The government officially disclosed today that Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is on sick leave.Saint Luc University Hospital in Brussels - Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is rumored to be there

The Premier has had  for a mild health problem and is now in good shape after medical treatments, said today Minister Bereket Simon, a long time friend and ally of Meles Zenawi.

The Premier was instructed by physicians to take a full vacation as his illness was due to years of work load, Bereket indicated. Noting that the Premier was overstretched with several landmark development projects as well as international engagements.

Bereket told the journalists that they will see him soon in their your own eyes, yet declined to set a specific date.

However, he refused to disclose the type of illness in the interest of the Premier’s privacy and saying that that is an issue of doctor-patient relationship.

None of the local journalist inquired the whereabouts of the Premier, nor did Bereket gave a hint. However, some state-owned outlets claimed, citing Bereket, that the Premier is currently in a foreign country.

Bereket underlined that Meles Zenawi is still the Prime Minister.

This is the first time in recent history that the Ethiopian public was told the head of government is off-duty. Though the a statement to Bloomberg and VOA radio on Monday, nothing is deemed official, in Ethiopia, until and unless it is aired on the national television and radio services.

No Ethiopian leader dared to take a vacation officially in at least the last few hundred years.

The parliament recessed last Tuesday after ratifying the next budget years budget.

Congress of EPRDF, the ruling party, will convene in January 2013, Bereket disclosed, underlining that he is not a spokesperson of the party.

The last Congress meeting was held on August 2010.

Bereket indicated that the party’s bylaws prescribe for the Congress to meet every two to two and half years.Thus, he claimed, the time of the next congress meeting was picked as it would enable conducting a mid-term evaluation of the Growth and Transformation Plan.

It was expected that the second-phase of the five-years Metekakat (leadership replacement) plan will take place in  this meeting of Congress. Though it is not clear how the Premier’s illness would upset the plan. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is among the leaders who are to step down in the third phase of the plan in 2015.

Minister Bereket seemed to hint that he personally visited the Premier, when he sais, in the press conference, that “we, on our part, have ascertained that the Premier is in good condition and will return soon”.Minister Bereket Simon officiated PM Meles Zenawi's illness

It is believed that Bereket visited the Premier in the first week of July, when the Premier’s condition was more critical. It is to be recalled that The Ethiopian Reporter claimed on Wednesday that the Premier had been visited, in unspecified date, by Abadula Gemeda, spokesperson of the parliament, Seyoum Mesfin, Ethiopia’s Ambassador in China, and Girma Beru, Ethiopia’s Ambassador in US. All the four are senior members and deemed highly influential in the ruling party.

Bereket is the third of the Premier’s friends to speak on the matter this week. Dep. PM Hailemariam Desalegne and veteran ruling member of the ruling party Sebhat Nega made similar statements on VOA on Monday and Wednesday respectively. While the Premier’s friendship with Hailemariam is perhaps about a decade long and his about four decades relation with Sebhat Nega is said to be tainted in recent years, there has never been such rumor regarding his relation with Bereket.

Meles Zenawi’s acquaintance with Bereket stretches back to 1980, when both were part of the insurgency that overthrew the Military Junta in 1980. Bereket is perceived as a heavy-weight and right hand of the Premier.

In reply to repeated questions by journalists on the prudence and appropriateness of letting the public rife with rumors for so long, Bereket went to great length to explain that is related to the decades long organizational culture of the ruling party.

However, he was unapologetic and indicated that it is also partly related to the government’s ‘communication philosophy’. He underlined it would a problem to go after each speculation and do not intend to do so in the future either.

Bereket declined to answer a question, by this blogger, during the press conference, inquiring if he deems it proper, in principle, that Ethiopians learn about their leader from foreigner dignitaries and foreign media. Note that the Premier’s illness was confirmed after the Senegalese President wished Meles to get well soon last weekend and by government officials’ statement to foreign news outlets.

It should be noted, however, secrecy and equivocation is deeply ingrained in the Ethiopian culture, while openness is deemed a symptom of insanity. Yet, EPRDF takes it to the extreme and considers it as a useful weapon and a measure of its organizational strength.


[Photo on the top shows Saint Luc University Hospital in Brussels, Belgium, where Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is rumored to be staying.]

Check the Meles Zenawi archive and the Cabinet Ministers archive for previous and forthcoming news and analyses.

Daniel Berhane

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