and went as far as trying to recruit us Eritreans to help them retake power. It was under this environment that Meles was forced to operate.


But Meles was no saint either. His hunger for power and his tenacity at that was legendary. And it was this, his biggest weakness that was the cause celebre for his not respecting the outcome of the last election. The violence that ensued was unnecessary and avoidable and ended up and rightly so as a black stain on his legacy and on what he stood for.

The war withEritreawas another of those anomalies that saw the unnecessary slaughter of tens of thousands of Eritreans and Ethiopians for the least important issue the two countries faced. Over a hundred thousand young men and women dead over a small patch of land that had no intrinsic value and where people had lived on it side by side amicably for centuries.

 This could have been easily resolved with village elders (before running to the West for mediation) or the African Union or even the UN. And if the issue cannot be resolved it could always have been shelved the way the China/Taiwan issue or the Folks land issue has been for decades. There were bigger and nobler things the two countries could agree and build on and the tunnel vision of Isaise shouldn’t have mattered to Meles.

Lastly Meles’ invasion ofSomaliawas another of those mind boggling moves that he made. True the Shabab was a hideous congregation of the most fundamental religious fanatics ever. But it was up to the Somali people to solve their own problems. True what happens in Somali affects what happens in our region as every other regional issue does, but Meles of all people should have realized that it was proxy wars that kept us backward and  proxy  wars have no place in our modern Africa.

To sum up there is no question thatAfricahad lost a great leader. A man who could have been what he was destined to be but floundered on the way. My verdict. Meles was seventy percent good and thirty percent bad.


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