By Moses Walubiri
THE death, early this week, of Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has cast a pall of uncertainty over one of Africa’s most populous nations.
After his guerrilla movement drew curtains on Mengistu Haile Mariam’s dictatorship in 1991, the suave former guerrilla leader has dominated the Ethiopian political landscape in a manner eerily reminiscent of Africa’s strongmen of a bygone era – Ivory Coast’s Boigny and former Zaire’s (now DRC) Marshal Mobutu.
Although Zenawi’s 21 years at the helm have been devoid of the brazen thieving typical of the high noon days of Mobutu, or the amply documented regal lifestyle of Boigny, it has nevertheless been characterized by a trait that sent Ivory Coast and DRC into a tailspin of destruction - sacrificing institutions at the altar of a powerful presidency.
True, Zenawi had not yet managed to either bask in the hero worship or build a personality cult around his presidency that Boigny, Mobutu, Kamuzu Banda and Togo’s great helmsman, Gnasingibe Eyadema famously pulled off in the heydays of their reigns.
But before that ‘great equalizer’ – the Grim Reaper – scythed him in a Belgian hospital, tell-tell signs had started to emerge that Zenawi’s intolerance to dissenting voices and his love for an all-powerful presidency might leave Ethiopia vulnerable to the instability that befell DRC and Ivory coast when Mobutu and Boigny passed on.
A powerful presidency has a tendency to decimate national institutions which would, under functioning democracies, create checks and balances and provide avenues for vital reforms.
In their absence – as the case was with Zaire and Ivory Coast during Mobutu and Boigny’s reigns – tensions continue to simmer under a supposedly placid political climate.
In essence, the proverbial calm before the storm prevails as long as the big chief lives and reigns.
All the tensions related to tribal divisions that normally define African politics are driven underground with all the fissures that would help reduce the tension - say recognized political opposition – firmly sealed.
Ivory Coast walked this tragic slippery path in the wake of Boigny’s death after more than 30 years at the helm.
The West African country that had been a virtual island of tranquility in a turbulent West African sea (Sierra Leon and Liberia at that time were in the throes of civil wars) descended into a vicious conflagration which, at some point, threatened to split the country into two.
And the prime cause? Simmering tribal tensions and bigotry between North and Southern Ivorians that Boigny chose to play to his advantage during his presidency.
Even with the main war over after Alasane Outtara’s electoral victory last year, the country is still tittering on the precipice as armed bandits allied to former president, Laurent Gbagbo, have taken to attacking security apparatuses.
As for DRC, the mineral rich country has been waltzing with destruction since Mobutu’s ouster and subsequent demise in Morocco 15 years ago.
His three decades at the helm had turned him into the guardian angel between anarchy and stability for a country the size of Western Europe.
I exchanged ‘barbs’ with a host of colleagues over Zenawi’s mixed legacy of laudable macro-economic reforms and rolling back of civil liberties. And I am not seeking to cast aspersion on him because it’s Un-African.
However, the pervading jittery that Ethiopia might unravel at the seams because Zenawi has died is not only a damning indictment of his 21 years at the helm, but also a reminder that its strong institutions and not rulers that can guarantee any country’s future stability.
Without strong institutions, any leader builds his legacy on sands.
As one who had found his niche as a key regional Western ally against terrorism and as a suave and savvy leaders who had few parallels in articulating Africa’s vision in international forums, Zenawi would surely turn in his grave if Ethiopia went up in flames after his demise.
Source: http://www.newvision.co.ug/news/162-blo ... rship.aspx