From the things I have lost, I miss Zenawi the most

  • PDF

Amen Teferi

This is the time of merriment and song, as much it is a time for a passing moment of sadness. It is the time of merriment, because the songs of Ethiopian renaissance are echoing everywhere. And it is a passing moment of sadness as well; because we had lost, two years before, around this time, a leader who had a great passion for justice and determined to ensure that every citizen get the best possible, as Gordon Brown, former PM of UK had said.

Again it is a passing moment of grief, because of the demise of the great visionary leader who was extolled by an American official, Susan Rice, as “A proud leader of an ever proud people, [who is endowed with] a world class mind.” For we have lost a visionary leader who had “tribute more powerful than words can express” as Tabo Mibeke former South African president had said.

Meles Zenawi was a leader who had been “uncompromising where the interests of his people at stake,” as well as unyielding “defender of the interest of the African continent on various international forums,” as Rwandese president and another dignitary who attended his funeral of the deceased leader had respectively said.

Now that ear-pricing dirge of lamentation is ebbing away; while the songs of a new era are taking-over, giving us an overture of the bright future awaiting us. Now that everybody in Ethiopia is not enthusiastic about his/her yesteryears, but rather he/she is eagerly waits for the brilliant tomorrow. Every Ethiopian is looking forward and longing to see what tomorrow has in store for them. The heart of every Ethiopians bits more attuned to the echoing songs of renaissance.

Thus, this is the age of self-confidence for Ethiopia and a period when we commonly hear the phrase “yes we can” coming out of the every Ethiopian’s mouth for the first time in the course of a millennia. Yes, this is an era of “yes we can” and the time of maturity as it is a period of resurrection for Ethiopia and its people.

There is banner slung on the arch which leads to the creaking deck of the old tattered ship called “ETHIOPIA,” on which you read: “Abandon hope all ye enter here.”

This was the notice written on that banner by the dry pen of yesterday. On the contrary, you have a banner today on which you read: “Oh, all ye enter here, be replenished with an endless hope.” This is the notice on that placard, written with the bright colorant pen of today.

The visionary leader had foretold the consummation of the age of adversity is approaching and had heralded the beginning of a new era of hope and the forthcoming life of felicity is just around the corner.

I am writing this article to honor the memory of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who had created, with his blood and sweat, the hope of renascence in Ethiopia. We hear his reverberating voice saying: “We are the carpenters, the builders or the engineers and the owner of our renascence. Behold, the Grand Ethiopian Renascence Dam (GERD) is a certificate for our entitlement to our renaissance. We are now the commanding captains of our own destiny.”

The GERD is the product of the cumulative effect of the multi-dimensional strive Ethiopia had made over those intervening years since the coming to power of EPRDF.

GERD is an insignia of hope and a bright future of the Ethiopian people. This project had evinced that Ethiopia and its people are once again getting back the prerogative to shape their future.

It is a flagship project of the renascence generation. It is a light-house and guiding-star of the renascence ship. A project that has crushed the boulder of the “we just can’t” spirit. Hence, it is an emblem and concrete manifestation of the changed spirit of Ethiopian people.

THE SPIRIT OF THE TIME

A year or so ago, I remember an event held at the federal parliament to honor an extraordinary accomplishment of Ethiopian doctors. Those doctors had done an ice-breaking surgery, which requires a state of the art intervention in their theater at the Black Lion Hospital. The federal parliament has noted that unusual performance and had decided to honor those surgeons. On that occasion, the leader of those medical doctors who had done that complicated surgery had said something like this: “Here in after, you need to expect marvels in every sector. I warn you not to wonder at any miracles happening around you. Because, after the commencement of the construction of GERD, you will often witness many ‘impossible’ becoming ‘possible’ in every corner of Ethiopia. And be ready for that.”

This is the spirit of our time.

We are now living in a time when the groundswell spirit of Meles Zenawi inundating our nation. Such was the experience and shifting gear spirit of the western world, during the era of their renascence. Ethiopia is now witnessing the same enthusiasm for development that the western world had experienced in the 14th to 16th century.

In spite of receiving the sharp end of his detractors tongue, Meles Zenawi had unflinchingly continued to work for his beloved country. And in fact he was the safe pair of hands of the developmental effort made by his party. Working tirelessly, Meles Zenawi and his comrades had deterred the downward rolling of Ethiopia that had been on progress for almost millennia. By the blood and sweat of their effort they managed to stop the headlong diving of our nation into the abyss of backwardness and quagmire of poverty. The revolutionary democrats are now at the pick-hour of the cumbersome task of nation building.

They found it inconceivable to see a country that had managed to erect the stele of Axum, the people who had carved miraculous rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, the nation that had build the castle of Gonder and the walls of Jeggol being repeatedly visited by hunger and become dead as a dodo.

Indeed, this glorious nation, Ethiopia, had tested debauchment as it lay midst of the debris of its glorious past. That was really painful and demeaning for a nation that has vast relics of its magnificent past. Therefore, they had embarked on this intimidating task of changing the deplorable lives of their people.

They had realized the mission of resurrecting Ethiopia is so daunting, but they never decked back. Rather, they had set out to decide the outcome of their mission through confronting the multitude battalion of poverty and backwardness. They vowed to change the lives of their people who had been time and again ravaged by hunger and dropped in millions like flies.

They had given dead ears and blind eyes to the declamatory statements of their local and international critics and vigorously defended their corner and finally manage to lead their country to the horizon where they saw the light house of the hope flickering.

THAT DOLEFUL DAY

Now, we had lost the illustrious captain of the ship called, “Ethiopian renascence.”  However, I am really happy to see that everything remains fundamentally in place even after his passing. Now, seeing events organized in connection with the second anniversary commemoration of the death of Meles Zenawi, I had recalled that doleful moment when I heard the news of his death.

I heard the news of Meles’s death and I refused to accept it. I am an early bird, and was listening to the morning news on ETV, when the newscaster suddenly dropped that dreadful bomb shell. I drew a blank and found myself dumbfounded. I know, I was behaving in apparently insane manner and that would serve nothing.

Suddenly, everything around me becomes dry as dust and eventually realized the news was damn straight.

Then I tried to drink in the last chance saloon to cast away the sorrow that was gnashing my heart. Meles, an eager beaver to see his country prospering, had passed away. His untimely death had flung Ethiopia into a nation-wide mourning.

RECOLLECTION OF A FRIEND

In his remark made on the occasion of the first anniversary commemoration of the death of Meles Zenawi in Addis Ababa, August, 20, 2013, his friend Alex de Waal had the following to say: “I first had the opportunity to meet Meles during the liberation struggle in the mountains of Tigray, in 1988. Among my main memories from that visit are very sore feet and sleeplessness. Part of the secret of success in guerrilla warfare is, I believe, going without sleep. And I trust that the path at the

Meles Zenawi Foundation’s garden, built to instruct visitors about his life, will be less arduous than those stony hillside tracks.”

Alex de Waal had another lasting impression from his first contact with Meles and his comrades in the field. And he referred to “the exceptionally high level of intellectual engagement of the TPLF leadership.” While he was travelling with TPLF leadership on the back of a truck he had the chance to listen to the discussion of the TPLF leadership. He vividly recalls the nights he spent on the back of that truck amidst the TPLF leadership who were discussing on how to go about the war with the Derge regime. Alex de Waal, who considers Meles as comrade, that discussion on the back of the truck was “like a travelling seminar.”

Alex de Waal also said “The TPLF leaders made the case that war, and victory in war, was primarily an intellectual exercise.” And he goes on saying, “Once the task had been thoroughly analyzed and properly understood, accomplishing it was the simpler part.

Alex de Waal has noted Meles’s capacity of “articulating the most complicated analysis into just a handful of sentences”, which he referred to as “telegraphic and precise." According to him, Meles’s thinking “was broader, and was consistently all-of-a-piece and joined up.” He also commends Meles Zenawi for his “well-known theorization on the democratic developmental state.”

Referring to his contribution, not as a practitioner but as an intellectual leader, to Ethiopia’s national security and foreign policy, Alex de Waal said that “Meles Zenawi defined the first objective of Ethiopia’s national security, not as having a strong national defense force—however important that may be—but as human security for Ethiopians.” The focus of Meles’s national security, which Alex opted to name it as Meles Zenawi doctrine, “was promoting and defending national economic development.”

As Alex rightly put it, Meles Zenawi firmly believed that “without the conquest of poverty, Ethiopia would remain weak and vulnerable, no matter how many tanks and helicopter gunships it might be able to deploy.”

Therefore, Meles had aggressively embarked on the task of developing the economy of his country and forging “strategic engagement with neighboring countries, with Africa, and with the globe.” He also strived to create “economic and infrastructural integration of Ethiopia with all of its neighbors, especially in terms of transport, communications, and energy.”

Thus he saw African integration and unity, and the strengthening of pan-African institutions, as imperative. He had also deeply understood the opportunities and challenges of the globalization phenomenon. “Meles argued that Ethiopia needed careful and creative study of its relations with every country—examining the best forms of integration with the neighbors, and the best forms of development partnership that each developed country had to offer” said Alex.

According to Alex de Waal, “Meles’s analysis of foreign relations was informed by a deep sense of history and the structural determinants of politics.” To substantiate this claim, he recalled to a remark Meles made when he went “to see him in March 2011, barely a fortnight after the overthrow of the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.” Alex was expecting a discussion about Sudan, but Meles opened the discussion with a question: “What is happening in Tunisia and Egypt, is it 1989 or 1848?”

Alex told us that by “1989 or 1848?” Meles is referring to “the popular uprisings that overthrow Communism in eastern Europe, and to the ‘springtime of the people’ in the mid-19th century, in which there was a brief moment of democratic hope, before the liberals took fright and sided with the forces of repression, leading to a protracted authoritarian crackdown—but not before the spirit of revolution had been kindled across Europe.” And in Meles’s opinion, Alex said, “The Arab Spring was more like 1848.”

According to Alex, Meles had foreseen how the Arab Spring in Egypt will be concluded. Meles had argued, as Alex has noted, “the liberal revolutionaries would not be able to sustain their breakthrough, and that the future of the country would be contested between the military establishment and the Islamists.” We have now the benefit of hindsight. We can be an eyewitness to the fact that the situation in Egypt has turned out to end exactly the way Meles has foreseen.

Meles also said, according to Alex, “whatever government was in power, it would soon face the problem of the unrealized aspirations—principally the economic aspirations—of the Egyptian people. Hence it would try to externalize its problems.” Moreover, Meles foresaw “Constrained by the Americans from threatening Israel, Egypt would raise the issue of the Nile Waters and might seek to confront Ethiopia.”

Hence, Alex further commented, “Meles’s diplomacy around the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam therefore included pro-actively engaging with the downstream nations to allay their legitimate concerns over the Nile Waters. He believed in a future of cooperation with Egypt, not confrontation. He was sure that the issue of the Nile waters could be resolved with a win-win formula.” Alex wrapped up this part of his discussion saying; “This is a fine example of what I would like to see as Meles’s guiding principle of intellectual leadership. According to this principle, you must define and master an issue, or it will master you.”

In his discussion on the pillar of Meles’s security doctrine, Alex argued that Meles took “national pride” as pillar. Meles does not believe in “jingoism on an empty stomach,” he rather condemned it. On the contrary, he insisted that Ethiopia’s proud tradition of nationalism should be conjoined to the pursuit of Ethiopia’s own national development strategy.

He had put it squarely that “national pride” should begin with Ethiopia defining its own development goals and strategies and in turns its own security policies. Rather than approaching national security from the agenda set by others, it would be sensible for Ethiopia if it could take the lead in defining the nature of relation it would like to have with the rest of the world, as Alex argued.

According Meles, it would be futile to strive to win the friendship and the tutelage of the giant development partners by adopting policies that are alien to the concrete situation of Ethiopia and that would consequently serves no body’s interest. Hence, it would be judicious to strictly chart and advance strategies that are in accordance with the most pressing needs of the Ethiopian people.

He knew that the development effort of Ethiopia cannot move an inch, without significant volume of foreign assistance, aid and support. But no country would be interested to support Ethiopia without first making sure that its aid and support would eventually bring fortune. Thus, Meles argued, the primary focus of Ethiopia must not be on alluring others, which would in the end lead us to be only subservient with no avail.

On the contrary, Meles argued, the focal point of all our strategies and policies should necessarily be the interests and developmental goals of the Ethiopian people and the resources it has at hand. If Ethiopia could commendably manage the resource at its hand, all who envision getting a share from the wealth being created in Ethiopia would feel confident enough and would come to join us. Thus, Meles reasoned the most important issue how commendably we manage our “homework.”

As I have pointed out above, the national security policy Meles devised had taken the reality of globalization as its pillar. Meles had realized that globalization had posed not only enormous challenges, but also tremendous opportunities for Ethiopia implementing its development strategy. For instance, the rise of China as a new global power was an important factor in Meles interpretation of the world politics.

However, in his view, the most important effect of the rise of China was not that it presented a new model for development and foreign relations; but that the simple fact that there was a new global power opened up a new space for seeking genuine African solutions.

As far as Africa, Ethiopia or Meles Zenawi are concerned, the most important effect of the rise of China is the space created for policy independence, as Alex had rendered it. He also said:

“During the Cold War, African countries could choose capitalism or socialism, neither model appropriate for the continent’s needs. The uni-polar world that followed the end of the Cold War gave developing countries no choice, obliging unorthodox thinkers such as Meles to hunker down and bide their time. What China had done for Africa was, as it were, to neutralize the magnetic field that aligned all countries’ policies with the so-called Washington Consensus, allowing them, for the first time, to think about how to do things in their own way, for their own interests.

And indeed Meles proceeded precisely to do that: to plot a truly independent, nationally-focused development and security path for Ethiopia. As a scholar rather than a politician, I see such intellectual contributions as the defining feature of the late Prime Minister’s legacy. I trust that the Meles Zenawi Foundation will pay particular attention to nurturing the spirit of independent, rigorous and fearless thinking, which was the hallmark of the late Comrade Meles Zenawi. This was what characterized him during the struggle in the field, and the struggle in the palace.

HIS CRITICS

Some local critics accused Meles Zenawi of being unpatriotic or a leader who vowed to destroy Ethiopia. For all I know, Meles Zenawi was dispassionately patriotic, but foreign commentators and statesmen are showering him with laudatory statements for his unswervingly and uncompromisingly committed to the interest of his country Ethiopia and its people. The love he had for his country conjoined with the love of its people. He never takes one at the cost of the other. He in no way had attempted, as his predecessors did in the past, to kill “ethnic groups” to build the nation. His predecessors claimed to have love for Ethiopia while they lack faith in its people. But, love without faith, is like a body without soul- just a corpse.

To put another way, the life of faith without love is like the light of sun without heat, as in the time of winter when nothing grows; but all things are torpid and dead; whereas faith proceeding from love is like the light of the sun in the time of spring, when all things grow and flourish in consequence of the sun’s fructifying heat. No faith or faith without love is also compared to winter. His detractors used to say “Ethiopia - Ethiopia!” But they were unable to create the kingdom where the Ethiopian enjoy the fruit of equality and freedom. They contradict the will of the Ethiopian people. Hence, they cannot create and enter into the the political “kingdom of heaven.” As Jesus said, “Not everyone that saith unto me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heavens, but he that doeth my will.”

I remember, opposition party leaders and their power hungry henchmen were salivating a while for a binge of street violence to follow the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. That of course did not and will not happen. However, they are still eager to see a crack in the ruling party to use the ensuing hubbub and confusion to present themselves to the people of Ethiopia as a viable alternative government. This dream will again change into thin air. It will remain to be just a mirage.  This may cause a flash of temper, but I cannot help.

However much they coveted for power, the Ethiopian people will always deny in the uocoming election and the in years to come. In the days following the announcement of the death of Meles, they were anxious to grip on power; but when they saw millions of Ethiopians taking the streets to express their grief and sorrow over the loss of their visionary, Meles Zenawi, they had pulled back the rein of their fancy horse. The Ethiopian people had unequivocally expressed that their wish is nothing less than realizing the vision of their Great Leader. Then, they started perspiring. Then, opposition party leaders and their close associates (local and foreign) turned into their soliloquies. But they are still ignorant of the wishes of the Ethiopian people.

The death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in August 2012 had rather marked a new era in contemporary Ethiopian politics. The people and the ruling had become hand and glove more than ever.

Despite the passing away of Meles who had headed the powerful ruling party that led the country of more than 80 million through a massive transformation, Ethiopia continued to register double digit economic growth and resumed to attract an ever-preceded amount of FDI. It is a mistake on the part of the opposition to think of Meles’s tenure as a period of one-man rule or his death as creating either a political vacuum or an opportunity for reform, as power, authority and resources never had rested in Meles’ hands alone.

Meles’ Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) created a federal Ethiopia based on a multiparty political system that has a strong democratic ruling party. Many reflections on Meles’ leadership have pointed to his personal qualities, disregarding his massive effort to institutionalize the political system. Meles had also left behind a large and disciplined military and security services.

However, as the former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, has mentioned on his funeral, he was “an uncommon and a rare visionary leader.” The political system remains fundamentally in place even after Meles’ passing and EPRDF still proved to be robust while undergoing a remarkable transition of party leaders in recent years.

Ethiopia experienced double-digit growth between 2004 and 2008, and the building boom in Addis Ababa and the construction of roads and regional universities is impressive. Hailemariam remains committed to Meles’ ambitious Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) for 2010-2015, which projected GDP growth of 10-15 percent and massive public sector investment in infrastructure, mining and energy. The Millennium Dam on the Blue Nile is the symbolic centerpiece of the plan and will be the largest hydroelectric power plant in sub-Saharan Africa when completed. I will wrap-up my tribute to Meles with the following:

From the things I have lost, I miss Zenawi the most