By Janet Shoko
Former Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam, who oversaw the murder of several thousands of his countrymen during the “Red Terror” campaign could be living on the edge in Zimbabwe as his future after the demise of his friend President Mugabe is uncertain.
Mengitsu also known as “Butcher of Addis” has lived in the Southern Africa country for the past two decades as a special guest of his close friend -Mugabe. He fled his country in 1991 to settle in Harare as the Tigre People’s Liberation Front and the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front surrounded Addis Ababa.
At the time, the United States asked Mugabe to accept Mengistu to end the bloodshed.
A few years ago Mengistu was relocated from his Harare villa to a prime farm seized by Zanu (PF) in the rich Mazowe Valley. His public appearances have been next to nil.
In 2006, the then opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) angered Zanu PF when it hinted that it would withdraw the protection afforded by Mugabe’s government and extradite him to Ethiopia. Nelson Chamisa, who was MDC’s chief spokesman said the ex leader’s extradition to Ethiopia would be “high on the agenda” of the new administration.
Mengistu, 74, has had his fair share of troubles in Zimbabwe. It is claimed that he once advised Mugabe on security matters and according to reports, he proposed the idea of clearing slums, which was implemented as Operation Murambatsvina or Operation Get rid of the filth in 2005, and chaired meetings at which the operation was planned.
Mengitsu is said to have warned Mugabe that the swelling slum and backyard population in Zimbabwe was creating a fertile ground for a mass uprising. The United Nations later estimated that more than 700 000 people had been left homeless in the move.
And while Mugabe’s then administration had made light attempts to squash the reports giving credence that Megistu played a key role, diplomatic relations between the man who toppled Mengistu- Meles Zenawi and the coalition administration is not clear.
Now Mugabe is in poor health and speculation is that if he dies Mengistu could be in trouble.
However, Zimbabwe media has over the years widely reported on arrest and torture of Ethiopian refugees passing through the country on their way to South Africa.
An official and the Foreign Affairs ministry told The Africa Report that Mengistu and his government played a pivotal role during and after the liberation struggle and extraditing him “would be a betrayal”.
But civic society has a firm view on Mengistu, they want him out of Zimbabwe dead or alive. “The nature of his departure, whether dead or alive is not critical. He should just leave Zimbabwe” Albertina Moyo said. He added that apart from liberation history, little is known of the two countries in terms of bilateral trade.
Darlington Musanu said “If it was a collective decision, he may continue to be in Zimbabwe but if it was an individual one by Mugabe which is very likely he may go as soon as the man dies”.
He added another dimension: If a Zanu PF member takes over as president chances of him (Mengistu) being deported are slim.
Zanu PF people tend to follow set procedures. But if a new leader is from MDC-T certainly they will send him straight to The Hague.