This year Ethiopian Review starts to release its annual list of ’25 Most Influential Ethiopians.’ The list, which is prepared on Ethiopia’s New Year, September 11 (Meskerem 1), is about 25 persons who are the most influential (for good or bad) in the Ethiopian society.
The following is this year’s list. It is prepared in consultation with Ethiopian Review readers and editorial advisers.
Ethiopian Review’s “25 Most Influential”
1. Meles Zenawi, political leader: He is in charge of a murderous tribal gang named ‘Tigrean People Liberation Front (Woyanne) that has made Ethiopia one of the poorest, most miserable countries in the world where over 10 million people are currently starving. Meles spends millions of dollars to invade and occupy a neighboring country, Somalia, while tens of thousands of children in Ethiopia are dying of starvation. (watch this documentary by France24 TV to understand the extent of the suffering in Ethiopia). The tactics Meles is using to pacify Somalia includes slashing the throats of Somali religious leaders and prisoners of war, and gang rape of Somali women by Woyanne soldiers. The Meles army has left over 2 million Somalis homeless following the illegal invasion of their country in December 2006. Meles continues to terrorize the people of Ethiopia and Somalia with the full political and financial backing of the World Bank, the U.S. Government and some European countries such as the U.K. The Meles regime is killing, maiming, and terrorizing more innocent civilians than Al Qaeda could ever dream of.
2. Sebhat Nega, political leader/businessman: Without him there is no Meles. Considered by many as the ‘god father’ of Woyanne, he is in charge of the Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT), a consortium of several multimillion-dollar industries that have mushroomed right after Woyanne took power. EFFORT is being used by Tigrean supremacist Woyannes to launder Ethiopia’s treasury for their ultimate goal of building ‘Greater Tigray’.
3. Azeb Mesfin, political leader/businesswomen. As the wife of Meles Zenawi, she has a stranglehold on the Ethiopian economy. No major private industry can do business in Ethiopia without making her a partner. Azeb is a member of the rubber stump parliament and serves in some committees, but she spends most of her time traveling to the U.S. and Europe to manage the treasures she is looting from the people of Ethiopia. She is currently buying homes and commercial buildings in Washington DC, Ohio, Colorado and California. She is believed to be the richest women in Africa.
4. Bereket Simon, propagandist. He is chief of propaganda for the Woyanne tribal junta. He works out of Meles Zenawi’s office of the Prime Minister. In 2005, he ran for parliament in Bugna district of Wollo and lost by a wide margin to a local farmer named Destaw Kassie. Bereket charged that he was cheated and sent his armed thugs to organize a new election. He won the re-vote, of course. The whereabouts of Destaw Kassie since then is unknown. Bereket is responsible for controlling the flow of information in Ethiopia. He is behind the blockade of Ethiopian news web sites such as EthiopianReview.com, the jamming of Voice of America, DW and other radio broadcasts to Ethiopia, the shutting down of most of the private newspapers in the country, and the jailing of journalists and editors. Bereket has paid a huge amount of money to the Chinese government to jam the VOA daily broadcasts to Ethiopia. VOA countered by launching more powerful frequencies. VOA continues to be heard through out Ethiopia clearly, despite desperate efforts by Chinese engineers to jam it. VOA also exposes the paradox of U.S foreign policy toward Ethiopia. On the one hand, the U.S. Government allows the VOA, which is under the supervision of the State Department, to expose Woyanne’s injustices. On the other hand, it continues to give political, diplomatic and financial support to the Woyanne regime.
5. Al Amoudi, businessman. Leftovers from Woyanne-owned businesses go to this Ethiopian-born Saudi billionaire. In return, Al Amoudi says Woyanne is like his mother and that he is ready to sacrifice his life for it. During the 2005 elections, he was campainging for Woyanne candidates wearing a t-shirt with Woyanne logo. Al Amoudi invests little of his own money in Ethiopia, but controls several huge companies that he built or bought with borrowed money from the stated-owned Commercial Bank of Ethiopia. He borrows even from the World Bank to buy or start a business. He has recently borrowed $200 million from the World Bank to build a cement factory. Al Amoudi’s business interests range from hotels to mining. According to ER sources in the Ministry of Mining, over 70 percent of the gold that is mined at the Legedenbi location, south-western Ethiopia, is being transported directly from the mine to London by Al Amoudi’s private planes, and protected by Woyanne’s special forces units, without being inspected by the Ministry of Mining. Al Amoudi’s corrupting influence is having a devastating effect on the Ethiopian economy, not to mention his moral corruption, such as the sexual exploitation of teenage girls by him and his foreign and local groups of friends and business associates, his public drunkenness, and bribing critics of the Woyanne regime to keep silent. Some of Ethiopia’s icons in the arts and sports are in the pocket of Al Amoudi. Artists such as Tilahun Gessesse could have been powerful voices for the people of Ethiopia against the Woyanne injustices had they not been bought by Al Amoudi.
6. Abune Merkorios, patriarch. When Woyanne came to power in 1991, it had decided to either destroy or bring under its total control all major institutions of Ethiopia. One of these institutions is the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church (EOTC). Meles and his tribal gang (Woyanne) have completely dismantled the Ethiopian army and replaced it with the Woyanne army. Currently, over 90 percent of all the high ranking officers in the army are members of the tribal Tigrean People Liberation Front (Woyanne). Meles used a different strategy with the EOTC, a powerful Ethiopian institution with 2000 years of history. Since Woyannes could not dismantle the Church, they tried to install their own patriarch named Ato Gebremedhin (formerly Aba Paulos). But there was one problem: The longstanding rules (cannon) of the EOTC doesn’t allow the appointment of a new patriarch while the incumbent is still alive. To save the Church from legitimately being taken over by a Woyanne cadre, his Holiness Abune Merkorios was advised by the Church leaders to save his life by fleeing out of the country when Meles and gang came to power in 1991. His Holiness agreed and they managed to take him out of the country in a carefully orchestrated scape plan, thus denying Ato Gebremedhin legitimacy as the newly Woyanne-installed patriarch. Currently, Abune Merkorios is in the United States. Most Ethiopian churches continue to invoke his name as the legitimate patriarch. Millions of Ethiopian Christians inside the country and around the world follow him as their religious leader. His presence continues to be a major cause of restlessness to the Woyanne junta.
7. Mohamed O. Osman, political leader. As chairman of the opposition Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) since 1998, Mohamed Osman is leading a well-armed fighting force that is shaking the Woyanne regime from its root. In retaliation to ONLF’s military operations, Meles is carrying out a ‘scorched earth’ policy in the Ogaden region where Woyanne troops burn entire villages, massacre civilians and commit other crimes against humanity, as reported by credible international human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The crimes that are being committed by Meles in Ogaden in retaliation to attacks by Osman’s ONLF could one day put the entire Woyanne leadership on trial for war crimes.
8. Kenenisa Bekele, athlete. A triple Olympic gold medalist, he is the undisputed king of long-distance running. Kenenisa is a pride of Ethiopia, a great source of inspiration to other Ethiopian athletes, and a role model for those who strive to achieve excellence in their field of profession.
9. Tirunesh Dibaba, athlete. It is a joy to just watch her run. Tirunesh’s elegant strides make her victories effortless. She is the queen of world’s women long distance running, and like her team-mate Kenenisa Bekele, a perfect representative of Ethiopia in international stages.
10. Teddy Afro, artist, political prisoner. Woyanne is trying hard to eradicate Ethiopian nationalism, and is almost succeeding. Most Ethiopians today, particularly in the countryside, grow up knowing little about their Ethiopian identity. In Ethiopia under the Woyanne regime, awareness of one’s ethnic identity is more encouraged, and ‘Ethiopiawinet’ (Ethiopian national identity) is being undermined. Teddy Afro, through his songs, has been able to reverse this trend set forth by Woyanne — until Meles and Bereket have decided to stop him. Currently, Teddy is locked up in a dark prison cell at the notorious Qality jail.
11. Kemal Gelchu, military leader. He is highest army officer with the rank of general to defect to the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and later became head of the organizations’ military wing. Recently General Kemal had joined other OLF leaders to bring a change of leadership and strategy. General Kemal and friends want OLF to fight for “democratizing and unifying Ethiopia” where the interests and rights of Oromos, as well as all other ethnic groups, will be protected. OLF is the strongest armed opposition group that is fighting to remove the Woyanne dictatorship in Ethiopia.
12. Meazaw Getu, military leader. He is chairman of the Ethiopian People’s Patriotic Front, an armed resistance that is gaining ground in the fight against Woyanne.
13. Alemayehu G. Mariam, professor, attorney. He has helped the Ethiopian Diaspora to open a new front in the battle against the Woyanne brutal dictatorship — the U.S. Congress. The “Freedom and Democracy in Ethiopia Act” (H.R. 2003) is being looked at as a grave threat by the Woyanne regime. Meles is currently paying a powerful U.S. lobbying firm, DLP Piper, $50,000 to kill H.R. 2003. The House of Representatives last year passed the bill and it is currently pending in the Senate. Dr Alemayehu and friends at the Coalition for H.R. 2003 are laboring hard to get the bill passed in the Senate.
14. Leul Qeskis, political leader. He is an elected member of parliament from Gondar. Before escaping to Eritrea, Leul was Kinijit’s top representative and organizer in Gondar. When the Woyanne junta had rounded up and jailed all of Kinijit’s top leaders, Leul and a group of other members of parliament decided not to join the rubber stamp parliament. Instead, they decided to flee the country and help armed resistance fighters. Leul and friends spent over 3 months in the mountains, deserts and jungles of Ethiopia with fighters of the Ethiopian People Patriotic Front (EPPF). Currently, Leul is a key individual who is helping EPPF to restructure itself and broaden its support base.
15. Berhanu Nega, political leader. He is the legitimately elected mayor of Addis Ababa who spent almost two year at the Qaliti jail after helping to mastermind the defeat of Woyanne at the 2005 elections. When Woyanne prevented the oppostion Coalition for Unity and Democracy (Kinijit) to freely operate inside the country, Dr Berhanu Nega and friends formed a new opposition movement, Ginbot 7, in exile that has adopted a strategy that calls for change in Ethiopia by any means available.
16. Andargachew Tsige, political leader. He is one of the top leaders of the newly formed Ginbot 7 Movement for Freedom, Justice and Democracy in Ethiopia. Andargachew is said to be the architect of Kinijit’s 2005 election victory. He is considered by many to be the best Ethiopian political theoretician, analyst and strategist of the day. We will see if he can live up to his reputation by what he is doing with Ginbot 7.
17. Abebe Belew, artists, radio host. He hosts the most popular Ethiopian radio program that is listened by tens of thousands of Ethiopians in the Diaspora. His Washington DC-based radio program is also available on the Internet, making it accessible to a worldwide audience. Recently Abebe has launched a weekly radio broadcast to Ethiopia, which now can be heard by millions of Ethiopians inside the country.
18. Seye Abraha, political leader, former political prisoner. He is the former defense minister of the Woyanne regime. After a confrontation with Meles Zenawi, Seye was thrown in jail on trumped of charges of corruption. Seye is a Tigrean supremacist who is much more popular among Tigreans and rank-and-file Woyannes than any of the current top Woyanne leaders. The Meles crime family is afraid of him and keeps him on a 24/7 surveillance. Meles has reason to be afraid. There is a real possibility that Seye could replace him in a mutiny within Woyanne. The only reason Meles has released Seye after keeping him in jail for 6 years is to placate Tigreans whose support he needs if he starts war with Eritrea.
19. Abraha Belai, journalist. He is the chief editor of one of the most widely read Ethiopian web sites. Abraha is also a founding member of Gasha, a Tigrean political group. He is one of the few Ethiopians with Tigrean ethnic background who have consistently opposed the Meles dictatorship, particularly after the former defense minister and high-ranking member of Woyanne, Seye Abraha, was thrown in jail in 2001. Abraha Belai, through his popular web site, ethiomedia.com, had played a key role in rallying Ethiopians behind Kinijit before, during and after the 2005 elections. However, after Seye Abraha was released last year, Abraha’s focus has changed. He is now working to help reform Woyanne with Seye Abraha at the top, rather than destroying it. Abraha is also working hard openly, as well as behind the scene, to make sure that Ethiopian opposition groups, such as Ginbot 7, will not cooperate with the Government of Eritrea. Because any force that comes from the north with the support of Eritrea could completely eliminate Woyanne, instead of reforming it by removing Meles Zenawi. Abraha Belai does not seem to be an ardent Tigrean supremacist like his friend Seye Abraha and other Tigrean elites, but his vehement opposition, and emotional reaction, to any cooperation between Ethiopian opposition group and the Eritrean government is puzzling, to say the least. It should be noted here that Abraha Belai is a strong supporter and admirer, as well as a close friend of Seye Abraha, a former Woyanne military chief who had killed tens of thousands of Ethiopians when he fought on the side of Shabia. So is it his position that only Seye Abraha can deal with Eritreans?
20. Berhane Mewa, TV executive. He is the general manager of the Virginia-based Ethiopian Television Network. Berhane is currently finalizing a plan to make the 24/7 TV network available to Ethiopians inside the country via satellite. If successful, ETN could be the first TV network that is owned and operated by Ethiopians. If the Woyanne dictatorship is afraid of the VOA and DW, wait until what an independent 24/7 TV network that can be accessed by any one with satellite dish in Ethiopia can do. ETN is an exciting and promising endeavor that needs to be supported by all Ethiopians who care about the future of their country.
21. Tamagne Benene, artist, TV show host. He has consistently for the past 17 years fought Woyanne’s effort to silence Ethiopian artists from speaking out against the regime’s injustice. When some popular artists wavered, Tamagne remained true to his beliefs and conscience. This earned him the love and admiration of Ethiopians around the world. Tamagne continues to be a strong voice for those Ethiopians who are silenced by the Meles dictatorship.
22. Obang O. Metho, human rights advocate. When Meles and gang are brought to face charges of crimes against humanity, the work done by Obang to document the genocide of Anuaks in western Ethiopia alone could result in conviction. Obang is a tireless human rights advocate who works day and night to expose to the international community the Woyanne regime’s crimes against the Anuak ethnic group and all other Ethiopians.
23. Liya Kebede, model, fashion designer, humanitarian. She is a supermodel who has graced the covers of many of the world’s top fashion magazines. Liya also runs her own children clothing line named ‘Lemlem’ and works with the United Nations on humanitarian missions.
24. Mesfin Woldemariam, political leader, scholar, human rights advocate, peace activist. Although he has lost some credibility after his recent uncalled for verbal attacks on armed freedom fighters, Professor Mesfin continues to be a strong voice against the Woyanne regime’s repression. He is currently a senior leader of Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ), and wields the strongest influence in the party.
25. Iyasu Alemayehu, political leader. He is a leader of the reactionary wing of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP). Iyasu spends most of his time and effort as a leader of an opposition party fighting other opposition parties. He has helped or led the effort to cripple and even destroy some promising opposition alliances for no reason other than that he or his party was not in charge. Half of the EPRP leadership split last year after many in the top leadership of this highly secretive party became frustrated by lack of progress. The group that has emerged out of the split up calls itself EPRP-Democratic. After the split up, Iyasu’s influence, or potency to do harm, has been greatly diminished, but he continues to be in charge of most of EPRP’s assets that he uses to attack other opposition groups and leaders.