Reflection on the Death of Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi
I heard the news of the death of Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi while I was working in the Nuru Kenya office in Kuria. The news ended two months of speculation about the fate of Ethiopia’s leader. As many of Ethiopia’s fellow citizens, I am shocked by the untimely death of Meles Zenawi. My heart goes out to his family and loved ones.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was part of a generation of Ethiopian students who sacrificed their life for political and economic inclusiveness and democratic rights. He left his medical study in 1976 to join the armed resistance led by Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) against the brutal military dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam. Meles has been an influential political figure in Ethiopia and the horn of Africa region for the past 21 years. Most Ethiopians credited him for leading an armed struggle that ended the 17 year military dictatorship.
He crafted Ethiopia’s recent economic progress and applauded by many for his visionary leadership that led Ethiopia to a steady annual economic growth of more than 10% for the last decade. Meles’s Ethiopia has been a donor darling thanks to his charismatic leadership and skillful maneuvering of the war on terrorism to his advantages. He has been an all time supporter of the United States and the West at the expense of domestic human and democratic rights.
Though Ethiopia achieved continuous economic progress under his leadership, he was the most polarizing leader that Ethiopia has had in recent history. Most Ethiopians had been saddened by his stand for letting Ethiopia be landlocked after the succession of Eritrea. The ethnic federal system that he developed has been a source of hatred and division among Ethiopia’s major ethnic groups and a reason for many ethnic conflicts that happened in different parts of the country. Ethiopians are more divided now than 21 years ago when he came to power. This was more evident in the different opinions expressed in Ethiopian blogs and social medias in the wake of his illness and after his death. His heavy handed crash on any form of peaceful opposition resulted in the closing of political space and hope for peaceful transition. Influential opposition figures chose the hard walk of armed resistance rather than seeking public office through democratic means.
The current Ethiopia that he left is more volatile due to the different low-level armed resistances, the conflict in the Ogaden region for regional autonomy, the continuous demand of the Ethiopian Muslims for religious freedom and the lack of tolerance for any form of dissent. Above all, Ethiopia is strategically located in the volatile horn of Africa region. Due to all these factors, Meles’ absence is felt by many segments of the society.
The void that he left is not easily filled. The Ethiopian constitution does not provide the means for a smooth succession when the Prime Minister is absent due to death or any other reason. As resent history tells, it is a big concern for Ethiopians that the possible power struggle within the ruling elites and between oppositions might lead the country to unintended directions. It is up to the Ethiopian people to make the right choice at this critical time of their history. It is my hope that Ethiopians will fix the past divisions and work for a system that ensures equality, accountability and democracy.
Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desaleng is designated as acting Prime Minister until the next election. I hope he will make the right choice and forge an inclusive government that respects freedom of expression, equality and basic human and democratic rights. I wish acting Prime Minister Haliemariam Desaleng to be successful in his reign.
I believe that Nuru International’s planned interventions to end extreme poverty in Boreda, Ethiopia will not be hindered by the current developments in Ethiopia. It is my belief that there will be a better day ahead for a more peaceful and inclusive Ethiopia where Nuru could play an active role in the most pressing need of alleviating extreme poverty in the most rural and remote Boreda.
I would like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt condolence to Prime Minister Meles his family and the Ethiopian people. Rest in peace, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
About Elias Fanta
Financial Inclusion Strategic Advisor — Elias initiated and coordinated the first microfinance project in southern Ethiopia. For eight years he worked for the German International Cooperation (GIZ) in Ethiopia as a program officer. Elias graduated with a BA in Economics from the Addis Ababa University, MA in Development Management, and PhD in International Development Studies from the Ruhr University of Bochum.Read More Stories of Hope