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Contrary to the wishes of the merchants of doom, such as the International Crisis Group, which predicted that Ethiopia would fall apart without Meles Zenawi – Ethiopia’s ninety million people, who speak some eighty different languages and practice several religious faiths, have remained remarkably united and peaceful, argues Sam Akaki.
“So wise so young, they say, do never live long”, wrote William Shakespeare in King Richard the Third. You could be forgiven for thinking that the pre-eminent British poet and dramatist was referring the former Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who died at the relatively tender age of 57 this week on 21st August 2012.
Since that day, millions of people in Ethiopia and across Africa, conspiracy theorists and rational thinkers, are still asking, was Meles’ death due to God’s will, or was he made the “sacrificial lamb”, and slaughtered by those opposed to The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam? These are questions for another day.
Meanwhile, let us recall one of Meles Zenawi’s departure statements: “I cannot separate my achievements from what can be considered as the achievements of the ruling party. Whatever achievement there might have been, it does not exist independent of that party.”
But if the former Prime Minister could come back today, after spending three years abroad, he would be very pleased and also disappointed at the same time.
First, the disappointments. Since Meles left, inflation has been steadily rising, making the price of basic commodities especially food very high for the ordinary people, the majority of the population, who will face a very hard time during the coming New Year celebration.
But it is debatable whether the cost of living would have been lower if Mr Meles had lived and remained in charge. Just as it was before he left, Ethiopia is, and will always be, a land-locked country and an integral part of the globalized economy. It is these two constant factors, which will for the unforeseeable future determine food prices in Ethiopia, whoever is in power.
Local producers, who import their machinery, spares and other implements from abroad cannot survive in business unless they pass some of the costs to the consumer.
Globally, when Ethiopia’s major trading partners cough, Ethiopia catches a cold! The US and the European Union countries are experiencing severe economic down-turn with Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal and even the UK doing particularly badly and cutting back of public spending. This reduces Ethiopia’s foreign exchange earning including family remittances, which is needed to import oil, pharmaceutical products and industrial machineries; hence the high cost of everything.
Meles would also be disappointed that many young Ethiopians are leaving the country and suffering unspeakable tragedies such as beatings in Saudi Arabia, beheading in Libya and watery deaths in the Mediterranean Sea.
But migration and associated risks are not unique to Ethiopians. Migrant boats in the Mediterranean Sea, as well as camps in Libya, Greece, Italy and Calais in France have effectively become a “United Nations” of migrants from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ghana, Iraq, Mali, Nigeria and Syria to mention but a few. In Calais, some migrants are nostalgically flying their national flags as their countries do at the UN in New York, Vienna and Geneva!
Moreover, Ethiopian Christians were not the first or the last to be killed by Islamic State (IS) terrorists. Christians from Iraq, Syria and Egypt were beheaded before the terrorists attacked the Ethiopian Christians early this year.
Putting the cost of living and migrant tragedy aside for a moment, Meles would be very happy about the following.
Firstly, contrary to the wishes of the merchants of doom, such as the International Crisis Group, which predicted that Ethiopia would fall apart without Meles Zenawi – Ethiopia’s ninety million people, who speak some eighty different languages and practice several religious faiths, have remained remarkably united and peaceful.
That peaceful co-existence was demonstrated in the recent general election, the first one since Meles departed. Ethiopians conducted themselves with the utmost dignity, and no one was killed during or after the election. This is a major achievement in Africa where, in countries like Burundi, elections have become a civil war by another name.
Meles’ pet project, The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is almost 40 percent complete. Despite consorted international campaign to block loans from the international money market, Ethiopians at home and abroad have pulled together and raised the necessary money, which has brought the Dam almost half-way toward completion.
Meles would be proud to note that, thanks the massive infrastructure development, Addis Ababa and other regional cities like Bahar Dar, Adama and Mekele are becoming first-world cities with first class road, rail and air transport network. Many hotels and skyscrapers in Addis Ababa compare well with their counterparts in London, New York and Paris. These infrastructures are employing thousands of Ethiopians and attracting even more tourists and investors.
As the architect and first project manager of the federal system of governance, Meles would be pleased to see that it is working very well. African countries like South Sudan that are beset by violent tribal rivalries are seriously considering Ethiopia’s federal model of governance to save their countries and peoples.
Last month, as a consequence of the peace and stability in Ethiopia, Barak Obama became the first sitting US president to visit the country. The visit reaffirmed that Ethiopia is a regional power, and brought many investment opportunities.
At a personal level, Meles would be exceptionally pleased to find that his widow, Azeb Mesfin, is no longer the subject of sickening hate campaign and abuse in which his political opponents had heaped on her in the print, broadcast and electronic media when he was alive.
As Ethiopians count the cost of food and number of their migrant children dying in the Middle east, they should also count themselves lucky not to have suffered the same fate as the Somalis, Congolese and Ivorians, who saw their countries explode in appalling sectarian blood-shed when their founding leaders Said Bare, Mobutu Sese Seko and Félix Houphouët-Boigny died in office.
In summary, Meles and all objective observers might conclude that his life and untimely death have not been in vain, considering his legacy.
Ed.’s Note: Sam Akaki is Ugandan-born former independent parliamentary candidate in the UK’s May 2010 general election, and now executive Director, African Solutions, London. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at