State funeral to honor a reigning leader is a rare event in recent Ethiopian history, particularly considering the fact that a reign can potentially last a lifetime. One has to go back, probably to the beginning of the 20th century, to find an occasion that remotely resembles a state funeral. The passing away of Emperor Menelik II, which could have mobilized a large number of mourners, had to be kept secret for a long while for fear of instability. It was a time when the important issue of succession was not hammered out by court intriguers/kingmakers within the nobility. Moreover, given the unavailability of modern means of communication; roads, mobile phone, television broadcasting, satellite dish, etc, even a genuine state funeral couldn’t have mobilized a large number of people outside of Addis. In this regard, what has been witnessed during the last two weeks in Ethiopia is truly exceptional. What can one read from this outpouring of mass grief?
The shock and sadness that reverberated across the country and beyond in the last two weeks, we believe, had several origins. We leave out those less personal ones, like benefits accrued from policies, etc. To start with and by the measure of leaders’ physical age (across the globe) Ethiopia’s Prime minister was a young man; he was only 57. There was also a recognition he was inadvertently pushed to his physical limit by all and sundry. The massive responsibility with which he was burdened all his life was taking its toll, though many didn’t realized it. In addition, there is also this lingering feeling his lifelong sacrifice to better the lot of the poor was not adequately appreciated amidst ongoing political wrangling. The remorse became even more painful once the public realized Meles’ only recompense was to be set free. His desire to lead a simple life, uncluttered with suffocating protocol and phony engagements was all he craved for. In short, he just wanted to lead a normal life; to be a normal person in a normal society, as Susan Rice (US ambassador to the UN) alluded to. It is these honest recognitions by the general public that caused the agonizing heartaches that were displayed aplenty in the last two weeks across Ethiopia and beyond. We believe there is a message in all these to the ruling party.
At the leadership/professional level, Meles was a person on whom the country (and the African leadership) can count on to hold his own at the various international fora, whatever the task. That is why his death sent a shudder to many of his colleagues in Africa. His informed arguments, (parliament, etc) which were a delight to his supporters, a series of challenges to his opponents and always interesting to the unaffiliated, will certainly be missed, not only in Ethiopia, but throughout Africa and far afield. His sincerity, mostly derived from lifelong commitment to the cause of the downtrodden, was another of his transparent virtues.
EPRDF must recognize the public has somewhat trapped it in a position where it will not be easy to wiggle out. The public demands, idealistically of course, all of Meles’ virtues to be internalized inside each and every one of its party members. Naturally, this is not only a tall order but rather a demand that is impossible to fulfill! Whatever the current desire of supporters and the demure response of the party are; the Ethiopian people as a whole have now raised the stakes higher on their own volition! We believe EPRDF has no choice but to oblige. On its part, however, EPRDF can also raise the platforms of engagements vis-a-vis the oppositions even higher, basing it on the obvious desires of the general public. In the process, we believe, the political governance of the nation would be so much the better for it.
Moreover, there has to be a recognition by the various politicos that the public has a much better understanding/perception of things than it is given credit for. It knows who the imposters as well as the dedicated performers are, not only in the realm of politics, but also in the market place, in the politics/business of religions, etc, etc. To doubters and short-cutters who always think the public will be fooled if sufficiently entertained, the past few weeks should clearly dispel such idiotic myth. The undifferentiated mass is much more aware of what is going on than any of those rent seekers going about towns, leveraging one connection after another for their parasitic ends. Degenerate party goons and associated free loaders take notice; from now on the public is not going to defer to Meles to sort out the prevailing mess and might well galvanize itself and take matters in its own hands, if the party continues to vacillate and undermine the ongoing injustices; political, economic, judicial, social, etc.
Meles has left a legacy of his own and naturally there would be a lot of mature reflections in the years to come. Like his other compatriots, dead or alive, however, his life was entirely dedicated to the service of the systematically deprived. He availed this lofty cause his God given ability to the full. Conversely, he was one never to hesitate in pointing out creeping decadence/degeneracy whenever it threatened to rear its ugly head, be it within his party or society at large. ‘Rent seeking’ is one activity he constantly abhorred, not only in person, but also in public policy. We believe the current EPRDF leadership is being asked to visibly internalize these and other principles of Meles. We have tried to crystallize one for their benefit: “For a true revolutionary, power is always a responsibility and never a privilege.” Good Day!