[Author’s Note: This post first appeared in Ethiomedia on April 28, 2008 as an “editorial” without a byline. (Ethiomedia Editor’s Note – Ethiomedia will offer periodic editorial commentary on the role of the press, media and the vital necessity of free expression in sustaining democratic dialogue in Ethiopia.]
To be, or not to be prime minister in 2010? That was the question put to Meles Zenawi by Newsweek on April 10: “Will you stay as prime minister after your term expires in 2010? Meles: “This is likely to be my last term.” Such was the pithy and cryptic response of the normally pompous and bombastic dictator. “Likely”? What does that mean? Used as an adverb, the word “likely” is commonly preceded by a modifier such as “very”, “most” or “quite” as in “This is (most) likely to be my last term.” So used, the word conveys a measure of sincerity, good faith and certitude about one’s intentions, if not actual plans. Used in its adjectival form, the word “likely” could mean “probable” or “possible”, as in “It is probable or possible this could be my last term.”
Of course, anything is probable or possible. For instance, scientists have announced that there is a 909,000/1 probability of an asteroid colliding with earth on March 21, 2014. But is that “likely”? Does Meles mean there is a probability, 909,000/1, that his current term may be his last? Syntactically, his response could be the equivalent of “Yes, it will be my last term, unless I change my mind later, or my party twists my arm to slog through another term.” Or it could mean, “Yeah, sure! Keep on day dreaming — keep hope alive — this will be my last term!” Could it also mean, “This is likely to be my last term as prime minister” before I retake office as president? We don’t know if Meles means what he says, or says what he means!
We do not believe Meles will have his last term as a “prime minister” in May, 2010, to the same extent as we do not believe an asteroid will hit earth on March 21, 2014. He will NEVER voluntarily leave office. The reason is simple: Meles has been riding the tiger for 17 years. He can only stay alive as long as he can keep riding the tiger. The moment he dismounts, it will be the tiger’s turn to ride him.
Meles and his crew have been running Ethiopia as their private estate since 1991. They replaced a military junta which had murdered, tortured and imprisoned tens of thousands during its brutal 17 years in power. They continued that bloody tradition, deceptively waiving the holy flag of DEMOCRACY, for another 17 years until the present day. Why would Meles even consider the probability or possibility of leaving office, let alone seriously entertain the “likelihood” of ending his term when he knows he will be held accountable for his monstrous crimes?
Meles runs a kleptocracy, a government of thieves, in Ethiopia. He remains supreme capo di tutti capi (boss of all bosses) of a Mafiosi regime that has turned the state and its resources into a trough for his friends and the bogus umbrella party he has created, the EPDRF, in which his TPLF is pre-eminent. Former president Dr. Negasso Gidada in 2001 declared that “corruption has riddled state enterprises to the core”, adding that the government would show “an iron fist against corruption and graft as the illicit practices had now become endemic”. In 2007 when Ethiopia’s auditor general, Lema Aregaw, reported that $600 million of state funds were missing from the regional coffers, Meles fired Aregaw and publicly defended the regional administrations’ “right to burn money.” Corruption continues to be the lifeblood of Meles’ racketeering regime.
Massive Human Rights Violations
Meles’ record of massive human rights violations finally came to the full attention of the world after the 2005 elections. In June and November of that year, police massacred 193 unarmed protesters, and wounded nearly 700 persons, according to the report of an Inquiry Commission appointed jointly by Meles and his parliament. During the same period, Meles arrested thousands of innocent people arbitrarily, along with hundreds of opposition leaders, journalists, civil society leaders and human rights activists. Massive human rights violations continue unabated to the present day.
Somali War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity
The invasion of Somalia is very unpopular in Ethiopia. Negasso Gidada said, “Somalia is not a threat to Ethiopia. The Somalis didn’t attack us, so why are we fighting them?” Very good question for Ethiopians. But for the Somalis, the question is war crimes and crimes against humanity. Last May, Sir John Holmes, the UN’s emergency relief coordinator, after visiting Mogadishu said there was “clearly a need” for an investigation into allegations of war crimes by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour. At the time, 1,600 Somalis had died in the fighting, and hundreds of thousands had been forced to flee the capital. Just a few days ago, Amnesty International reported that Meles’ troops slit the throats of 7 of 21 individuals praying in a mosque. Meles’ troops continue to terrorize and abuse the Somali population. Amnesty International has demanded an investigation into the mosque massacre of unarmed civilians.
Meles is a political pariah in the country. He has very little support in Amhara or Oromo communities. Even in Tigrai, which Meles often cites as a ‘TPLF stronghold,’ he is resented as a mercenary than an Ethiopian tyrant. Gebru Asrat, the former governor of Tigrai said, “The people [of Tigrai] are sick of the corruption, about the lack of government services, and they only support Meles out of fear.” For telling it like it is, Gebru Asrat and a number of other top TPLF officials, including those who called for an inquiry into the handling of the disastrous 1998-2000 war with Eritrea, were expelled from the party in 2001 and charged, ironically, with corruption.
Continued U.S. Support?
Meles became a puppet of the Bush administration after pledging his support for the war on terror, and for agreeing to wage a proxy war in Somalia. But the Somali invasion has become the Somali quagmire. Meles’ troops are stuck and unable to withdraw as the Islamic Courts and its military wing, the al-Shabab, are regrouping and gaining strength. Meles’ benefactor, George Bush, is a lame duck president on the way out. Meles tried to buy a little insurance with the Clintons, and his buddies pledged $20 million for Clinton’s HIV fund. But it seems Obama may have spoiled that plan!
No Country for Dictators and Thugs
Meles played a nice game of charade for a while. Clinton and Blair lionized and called him one of the “new breed of African leaders”. He managed to hoodwink Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stigliz who extolled him for having “intellectual attributes with personal integrity: no one doubted his honesty and there were few accusations of corruption within his government”! No kidding? But no more accolades. Congressman Chris Smith at a hearing of the House International Relations Committee on H.R. 2003 called Meles and his crew, a “gang of thugs”.
Meles’ talk about leaving office is just a ruse, a clever trick to keep his opposition and the Ethiopian people guessing. But he is not fooling anybody. We know better. Meles knows better. He has to keep riding the tiger to stay alive, because he knows if he dismounts, the tiger will ride him!
(For the record: We do not believe it is “very likely” that Meles will join Mengistu Haile Mariam in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 2010; but if he does, we wish him, Bon Voyage!)