Protesters Show Bad Taste at Meles Memorial in Harlem | In Defense of Susan Rice

Former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was remembered at a memorial service held at the legendary Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem on Saturday, October 27, 2012. In the following article posted on his blog, former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia David Shinn, who attended the ceremony, strongly condemned what a he called "disrespectful remarks usually by anonymous individuals" on certain Ethiopian websites, and a protest in bad taste by "a very small group," directed at the current United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Elizabeth Rice, for paying a personal tribute to the late Ethiopian PM. (Photo: Getty Images)

By David Shinn

Together with three other former U.S. ambassadors to Ethiopia, I attended the memorial service for Meles Zenawi on 27 October 2012 at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in the Harlem section of New York. Among the persons who made remarks were Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations, and Susan Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

I was saddened by some of the vituperative and just plain disrespectful remarks (usually by anonymous individuals) that subsequently appeared on Ethiopian websites in response to the remarks of Ambassador Rice. While I was not invited to make remarks, I have no doubt that whatever I might have said would also have been harshly criticized by these same individuals. Like Ambassador Rice, I have disagreed both as a representative of the U.S. government and as a private individual with some of the policies of Prime Minister Meles. But in spite of these disagreements, I always respected Meles as a person and the office that he held.

The event at the Abyssinian Baptist Church was a memorial to a deceased person; it was not a political rally. It was the wrong time and place to express such hostility. But lest the readers of the hostile blog postings think this was a major protest rally, let me make one point crystal clear. I walked from my hotel in Harlem to the Church on Saturday morning and passed across the street from all SIX protesters at fifteen minutes before nine, when the service began. At the conclusion of the service I returned to my hotel at about noon. The number of protestors had grown to between ten and twelve. Perhaps there were several more present when the service was underway and they decided to leave before noon. But this was a very small group of protestors.

As for the remarks made by Ambassador Rice, I urge that you read them yourself and make up your own mind. Click here to access them.

In the 12 hours after this posting as Hurricane Sandy hits the Mid-Atlantic and New England region, some 1,700 persons have read this item and 12 of you responded. Some of the replies agreed with me; others did not. Since none of the responses contained truly offensive language, I posted all 12 without editorial change. (I will not post responses that contain offensive language. I also congratulate those of you who have the courage to include your name.)

The memorials to Meles are over. New Ethiopian leaders are in place. I deeply hope the new team will open the political process in Ethiopia. At a minimum, it deserves in my humble opinion as an outside observer a chance to demonstrate how it can serve the people of Ethiopia.


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