Tuesday, August 21, 2012

An Era Ends in Ethiopia

The hard and soft that is Ethiopia. Nazret, Ethiopia.

On August 21, Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia's prime minister, died. He'd been the guy in charge for more than 20 years.

When I visited Ethiopia for two months in 2011, I heard many comparisons between Meles Zenawi and the Derg (which was the oppressive regime preceding Meles Zenawi's 1995-2012 tenure):

From my March 7, 2011, post: My experience thus far in Ethiopia is that men of a certain age (e.g. those who were at least late teens at that time...) tend to believe that living conditions were better under the Derg than under Meles Zenawi. Men who are in their 20s and 30s tend to like Meles Zenawi. 

Even a man whose brother was killed during the Red Terror believed living conditions to be better under the Derg than under Meles Zenawi. (This sentiment is similar to what older Georgians say about things being better under Soviet rule than under the current administration of Mikheil Saakhashvili.) On the other hand, the younger men admire Zenawi, seeing hope with new roads (built by the Chinese), government works projects (such as cobblestone road building in the cities, financially supported by other countries), and the promise (though without the reality) of jobs after graduation from university.
Some of what I know about the Meles Zenawi era is what I've personally observed. So while our world leaders sing posthumous praises of Zenawi (and he has done some good things), I remember these facts: 
  • Too many girls standing on the streets of Addis Ababa after dark, waiting for customers. 
  • A former academic colleague, Taye Woldesmiate, imprisoned in Ethiopia for six years, convicted of treason.
  • Another gentleman of my acquaintance, a husband and father of four children, imprisoned in Ethiopia for more than 10 years, similar charges. 
  • Farm fields that used to grow food, now given over to grow tchat (qat), the narcotic cash crop

Meles Zenawi. Photo credit: The Telegraph

Ethiopia is rich in its illustrious and unique history, natural beauty, enduring traditions, Ethiopians' tolerance of each other's religions, languages, regional traditions; its humor, music ... so many attributes. I hope the transition between the Zenawi regime and the future is a fruitful one.

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