Ethiopia: Why the Secret & Confusion Regarding Meles Zenawi’s Absence?

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, pictured above at the World Economic Forum in Addis Ababa in May 2012, has not been seen in public for more than 40 days. An Ethiopian official has told the BBC that he is in "a good condition" and "recuperating," but gave no new details. (Photo: WEF)

Tadias Magazine

Published: Wednesday, August 1, 2012

New York (TADIAS) – Since the Ethiopian Ministry of Information had announced weeks ago that Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has been prescribed “sick leave” the public has not been informed of much else. Today BBC Focus on Africa Program reported that it had been told by government spokesman, Bereket Simon, that the PM was “in a good condition and recuperating,” but that “it was ‘not useful’ to provide more details.”

As the news embargo continues, so does the speculation of whether the PM is alive or not. Without access to free media and government transparency in the country, the public is enduring endless rumors and counter rumors emanating from competing political interest groups.

What is known for certain is that Meles Zenawi has been incapacitated from carrying out his official duties for more than a month, and he may or he may not return to office. But at this point the issue is neither about a single individual or a single party, nor even about political differences. It is disconcerting that 40 days after the head of the nation’s government vanished from public view, Ethiopians still have no answers as to how long he will remain absent. Why do officials find it acceptable to continue to keep the public in perpetual darkness?

If the country is governed by its constitution, the current secrecy makes no sense. Most importantly, if it is not known when the Prime Minister will be able to resume his duties, an official announcement must be made as to who will replace the disabled PM and under what legal authority? What comes next should not be handled behind closed doors. The government is obligated to answer these questions: Where is PM Meles Zenawi? What is the nature of his illness? When should the public expect him back at work? And who will assume responsibility for leading the nation in the event that he is incapacitated? The public deserves to know.

Listen: VOA Amharic – Legal Scholar on the PM’s Absence & Succession Plan (Audio)

Ethiopians Still Looking for Answers on Meles (CPJ)
What Happens If Meles Zenawi Can No Longer Govern? (VOA)
Where is Meles Zenawi? Ethiopians Don’t Know (CPJ)
Ethiopia’s Missing PM: What’s The Truth About Meles Zenawi’s Health? (TADIAS)
Ethiopia Bans Newspaper After Stories On Meles Illness (Bloomberg News)
Media group: Ethiopia Curbs Reports on PM’s Health (CBS News)
The Zenawi Paradox: An Ethiopian Leader’s Good and Terrible Legacy (The Atlantic Magazine)

36 Responses to “Ethiopia: Why the Secret & Confusion Regarding Meles Zenawi’s Absence?”

  1. 1 Tikur Sew Aug 1st, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    seems like they are making it up as they go. they are not confident about the situation. At some point the stonewalling startegy must change. Smels like pure arrogance too…

  2. 2 Million Aug 1st, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    Over 40 days is a long time.

  3. 3 Mule Aug 1st, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    Really, where is he? It’s getting almost comical if it was not yager meri.

  4. 4 Mintesinot Aug 1st, 2012 at 4:07 pm

    you are right – But that is when you have Government OF the People, For the People, and By the People! That never was the case in ethiopia!

  5. 5 gobez Aug 1st, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    This is the problem with African leader’s good or bad ones. Everything is secret, and no confidence to tell their own people about the leaders who run the country. In a country that does not have clear constitution and freedom this is expected. Ethiopia will survive without Melse. We survived many disasters before, and will survive after this government is over. The sad part is we never learn from the past, and we never fight for our freedom like Egypt, and Libya. Bad leaders comes and goes, Good leaders also be remembered too. The bad apply like Mengistu will flee the country before they fight the good fight they promise. The same will happen again. In a one party system this is common practice.

  6. 6 Yewist Mistir Aug 1st, 2012 at 8:26 pm

    Meles is not perfect at the time. He is recovering well and will be back to work soon! Let’s pray. He is in Addis Ababa resting.

  7. 7 Ewnet Aug 1st, 2012 at 11:47 pm

    He is dead. I can sure you. What’s the proof otherwise? Use your brain people, arba ken is no small change..

    I miss 40 days of work…I am fired y’ll!

    Wihsing him speedy recovry tho, in case I am wrong!



  8. 8 mimi Aug 1st, 2012 at 11:48 pm

    I would not wish anyone dead. But Who’s next? That’s a good question?

  9. 9 Tsega Ashagre Aug 2nd, 2012 at 12:10 am

    Ethiopia does not have a firm leadership succession plan. the former defense minister Seeye Abraha has said it well that the uncertainty and anxiety is coming from the fact that this is a crisis situation and the dust has not settled. i don’t how long they can keep the secrecy up?

  10. 10 A. G. Aug 2nd, 2012 at 2:17 am

    I wish him a speedy recovery.

  11. 11 sad Aug 2nd, 2012 at 3:11 am

    For the person who said this is the African leadershp problem. Ghana’s president passed away I believe 2 weeks ago. I a democratic country like Ghana has respect for its people therefore they announced his death and the Minstream media announced it as well. What is it about Ethiopia? For 21 years the Ethiopians government have been dividing, abusing and disconnected from Ethiopians now it has come to haunt the regime. The conempt it has against the people it “hates” to lead and disrsepct it has shown for the past 21 years is clearly being displayed in public as obvious. The regime has been working hard making war with Ethiopians therefore, this is the result. Unless we respect oursleves even the mainstream Ethiopia’s silence and fear, let us not expect to be respected by outsiders. The regime’s plot against the rest of Ethiopians had made the situation on the brink and therefore if the government is to announce about Meles’ death, it could trigger chaos that the government had created itself. This is the reason. You wreak what you sow. No one knows what is to come for sure. The silence of the opposition groups is indication the situation is very critical.

  12. 12 Nebiy Aug 2nd, 2012 at 5:38 am

    Let’s talk less and pray more so that everything will be settled at peace soon.

  13. 13 tebeka Aug 2nd, 2012 at 8:52 am

    On paper, the deputy pm is already running the country. But the issue is the constitution does not allow him to take full power if he dies. So the parliament neeeds to debate (or rubber stump) and change that soon!! Very important to avoid constitutional crisis.

  14. 14 Insider Aug 2nd, 2012 at 10:55 am

    He is D E A D!. He passed away 2-3 weeks ago. That is the bottom line!

  15. 15 Insider Aug 2nd, 2012 at 11:00 am

    I promise to inform you who’ll replace him sooner than anyone! Keep in touch, Folks!

  16. 16 Addis Aug 2nd, 2012 at 11:41 am

    Wow, Meles’ had chance and the capability to be remembered as a great “democartic leader” that gave Ethiopia hope and inspiration for the future. Intead he wasted most of his precious time on chinese style centrally-controled economic development (where TEMPORARY is written all over it) because nothing can be permanent without fairness, compromise, agreements justice, accountability – not with foreign investors only – but also with Ethiopian citizens that do not necessarily agree or carry the official line. Yes, Ethiopin people that have been for one way or another have been shut out of the system must be invited in. They can not be kept out forever. Ethiopia is not the property of EPRDF. My grandfather in Nekemt is just as responsible for keeping Ethiopia free as my tigri in laws. Relax, Ethiopia and its future belongs to all of us!

  17. 17 Marrit Aug 2nd, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    I am praying for Ethiopia and for peace! Everything will be fine!

  18. 18 From Z MATHER LAND Aug 2nd, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    Thank you my brothers and sisters…. interesting discussion. i wish those who try to divide Ethiopians senselsely are still behind the times in the age of social media where we all live in the global village. WARNING: there is no diffrence between Ethiopians at home and in the dispora…we are all one dreaming of the best for our shared hertiage brothers and sisiters from the same womb called Ethiopia. The only diffrence is that those abroad have more freedom and it shows. “Betam des yilal”

  19. 19 MZ Aug 2nd, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    The best outcome is for Meles to recover quickly, resume office, and resign immediately and leave in peace there after with his family. What’s a head is up to his party’s new leaders to find a new and innovative way forward by making peace with old enemies. The unity of Ethiopia should be the number one priority with moving uncompromisingly towards democracy. EPRDF does want to be remembered as a party that broke Ethiopia. EPRDF must be remembered as a party that assured the continuity of Ethiopia. Like Ghana Ethiopia can also become a shining light of democracy in Africa and beyond. The ball is in EPRDF’s court..

  20. 20 Lily Aug 2nd, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    I admire the TPLF leader. They are working by silent. Will not respond anything that’s great job after they finish they will expose the truth. Now we know who is the lier opposition groups better to be quit otherwise you loose you dignity. Try to search everything with silence. Wise can do it wisely but foolish are always foolish. Anyway EPRDF very proud of you.

  21. 21 Lemma Aug 2nd, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    No one rejoices by the death of another human being like Meles. Certainly if the presence of Meles is a reason to kill many and be a source of misery and dismay, it requires diligence. His death must be received in great pleasure and thankfulness to the Almighty.

    Meles is a pure murderer to individuals in specific and to the our country he deeply hates in general. It is always a paradox when one recognizes that the so called leader hates the country he is taking advantage of every day. The country he was born, grown, got couple of scholarships and finally control to use all her resources to his own benefit. And yet, he hates Ethiopia. Those who wish to see Meles again are only selfish ethnic centered individuals who lucks critical thinking.

    We will never hear those arrogant false statements and ignorant remarks again. He is dead indeed. They are taking time to settle their fight for the money they have stolen and the grid of power every one around his dead body is innate.

  22. 22 Beka Aug 2nd, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    Meles does not hate Ethiopia. That’s total hateful thing to say to another Ethiopian, let alone the president of a country. And who are you to decide that anyways? Yes, Meles was not perfect. He has done many terrible and questionable things. however, “Let he without sin cast the fist stone.” He was no worse than Mengistu in his crimes and 2nd only to Menelik and Haileselassie about his economic vision – which will continue whoever comes to power following him. So look at both sides of the coin.

    Coming to the current crisis of the MIA PM i think this is was orginally a plot to discredit the oppostion in the people’s eye. Of course, as usual they fell into the trap saying he’s dead and celebrating…embaressing. on the rulling EPRDF they droped the ball again, this time for sure. more embaressing. now, i am thinking, is this the alterntive? both sides are playing politics, we are just collatral damage.

  23. 23 Bereket Yohannes Aug 2nd, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    A wise man once said, “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy.” That man was Abraham Lincoln. Who knows more about “the government of the people by the poeple for the people” than him. He gave his life for it. That’s why the world still remembers him. Why can’t Ethiopia be that? Why? We have brilliant people all over the world? The best argument against democracy in Ethiopia only can come from those who are gaming the dictaorial system for their own personal enrichment in our name of Ethiopia bringing and beggeing for so called renessaunce without democratic rights abhorrent to imprison a person or keep him in prison because he is unpopular or have disagreemnts. There are disagreeemnts even among flesh and blood family tooo. That’s a human nature. We have find a way to deal with it as a humanbeings without resorting to machine guns. Please. be wise. not weeeeze.

  24. 24 Tatek Aug 2nd, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    Zenawi’s legacy, if any could be the 21 years of tyranny and oppression he levied on the Ethiopian masses that was unparalleled in history. He and his Adwa based elite consolidated state power, acquired massive wealth by stealing from public coffers, made corruption, nepotism, patronage and ruthless crackdown on dissent and divergent views the very symbol of his savage rule. Most of all, he would be remembered for exchanging our national pride for bowing to the whims and pleasures of the West-and history would never forget him for being an American ‘ball-boy’.

  25. 25 EZeverett Aug 2nd, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    gobez Aug 1st, 2012 at 6:35 pm said

    “This is the problem with African leader’s good or bad ones.”

    Gobez are you out of your mind? Mention one other leader in Africa other than Nelson Mandela who can be called good. All of them are sick totalitarians. Meles being the top dictator.

  26. 26 Tedla Asfaw Aug 2nd, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    Who is paying the bill to keep Meles Zenawi alive ? In poor Ethiopia thousands of lives are lost for lack of basic medicine. How can then you explain tens of thosands of dollars are spent daily to keep Meles Zenawi on his “health vaccation” as was alleged by Berekt Weshet. No doubt this money is coming through USAID which is American tax payers money. You can hide Meles Vaccation spot but can not hide the bill. Can we deduct it from USAID health budget of 2013 ? USAID should come clean !!!

  27. 27 FP Aug 3rd, 2012 at 2:36 am

    There was a similar confusion in Malawi before Mutharika died earlier this year. The president at one point denied early rumors of his death by announcing to journalists: “I’m not dead.… I’m on holiday.” He passed away six months later. Although the truth will certainly come out eventually, at present it’s not clear whether Ethiopia is in a crisis of leadership or simply has a terribly uncoordinated government communications department.

  28. 28 sad Aug 3rd, 2012 at 8:04 am


    There are many many evidence that shows Meles non patriotic, out of many: he said Ethiopia’s flag is a piece of cloth that it has no symbolic. Go out and search even dictators who rule their country saying that, he also said Ethiopia’s history is only 100 years old. You see there are many leaders in the world, who may not like the preceding system that they now control do not say negative things about past leaders let along spout their unpatriotism in public. Because it is not professional in the first place and it never heard of in any nation’s history. If they have strong feelings, they keep it very private. What can I say, many many evidence is piling what the Meles regime has done that is not patriotic just because they didn’t like past regme. Take a look at South Africa, they have experienced the worst crime under apartheid. As smart they are, you don’t need to be educated, they let by gones be by gones and in unity they are leading the country.

    On another note, is anyone thinking it is wierd? The dictators of Arab nations are being thrown out by movement and “Arab Spring” that is also empowering their people. The dictators of Sub Saharan Africans are biting the dust or decapacitated…uh.. at alarming rate. Is it coincidence? What is the difference between Arab Spring vs dictators being decapacitated? The Arab Spring as I mentioned above is empowering the people giving them more voice than before and most likely their political system will be more participatory because they struggled for it. Where as, the Sub Saharan countries, the people are forced to get caught in surprise leaving a vaccum and unrest, and chaos. A this happens agents slip in and take over without the people of the nation knowing about it and most likely not to get better and in fact the worst case of dictatorhsip could emerge and their nations losing their sovereignty. Just analysing this pattern.

  29. 29 Beka Aug 3rd, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    Beka to Hate! Let’s Get Over it!

    Meles was not perfect! He has said many idiotic things over the years including that “Albania was a model country that he wished to imitate as a leader.” It might sound funny now but he did say that when he was young, hot tempered, and die-hard communist. But in retrospect even Meles knows that Albania is in fact the only country in Europe where they still use donkey for transportation (in some place in the countryside). In other words, Ethiopia is much better than Albania! Of course, who can forget his historical error of not advocating for the deserved statue of one his predecessors at the new African Union Headquarters? Many, many, mistakes to fill a whole blackboard. But, at the end, as Meles got older, he was beginning to appreciate the power of Ethiopia and his place in its history. That’s why he launched a marathon development projects. As any dictator, he over stayed his welcome by at least 10 years. Meles should have resigned two years ago. He should have known that economic achievment alone, and one-legged (ankasa) democarcy can not lead to greatness. Had he resigned in 2010, today the conversation would have been much different and he would have secured his legacy and Ethiopia would have been at a much stronger position as a country. It can still be done!

  30. 30 sad Aug 3rd, 2012 at 1:35 pm

    Wow, I am not talking about not forgiving. But a leader such as Meles who is leading 80million people what he says has great consequences. Take a look at the spout that came from Ahmedinajad about Israel. Whether he “just” says it or not there shouldn’t be tolerance from great leader threatening Israel. Countries such as Israel and U.S do not tolerate such comment. Iran’s leadership days will soon be numbered. The fact that Meles not just said, it he infact implemented it by being unpatriotic. Therefore if we had acted seriously in unison back then, we wouldn’t be in this position in the first place. This shows or indifference, until some thing drastic comes up then all of the sudden it will be too late. “But I believe at the end, as Meles got older, he was beginning to appreciate the power of Ethiopia and his place in its history.” Why don’t you prove it, or is it because of development without human right you are accepting willingly? So until Ato Meles comes out of his ignorance and hate, Ethiopians should be waiting for him until he gets enlightened?

  31. 31 Desalegn Aug 3rd, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    Don’t be sad! It’s a time of change… time to reflect and look forward to the future.

    Ethiopia’s best days are still ahead of her. Wish the current party who is rulling the country can be more honest and streight with the people. Everbody knows what’s goin on…why make a fool of yourself and in the process a fool of all of us.

    Ethiopians are anyting but fools. “Enquan ehen, ye zinb tengara enawqalen!”

  32. 32 Tatek Aug 3rd, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    TPLF Communications Minister Bereket Simon was telling us the true colors of the TPLF and their puppet party EPRDF, WHEN HE SAID his party didn’t want to make the sickness of his boss a public relations instrument, and rather wanted to keep this a personal matter. But Ethiopians are footing the bill for their highest paid employee, in the name of Meles Zenawi, and by virtue of the fact that they are employers, they have every right to know what ailment the tyrant is suffering from and how long it would take him to get back to work, if applicable. Secrecy is a recipe of corruption and corruption is a way of life under the TPLF ranks and they are telling us what they are made of and I think we need to understand that.

  33. 33 Tessema Aug 7th, 2012 at 11:36 am

    We are conditioned to get it wrong by the power to be. We waste time talking about a one man rule. It shouldn’t be remotely acceptable in the 21st century. Precisely because of one man rule we are poor, live in fear, irrelevant and under the mercy of the international community. We first have to break free from that mentality.

    The one and only grantee for freedom is to reject anyone without the mandate to rule, no exception. The sooner we accept that reality, to the minimum we won’t be pawns for any tyrant. It would be a giant step in the right direction.

    As to Melse Zenawi, he is the symptom of our indecision. It wouldn’t make any difference if he is dead or alive. More like him are ready to replace him. The fact we talk about him says more about our inability to figure out what we want. He happened to be in the right place at the right time to exploit our indecision.

  34. 34 George B. Shaw Aug 12th, 2012 at 1:59 am

    If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.

  1. 1 BBC: Meles Zenawi Ethiopian Leader ‘getting better’ at Tadias Magazine Pingback on Aug 1st, 2012 at 5:32 pm
  2. 2 The Economist Weighs in On Meles’ Absense at Tadias Magazine Pingback on Aug 4th, 2012 at 2:38 pm
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