As Prime Minister Meles Zenawi made 45 days without media appearance, Minister Bereket Simon came out to give yet another re-assuring statement.
Minister Bereket, head of the Office for Government Communication Affairs, has avoided media appearances, other than brief replies to phone calls by foreign journos, for most of the past two years, delegating the task of press briefings to his deputy.
However, in the past three weeks, he made two appearances on the state-owned ETV (see: here and here), making him the the only government official to address the public on the matter. Though other officials also commented on the matter – a few of them days prior to Bereket – they only did so on foreign media, including the Amharic services of VOA and Dutch-Welle. .
Bereket, who spent most of the week in the north-western city of Bahir-dar, training media and public relations officers, gave his third interview early on Friday (yesterday) to the Amharic service of the Australian radio, SBS. (Parts of the interview was aired on ETV news on yesterday evening.)
In the interview with SBS, Bereket claimed that the Premier will return to office “very very much earlier than [the Ethiopian new year]”.
It is to be recalled that on Thursday, the Financial Times reported that:
“An African Union official said Mr Meles had been in regular contact with Thabo Mbeki, South Africa’s former president and AU envoy to Sudan, during recent negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan. He has told AU officials he will be back next month to play a more hands-on role in the next leg of negotiations.”
I transcribed and translated Bereket’s interview as follows.
(Note that: the translation is word-to-word as much as possible)
SBS: What’s the current health status of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi? When will the PM return to duty?
Bereket: As previously disclosed, the PM’s health is in a very good condition. As previously said by the statement on the local media, the PM had experienced some health problems, as a result, had to take medical treatments. In relation to the treatment, in addition to the fact that the health condition is improving, as the Premier had been on duty without rest for several years, as he was advised to take the necessary rest, therefore, in accordance with that he had been resting until recently. We hope that the PM will conclude the rest and return to duty soon. And, he is in good condition.
SBS: When you say “soon’’, would it be at least sooner than the beginning of the Ethiopian News Year (Sep. 11)? Can you say with certainty that the PM will return in time to make the customary new year eve public statement?
Bereket: Very, very much certain that it will be so very very much earlier than that. The PM is in good condition. For the past several years, the PM has been leading the struggle to develop and move the country in a democratic and good governance path. There are several big projects he started that are highly anticipated by the public and on which the government and the party is engaged wholeheartedly, thus the PM will soon be in a position to resume working on these tasks with full capacity. This is a country with much works to do, with so much hope; as the PM has been working with such a great vision, he is eager to return to duty as soon as possible and accomplish the vision. That is what we expect. As I told you, the PM will certainly return to office and resume duty soon. .
SBS: There are reports that you are one of those who visited Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, while he was in Saint Luc University Hospital in Brussels, Belgium. What was his health condition at the time?
Bereket: After the Medical treatments there, the Premier is in good condition, as I told you earlier.
SBS: Regarding the type of illness and its severity, is there anything you learnt from Meles or his doctor?
Bereket: As it is the case in the civilized world, the relation between a doctor and a patient is confined to the two. For others, not that much…it is the same for each of us, except that it would be disclosed when deemed necessary. The matter is kept between the to the doctor and the Premier, for now.
SBS: You are acting as the face and voice of the government currently. As you know, public relations requires the effort of several spin doctors. Currently, on the one hand it is said the Premier is on medical treatment and rest, on the other hand there are some who claim the Premier has already died. This has created confusion. Why are you declining to release a photo or video of the Premier in hospital or holiday? Do you think this is a wise move? Do you believe you are carrying out your tasks properly?
Bereket: Our tasks are known. Mainly, there are big national causes towards which we mobilize the populace. The PM plays a leading role in these endeavors. The public wants to be regularly updated about the Premier’s condition. Fortunately, this government is credible. This government is not the type that confuses(misinforms) the public through [ ] means, it is not an irresponsible government. The government’s word is credible. The people counts on it. Thus, we have disclosed the reality to the public based on the evidence on our hands. And it has been accepted by the vast majority of Ethiopians, as they believe the government has a track-record of telling the truth. Thus, on our part, we have not faced much problem at home. However, the tune and approach of the foreign media is different from us. It has a tendency to sensationalize this kind of issues. Sensationalism is not our media approach. Except for stating the reality, we don’t try to [gauge] the public attitude by fanning, overstating or understating issues. We simply state the fact, those who trust us did trust us. But, there those who don’t trust us – especially among the diaspora, residing in N. America and Europe, who are ill-wishers. We know they do not trust us and we didn’t bother to convince them.Though we could have said much more on the matter, we thought it is better to say only what we deemed sufficient. You can’t act being bullied and pushed by what these sections and in reaction to whatever they do.
SBS: As the Prime Minister is absent from work for more than a month, some claim a power struggle has ensued. It is claimed that there are at least or more factions vying for power, how true is that?
Bereket: To your surprise, it is those in diaspora who make these claims. They don’t know EPRDF. Even if they do and know that such thing can’t happen, they want to create uncertainty. EPRDF as an organization has a strong internal unity. It is an organization that resolves differences, when they occur, through democratic means and emerges out of it even stronger. The leadership replacement plan has already been decided by the party congress and agreed by many, thus not something that worries the EPRDFites who are here currently. Not something that concerns any EPRDFite. So, we consider any other fabricated claim as nothing but a fabrication. Things are fine. This is not even an agenda currently. The agenda currently is how to implement the Growth and Transformation Plan, how to progress on the changes started. This much is what I can tell you today. I have guests, so I got to go.
*EPRDF means the ruling party – Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front.
Check the Meles Zenawi archive for previous and forthcoming posts.