End of an Era: The Passing of Meles Zenawi,by Heikal I. Kenneded

Somalia has seen plenty of turmoil for the last two decades, however, one figure has remained constant over these last two decades who influenced, meddled and decided the status quo of the Horn of Africa: the late Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi. Most Somalis agree with Kenya’s Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Honorable Farah Moalin’s assessment that Meles’s role in Somalia had always been unconstructive, which has contributed to the country’s precipice more than any other single figure inside or outside of the country. Many believe his illness for the past two months and now death is one of the main reasons that has facilitated the relatively smooth transition of power in Somalia to end the debilitating transition period. This will also likely have a positive impact on the emerging new government in Somalia to have a fresh start and pave a positive path forward to end the conflict and reunite the country. Indeed, the future of the Horn looks bright, but visionary leaders are required to capitalize on this rare opportunity to spread the significance of genuine peace and reconciliation amongst the peoples of the region.

Meles Zenawi who was declared dead on last Monday (though the rumor mills suggest hemay have died over a month ago) after suffering undisclosed illness; he was credited for major economic development in his country. He was also lionized by many in the West as the coming of age of new generational leaders in the African continent. In effect, Meles cunningly basked on this opportunity to align himself with the West by exploiting their so called “war against terrorism.” He then skillfully casted most neighboring countries in the Horn of Africa as either terrorist sponsoring or terrorist harboring states, including Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan.

Meles Zenawi manipulated the West’s apprehensions about another failed Islamic country taking root in the Horn of Africa with the potential of harbouring Al Qaeda- linked terrorists.Hence,the United States backed him for his untimely incursion of Somalia’s capital in order to neutralize the leadership of the Union of Islamic Courts who was vying to rid Somalia the ruthless hegemony of incorrigible warlords.However, the atrocities resulting from the invasion of his forces is what brought into existence the hardcore Al-Shabab insurgents who recruited most of their ragtag guerrilla fighters from the south of Somalia, where most of the Ethiopian atrocities were committed during their failed invasion and thus capitalized on the anti-Ethiopian feelings.

At the end of the Cold War, which coincided with the successful overthrow of the brutal dictatorships in both Ethiopia and Somalia, genuine democracy had a great chance to take root in the Horn of Africa, until Somalia’s warmongering insurgent leaders plunged the country into an intractable civil war, while Meles felt the tyrannical urge to consolidate his power in Ethiopia for the sole benefit of keeping his reign. In fact, Meles Zenawi became notorious for his “evil genius” machinations of frequently manipulating the fledgling leaders in the Horn of Africa, especially those in Somalia, for the past two decades. He acted as though he was a benevolent mediator and regional leader, instead he constantly bid against one another to keep the status quo of Somalia.

Strangely, Meles Zenawi’s vision of a strong Ethiopia was based on weakening and destabilizing those of his neighbouring countries, especially Ethiopia’s historical archrival, Somalia. To his cunning credit, he had achieved keeping Somalia in constant civil-war while he rebuilt his country’s economy. Nevertheless, most agree he was inept enough to expect the fostering of a strong Ethiopian nation in a conflict ridden neighbourhood, where he capriciously capitalized on his position of fanning the fire among these nations. In his self-aggrandizing comportment, Meles was quintessentially an African “Big Man” who behaved and acted in every inch as the knowing all “smartest guy” in the Horn of Africa. But as a mere mortal amongst his peers, he forgot to use his protracted reign of East Africa’s most populous nation with good neighbourliness and act as a statesman of peace and development in the region.

Further, despite rebuilding his country’s economy, Meles Zenawi was no hero in Ethiopia either because he leda tyrannical regime known for its callous suppression of dissent by arresting and even killing many journalists and democratic activists. In fact, his regime’s human rights abuses were unparalleled in the region, but the West ignored and turned a blind eye on such crimes against his people, as long as he “helped” them in their “war against terror.” In other words, this was the ultimate attestation of the West’s hypocrisy when it came towards the promotion of good governance and reverence for human rights in the developing world.

For Somali it has been a long time coming. Now that Meles has passed away and his unhelpful meddling of Somali affairs has come to a halt, change for the better is expected in Somali politics, driven by reconciliation and nation rebuilding. In contrast, upheaval is anticipated in Ethiopia due to the unexpected passing of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi who during his two decades of reign in Ethiopia marginalized the majority of the dominant ethnic groups, especially the Oromo people, which constitute the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia. Thus the TPLF ruling party is confused and running amok to appease the masses in order to continue its grip of power.

In the future, when the roots of Somalia’s troubled history are analysed, Meles’ legacy will be in the very darkest pages of the conflict in Somalia. In the end, whoever captures the helm of Ethiopia’s leadership will face a daunting task because it would be an impossible task to ever mend the damage he wreaked over the Horn of Africa, and the seeds of malaise he had sown among the neighbouring countries in the region. Indeed, the death of Meles marks the end of a turbulent era in the Horn, mired with decades of conflict, instability and poverty.

Heikal I. Kenneded
Washington, DC