Saturday, September 22, 2012
Shehu Sani Friday, 14 September 2012- Nigeria Tribune Online
SINCE 2008, Africa has lost eight heads of state. Recent ones include Malam Bacai Sanha of Guinea Bissau, Umaru Musa Yar’adua of Nigeria, Muammar Ghaddafi of Libya, Bingu Wa Mutharika of Malawi, John Atta Mills of Ghana and Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia who died in a Belgian hospital at age 57. Some of them died as aresult of illness, while others died as a product of imperialist expansionism, as in the case of Libya. All these deaths prove that they were all human after all and needed no pretense or otherwise.
Either they died at home or abroad, they were after all immortal and the death of some of these leaders threw up very vital issues in development, leadership, and succession, as it relates to constitutionalism. Death of leaders in Africa is throwing up conflict of succession and only a few countries have deliberately put these issues into consideration in its constitution.
Millions of Ethiopians, foreign dignitaries, including Heads of State from across Africa gathered in Ethiopia to pay their respect to prime minister Meles Zenawi who led Ethiopia for more than twenty years and in the process brought economic development and prosperity to its people. As the world bade him bye, his painful exit finds a palliative consolation in his vision and intellectualism that he used to better the lots of his people.
Born as Legesse Zenawi Asres in Adwa, Tigray in Northern Ethiopian by a father from Adwa and a mother from Adi Quala, Eritrea. He studied medicine at Addis Ababa University (at the time it was known as Haile Selassie University) for two years before interrupting his studies in 1975 to join the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and became one of its founders.
Although he did not finish his study of medicine at Addis Ababa University, he later went to acquire a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree from Open University of the United Kingdom in 1995 and Master of Science in Economics from the Erasmus University of the Netherlands in 2004.
His first name at birth was “Legesse”, he later adopted “Meles”. In honour of university student and fellow – Tigracy Meles Tekle, who was executed by Mengistu’s government in 1975. He later in life got married to Azeb Meshin, a former rebel fighter in PTLF and currently a member of parliament. They were blessed with three children.
In the 2000 general election, he was re-elected prime minister and his ruling EPRDF party shared parliament seat with the opposition party, United Ethiopian Democratic Forces.
Zenawi encountered his first real challenge in the 2005 election, his party was declared winner and kept his prime minister seat for another term with opposition gaining some seats in the parliament.
These election were the most contested and most controversial in Ethiopian short democratic history with some opposition party members arguing that the election was rigged by the ruling party.
The aftermath of the election led to riots and demonstration against the result. At the end of the demonstration, seven police officers, 193 citizens were killed, while 763 civilians were wounded and tens of thousands of Ethiopians jailed as the government used too much force to subdue the demonstration.
Yet his subsequent credible leadership later obliterated the negative impacts and perceptions about him and his government. He continued to provide a source of hope to the frustrated Ethiopians.
Before the coming of Zenawi, the situation in Ethiopia was precarious. In the mid 1970s, soviet-aligned coup leaders were in charge in fragile Somalia and in the multi ethnic Ethiopia. Ethiopia was torn by widespread unrest, with major ethic groups wanting to pull away from Addis Ababa and form their own mini states. It was a mess that was becoming an eyesore to Africa and the rest of the world Zenawi’s administration inherited one of the worst economies in the world, with massive famine which led to the death of an estimated 1.5million Ethiopians. With his pragmatic leadership, the economy grew steadily after he took over. During the last 7 years, Ethiopian GDP showed a steady growth rate of about 9% per annum and a brighter prospect.
Among the 54 African leaders, Zenawi, was widely considered by many as an achiever.
Under his leadership, Ethiopia created a modern system of land and business ownership rights. Under his vision, Ethiopia built globally standardized road network and hydroelectric project to bring power to places that had never had it and he equally moved to end the cynical famines in a region of perennial draught.
His government introduced a diverse but controversial policy of decentralisation of the language system in Ethiopia. Ethiopians are taught using their mother tongue in primary schools and they are encouraged to develop their own language. Critics said the policy harmed the unity and national identity of the country, while others supported it. He built many schools and other educational institutions to make education easily accessible to the Ethiopians. He promoted unrestricted freedom of religion. All along, Muslims and orthodox christians lived together in harmony for many centuries. However, complete religious freedom was formalised only in 1991. He constructed many dams to make water and water resources available and became the first Ethiopian leader to develop a multiparty system, including, an opposition party in federalism, which came under attacks from some Ethiopians.
He played an important role in developing the African Union’s position on climate change. He ensured that Ethiopia’s foreign policy remained vibrant and inward looking. He promoted gender equality and advocated equal rights and opportunity leading to a steady growth of several women organisations, women activists and empowerments, he equally created a forum where women could meet and better their lots as the evidence of the milestone of his visionary leadership.
Despite all these laudable vision– inspired developments and leadership, he was also human and had his own low sides that drew the ire and criticisms of observers in Ethiopia and even the west – in his human rights and foreign policy.
In the area of human rights, he was very tight-fisted, closing down political space, and strengthening his grip on power in the process, while in other endeavors, his generous spirit lightened humanity. He stifled and suppressed opposition, putting economic success ahead of human rights issues, arresting and jailing opposition political elements in the process.
Yet despite all these, he remained unperturbed as he developed the economy of Ethiopia with a positive anger. He never took advantage of his position to carve out a personal advantage for himself. Under his rule, Ethiopia became the most stable country in the horn of Africa triggering partnership from aspiring developing countries.
In the death Zenawi, Africa has no doubt lost one of its best and ablest