One may wonder if Meles Zenawi will ever wish the people of Ethiopia happiness, freedom from his endless tyrannical rule and a future of hope. At a time when Ethiopians have been preoccupied with efforts to receive the new Ethiopian year with a sense of hope and jubilation, not because of any tangible change but for the sake of at least their unique calendar and the end of the dreary rainy season, Meles Zenawi had a different game plan. When he convened a meeting of his loyalists, it was predictable that he had no plan of any good wishes for the poor nation he has been ravaging with his misrule.
After all Meles is a classic tyrant whose cruelty is undisputed. According to Wikipedia, the word “tyrant” carries connotations of a harsh and cruel ruler who places his or her own interests or the interests of a small oligarchy over the best interests of the general population, which the tyrant governs or controls.
Despite his best effort to try to fool the people, the majority is too wise to be cheated. But there were at least some gullible folks who took the absolute monarch’s pranks seriously and thought that he would abdicate his absolutist throne and deliver a great resignation message on the New Year. “He will go. It is a done deal!” they argued. But it turned out that Zenawi’s plan was nothing more than an unsophisticated cruel April fool’s day hoax in September [Meskerem], the first month in the Ethiopian calendar.
Stopping an insurrection
Before its melodramatic end, Meles Zenawi’s resignation gamesmanship has a long history. It started in the aftermath of the 2005 national elections. After stealing the elections and smashing the popular demand for democracy and freedom, Meles appeared on BBC’s HARDtalk with Stephen Sacker. The interview was not as easy as the monologue he scripts for ETV and Walta. Meles was palpitating and visibly stressed.
Zenawi’s agony was quite understandable as the questions were forthright and there was little space to evade the uncompromising BBC interrogator who even managed to extract a confession that he ordered his security forces to open fire on unarmed protesters.
“What order did you give the security forces?” asked Mr Sacker.
“Stop the insurrection!” declared Meles.
“As simple as that!”
“Yeah!” said the dictator triumphantly as if he ordered the killing of some flies.
The game of the president
The usually cunning despot was caught red-handed lying a few times. He even tried to convince the BBC sharp man that the person who formed the electoral board was not him but the “president” of the country. This was to make Sacker and BBC viewers believe that he was in power only for two terms.
“The National Election Board, the current board, was appointed over a decade ago, during the transitional period, and at that period, at that time, the president submitted the names to the parliament. Now if we were to appoint new election board members, it would be the prime minister, which would put the names to the parliament.”
Bemused with his answer, Stephen asked the self-anointed Prime Minister: “Where were you at that particular time?”
“I was the president of the Transitional Government,” Meles answered blinking his eyes helplessly. So finally, it was discovered that the “president” was no one other than Zenawi himself. The street smart despot never surrenders.
“You were the president?” asked Mr Sacker as if he was surprised.
“So you still put forward the names?”
“Yes, I did.”
“And you now expect the opposition to believe this Board would be entirely impartial? Then Meles resorted to comparing his anomalous empire to a normal country. “Well, I suppose the opposition parties in France expect their Minister of Interior to be impartial in elections and I suppose it is very similar in your country?”
“But I suppose in most countries it would be unusual for one man to be in power for so long, and would control all the appointments for so long?”
“This is my second term and I…” said Meles again trying to pull the wool over Mr Sacker’s eyes.
“You just told me you were the president of the interim transitional authority before?”
“Yeah, the transitional period.”
“So in essence, you have been in power for 14 years.”
“Is that unheard of in Europe?” asks the tyrant to make an escape route.
In the middle of the dramatic interview in which Meles was cornered, the issue of resignation was raised. Meles’ answer was simple, “That is up to my party to decide!” He went on to say: “I want the office to serve my country and I will only serve if I feel…I have value to add. Likewise, if my party feels I don’t add value, they can change the prime minister any time.”
Since that bad encounter with Mr Sacker, who further revealed the mind of a typical power monger in front of the whole world, Mr Zenawi insisted that it would be his last term and he would submit his resignation to his party, as if the “party” composed of his “yes-men” will ever have a power to decide on his fate.
Had had enough
On December 14, 2006, Stephanie McCrummen of the Washington Post published another interesting interview with Zenawi in which he boldly declared that he was deeply convinced that “we either democratize and have a good chance of surviving, or if we fail to do so, we disintegrate.” At the end of the interview McCrummen asked, “Do you have any plans to try a third term?” He tried to evade the question again by diverting it to his party.
“My party? My party will try not only for a third term but for a tenth term.”
“And you personally?” fired back McCrummen knowing what he was up to.
“And me personally, I think I have had enough,” Zenawi said. Here again anyone can notice his self-doubt and caprice. The sentence was not fully affirmative as he opened the sentence with “I think….” If he had had enough, why did he say I think? Just a fool’s game of self-deception.
He continued to sing the resignation song and his blind supporters continued to dance to the tune tirelessly. And yet he kept on giving conflicting signals until many of the respected global news outlets echoed his propaganda. They declared that Zenawi was likely to set an example not only in Ethiopia but also in Africa by relinquishing power in a civilized manner.
Got bored with resignation
In June 24 of this year, Meles told reporters another interesting story. In a news dispatch under the headline Meles bored with resignation talk, the global newswire service Reuters reported that the tyrant was bored with the expectation and talks of his departure.
According to Reuters, asked when he would go at a news conference, “Meles, who has been hinting at an exit for several years, replied: “I am bored with that question. Even if you are not bored, I am.”
But Tsegaye Tadesse and Barry Malone got it wrong again by quoting another gullible but unnamed analysts. “Analysts believe Meles is most likely to leave after the 2010 election, with the ruling party probably winning again and the prime minister’s post then passing to a senior minister,” they reported. Misreading the signals, a Barry Malone of Reuters even distributed a list of possible successors: Seyoum Mesfin, Girma Biru and Tedros Adhanom added with a list of opposition figure most of whom were victims
Setting a new example
Though Meles declared his boredom over talks of his resignation in front of reporters, he told William Wallis, FT Africa Editor, a few days earlier that in Addis Ababa June 17th that he was going to set a new example.
“Is there a danger though that your liberation movement could go the way of some others on the continent which have over time lose their original ideals and are prey to cronyism and the pursuit of power for its own sake rather for the sake of the people?” Wallis asked.
“Absolutely! There is no guarantee. Every movement will have to renew itself everyday or risk degenerating.”
“Including changing leadership?” Wallis wondered.
“Absolutely!” Zenawi said.
“You have said before you are willing to stand down? What developments are there on this front?
He argued at length that his party will change the old leadership and “renew” itself with a new kind of leadership.
Another serious question followed: “Are you saying that you won’t be standing in the elections next year?”
“All I am saying is that my personal position is that I have had enough. I am not a lone gunman…. So I am arguing my case and the others are also arguing their case.… I would like to keep my party membership even after I resign from my government position. My hope is we will come up with some understanding. I don’t think the differences are all that big.”
“When might that take place? Is there a party congress coming up?”
“Yes there is a congress in September,” Meles declared making it appear that there is a real party with real members with unsold souls with rights to debate with him.
“Who would you like to succeed you?”
“I would like the party to make that decision.”
“Why is it that Ethiopians don’t really believe you could go?” Wallis queried with interest.
“Because it has not been done in the past in Ethiopia.”
“But this is a precedent you would like to set?”
“This is a precedent that I would almost kill to set.” From what he was saying, it seemed he can’t wait to go and leave alone the country he has been messing up for lover three decades.
A bad hoax
“And what will you do when you eventually step down? I gather you haven’t had a holiday for 34 years.”
The tyrant answered: “I think my preference would be to read, perhaps write, but again that will be a decision for the party. One thing that I will not do, one thing that the party should not consider is be involved in any government work.”
“You will withdraw?”
“That is a necessary condition and without that there is no change of leadership. But once we have done that the party will have its decision as to whether I will be allow [sic] to sit back read and write, or give me other party (role).”
“Like party chairman?”
“I don’t think so because the prime minister has to be the party chairman. That is not a position for a retired leadership,” Meles answered knowing full well that he was just playing a game that he has perfected: a game of self-deceptions. After all tyrants like Meles are narcissist creatures who are too predictable to cheat anyone but themselves.
As predicted again, the resignation game came full circle. Meles convened his “party”. When the two-day “conference” was over we were told that EPRDF accepted Meles Zenawi’s resignation. “The council has passed decision the senior leaders of the front and management would hand over its leadership in the coming five years. The council has examined the resignation request of EPRDF Chairperson, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and decided to put in to effect as per the procedure of the Front after five years,” the TPLF-controlled Ethiopian News Agency reported. That was not the end of the story.
“We have made a decision about all our frontline leaders, not just Prime Minister Meles Zenawi,” Muktar Kedir, chief of headquarters for the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), told Reuters on Wednesday.
“They will all resign within five years. We will consider his request again then,” he said after the EPRDF’s annual congress this week. Muktar must be kidding. The election is over EPRDF is going to enjoy another landslide victory because it is just a periodic exercise to impress donors. Meles has been begged to stay in power and he is going to be his own predecessor, the one he was promising all these years to transfer power to. What an impressive trick!
Meles Zenawi seems to be like a man who has been trying to build a fortress of ice in the middle of the Tropics. Unfortunately, his efforts are vain and his games too silly. The reason why Zenawi will cling to power for ever is the fact that he has not built a country for himself and his children. There is so much at stake. After all, the nation is a milk cow for him and the ethnic oligarchy he created.
The truth of the matter is that the wicked dictator has little choices. Very few tyrants like himself will take him as a guest of honor. Zimbabwe is already occupied by his predecessor. His long time mentor Isaias Afewerki will need his head on a platter if he flees to his mother’s country, Eritrea, a country he liberated from Ethiopian colonialism. The Sudanese tyrant Al Bashir may take him but the trouble is he is being hunted by the International Criminal Court, which is also compiling files against Zenawi. Where can he flee to escape justice? China, Burma may be Libya? For tyrants like Zenawi, the options are quite limited in the real world as he will be forced to confront the mountain of truth and the grips of justice.
Zenawi rebuilt Ethiopia on a quicksand, on a foundation of divide and rule. When the wall comes crushing on him, it will wipe out the whole criminal enterprise. Expecting Meles to go on his own volition is waiting for a miracle to happen. After all, he is a man who has been sowing the chaff of hatred and division across the fields and over the mountains and telling the people to collect the harvest of peace and democracy.
What is sad this time round is not the cruel game but the fact that the despot chose to play his moronic April fool’s day hoax on a New Year, a time of hope, change and expectation. In spite of the fact that Meles also plays such a game for the consumption of some naïve funders who sponsor his tyranny, knowingly or unknowingly, the joke is cruel beyond the pale. Whether Zenawi likes it or not, change is inevitable and freedom and democracy will come eventually, not out of kindness of ruthless tyrants like him but out of the human march toward the unyielding path of freedom. Sooner or later, Meles will take his guaranteed place in the dustbin of history along with Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Mobutu, Id Amin, Pol Pot…and all the known evil men who have caused a great deal of destruction and horror.
We wish fellow Ethiopians in and outside of the country a year of hope, courage, change and unity. Let us forget the dictator’s cruel hoax and enjoy the New Year festivities. On such an occasion, it is also important to think of heroes and heroines who have fallen and made great sacrifices in jails and torture chambers for freedom’s sake. We need to pay tribune to our future leaders, those true Ethiopians like Birtukan Mideksa who have offered themselves as sacrificial lambs so that Ethiopians will one live in abundant freedom and dignity. Their sacrifice and suffering is not in vain. We should always remember that resistance against tyrants is obedience to God, as Thomas Jefferson said. Intensifying the resistance in unison against tyranny setting aside the petty bickering cannot be postponed.
(The above articles is released by Forum for Rights and Equality in Ethiopia (FREE), a new advocacy group under formation that aims to campaign for freedom, democracy and justice founded on basic rights and equality for all. Using the power of new media, we aim to speak vocally, raise awareness, network and mobilize freedom loving Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia across the world. For enquiries, comments or to get involved, please contact us at [email protected] or email the project co-ordinator Abebe Gellaw at [email protected])