Meles Politicking in Ethiopia as Risky as his Doctoring on a Patient

It has been over a decade now since Meles and his group took power in Ethiopia. Serious scholars on the country seem to concur that it is politically in a precarious situation even though there are divergent views about how to treat it. The Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) under the leadership of Meles Zenawi of the Tigray People Libration Front (TPLF), the hard core of the EPRDF, has been treating the country for over a decade. After so long, the country seems to be in a more precarious situation. It can be argued fairly that it has now more wounds in the fabric of the peoples in it than what already existed when the EPRDF took power in 1991.

What started out as a generous land allocation for the state of Tigray under EPRDF rule at the expense of others, especially the Amhara, has continued to cause serious damages. In the early 1990’s, it forced many independent political organizations to boycott elections and withdraw from the coalition government that was formed after the fall of the Derg, with assistance from foreign powers.

During the 1993 Eritrean referendum, the historical bond between the Tigrigna speaking people of Tigray and Eritrea was not given any weight. The same goes for the Afar people. Instead, the separation of these peoples during Italy’s occupation of Eritrea and the pain caused by different rulers in Ethiopia were orchestrated. At the very least, Meles could have been indifferent on the separation issue. However, his actions indicate that he was actually interested in it. This is not to suggest that the right of the people of Eritrea to self-determination should have been undermined. Nonetheless, the leadership on both sides missed an opportunity not to create a “permanent” political barrier in the natural bond between the same peoples in both Ethiopia and Eritrea. The actions of Meles government actually contributed to this historical self-inflicted mistake.

In 1998, his government engaged a war that would cost about 70 to 120 thousand soldiers’ lives, the numbers depend on the source. During the same war, the government evicted many Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrean origin as he wished. He was telling the world that if his government didn’t like the color of his eyes, it could expel anyone from Ethiopia. It defied common sense. At about the same time, what an Oromo farmer in Borana told Meles’ cadre who had gathered the local people to identify Tigres of Eritrean origin to expel from Ethiopia would make better common sense. The farmer told the cadre the relationship between his group and the people he wanted identified are similar to the brotherhood between the Borana of Sololo and Hiddi Lola, two neighboring districts in the Borana zone of Oromia state and it was not the business of the people who had been gathered. The farmer was referring to the Tigrigna speaking peoples of Tigray and Eritrea. Those people down there in Borana have some good things to learn from only if they are paid some attention. 

The government’s armed forces opened fire in 2002 on peaceful demonstrators from the Sidama people near Awasa in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples State (SNNPS), leaving many dead in what has been termed since as the Awasa Massacre. Similarly, many were killed in Tepi, again in the SNNPS, after the Awasa Massacre. Recently, we have been reading yet another similar phenomenon in Gambella. Genocide Watch considers what has unfolded in Gambella genocide.

Meles seems to have been busy in trying to help plant permanent wall between the Afar peoples in Afar land in utter disregard for their independent political organization’s cries that they do not wish and allow to be divided. These are the people his ancestors may have been grafted on. One might add, they are the people who are the root of humanity according to available archeological evidence. He has the urge to write to the UN for partial demarcation in the Afar land when he reportedly faced challenges from the elders of Tigray on the Ethiopia-Eritrea boundary demarcation.

Now it is forcing Oromo institutions, through its surrogate organization, the Oromo People's Democratic Organization, against the will of the Oromo people to be evicted from Finfinne, their ancestral land that was renamed Addis Ababa over a hundred years ago. This has caused uproar from every corner of the Oromo people. The Oromo people have been subjected to various atrocities under successive Ethiopian regimes in the past. All of them have killed and imprisoned Oromos in their own land. However, none has evicted them from their land and Meles has gone too far and will be remembered for this in Oromo history. It has exposed more of its true nature and it is about time Oromo political groups stop the politics of temptation and resolve in unison to not only free their people from this horrendous injustice but also spearhead in bringing lasting peace and stability in the region. These are two major historic responsibilities they face at this time.

All the above failures of the government of Meles Zenawi may suggest enough about him. He went to the jungle at a young age to fight for what he believed in. That is a determination, but a determination that deprived him the opportunity to learn about politics and leadership in a civil society at an active learning age and gave him the opportunity to learn the law of the jungle where he spent nearly two decades of his adult life. Perhaps, that is where he picked up deception at the expense of leadership, and he seems excellent at it. After he came to power, someone in North America asked him at a gathering of Ethiopians how he wanted to see Ethiopia ten years from then. The question was apparently political. However, in what appeared to be his not uncommon diversionary answers, he replied that he wanted to see every Ethiopian be able to eat three times a day. That seemed an excellent answer for a county devastated by famine on biblical proportions only a few years ago. After about ten years of his rule, he would go public to tell the world that if the drought of 1984 was a catastrophe, the drought that was looming over Ethiopia would be too ghastly to contemplate.

The deception of Meles seems to be institutionalized. When asked why thousands of Anuaks in the Gambella region fled Ethiopia as refugees because of the recent genocide, the spokesperson in the Ethiopian embassy in Washington, D.C, would have the courage to insult the intelligence of the international community by saying the Anuak people “are enjoying the right of movement to live anywhere they like and to enjoy their own pursuit of life”. Such shameful deception is what the peoples in Ethiopia are living in under Meles government.  

In conclusion, Meles is not experienced in leadership that would stabilize the politically troubled Horn of Africa. His experience in civil society may be only as good as his experience in the medical profession which he started to pursue but went to the jungle before going far enough. It would be naïve of any one to subject oneself to his treatment for that could be fatal. In the same token, the peoples in Ethiopia and the international community interested in freedom for these peoples and peace and stability in the region should reanalyze Meles' treatment of the troubled country. He may be taking it in the wrong direction. The worst part of it is that he has the patient and the tools in his hands and seems to be ready to do as he wishes by taking unmeasured steps. What is more, he faces disenfranchised opposition some of which seem caught and manipulated by the static three thousand years legend as if important events before that or the reality on the ground of recent times and today would not dictate the future course.

It is ironical that the people of Tigray allow all these to happen by someone who first and foremost represents them. If they are interested in good terms in the future, which they should be, with the other peoples in the region, it has been long overdue to assess the measures taken by him. These are too many mistakes to learn from for Meles and all the peoples in Ethiopia. Common sense politics dictates that politicians should not decide for the people, but let the people decide freely on matters that affect their future. That is the road to freedom, peace, stability and development for all the peoples in the region..