Ethiopia, Ato Meles and his health. By Yilma Bekele
Ato Meles Zenawi, Chairman of Tigrai People Liberation Front (TPLF) and Prime Minster of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia is not in good health. I became aware of that fact after watching the video of a news clip made during his meeting with the President of China at the G8 meeting in Mexico. The last time we saw Ato Meles was during President Obama’s food conference and he was in perfect health. In fact he looked jovial with a new haircut and was dressed in his customary five to ten thousand dollars Italian or English suit. That was until Ato Abebe Gelaw of Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT) gave him the scare of his life and he was forced to flee the continent. Things have not been the same ever since.
When he surfaced in Mexico it was obvious he had some medical issues in the interim period. His expensive clothes did not fit him right, his face was ashen and hollow and it was clear he has lost plenty of weight. I was forced to conclude we got a problem. Normally the fate of one individual should not be such a source of drama or wild speculations. But Ato Meles is not just another Ethiopian. He is the Country, Nation and people all rolled in one. The state of his health and well-being is not just idle speculation. His friends, Party or those close to him are not forthcoming with the cause of his illness. We are left to speculate, guess or are being forced to search for a fortuneteller and reduced to read the remains of his coffee cup or consult a palm reader.
We do that because whatever happens to him affects all of us in one-way or another. In the Western countries the health of the leader is an official record. If the leader dies or is incapacitated there are rules and systems set in place to assure smooth transition. Most African countries including ours lack that. In our case there has not been a natural and predictable manner of passing the mantle of leadership. In fact the last four instances have been a source of agony for the unfortunate leader in power and our poor Nation. That is why Ato Meles’s health is an issue we should all fret and worry about. We definitely do not want a surprise.
I am sure his family is worried. His friends are concerned. His Party is alarmed. The Ethiopian people are watching this drama with keen interest. No one wishes him ill but I doubt any body in Ethiopia is praying for his recovery either. It is fair to say the whole Nation is trying to figure out what his untimely demise will bring to our poor old country. What ever ails him is not a simple disease. That is why he is being cared for in Europe with top-notch specialists in an expensive private hospital. No amount of money will be spared to keep the green reaper at arms length.
Sooner or later we all die. We just do all we can to make it later than sooner. Our state of health and longevity is affected by all kinds of factors including a few we have no control on. Genetics, style of life and pure luck plays a big role. We try to eat right, exercise and avoid stress to increase our odds of a long happy life. There are a few things we know about the ‘Leaders’ life style to be able to make an educated guess on what is ailing him.
We know that he smokes, that is cigarettes. We are told that he enjoys chewing Kat with his buddies. His politburo friends are known to enjoy expensive liquor thus we can safely assume that he probably joins them in this past time. All three habits are considered forms of substance abuse and have ramifications on vital organs such as lung, heart and liver. It is fair to say that the last few years, palace living has resulted in weight gain resulting in added girth.
Most leaders keep a busy schedule and have no time for exercise. We know that Ato Meles is studying for his PhD in addition to his duties as the Prime Minster and that leaves him with no time for the gym. We have heard antidotes about his tennis matches but judging from the way he came down the airplane steps during his trip to Philadelphia to one of his meetings one can tell he is not in good shape. He was laboring to walk down while his agile wife descended swiftly even in her high heels.
There is no proof that Ato Meles is suffering from a terminal illness. On the other hand there is no information to say that he just caught the common cold either. As I said due to the nature of the totalitarian system that values secrecy we are left to speculate. We worry and stress because history teaches us that the demise of a dictator, which Ato Meles is, brings all sorts of unforeseen complications on the Nation they leave behind.
Whether they commit suicide like Hitler, are hanged like Mussolini, die in their sleep like Stalin, face a firing squad like Ceausescu and wife, hunted down, sodomized, pistol whipped and shot like Gadaffi or face the International court of justice like Charles Taylor dictators all leave a trail of destruction behind them. That is why Ato Meles’s illness becomes our concern and worry. We think about it to try to figure out how to avoid chaos due to a power vacuum.
This sort of power vacuum attracts all kinds of good and bad characters that would want to capitalize on the empty space created and might be tempted to fill it with something other than people’s power. We do not want that. So what are the forces arrayed to replace the one man, one party rule currently dis-functioning in the land of the Abeshas?
The TPLF party is the premier center of power. Ato Meles and his associates control the Military, security service, the mass media and the economy. What is there left is a good and valid question. Technically Ato Meles is the de-facto head of all these powerful organizations. He is a hand on manager. The different entities are foreign to each other but all report to him. That is how one-man dictatorship works. Some countries like China practice group dictatorship. The Central committee of the ruling Communist Party functions as a group. While others like North Korea or Ethiopia rely on the benevolence of a single individual. The question arise is the TPLF Party capable of functioning as a single entity without the head? Or would the different departments that were designed to look at each other with suspicion coalesce to form a united front? It is highly doubtful.
There are various centers of power within the organization. Queen Azeb the wife is in charge of the economic section. Due to her high visibility and negative press any one group is willing to sacrifice her to save their skin. The internal security is a force to recon with. Would the Generals trust this hi tech mercenaries is a question to consider. The original TPLF functionaries like Sebhat or Abbay are rendered toothless but still operate behind the scene. Why any self respecting Woyane will ally with these old fashioned kitchen conspirators is something to think about. The new upstarts like Tewodros Adhanom or launderer Gebre Kristos have their feet on both camps always ready to abandon ship if the situation heats up. No one trusts the duo. The likes of Seyoum will not come back for all the tea in China.
The military is the most logical center of power that is capable of using force to usurp power. In the current situation of Ethiopia that scenario is a little complicated. Due to the nature of the use of ethnic affiliation used by Ato Meles the military is not a cohesive force. All the top leaders and commanders are from one ethnic group while the rank and file is a reflection of the country. It is fair to say both OLF and G7 are present and functioning creating further uncertainty. Uncertainty is not good for conspiracy. The role played by the top Generals in the economy has isolated them from the average solder. Is it a professional army or peasants in uniform is a valid question. Does one fight to attain power or save his investment creates split personality.
I don’t mean to forget those organized as EPRDF. There are plenty but the Amhara and Oromo stand out at least on paper as the most likely group that will refuse to die quietly. Their puppet leaders are faced with a real dilemma. Divorced from their people they have no base to appeal to. Rendered powerless by design they have no army or security to fall back on. The TPLF mafia that is running them now does not harbor any respect towards their outfit or intends to include them in the deliberations. They are left between a rock and a hard place. For all practical purposes it is easier to ignore and discard them.
Where does the opposition fit in this picture is a good question. The major opposition, the nightmare of the ruling group is of course Ginbot7. G7 is the enemy they know is around but are unable to touch and feel. It is the cause of their blind fury. I will take their word for it G7 is everywhere. Of course G7 could be the figment of their imagination, the result of their paranoia then again why would they allocate so much resource to hunt down a ghost? In my humble opinion G7 is EPRP and Kinijit on testosterone! We all know what those two groups are capable of.
There is also the on and off legal opposition. That is a tricky animal to deal with. At the moment Andenet is the only one with any amount of dignity and respect. The Ledetus and the Chammisos are rendered useless and will most probably hide out the chaotic period and pray for dear life since all opposition groups will be hunting them down for the stray dogs they have become. That leaves us with the Beyenes the Meraras and the Hailus, the darlings of the civilized West. Those are the people our benefactors will try to parade out and use. They will become pictures of civil society. Believe me they will play their choreographed part to the hilt. They cooperated and served Ato Meles, no reason to think they will be allergic to the West for a promise of visibility and fist full of dollars.
The West led by the US is the wild card in this scenario. They very much like stability and the status quo under their guidance. Their interest at the moment is having a strong foothold in the Horn of Africa to prepare for the coming war for resources. Governments like the TPLF mafia are their preferred arrangement. A weak and divided country is their choice. I do not think they go out of their way to create those conditions but on the other hand they do not discourage such reality. Our neighborhood is a fertile ground for contention by the big powers. Except for Kenya and Tanzania we are surrounded by weak, divided and civil war prone countries that exist from day to day with no guarantee of tomorrow. The US, the Europeans or the Chinese are not about to discover their moral compass and save us from our selves. Expecting them to do so is the height of foolishness or a result of extreme poverty of self-esteem.
As I write this Ato Meles is in Europe being healed and the factions he left behind are shell shocked and in a daze. A few will have some reliable information but the vast majority will be operating in the dark trying to figure out this brand new reality in the midst of dis information, mis information and foggy information. Plenty will be sending their family to far away places and moving vast amount of money out of the country. Some will lock their doors and hunker down until the storm settles while a few will search for new alignments and future partners. The kilils will take the opportunity to assert their newfound power and create further complications to the beleaguered party. It is possible organized criminal elements will take advantage of the uncertainty and intensify such activities as bank robbery and hijackings. The Amharic saying ‘ye wedke zaf mesar yebezabetal.’ Is being played live in our country. It is highly possible the different factions will begin to duke it out prematurely. It is conceivable they will end up doing the dirty part of the job for the rest of us. As I see it not matter what this down ward spiral will continue for the forcible future.
Ethiopia, Ato Meles and his health. By Yilma Bekele