On Meles Zenawi’s health | Is the Premier back in town?

Ethiopian government confirmed PM Meles Zenawi’s illness and that he is out of the country.

In a statement to Bloomberg news yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn confirmed PM Meles was receiving treatment.

Hailemariam said that “there is no serious illness at all. It’s minor only. As any human being, he has to get medication and he’ll be coming back soon.”

Earlier today an opposition group, formed this month in United States,  dubbed Ethiopian National Transitional Council’, claimed that the Premier is dead in Belgium and urged the people for a regime change.

The organization is founded and led by Feseha Eshetu (PhD) who used to run a prominent private educational institution in Ethiopia – Unity University, which he sold about two years ago. According to his interview with an opposition TV a few months ago, Feseha was disenchanted with the government after directives of the Ministry of Education hindered the growth of his college and the First Lady refused to support his project proposal for an Africa women university – apparently her support was pivotal as she was chair of the organization of African First Ladies at the time. Feseha has no history of political activism and is not clear if he has a peculiar agenda, except for borrowing his organization’s name from Libyan and Syrian revolutionaries and hoping to imitate them.

The statement alleging Meles’s death is the first statement the organization made after its official formation about two weeks ago. It is not clear whether it is based on any suggestive evidence or an attempt to grab the moment and promote its name.

On the other hand, a brief news posted on All-Africa dated July 15 indicated that:

[Egyptian President] Morsi sent a cable of greetings to Ethiopian Prime Minster Meles Zenawi after the later had undergone a successful surgery in Germany.

Though All-Africa attributed the news to Egypt State Information Service (ESIS), the news couldn’t be found on the latter’s website. However, based on past experience, it is probable the news was at least two days old when it was reported by ESIS and another day might have passed before All-Africa re-posted it.

However, sources at the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry appeared unaware of the ‘cable of greetings’. They also indicated that it is unlikely that he would be the only leader to be informed of the details of the Premier’s condition and to send such a message.

Thus, it is not clear if it is authentic or the Egyptian President’s office made it up, as part of the effort to prove the newly-elected president has regional acceptance despite the allegation that his Islamist background will complicate Egypt’s foreign relations. It is not unlikely that while the ‘surgery case’ was communicated to every foreign leader alike as an excuse for his non-appearance, the Egyptians might have made it look like as if Mursi received a special briefing on the matter.

This blog’s attempt to probe about the Premier’s illness and whereabouts failed, except for repeated assurances that the Premier is in ‘a prefect situation given the circumstances’. The officials claimed that the Premier needed rest due to ‘exhaustion’, however, they were unable or unwilling to clarify the causes of the ‘exhaustion’ that led to about 21 days public disappearance. The officials were not forthcoming to questions on the whereabouts of the Premier, either.

However, the Premier’s wife First Lady Azeb Mesfin has been attending meeting at the AU Hall and the parliament, on Sunday and Monday. Security officers whom several journalists identified as the Premier’s personal guards as well as personal aids of the premier were seen in town this weekend. This blogger interpreted this as a circumstantial evidence of that the Premier is in town.

In light of the deputy PM’s statement today, an improvised interpretation would be that the Premier is a non-life threatening condition and taking a no-work vacation in a facility in a foreign country. That could explain why his wife and aids are in Addis.

However, the lessons of the past three weeks suggest otherwise. That is the value the ruling party attaches to secrecy and its preference to stay one step ahead of everybody else in terms of information.

Thus, as the government confirmed the Premier’s illness apparently after the critical stage of the treatment passed, it is probable that they would only confirm his return after the Premier fully recovered. Indeed, the fear of pressure for media appearance and a probable insistence by relatives, friends and foreign officials to meet him might force them not to disclose his presence in town.

[Stay tuned for updates]


Check the Meles Zenawi archive for related posts.

Read: PM Meles Zenawi’s health: How critical could it be? (for a detailed discussion of the one-month old rumor on the Premier’s health)


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