Meles!” this is how everyone (friend and foe) enclosed in every quarter of their privacy address our beloved brother-Meles Zenawi. I happen to be among those who advocate “anti-personal cultism”. A willing subjugation to individuals counts as idolatry (a sin); a forced subjugation to individuals counts as slavery. However, it is proper to admire individuals who embody distinction. It is our culture to bestow people who depict “relative merit” with praise. Indeed, compared with his peers (previous Ethiopian leaders), Meles is: “simply the best!”
Meles could be the best for a number of reasons. It is easy for most people to point at personal attributes such as intelligence, oratory, work ethic, reading habit (education), etc. Surely, these are desirable traits a leader should muster. However, when comparison is the criteria, a careful commentator would prefer to avoid them at the outset. This is because one lacks control variables. For example, nobody measured how many “ayale metshifit” (books) Col. Mengistu “magelabet” (has read) or how intelligent the “Imperial Majesties” were (Lets dare and compare Emperor Meiji with Tewodros/Yohannes, Minilik with Roosevelt, Haile Selassie with W. Wilson and/or Lenin, Mengistu with Deng Xiaoping or Lee Kuan Yeew ). Besides, no one can possibly compare “Meles” with living leaders like Obama, Singh, Putin or Mugabe for that matter (Let just say, they’re busy!). In short, personal qualities are neither valid nor reliable variables.
There are, however, other “control-friendly” variables that one might employ to compare “Meles” with other political leaders. The first pertains to “abdication”. All Ethiopian leaders (except perhaps for the “legendary” Kaleb and Lalibella) never declared they will step down from power. They were “forced” by rivals, by time and/or by accident to abdicate. This is, indeed, the “close to miracle” reality (besides the Great Dam) that the toxic opposition finds too hard to swallow. Political power is not the “holy grail”- it belongs to the people.
The second variable (attribute) is: “praxis”. In a nutshell this means: “theory and practice coordination”. No Ethiopian leader/leadership has defined the country’s political, economic and social bottlenecks as the party led by “Meles” (EPRDF). Ethiopia’s primary political bottleneck was “ethnic and religious inequality”, its economic problem is “rural farmer underestimation” and its major social problem was “cultural hegemony”. No Ethiopian leader/leadership has ever identified “ethnic federalism”, crafted “the ADLI” and “different cultural outlets” as a political, economic and social panacea that shackled the country. Above all, no leader (or leadership) has ever demonstrated/consolidated: “the FDRE”, “double digit economic growth” and “highest expression of cultural diversity” in Ethiopia. This will be the “historical legacy of the EPRDF-as led by Meles”. This is the “leadership record” subsequent generations are called for to outmaneuver.
Over the last 20 years Ethiopia was led by a party (led by Meles) who: “Know the problem, identify the solution and “do” something (the right thing) about it”. This is Praxis! Perhaps, the most distinctive feature of the EPRDF is ACTION. Other political parties (and leaders) talk but “never walk”; the EPRDF “climbs” steep mountains. But I’m not comparing “Meles” with failed parties but with those who ruled over Ethiopia. Some of the “past leaders” managed to identify “some” problems but failed in action. But most have failed to even identify the problem and waited until the problem (or natural causes) consume them. Haile Selassie knew what the youth wanted and what the military was conspiring upon. However, he failed to reform- hence, was toppled. Tewodros identified “backwardness” but failed in action. Mengistu’s failures were in both fronts-a schizophrenic “little Tewodros” who left for Zimbabwe when reality hit on May 1991.
So, at least in two aspects, namely: “honorable abdication” and “effective praxis” distinguish Meles from his predecessors. Having said this, however, one must raise the classic nature-nurture controversy. Is “Meles” naturally “Meles” or did his environment shape him? This question should be addressed in the affirmative. It is the environment! A community that is “really” oppressed is sharpened by its predicament and admits “nothing” more than effective/efficient leadership. If “Meles” is the fish, the party is the lake and the people are the sea. In other words, “Meles” is the child of the sea. That is precisely why Legesee Asfaw tried to “dry the sea” and that is why the Derg tried to employ “the scorching sea technique”.