It has been a year since long time Ethiopian ruler Meles Zenawi died of unestablished causes in a Belgian hospital somewhere between June and August of 2012. The Government hasn’t come out clearly about the cause of his death.
During the last several weeks the state run media were preoccupied portraying a person akin to a saint. The praises showered upon him were more than needed to canonize him. 21-gun salute was fired; millions of trees planted; fellow leaders of neighbouring countries were at hand to give pomp to the event; scores of parks renamed after him, and the list goes on and on.
University professors, army generals, cabinet members, and party operatives were paraded to give testimony about the deeds of his excellency. They said he was an intellectual, a military strategist, a farmers’s best friend, and man of the people.
ETV even took a page from North Korean manual on cult of personality. They took us to his office showing the working area displaying a document he allegedly was working on; Koreans already did that telling the story of Kim Il-sung (the senior Kim). If that is any indication, everything Meles touched may be preserved as historical relic.
For those whose thirst about Meles’ myth were not quenched, the Sunday shows came up with the selected speeches that tried to make an entertainer out of the chief priest of “revolutionary democracy.”
Meles had all the answers for every question under the sun; he was talking to the rubber stamp parliament ready to giggle at every phrase uttered; he was addressing the youth, the business men, the revelers at a millennium party, you name it.
While the nation propaganda machine wants to paint a demigod, it is only fair to complete the story. As they say, journalism is “the first rough draft of history.” Here are some of his pronouncements that were willingly left out:
• In April 1990 a year before Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) controlled Addis Ababa, Meles had an interview with the late CIA and National Security specialist Paul B. Henze in the TPLF’s Washington office. “We can no longer have Amhara domination,” Meles told him. While it was no secret that Henze sympathized with TPLF, he still confronted the rebel leader to which Meles tried to soften a bit: “ When we talk about Amhara domination, we mean the Amhara of Shoa, and the habit of Shoan supremacy that became established in Addis Abeba during the last hundred years.”
• In a visit to the Tigray region shorty after his ascendance to power the then Ethiopian President played to the emotions of the public somewhat in the line of Hitler’s rhetoric about the Aryan race: “We are proud to be born out of you…we are proud to be gotten out of you.” ( Enkwae abhatkum tefetirna…enkwae abhatkum terehibna ) That part of the speech is always left out when ETV takes sound bytes from that “historical” speech, not to offend the “nations and nationalities.”
• In August 1994 (some say it was October 1995), Meles Zenawi visits the U.S. and confers with members of Ethiopian community in Washington D.C. Flanked by his yes-men like Seyoum Mesfin, Berhane G.Kristos, Dr Tekeda Alemu and other TPLF top brass, Meles was entertaining questions from the audience. A lady asks him what his vision was for Ethiopia ten years from then. Meles responded his vision was to make sure the people eat three times a day. Decade after the promised era, Ethiopians scavenge for left overs at restaurants or in city waste disposal sites.
• In an interview with Professor Donald Levine – a renowned U.S. sociologist and professor of Ethiopian studies – the late premier retorted: “The Tigreans had Axum, but what could that mean to the Gurague! The Agew had Lalibela, but what could that mean to the Oromo! The Gonderes had castles, but what could that mean to the Wolaita?”
That comment was to haunt him on the eve of the 2005 general elections where he was afraid to face any opposition politician for debate. In his last appearance prior to the vote, Meles explained that gaffe saying it was taken out of context. But he implied that the Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture (then Ambassador to France) Teshome Toga who hails from Wolaita Zone was put in charge to counter the perception his words created. Teshome eventually oversaw the return of the Axum Obelisk in April 2005.
When history is written by historians rather than victors, those speeches and comments hopefully will get their rightful place in the interest of posterity.