It is has been a little more than two months since the death of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Since then, the country that he ruled over for 21 years has effected a remarkably smooth transition. His deputy, Hailemariam Desalegn, has taken over as both party leader and prime minister. There have been no major reshuffles. Policy changes, where they have happened, have been encouraging. Any threats to Desalegn’s succession were muted and, evidently, unsuccessful.
There is one problem, however. It’s minor in the grand scheme of things, perhaps, but raises a few nagging questions that Meles’ successor could do without. It’s also rather tricky to handle, even with the best of intentions.
Journalist Argaw Ashine explained the sensitive situation for Daily Nation: “The powerful widow of former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is reportedly stalling on vacating Ethiopia’s national palace for the country’s new leader and his family. According to government sources, Mrs Azeb Mesfin has ignored instructions to move to a new residence that would also be accorded full security detail. The government has given Mrs Azeb and her children the option of three residential villas in Addis Ababa but she is said to have refused to even visit any out of her own security concerns.”
Meanwhile, Desalegn and his family remain in their relatively small villa in a suburban area in the west of the capital. This is not particularly convenient for Ethiopia’s new head of state, although it does reveal his considerate side; he leaves for work very early in the morning and returns late at night in order to spare the already jam-packed Addis Ababa streets the further chaos that accompanies the passage of his convoy.
At a human level, it is easy to sympathise with the widow. Meles Zenawi was just 57 when he died, and her grief is real; the pair had been married for a quarter of a century. For most of that time, the couple lived in the prime minister’s residence in the national palace, as was their right. With Meles showing no signs of relinquishing power before his death, Azeb Mesfin would have envisaged many more years in what had become, in effect, their personal home. But losing her husband also means losing her home, a double blow which Azeb is probably not yet ready to face.
“For Azeb to leave a house she lived in for 21 years takes a lot longer than one might possibly imagine. Especially the properties of her late husband including his memorabilia, books, several of his precious possessions and other things might require time to be arranged and moved out of the house,” said Seble Teweldebirhan, an Addis Ababa-based reporter.
At a political level, things are a little more complicated (as they always are). Azeb Mesfin was no mere ornament to her husband’s immense power. She is a successful politician in her own right, and chairs an influential multi-billion dollar government fund for the rehabilitation of the Tigray region. Not coincidentally, most of Ethiopia’s political power is concentrated in the hands of people from this region (although not the new prime minister, it should be noted; he is from a southern province).
In her own way, she was just as powerful as her late husband. “She is not just Meles Zenawi’s wife, but practically second-in-command of her husband’s tyranny. In fact, those who know her well say that she is very mean and more dictatorial than her husband,” wrote Abebe Gellaw, an analyst on an anti-government website. His view is jaundiced, but it contains an element of truth: Azeb and Meles were a team.
In fact, right after Meles’ death, speculation began that his widow would manoeuvre herself into power. If true, she obviously failed, but perhaps this explains the strange delays in confirming Desalegn, the official successor, to the position. It also explains why she’s so reluctant to leave the official residence, the last vestige of executive power remaining to her.
For Desalegn, the issue is fraught. If he pushes too hard to get her out of the palace, he risks coming across as uncaring, potentially losing the support of Meles’ supporters. If he does nothing, however, he might come across as soft, and not in control – qualities that Ethiopians have not seen a leader for many decades.
15 October 2012
Violent land grabs in Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley are displacing tribes and preventing them from cultivating their land, leaving thousands of people hungry and ‘waiting to die’.
As the world prepares to raise awareness of the issues behind poverty and hunger on October 16 (World Food Day), Ethiopia continues to jeopardize the food security and livelihoods of 200,000 of its self-sufficient tribal people.
Tribes such as the Suri, Mursi, Bodi and Kwegu are being violently evicted from their villages as Ethiopia’s government pursues its lucrative plantations project in the Valley.
Depriving tribes of their most valuable agricultural and grazing land, security forces are being used brutally to clear the area to make way for vast cotton, palm oil and sugar cane fields.
Cattle are being confiscated, food stores destroyed, and communities ordered to abandon their homes and move into designated resettlement areas.
One Mursi man told Survival International how the process of villagization is destroying his family. ‘The government is throwing our sorghum in the river. It has cleaned up the crops and put them in the river. I only have a few sacks left…We are waiting to die. We are crying. When the government collects people into one village there will be no place for crops and my children will be hungry and have no food.’
A Suri man also said, ‘They cleared the land. Why did the government sell our land? There is no grass for the cattle. People are hungry … We are worried about fodder. We have become angry and hopeless.’
Key to the plantation program is Ethiopia’s controversial Gibe III dam. Once completed, the dam will stop the Omo River’s annual flood, preventing tribes from using its fertile banks to produce valuable crops and feed livestock.
Ethiopia has not consulted any indigenous communities over the construction of Gibe III or its aggressive plantation plans in the Valley, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Stephen Corry, Survival’s Director said today, ‘On World Food Day, people need to be aware of Ethiopia’s decision violently to strip Lower Omo Valley tribes of their self-sustaining way of life. These peoples have used their land to cultivate crops and graze cattle to feed their families for generations. This basic right has now been taken from them, in a brutal manner, leaving them hungry and afraid.’
Based on the signal from ‘Ethiopian American Convention’ to be held on Sunday October 14, ‘Vote Free Ethiopia’ and other civic organizations and Ethiopian Americans should immediately make assessment to decide which candidate to endorse. We are not requesting for promise, but words backed by a strong action. After that Ethiopian American should decide which candidate and specific party to endorse and announce their choice on the local media and news outlets.
We need to articulate what we should be requesting and most importantly educate the Ethiopian American voters in Virginia of our demands, from the next US administration. I am not going to the Ethiopian American Convention on Sunday, October 14 to complain, but make a specific demand before I cast my vote on November elections.
These would be the greatest one time opportunity, for Ethiopian Americans to get the attention of the next US administration.
The author is a graduate student in Washington D. C metor area.
As a sign of the escalating attack on OPDO, a pro-regime newspaper Sendeq alleges that the OPDO is resisting TPLF’s interference because it harbors a secessionist agenda. Citing unnamed sources, the paper claims that those who complain about the process and outcome of the succession and those who are opposed to TPLF interference in OPDO’s internal organizational affairs are the “ones infested with OLF’s ideology, and want to break away Oromia.” It is ironic that Bereket Simon, whose motherland Eritrea broke away from Ethiopia, has the nerve to try to gain political capital by accusing OPDO of secessionism.
The paper further claims that OPDO was shut out of senior post at the party and executive branch because it failed to develop capable leaders. This ridiculous assertion is part of the psychological warfare popularized by the departed Prime Minister to legitimizing denying real power to OPDO, whose members make up 57% of the EPRDF’s rank and file. Meles once uttered such nonsense in a response to an Oromo student who asked him why Oromos are denied political power comparable with their numeric size and economic contribution to the federation. After agreeing with the student’s assessment (this was 2005 and Meles was working hard to win over Oromos), he said “ I am willing to give up my post to an Oromo, but I am unable to find a capable replacement as the educated Oromos have run away.” Another student fired back and turned Meles’ lousy excuse upside down: “Sir, please give the power to me, because if you, a sophomore drop out, can run this country for so long, I, who just completed my masters, am surely qualified to govern it better.” He then jokingly apologized saying “please pardon me if I offended you; I am from Dire, and down there, our parents don’t teach us how to be politically correct.” The tyrant characteristically smiled to cover his visible embarrassment.
It is not the first time this newspaper has attacked the OPDO. It is this very paper that waged a character assassination campaign against Juneydi Sado, former president of Oromia and current minister of the Civil Service by accusing his wife of terrorism and chastising the minister for defending the innocence of his wife who is still in detention.
In recent months,Sendeq has replaced the now defunct Ethio Channel as the mouthpiece of the intelligence services. Ethio Channel was known for publishing defamation against the regime’s opponents. Its notorious prominence came to light during the aftermath of the 2005 election when it regularly published transcripts of the Coalition for Unity and democracy’s leadership meeting gained from wire tapping. But a month ago, Ethio Channel suddenly fell out of favor and its owner Samson Mamo was thrown into jail along with his wife. The immediate cause of his demise is said to be his decision to publish Juneydi Sado’s open letter denouncing the defamation campaigns waged at him. Now Sendeq has taken over the role previously played by Ethio Channel.
According to sources, Sandeq is financed by Al Amoudi, the well known businessman., who has been at odds with OPDO for quite some time. The flash point of the dispute goes back to 2005. When Meles was trying to do everything in his power to appease Oromos in order to isolate the CUD. After reversing the decision to remove the seat of Oromia government from Finfinne to Adama, an initiative was kicked off to build an Oromo Heritage Center in the capital. At the fundraising event for this project, Al Amoudi promised that he will match the amount raised on that day. Oromos came from all walks of life and contributed millions. But after the construction of the center began, Al Amoudi refused to pay the money he promised. Angered by this betrayal, the Oromia regional government, under Abadula’s leadership, decided to fund the project from its own budget. The region also confiscated thousands of hectares of land that had been given to Al Amoudi for failing to fulfill the terms of the lease, to develop the land within a limited time frame.
Moreover, when Al Amoudi’s farm at Bishaan Gurrachaa (between Shashamene and Awasa) was mysteriously burned down , Al Amoudi’s surrogates accused OPDO leaders of sabotage. Furthermore, when Oromos of Guji waged an intensive protest against toxic wastes released from the Midroc gold mines, Al Amoudi promised to compensate the Guji zone by donating 15 million birr to community development projects, only to backtrack afterwards. Al Amoudi’s repeated false promises to a region where three-fourth of Midroc’s operations takes place infuriated the regional administrators who in response erected bureaucratic hurdles to the billionaire’s extensive business operations. Therefore, the Sheik’s operatives were waging intensive smear campaign against key OPDO leaders, particularly Abadula, Juneydi and Girma Birru. They were openly claiming victory for removal of Girma Birru from the ministerial post he held for a long time. The Sheik and his men are therefore too happy to throw his weight behind TPLF in their intensified attack on OPDO.
In a related news the OPDO Central Committee has reconvened today September 29, 2012, for the third time since Meles’s death. While electing party and regional leadership is still on the top of the agenda, issues related to TPLF’s aggressive interference are expected to dominate the discussion. In anticipation, TPLF in its part is planning to make the issue of “OLF infiltration of OPDO” the first agenda item. Towards this end, the intelligence service has been ordered to compile a dossier showing connection between several vocal members of the Central Committee and the ‘terrorist’ organization. Outside the CC, targets might include the OPDO members of parliament who ‘missed’ Hailemariam’s swearing in. Over half of the the 180 Oromo MP’s did not show up for the emergency secession leading TPLF to suspect that their absence might have been a result of the spread of disaffection within OPDO’s rank and file.