Responding to Skeptics of Post PM Meles Zenawi Ethiopia

The aim of this essay is to critically consider some of the doubts and speculations concerning the political future of Ethiopia in post PM Meles Zenawi period. The main argument is that none of such doubts and speculations has any rational or factual foundations. If any, they are nothing more than propagandist drums. Ethiopia of today has her own music and songs to listen to and therefore has no ears for propagandist melodies. But let us first respond to the tendency of skeptics over dramatization of one ultimate truth of humanity, that is, everyone is to rest for ever when her or his time comes, by using few lines of philosophy.

A.) The Universe is in the State of Flux. There can be no doubt that among the creatures that God (I can conjecture that we Ethiopians all believe in One Almighty and Creator as described to as by our fore fathers as God, Allah, Rabbi, Waaqaa, Egziabher and so forth) has brought into this world through His indescribable divine power, HUMANITY (as a species) is the greatest of all. Standing on the dawn of 21st century, the greatness of humanity could be explained in terms of several factors including its capability for language (communication); critical and systematic thinking (rationality); its achievements in the area of civilization, economy, technology, and social organizations. But this is not the only account of humanity. We have come to know that the Creator has given humanity another feature: that it is not the creature to live for eternity on this cosmos for humanity is a mortal being.

Let me explain using ancient Greek Philosophers. Plato reports to us how his countryman, Heraclitus, perceived the universe and its constituents (including humanity). Heraclitus sums up his view of reality in the following words: ‘no man is able to step into the same water twice’. This saying of Heraclitus has been rephrased and interpreted in several ways, which cannot be engaged here. The main message that this saying of Heraclitus conveys to us is that our universe is under the constant state of change and transformation. I doubt if there is anyone who can deny this fact. For those who believe in the Creator (I am one of them), there must, however, be one exception to this constant state of fluidity. Aristotle (also Greek philosopher and student of Plato), who generally accepts the changing nature of reality, states that God is unchangeable changer or ‘Unmoved Mover’. This again is a very loaded philosophical statement that has been debated for centuries. The point here is that the entire universe is under the constant state of change, except (in the believer’s eyes) the Creator who brings the universe into existence. On the planet Earth, Humanity is the only creature that is able to understand and analyze this constant change and transformation of the universe. Not only this, humanity also knows that it is by no means AN EXCEPTION to this change. What this means, in short, is that as a HUMAN BEING WE ARE HERE FOR SOMETIME, AND WE ARE NOT HERE FOR THE REST OF THE TIME.

In the eyes of those who believe in the Creator, therefore, the final transformation of humanity takes place at the moment when the body and the soul says ‘farewell’ to each other. Even if many would disagree with the description of the aforementioned ancient Greek Philosophers, they could not disagree with the FACT THAT THE LIFE OF ALL HUMAN BEING BEGINS WITH BIRTH AND CULMINATES WITH ‘PASSING AWAY’. This applies to all in the womb, the baby, the young, the elder, the old, the rich, the poor, the ordinary, the most high or the leader, the illiterate, the learned, etc. ALL ARE TO PASS THROUGH SUCH EXPERIENCES. While we, as a family, friend, community, nation and species, celebrate the first experience (the Birth), we grieve (mourn) the second one (the passing way).That means, as humanity knows for fact that passing away is the law of nature ordained from God for everyone at a given point in time, everyone also knows that his or her time is in the coming. This fact must have profound impact on the way we live our daily private and public lives. What is impressive is that, in such state of changes, some lay a good foundation not just for their persons but for the generation. My argument to follow shows that His Excellency PM Meles Zenawi is among this category.

B.) Summarizing the Skeptics’ Doubts and Speculations Following Ethiopia’s unfortunate announcement that the country was to mourn the loss of her great and pioneering leader, some took to the stage some doubts and speculations. These could be summarized, in substance, as concerning whether Ethiopia will be able to 1.ensure smooth power transition 2.carry forward with the same momentum the domestic-regional-global leadership. Without going further, hidden within these two questions are four interesting recognitions about the legend Zenawi and his country under his leadership. That is, for these questions to be considered as questions, in the first place, the following four statements must be accepted as correct: 1.that Zenawi has played a significant pioneering role in the Ethiopia’s history 2.that Zenawi’s leadership has fundamentally transformed the country’s socioeconomic and political leadership 3.that Zenawi’s leadership has been based on sustainable and sound policies 4.that Zenawi’s leadership has played a transformative role not only in Ethiopia but also at the Regional and Global level. These four key features describing the late Ethiopia’s Zenawi are not my personal opinions. They have been reported by reputable global and national media outlets including Aljazeera, BBC,, Reuters, The Daily Nations, etc; they have been recognized by global leaders of the most developed and the least developing countries; they have been reiterated by international, regional and sub-regional leaders. What I have done here is to articulate, not just as an interested citizen but also as a critical reader, the substance of such reports and recognitions. If these are the case, the two mentioned questions that skeptics put before Ethiopia must also deserve appropriate answers.

The question is then how would Zenawi’s Ethiopia respond to such questions. To begin with, Ethiopia must undress the questions themselves. I would argue that, if we critically look at them, the crux of the matter has little to do with the regional-global leadership role of Ethiopia (Q2), for the country has, at least since the time of the Emperor Haile Selassie I, been undoubtedly delivering that leadership with increasing capabilities, including during the time of its own great difficulties. Thus, the burden of the question therefore must actually concern the national leadership of the country. Let’s grant the skeptics the benefit of the doubt that some of their doubts may have some empirical grounds and could therefore be considered legitimate. What are these empirical grounds? Since the dawn of the early 20th century, Ethiopia has known only three regimes and therewith three political leadership figures. The first starts with the mix of feudal-monarchical regime under Emperor Haile Selassie I; the second is the terrible communist regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam that destroyed the country, both its human, and socioeconomic and political aspect, for nearly two decades. The third is the current Federal Democratic Republic founded on (just to mention two) core principles of constitutional democracy and multiparty system where PM Meles Zenawi was among the prominent (indeed the pioneer) architects and leaders.

Now, it is only in regard to the first two regimes that the skeptics’ doubts would have legitimate foundations because, despite their existence for more than six decades (taken together) neither of the two could ensure any
form of legitimate (that is accepted and approved by popular participation) political leadership. HOWEVER, as regards the current situation of Ethiopia, the skeptics’ doubts raised through the question (Q1) are utterly unfounded and therefore doomed to fail. Let me explain: the question essentially expresses the following. FIRST, they are all ignorant of, or are willing to ignore, how the current political leadership system of the country is constituted. SECONDLY (but connected to the first), they all hide the foundational assumptions of the principles and values of democracy in general.

In connection with the first point, in all the places where the question under consideration is raised, the skeptics did not mention any single sentence concerning the fact that, for more than twenty years, Ethiopia has been a Federal country consisting of NINE National Regional States and the Central Federal Government, each having their own established legislative organs directly elected by the people, executive organs and the judicial systems, and (as well articulated in her constitution ) each with their own sphere of constitutional competences. It is a public knowledge that with this federal structure and constitutional democracy, the country has entered into the new era of political stability, has seen significant socioeconomic growth and cultural transformation, to say the least. IF THIS IS THE CASE, what is the reason that skeptics make no mention of this important fact? In my opinion, the answer is simple: it is very solid evidence that it significantly shutters the basis of their speculative arguments. If Ethiopia that Zenawi and his leadership have built for more than twenty years is a FEDERAL AND DEMOCRATIC country, what are the skeptics left with to speculate on?

But let’s see the second point. I stated that the second problem of the skeptics’ question is that it hides the fundamental assumptions of democracy and democratic leadership. While skeptics accept the fact that Zenawi’s leadership was influential nationally and globally, they doubt if there is one who could effectively follow into his footstep. But the serious flaw in this argument is that if one indeed recognizes the argument that Ethiopia is a country founded on federalism and constitutional democracy and that it is within this framework that Zenawi had played a transformative leadership, then, the principle of rational argumentation dictates that one must also accept that this doubt of the skeptics is utterly unfounded. If the first condition is true, the second cannot be false. THAT IS, IN A DEMOCRATIC LEADERSHIP, THERE ARE MANY LEADERS, NOT ONE. If this is true, how could such doubts arise from skeptics? In my opinion, the only way skeptics’ could pursue their agenda is to hide this fundamental assumption of democracy. It is one thing to say that Zenawi has risen to the expectations by establishing his country and his political skills as great and pioneering leader both domestically and internationally. It is quite another thing to say that he had left no one behind to step into his foot. The pillars of the values of democracy and democratic leadership for which Zenawi had fought for is not based on one-man’s leadership but on the will of the people, the institutional infrastructures, leadership of the many and the rule of law. To be sure, skeptics openly recognize that it is the rule of dictatorship that he vehemently fought against and it is the democratic leadership that he had struggled for.

In the constitutional democracy, decisions are made through the participation of the many and, for the last twenty years and more, Ethiopia has sufficiently experienced constitutional democratic leadership. Therefore, there can be no doubt that the country of eighty millions and of thousands years history of perseverance and resilience has many capable leaders to offer. Ethiopia is indeed privileged for being under the leadership of someone like His Excellency PM Meles Zenawi (the name of honour by which history will remember him). In the final analysis, this also means that the leadership of the wise and visionary leader like His Excellency cannot fail to provide us with sufficient certainty as to who will be the next man to carry out the vision of democracy, growth and transformation. Thus, one could only say that the doubts and speculations about Ethiopia of today and tomorrow is nothing but a fairy tale. If so, then, we must question the motives behind such doubts in the face of factual evidences that are boldly and widely recognized.

C.) No Democracy starts from Perfection. Let’s try to understand the skeptics’ argument by restating in another way: let us say skeptics still insist that the implication of their argument is to say that the constitutional democracy of Ethiopia has not yet matured to rise up to the challenges (assuming there is one of such) presented by the sudden and unfortunate loss the country had to live with. Even if in all counts this argument is one and the same with those addressed above, it is different in the way it is presented: it subtly shifts the point of emphasis to the magic phrase ‘matured democracy’. If this is the case, the burden is on the skeptics themselves to FIRST AND OBJECTIVELY INDICATE TO ETHIOPIA, what matured democracy is and particularly they must show to us what it will take to achieve this so-called maturity in democracy and how many years one has to work on. THEN, it is very crucial, as the part of the whole exercise, to provide us with the tool (criteria, standards, etc) to measure every stage of achievements at a given point in time. Finally, they must objectively and based on such standards evaluate what Ethiopia’s twenty years of progress looks like, given its prior political history.

THE TRUTH IS THAT POLITICAL DEMOCRACY IS LIKE Heraclitus’s description of reality: once it is installed, it remains in the constant state of change. Ordinarily, some people say that western countries have reached democratic maturity. I think those who put this kind of statement forward either do not know what democracy is or they are in daydreaming. To say the least, I do not know any textbook that defines matured democracy but I know a lot of scholarly articles and publications which, on the one hand, identify several defects in the western democracies and, on the other, describe political democracy as an ideal which is always in constant transition. COULD one be surprised if the eminent scholar from US (who has been 200 years of political democracy) asks IF DEMOCRACY IS POSSIBLE IN USA? This was the question asked by Ronald Dworkin in one of his recent publication on American democracy. His question proves to us that there is no fixation to democracy: as days pass, there is progress to be made and every day and every stage requires carefulness and wisdom of leadership so as to guard against enemies of democracy. If one tells us that the West has achieved its magic maturity of democracy, one also has to tell us the number of days, months, years that they have taken to reach there. Then we could, in our turn, tell them what our Ethiopia has achieved in the last twenty years. In responding to critics, Ethiopia does not say it has achieved what it needs to achieve. Instead, it says, ‘given the kinds of history I had in the past three millennia out of which only twenty years have been the years of democracy and transformation; given the riches of values and cultures my peoples have and the institutional architectures that my late and beloved son Zenawi and the leadership teams across the regions have put in place; given the new level of faith and hope that my children have put on democracy and democratic values, my progress of the last two decades are quite impressive and, moving forward, it is certainly guaranteed that these legacies are in the upward direction’.

While Ethiopia of today has bold and sound reasons to be proud of its past two decades of achievements, it is this very achievement that assures its aggressively forward movement. Looking to the global future, Africa can always count on Ethiopia. The country has not only been among the architects of the African unity and integration, but has been the founder and pioneer of the African quest for democracy and self-determination. It is the host of several regional and international organizations. Ethiopia has been delivering all these with increasing level of leadership-capabilities for more than half a century. What a great leader of Ethiopia, His Excellency PM Meles Zenawi, indeed was to raise the global expectations of his country to the new high level. For ensuring the continuous leadership of Ethiopia in pace with this new level of expectations set by its well-respected leader, (not only from within but also from without) one should not doubt that there are many who are shouldering different levels of responsibilities all the time and among them there is one to take Zenawi’s level of leadership to another new higher level. AS FAR AS I AM CONCERNED, THIS IS WHAT IT MEANS TO LIVE HIS LEGACY.

To conclude, had it not been for skeptics, I doubt if I would have written this. And still there is much to be said. But I have provided the skeleton of arguments that destroys any doubts concerning Ethiopia’s rising future. For the nation of Ethiopia, however, His Excellency PM Meles Zenawi will remain a beloved son, respected leader and will be remembered as a great and inspirational prime minister who led his Ethiopia to the new CHAPTER by withstanding against the challenges of his time. May he rest in peace!


* Originally posted on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, on Aug. 31, 2012, titled “Responding to Skeptics of Ethiopia Post PM” authored by Getahun A. Mosissa and published 31 with a disclaimer that the article “do not necessarily reflect the views of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia”.

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