Toronto Star Newspaper Staff Reporter
Where is Meles?
It’s a question that is being asked by Ethiopians, local and international media, and making the rounds of blogs and Twitter.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who has led the country since 1991, has gone missing. And his absence has triggered a political game of Where’s Waldo?, with everyone speculating on the missing leader’s location and the state of his health.
His last public international appearance was at the G20 Summit in Mexico in June. At home he was last seen on June 26 at a meeting with Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed in the Ethiopian capital, according to media reports.
His absence has fuelled speculation in media reports published by Think Africa Press, the Committee to Protect Journalists, World Politics Review, the Independent, the Guardian and the Washington Post, to name a few.
Rumours about the 57-year-old’s health have circulated since 2009, when he was said to be receiving treatment for an unknown disease. But they have been front and centre since he failed to attend the recent African Union summit in Addis Ababa, a parliamentary debate on the budget earlier this summer and a meeting of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development.
At first, reports had him in hospital in Brussels with a possible brain tumour, then other reports said he was in Germany getting treatment. Now some government officials are saying he was sick, but is now away, resting and recuperating.
For the moment, government spokesmen are remaining tight-lipped about Meles and his health. The ruling coalition — the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front — has confirmed that medical reasons are behind the prime minister’s absence. And a government spokesman says Meles will reappear in public life before the Ethiopian New Year, which is celebrated on Sept. 11.
His own information minister and close ally Simon Berekat has said that Meles is expected to return to work “soon” and that he had taken a sick leave, the Independent reports.
But this answer hasn’t stopped speculation that Meles might be dead and that government officials are just holding on to power so his wife Azeb Mesfin, who is an MP and member of the ruling coalition’s nine-member executive committee, can take over.
Ethiopians both at home and abroad are taking to Twitter — using the hashtags #WhereIsMeles or #MelesZenawi — to weigh in about the health of Meles and the future of their homeland. For those who have relatives who have been wrongly jailed in Ethiopia, the suggestion that Meles is dead brings bittersweet hope — the possibility that a new leader might abide with a long-standing tradition of granting amnesty to all political prisoners upon taking office.
Meles has ruled Ethiopia with an iron fist since he overthrew Col. Mengistu Haile-Mariam’s 17 year dictatorship. Analysts say he has used his security apparatus to hang on to power.
Some consider him a “darling” of Western donors and governments for the growth his country has seen under his leadership, but his reputation for ignoring human rights, oppressing political opposition and rejecting press freedom has tarnished his image.
Source: Toronto Star Newspaper