Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Ethiopia after Meles (by René Lefort)

(Aug 07, 2012, openDemocracy)--Does the Ethiopian state rest on the shoulders of a single man? His illness and recent disappearance from the public eye give some urgency to the question. When Meles Zenawi, the omnipotent Prime Minister of Ethiopia' last appeared in public on 19 June, he looked pale, thin and gaunt.

It took the government a month to break the silence. Meles Zenawi is “recovering health-wise,” and, above all, “he's not staying out of duties as Prime Minister”. On 1 August, a senior spokesman issued another statement: Meles was still in charge, “there is no change and there will be no change in the near future.” But what next? And what illness was he suffering from? Silence. Where is he? It depends whom you ask. With no sign of Meles either in person or indirectly, these statements are even less convincing as the days go by.  

And the often outrageous, even delirious counter-information, especially on internet sites run by government opponents living abroad, is no more convincing either. According to some of them, Meles is already dead, and a raging battle has started for his succession.

But these hypotheses are not entirely ridiculous, given the history of Ethiopia, where secrecy is a cardinal virtue. Menelik, the founder of modern imperial Ethiopia, continued to "reign" for three years after he was incapacitated by a stroke. 

His successor took over once the Shakespearian internal power struggles were over inside the Palace. Haïle Selassie was deposed in 1974 by a military junta, led by Mengistu Haile Mariam, who had him suffocated to death a year later. In 1991 Mengistu fled to Zimbabwe, having been defeated by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), led by  Meles Zenawi, in a civil war that ended in Addis Ababa. Read more from openDemocracy »

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