By Abebe Gellaw
ESAT’s decision to report that Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is dead, according to reliable sources, has never been easy. It was two weeks ago that we received the news from highly credible sources in Brussels. Our sources that want to remain anonymous as they were not authorized to speak to the media on this sensitive matter told us that the International Crisis Group (ICG) concluded that Mr. Zenawi was deceased. Headquartered in Brussels, with offices around the world, ICG is the leading independent think tank on conflict prevention and resolution around the world. It was hard to ignore information from such a highly reputable international organization.
As a responsible media outlet, ESAT tried to investigate and verify the tip meticulously before it decided to broadcast the news. To be fair to the facts, we have also scrutinized the conflicting and contradictory information coming out from the ruling TPLF clique. We have examined not only the statements and stories put out for public consumption by the TPLF, but also their conducts that tell their own stories.
As Meles Zenawi’s 21-year tyrannical rule has surely come to a screeching halt, the TPLF proved to be a heap of mess without its chieftain. Ethiopia appeared to be leaderless and cheerless. In the absence of its head, the regime appeared to be decapitated, incapacitated, incoherent, disunited, disorganized and disoriented. This is typical of a one-man regime unlike institutionally sound democratic systems (like Ghana) that cannot be easily shaken by the death or absence of one man. Like an untrained ship crew with no captain in sight, the ruling elite seem to be at a loss for direction in the face of a gathering storm.
Look no further than the contradictory statements being issued by the high priests of the ethnic front on the well-being and whereabouts of Mr. Zenawi. While rumors are abounding on the death of the dictator, none of the officials has come out with a convincing explanation where the big man is.
“He is resting from exhaustion… He will be back in ten days…. He is in hospital….No, he is on holiday…. He is in town…No, he is in Europe… No, no, no…he is relaxing in America…,” TPLF officials told the public in the past two weeks. But Zenawi is nowhere to be seen. He was neither in the palace nor in his rubber-stamp parliament making and unmaking laws. And yet, TPLF’s creative stories change within hours and each weird story adds more fuel to wild speculations and rumors.
After the May 18th incident that became a turning-point in the tyrannical life of Mr. Zenawi, he was not seen in public for four weeks. On June 18th, he finally surfaced in Mexico City where he flew to attend a G20 meeting. Instead of quashing rumors about his well-being, the PR stunt unwittingly started a more serious discussion. He significantly lost weight and looked more like a ghost than the charismatic dictator he once seemed. The Chinese state TV, CCTV, broadcast his emaciated image, which was recorded during his meeting with Chinese president Hu Jintao, proved the suspicion of so many people. That was followed by a photo opportunity with Mexican president Felipe Calderon. It was another flop. He looked haggard, tired and gravely ill. The effort led by Berhane Gebrekirstos turned out to be a PR disaster.
On July 15th the newly-formed Ethiopian National Transitional Council (ENTC) issued a press release declaring the passing away of Mr. Zenawi. The news was received suspiciously. Some people questioned the motive of ENTC to declare the death of Zenawi. In fact, those of us in the news media also felt that ENTC should have passed the information to the media for further investigation. In any case, ENTC attracted more attention on the mysteries surrounding Zenawi’s puzzling health and final destiny spurred heated debate among Ethiopians across the world.
On July 14, 2012 Zenawi reportedly passed away after suffering a few weeks of agony and pains at St-Luke University Hospital in Brussels. The news was received with mixed emotions. While most Ethiopians welcomed the departure of a brutal tyrant that has caused so much pain and suffering on millions of Ethiopians, the news upset the TPLF camp. “Liars! Liars! Liars!..,” cried out camp TPLF without producing any evidence to disprove the news.
For a few days, TPLF chose to be quite. Finally, it broke its silence via the Voice of America. On July 18, Sebhat Nega appeared on VOA Amharic service and told the apprehensive public that Zenawi only suffered a minor illness. He said he was somewhere in Europe getting medical care. According to Nega, who was widely believed to be the mentor of the former dictator, in the absence of Zenawi the “democratic institutions” were working smoothly. Until the chief comes back, according to him, the “deputy prime minister” is in charge. As usual, the old guard’s answers were deliberately vague. They raised more questions than providing any serious answers.
Crisis communication management needs skills and some touch of professionalism. So TPLF felt the need to bring out its topmost communication expert. Unfortunately, the “expert” is the least trusted and one of the most detested members of the ruling elite. It was unwise of TPLF to send out the minister of miscommunication to convince the public that Zenawi is still alive and kicking.
After cancelling his appointments with journalists a couple of times, Bereket Simon, came on July 19th to meet and greet local and foreign journalists. He was flanked by none other than Shimelis Kemal, who insisted all along that news on the illness of Mr. Zenawi was fabricated by ESAT.
Mr. Simon said that Zenawi was exhausted after working restlessly for over thirty years. So an unnamed doctor forced him to go on sick leave. He dismissed reports that he was gravely ill. According to Mr. Simon, the big boss suffered no serious illness but exhaustion that needed a break. He assured us that he would soon be in office after enjoying his holiday. He also contradicted Mr. Nega by saying that Zenawi is in charge of running the country. It appeared that the deputy was not the task of ruling the nation even if the boss is exhausted and took a sick leave.
Mr. Simon was also asked why the Prime Minister’s health and whereabouts have been shrouded in secrecy. According to the communication expert, this is something to do with the culture of the ruling party. He explained that since its days in the jungle, the ethnic front does not dwell on such matters. He gave little weight to rights of the public to know about the health or death of a ruler. Mr. Simon, who was visibly nervous and sipping a glass of water quite frequently, gave inconclusive and bizarre statements that failed to convince us that Zenawi was indeed enjoying his holiday in an unknown tourist resort.
Addis Fortune is a newspaper close to the ruling elite. It is an open secret that the publisher, Tamrat Gebre-Giorgis, is a close associate of the minister of miscommunication and other officials. On June 22, it published a front page interview with a screaming headline: “Meles back in town.” The story, which the paper run as breaking news claimed: “A day after the Ethiopian government officially announced his ailment, Prime Minster Meles Zenawi came back to Addis Abeba, according to a credible source. The Premier came back to town on Friday evening, July 20, 2012, and he is recovering well, the source revealed to Fortune.”
Fortune’s publisher also told everyone that Zenawi is expected to surprise the public by appearing at a press conference. Apparently, the credible source feeding false information is none other than Bereket Simon, who probably thought that disinformation may work to manipulate public opinion. But the widely expected press conference where Zenawi would take center stage never materialized.
Former TPLF propaganda chief and publisher of Ethiopian Reporter, Amare Aregawi, is also very close to the ruling elite. He is widely believed to be a privy to TPLF’s top guns including security chief Getachew Assefa. He too had breaking news for us. Contradicting Addis Fortune’s “big story”, he had a different headline: “Meles on vacation abroad”.
The story dated 25th July declared: “Following the prescribed sick leave, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is currently on vacation outside Ethiopia, The Reporter learnt. Sources told The Reporter that Meles is enjoying the sick leave after he was ordered to take time outside office to recover from his illness resulted from “over workloads for more than three decades.” What was even bizarre was the fact that Reporter told us that Zenawi was enjoying his “holiday” in the United States.
That was not the end of the story coming from officials sources. On July 28, Addis Admas, another paper linked to the ruling elite published an interesting interview with none other than the famous TPLF veteran, Sebhat Nega. The stories keep on changing. But this time, it came to a full circle. He told the paper that Zenawi is having a speedy recovery. “Where is the Prime Minister,” asked the journalist.
“He is in Europe,” he answered. “Where exactly in Europe?” queried the journalist.
“I don’t know exactly ,” says Sebhat Nega, who was supposed to be in the know.
Tyrants are supposed to be seen in full control. How is it that the most visible and domineering man in the last 21 year vanishes into thin air? He is Europe, he is back in town…No, no, no…he is on holiday in the U.S. Who should the public trust? This must be one of the worst disappearance cases ever known in the history of tyranny.
As a journalist who tried to sift fiction from facts, Meles Zenawi is not back in town, nor is he on holiday in America. As far as I am concerned, our sources at ICG are more credible. I admit that I have not personally seen a death certificate or the dead body of Ethiopia’s former dictator.
Based on the credible information we have received from Brussels, I am convinced that Meles Zenawi is dead. I do not believe that such reputable think tanks like ICG will get this wrong. For the record, ESAT never quoted ICG. It quoted anonymous but credible sources working at ICG in Brussels. We are aware of ICG’s Twit.
Unlike Aigaforum and Tigraionline’s claim’s ICG statement does not disprove the story that Zenawi is gone. The Twit in question reads: “Crisis Group is not in a position to speculate about the fate of PM Meles Zenawi, nor have we commented on it to date.” ESAT never relied on a speculation or comment from ICG. We only had privilege to access confidential information held by ICG that conclusively claimed Zenawi was dead.
I personally challenge the TPLF high command to disprove this fact instead of fabricating conflicting and contradictory stories to convince us that he was alive and kicking. Though some TPLF officials may believe that Zenawi is a superman who can be in Addis Ababa, Europe and America at the same time most Ethiopians do no buy such a fantasy.
The Ethiopian people has a right to know the whereabouts of its ruler. This will help the people of Ethiopia to make critical decisions on the future of the country. Bring Meles Zenawi out alive or in a coffin for a final farewell. Then we will stand corrected.
Whatever the case, Meles Zenawi’s grip on power is over. The political dynamics has changed permanently with his long absence and the rise of competing forces for power and control. A vicious power struggle has already begun in earnest within the TPLF clique and its servant parties.
It is fair to say good riddance to a brutal tyrant that has tortured our people for over two decades…