Is Meles Zenawi's Ghost Haunting Ethiopians?

It has been three months since Meles Zenawi, the late Ethiopian Prime Minister, was formally declared dead at the age of 57 after months of speculation as to his whereabouts. However, Meles Zenawi’s ghost shows no sign of loosening its grip over Ethiopians, through his portraits in the streets of Addis Ababa and almost all major cities, towns and rural villages.

As his legacy continues to be discussed in various international mainstream media, Ethiopians have been taking to social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to reflect on his legacy.

Discussing unpleasant facts of Zenawi's legacy, Kirubel Teshome wonders why many Ethiopians fail to put Meles Zenawi’s legacy in context on the ground.

Portrait of the late Meles Zenawi at Meskel Square in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo courtesy of Endalk, used with permission.

Portrait of the late Meles Zenawi at Meskel Square in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo courtesy of Endalk, used with permission.

Kirube writes:

I used to wonder about people who bitterly hate Genet Zewde while she was a minister of Education and love Meles, People who hate Bereket Simon and admire Meles, those who detest Ethiopian Television and have kind word for Meles, those who despise Ethiopian Telecom and adore Meles. Now that he is dead and we are told that he has been the thinker and doer of all the undertakings the country does the past two decades, can you at least have the decency to get of them and blame the man who is behind all these degenerations and denounce the legacy he built? If he takes all the praise to himself, should he not be entitled to solely take all the blame as well?

On one of major unpleasant chapters in Zenawi's legacy, Abiye Teklemariam writes:

An Ethiopian court just convicted Bekele Garba, Olbana Lellisa and others of committing acts of terrorism. This is the country we have, this is the country we have! I am sure many of the people who were singing the praises of our late PM immediately after his death doesn’t even know who these people are.

However, some consider Meles Zenawi a visionary leader and believe that his legacy should be maintained. In a Facebook post, Jossy Romanat recounts a conversation he had about the legacy of Meles Zenawi with his friend:

A Sunday conversation between Me and My Friend (MF).

MF: Do you think PM. Meles Zenawi was a great leader?
ME: Yes indeed! He was a great leader and probably the best Ethiopia has seen so far. However, this doesn’t mean he wasn’t irreplaceable, as you always believe.

MF:- If you think PM. Meles was a great leader, do you support the idea of naming different institutions after his name? Like the “renaissance dam” to be named “Meles Zenawi dam” and his image to be featured on the 100 Birr bill ?

ME: – There is no problem with naming things after a great leader at all. For example, I was happy to see that Mekelle University named its new camps in Quiha as “Meles Zenawi Institute of Technology” I also heard the same story from Jigjiga University. And then, it seems many Universities, offices, towns and villages are busy naming whatever thing they have after Meles. It sounds like they are in completion as to who wins the “game” of the day well, and this could go beyond the limit. For example, yesterday I heard that one of the oldest high schools in Tigray (which was named after one of the past Ethiopian heroes) has been changed to “Meles Zenawi high school” – If this is true, it is ridiculous and disrespecting PM. Meles. Besides, don’t we have other local heroes who should be recognized at the local level, at least? Can’t we just give whatever we want for the new ones and keep the old ones as they are. Regarding the renaissance dam, well I believe it is appropriate to name the dam after Meles as it is believed to be one of his ambitious plans and had full energy and commitment for its accomplishment. But then, I fear that this could be against Meles’s belief because when he decided to name the dam “renaissance dam” he probably had a good reason for that. But still completely in support of the idea of “Meles Zenawi Dam”. As to featuring Meles’s image on any of the Ethiopia banknotes/bills, I do not think it is a good idea.

The Ethiopian ruling party, EPRDF, has had to endure an endless censure for using the name and pictures of Meles Zenawi to unite the country under his vision. However, some people feel that the party is abusing the late leader to the maximum.

In an open memo, Kirubel Teshome asks the widow of Meles Zenawi to stop cheap adoration of her dead husband:

Open memo to W/ro Azeb Mesfin: Can you please, please, please, tell the Addis Ababa .A city administration to stop violating the wish of the late PM. You openly told Ethiopians and the world that Meles was not a kind of person that indulges individual fame or cult. You revealed how he would have disliked to see all this images of him being a wall paper of the city. I am sure, by now, you may have noticed how the city administration have been relentless in advancing against his legacy by painting the town with pictures of the late PM. I wonder why they don”t wish to let him have peace at least on his death? It is also against his legacy to see cleaner and greener Addis. Can you please call for the immediate collection of his images from the walls, fences and buildings of Addis? It would be a favor that the people of Addis will not forget!

Since his death, the late prime minister has been praised for the economic growth Ethiopia has claimed to have recorded over the past two decades. By the same token, he has also been criticized for jailing political activists and journalists, using vaguely defined terrorism offenses.


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