By Hama Tuma
(The Africa Report) — Sometimes we Ethiopians like to boast. The first in everything! The cradle of mankind. The first bare foot runner to win the marathon…
… The first to claim an annual economic growth of 12% whilst begging for food aid for more than 12 million people. The first country since the 1970s to record a 99.9% win for the ruling party in a general election.
This year, we have done it again in grand style. We stunned the world with our first ever homeless prime minister. The first in History. Ever.
Not that the new power-less Prime Minster was evicted from his home, or has been made homeless for the same land grabbing reasons that have made more than a half million Ethiopians homeless. Oh no. He is “homeless” because the wife of the dead and departed (all believers can add here: praise is to God or Allah) Prime Minster has refused to evacuate the official residence.
Now, the former First Lady is no ordinary woman. After usurping the title of First Lady, she delicately dipped her hands into the national coffers and made away with a few cool dollars – 2 billion dollars according to those in the know, and lied with fewer blinks than her late husband, who was admiringly described by one American Ambassador as a professional liar.
To the point: she has refused to evacuate the official premises of the Ethiopian head of state. So, the PM, who says she can stay, has been left without an official home. The first prime minister without an official abode!
Ok, maybe I am not being fair. Azeb has made it clear that she will only leave the PM’s palace if she can go instead to the palace of the president (a nominal appointee). We get it. What she wants is a big palace in Addis Ababa. Yes, she has visited a property near the Sidist Kilo University, but her security concerns could see her staying put for a while.
And why should the new PM object? Sure, she can stay.
Sadly, however, as Ethiopia achieves another first, only few people have noticed that the 540 plus seat parliament has only one opposition member.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister’s recent situation has been challenged by a few unusual firsts among African leaders. After the controversial shooting of miners in South Africa, President Zuma tried to interest us on who among his four wives should get State subsidy. No one listened.
And then came the president of Benin who claimed three of his close fellows were trying to poison him. Unfortunately, this is far from being a first.
Mauritania’s president got “accidentally” shot by a soldier. Not the first either. Ask the former erratic coup leader from Guinea, Moussa “Dadis” Camara.
Kenya’s Mwai Kibaki shouting he is not a polygamist was a massive failure. Did he not know that that trick had been tried more than once? In fact, Kibaki’s denial has tickled old memories back to life. It reminds me of that fateful day when Jomo Kenyatta publicly forced his wife, Mama Nigina, to deny his alleged impotence. Luckily, those blue pills were not yet on sale in pharmacies.
Yes, the same Viagra that sent Nigeria’s Abacha on his final journey to meet with his maker, as he lay stiff on a bed among a bevy of European ladies he had handpicked from a red light district or lounge or… who knows where?
But far from Abacha’s global taste, the King of Swaziland thinks local. Unfortunately, the novelty of marrying maidens at the annual Umhlanga or Reed ceremony has grown intensely boring, especially as King Mswati III struggles with a harsh economic meltdown.
And just when we thought our boredom was coming to a screeching halt, Uganda’s Museveni gets re-elected and continues his decades-old search for his arch enemy, Joseph Kony, the man who wheeled him back into the Great Lakes’ spotlight.
Kagame on the other hand has done all in his power to let the world know that he is not interested in the Great Lakes’ spotlight, after he was accused of arming the M23 rebels of the Congo. If only we could read poor old Paul’s mind: “Been there done that, anything new?”
Talking about new things. Why is no one reminding the world that the destruction of historical heritage sites in the northern Mali towns of Gao and Timbuktu by so-called Al Qaeda rebels and Islamists is not a first? The Taliban and Al Shabab have done more destruction on historical heritage sites. They even razed their countries to the ground, for crying out loud!
So you see, this is what makes the Ethiopian first experience so original. It is carefully planned. Let’s admit it, a homeless Prime Minister is imaginative, ingenious and admirable. A real First!
However, competition is tight these days. Take the defeated Senegalese president (who wanted to pass the mantle on to his son like in Korea and Syria) declaring: “I am the only president in a perpetual state of grace. It is a special phenomenon linked to my personality.— probably, I am a man of action rather than just talk”. The man of action was defeated and sent packing with his tail between his legs.
Chad’s Idris Deby, with his 13 children and many wives, tried to become another first when he got married to the 21 year-old daughter of a Sudanese Janjaweed chief, paying a 27 million dollar-dowry (plus an extra million dollars for her jewelry).
Naturally, he became a laughing stock among the high-dowry society. Multi-million dowries are not new.
Back to the Ethiopian originality. Where corpses of Heads of State are moved out of presidential palaces militarily with families rushing out and thanking their stars for being spared, Azeb’s plans of redecorating her humble abode remain unperturbed.
The palace is where she belongs and it is where she will stay, come what may! Delusion, illusion, desperation or an Ethiopian tragicomedy par excellence? A serious question.
That the answer is not yet in the hands of the Ethiopian people adds to the sorrow.
Though the situation is bleak and the future uncertain, we Ethiopians can snatch some comfort from the fact that we give the world surprises and we are unique. We still have the syndrome of the chosen people like the Israelis or the Chinese, among others. After all the very first human beings were Ethiopian, non?
We think we are neither black nor white but some special brand of brown or “red”.
More questions: How many countries in the world can boast of tens of thousands of political prisoners and still get hailed as being democratic? How many are those who can slaughter hundreds, if not thousands, and still be pampered as democrats?
One is inclined to say none in this twenty first century we are living in. But, alas, Ethiopia has reversed the whole equation — you can imprison, kill, starve, impoverish millions and ruin and shame a country but you can still be admired and supported.
After all appearances do matter and we have to keep our first reputation in mint condition, even without having the original show of a homeless and puppet Prime Minster who fronts for the Tigrean rulers, controlling things behind the scenes.