- Posted August 24, 2012 by
memorial of PM Meles zenawi date 24/08/2012 in mekele
There is no evidence that power was something Meles craved simply to line his pockets. No private jets, Paris homes, or yachts decked out with shark tanks for this African leader.
Instead, friends said, on the very rare days when he wasn't working, he liked to play a bit of tennis, chat about political events outside Ethiopia, and dress down in sweatpants and sneakers to eat and drink with a small circle of family and confidantes.
He was a man on a different mission. What he was "doing here" was pursuing a vision, what he called the "Ethiopian Renaissance."
"He loved Ethiopia and was proud of its long history," a Western academic who had regular email correspondence with him said"He wanted to restore it to glory."
According to a Western intelligence officer who knew Meles when he was still a bush rebel and after he came to power, the premier entered office knowing almost nothing about economics.
"When I had my final conversation with him after spending the better part of two months in Ethiopia immediately after he took over in the summer of 1991, I asked Meles what he would like me to do to help him before I left," the man recounted.
"I need to learn something about economics," Meles told him. "Can you get me some basic books?" The intelligence officer then went to an embassy, looked through its library, and picked about a dozen volumes and had them delivered to the new leader.
Meles eventually sat for a long-distance learning degree from Britain's Open University. He came in a remarkable third in his graduating class despite studying while governing one of Africa's most populated countries. Such was Meles's command of economic theory in later years that the former guerrilla, who had in fact dropped out of medical school at 19 to join the rebellion, was often mistakenly believed by some journalists and diplomats to have been studying economics.
From the age of 19, there was no let-up. Seventeen years as one of a group at the helm of a rebel force taking on Africa's largest army, backed by the Soviets. Four years as transitional president. And then a long -- some say too long -- 17 years as prime minister.
Mr. Malone says at the bimonthly press conferences he held at his office in Addis Ababa for foreign correspondents, I'd always been impressed by the rings he could run around us with such ease. "Don't ever forget that he's cleverer than us all," an editor of mine advised.
He adds that that cleverness often spurred whip-smart humor. I asked him whether he would say hello to Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki, a former rebel ally with whom he fought a border war from 1998 to 2000, should he ever attend an African Union summit in the Ethiopian capital.
"Well, I'm under no obligation to meet him at the airport," he deadpanned.
In the early hours of Sept. 12, 2007, Meles, decked out in traditional dress, stood to give one of the most important speeches of his premiership so far. It had just turned midnight, Ethiopia had entered its new millennium with fireworks and tooting car horns across Addis Ababa.
"We cannot but feel deeply insulted that, at the dawn of the new millennium, ours is one of the poorest countries in the world," he said, adding that "the darkness of poverty and backwardness" had dimmed the country's once proud and powerful reputation.
"A thousand years from now, when Ethiopians gather to welcome the fourth millennium, they shall say the eve of the third millennium was the beginning of the end of the dark ages in Ethiopia," he said to the crowd.