Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and the rise of 21st century Ethiopia

By Duop Chak Wuol: Theoretically, leaders are not made. They made themselves. What they do is what defines them and their leadership styles. It is a complex social evolution where those who want to be great leaders define their own ideologies — this is exactly what late Ethiopian Prime minister Meles Zenawi did.

Being respected is not about talking about good things one would wish to deliver for his or her country. It is a process that requires real actions with tangible results. This is what Meles delivered during his time as the leader of Ethiopia. After he identified Ethiopian penurious status and other predicaments, he launched a worldwide campaign to educate people and potentially help Ethiopia from recovering from poverty. It was a deliberate and moral call for him to execute — a call which turned out to be one of the best policies ever implemented by any Ethiopian leader.

The death of Meles in August 2012 was irrefutably one of the historic events Africa, and the world would never forget. Meles’s social, economic, and political policies were monumental. His political dogma influenced Ethiopia, Africa, and the international community in a stunning way.

A few weeks after coalition forces of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) seized Addis Ababa on May 28, 1991, the then-leader of both the EPRDF and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) Meles did not wait for world leaders and global financial institutions to tell him what he should do for his country. Meles seemed well-prepared in the bushes. He decided to study economics to prepare himself for the future economy of his nation — it was probably one of the best strategic decisions which set the stage for the 21st century Ethiopian economic boom.

In addition, Meles correctly identified that Ethiopian unity is for all Ethiopians, regardless of their ethnic backgrounds. He did this by allowing all Ethiopian tribes to have a say in the federal system he orchestrated. This is the best government option Ethiopia should keep prospering. Abandoning the current Ethiopian federal system could result in a nation-wide instability as recent evidence suggests. Some Ethiopian ethnicities who were once subjugated by former Ethiopian exiled leader, Mengistu Haile Mariam, now enjoy the same Ethiopianism. This is one of Meles’s accomplishments that deserves to be championed by any Ethiopian, especially Ethiopian political leaders.

This East African nation is rich with cultural treasures, among other things. A person would, for instance, find a diverse cultural background which dated back to ancient time. Ethiopia’s uniqueness is beyond scientific discoveries. This is a nation where foreign nationals are welcome with open arms. Ethiopia’s unique traditions positioned it as one of the friendly African nations.

My love for Ethiopia is not a mere fantasy for this historic nation. I was educated there. I still remember all the names of Ethiopian teachers who taught me. It was when I began to learn the national language of Ethiopia, Amharic. As a young man, it was easy for me to learn some of the Ethiopian revered norms. I was one of the lucky South Sudanese to learn the culture of this great nation. Ethiopian contribution in Africa is probably one of the key roles any African nation would not forget. However, since this is not about Ethiopia’s ancient and historic achievements, I will leave this topic for future writings.

In August 2017, I wrote an article about Meles’s economic, social, and political achievements. The title of the article was “Prime Minister Meles Zenawi: An African icon gone too soon.” This article was widely published in Ethiopia and was broadcasted by the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC).

In that opinion piece, I received many thanks from Ethiopians and few negative responses from some Ethiopians. Some of the negative messages I received went too far. I responded to all of them, telling them that your political problems are yours and that they need to appreciate Meles for what he did to change Ethiopia image for good, regardless of their political affiliations. I also told them that constructive criticism is probably their only best option since they do not have the power to erase Meles’s successes.

There are social and political problems everywhere. I am a South Sudanese-American and my birth nation, South Sudan, is currently under a serious situation. I am sure most Ethiopians know it. This is exactly where any conscionable person, let alone being a South Sudan citizen, should exercise his or her moral duties. Being applauded by a foreigner, as I am doing, is not a bad thing. Ethiopia has many past and current leaders who did good and bad things. These leaders will always be remembered for what they have done for Ethiopia.

As a conscionable being, I understand though that there Ethiopians who do not like Meles’s leadership style. However, I am not writing this article to call them out. This article is purely about remembering him and thanking him for lifting Ethiopia in this 21st century. The only thing I would want is for those who do not like his governing style to acknowledge the fact that he changed Ethiopia image for good — this is a permanent mark that will never be obliterated even if those who hate Meles are out trying to erase his accomplishments. Anyone has haters and lovers, but just hating someone without identifying or admitting his or her achievements is not a plausible idea. Meles changed the Ethiopian economic system and set-up a political environment where all Ethiopian ethnicities have a sense of running their own affairs. Meles also deserves countless credits for setting-up EPRDF’s by-laws which respect promotion in the political hierarchy of the ruling EPRDF party. This is not a divisive political technique as some of Meles’s critics would want people to believe. These are facts and Ethiopian should recognize these facts. Ethiopia is loved by millions of foreigners and I happen to be one of those foreigners who wish Ethiopia a success in all its sectors. I am concerned about recent ethnic and religious killings in Somalia and Oromo regions in Ethiopia. I hope the new Ethiopian government finds a reasonable way to restore calm in those areas. Ethiopia is a multi-ethnic society and the current political system, federalism is perhaps the best option Ethiopia should keep and promote. I hope the new Ethiopian administration embraces Ethiopia’s multi-cultural identity and strengthens it as it is the best identity Ethiopia would not wish to lose.

Late Meles was truly a leader who correctly identified Ethiopian problems. His economic agenda was indisputably the best decision ever made by an Ethiopian leader. His achievements are countless. As somebody who once studied in Ethiopia. I knew how and why Meles’s ideas represent true Ethiopian identity. Mengistu regime did not represent Ethiopian identity as some Ethiopian would want foreigners to believe. Even though I was a young boy studying in Ethiopia did not prevent me from learning Mengistu’s policies. I still remember going to Addis Ababa was like going to a foreign country. Ethiopia’s 21st-century achievements are a collective work of Meles and EPRDF, but he deserves credits because he was the leader who championed Ethiopian economic, political, military policies. I personally ask Ethiopian current leaders to admit what any of their past leaders achieve — this is how the world works. The world does not work for hypocrisy. It works for humanity. Humans are wild social beings who made mistakes, but their blunders and achievements deserve logical assessment. As such, Meles was truly one of the best Ethiopian 21st-century leaders. Ethiopia’s global status is much better today because of his policies.

The author is the editor-in-chief of the independent South Sudan News Agency. He can be reached at duop282@gmail.com. The views expressed in this article are his and should not be attributed to the South Sudan News Agency.

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