A Tribute to Meles Zenawi, the Late PM of Ethiopia

By Abdulkadir Isa
Dec 1, 2012

The essence of leadership is to impact positively on the electorates. Leaders always want to be remembered for the services they offered to their people, and this varies because every society comes with its kind of challenge. Many leaders develop concepts or policies to serve as roadmaps at the implementation stage.

These concepts have sounded in our ears and made us see “rescue missions”, “visions” and both “common” and “uncommon transformations”. But results remain the yardsticks to measure the success level because it is actually the only thing that matters.

People succeed because they are not afraid of trying, and don’t want to fail. Even within ones family circle, there are faces you always want to impress, people you want smiles all over their faces, with the reward as that feeling of fulfilment that greets you especially when you are directly responsible for the smiles.

The world over, we have seen leaders come and go, but only a handful stood by their words, out of which many have been accused of regional, ethnic or racial stance – quality true leaders shouldn’t possess.

August 20th 2012, Africa lost a rare gem. Best among equals was Ethiopia;s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi Asres until his death. He was a motivator, selfless and inspirational leader, and above all, an ambassador of peace.

Unlike other leaders, past and present, Zenawi will be remembered for countless roles he played in impacting positively on the lives of many. His campaign spreads across ethnicity, geography or even the colour of one’s eyes.

The selflessness in him came to limelight in 1975 when he dropped out of school as a second year medical student with the then Haile Selassie University, now Addis Ababa University to pursue a better life Ethiopians.

Zenawi was born in Adwa, in northern Ethiopia to an Ethiopian father and an Eritrean mother from Adi quala. This for sure says a lot about his neutrality in in the roles he played in African politics.

He wanted his voice being heard and opted to get to the topmost level in decision making circle, so he brought like minds together to form the Tigrayan Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) in 1974 and months later, founded the Marxist-Lennist league of Tigray.

The fearless man in him made him adopt the name of the university student and fellow, De guerre Meles who was executed by Mengistu Hailemarian in 1975. In this move, a brave and courageous revolutionary was born. This showed his readiness to die for his people and justifiably added to his credence.

We in the media see Zenawi as a leading luminary and will always remember him as the man who did not only bring freedom to the press, but the first to allow for the operation of private-owned press in Ethiopia. It was his idea from inception that the private community play a role in information dissemination.

This single act brought about a facelift in Ethiopian politics. As expected, more voices were heard, information dissemination was faster and easier to access thereby striking a balance in the polity.

In 1991, Zenawi led the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE), a position that succeeded his leadership of both the Tigrayan Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Front (EPRDF).

He kick started his regime with the introduction of a multi-party political system. He saw the need for the wider participation in politics; his interest for the involvement of the people in governance at all levels was evident. Efforts were made to enlighten the populace in public participation and this was attained with the help of the private media he licenced.

It was an awakening period for Ethiopians; a sense of belonging was established and consolidated. The sincerity of purpose was glaring as words were matched with action by his administration. He created an avenue for debate, dialogue and communication.

He understood the politics and knew that what was missing was a platform. Platform that facilitates the mining of perception based on facts from the locals. In this move, there became the need for delegated representation at grassroots level, paving way for ethnic gerrymandering.

This can best be described as an ethnic-based federalism. The argument was that, it was the best alternative to constitute the federating units , as the cultural heritage of the people was drew the margins amongst the people and was the most commanding platform as at then.

There were criticisms from opposition parties as to their fear of domination by the majority. This is natural, but the most important feet was the involvement of the people in policy making, contrary to what was obtained by previous administrations. It was also noted that fronts at that time were ethnic based. This policy was buttressed with this quote as he said: “if you think it is a threat, it will be; if you think it a benefit, then it will be.”

Tension was doused when the economic policies were rolled out by his administration. Favouritism which was the fear the opposition was smothered immediately the administration ushered in a vibrant pathway to economic recovery.

The structure of his administration’s economic policies was tagged “pro-poor” by the United Nations. Zenawi initiated the concept of “Land to the tiller”. This was a move directly aimed at toppling feudal monarchy. Farmlands ownership was dissolved and redistributed at local levels, engaging each and every willing farmer in Ethiopia.

Evidently, the “pro-poor” policies directly reflected in the economy as “gross primary enrolment rates”, a standard indicator for investment in the poor, went up 93% in 2004 from 72% in 1990, contributing to rise in the literacy rates from 50% in 1997 to 63% in 2002.

He was a health sensitive leader. The national health policy penetrated the nooks and crannies of Ethiopia. According to a UNICEF report, “child mortality rates have declined by 40% since his administration took charge”. His wife Azeb Mesfin led the campaign against the prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS, she was latter crowned “legacy of a dream” for this role. Indeed the first family was a team.

It was the reign of Zenawi that empowered locals to own companies with introduction of “endowment companies”. This concept was agro-processing based, it was aimed at supplementing the processing requirements of cash crops for exports and wholly indigenous. This paid-off immediately as two years after kick-off; Ethiopia became the second largest exporter of flower in Africa. Meles also championed the first market exchange program called Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX), meant to revolutionize the inefficient market, which it did.

The education sector got most of his attention. It involved a whole scale approach- quantity and quality. Latest statistics shows that, in 1991, only 27 percent of Ethiopian children attended school, but in 2007 gross enrolment rate was up 77 percent and 85 at present.

Zenawi was a culturally attracted fellow; he introduced the policy of decentralization of language system in Ethiopia. Under this policy, children were taught using their own languages and further encouraged to develop their languages. He was dogged about maintaining the heritage of the people.

This icon was a friend of the environment and even debated Tony Blaire on the implementation of the cap and trade agreement. He was as ‘friend of chair’ at the 15th conference of the political parties (COP15), and on 31st August 2009, Zenawi was appointed Chair of the African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change (CAHOSCC).

His efforts in peace building was bold, the campaign for a peaceful Somalia was single-handedly shouldered against the opposition in Ethiopia. Sudan also had a slice of his mediating prowess. The continent of Africa cannot forget this.

This pillar never had a manifesto, all he wanted was development, development in the real sense of the word, covering all spheres of life- financial, co-existence, economic, religious etc. As demonstrated in both policy and implementation.

The whole of Zenawi’s life was charity, struggle, and capacity development for the common man. He was an exemplary leader, a man of vision, hope, who dusted idle hearts, energized weak minds and consolidated his efforts by taking a neutral stand, home and abroad.

The departure of this altruistic man has created a vacuum. He was the peg the hole that kept the hopeless man breathing; he was the conductor of zero to hero. World leaders from far and near wept at his funeral, a reflection what he lived for. You have left Africa with the daunting task of replacing you, a result oriented mediator. Rest in peace, Meles Zenawi.