By Tesfaye Habisso, Sept. 01, 2012
The first time I met Meles Zenawi I was 44 years old and he was 36, during the July Peace and Democracy Conference of 1991 which brought together most of the contending political forces operating in the country prior to the fall of the military junta ("Derg") led by Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam. The conference was known as the Transitional Period Conference which after thorough and heated debates and deliberations among the participants was able to design and agree on a Transitional Period Charter, akin to a constitution of an emerging democracy, that effectively ended the previous dark period of internecine conflicts and ethnic strife across the country and subsequently established the Transitional Council of Representatives (CoR) and Government (TGE) which paved the way to the realization of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE) Constitution and Government in 1991-1995. I was then Member and Secretary of the Council of Representatives (1991-1995).
Throughout his tenure as President of the Transitional Government and Chairman of the Transitional Council of Representatives (1991-1995) and as Prime Minister of the FDRE Government (1995-2012), Meles proved himself to be a person of enviable intellectual prowess, vision, integrity, decisiveness and selfless commitment and dedication who persistently, consistently and tirelessly struggled day in, day out without any rest and leisure to eradicate our long-afflicting poverty, hopelessness and the attendant national shame and despair from the pages of the history of modern-day Ethiopia and the Ethiopians once and for all. Toward this end, he utilized his admirable intellectual capability and the assistance of his selected experts of high caliber around him to formulate numerous pro-poor social and economic policies and strategies geared toward achieving very rapid and sustainable economic development that would benefit all regions and peoples of Ethiopia equitably and fairly in order to insure social and economic justice denied for long by the past successive regimes of Ethiopia. Spectacular and tangible successes have been registered in this regard which are commended and acknowledged by all development partners, friends and foes alike at home and abroad. But this exceptional leader’s life has been nipped in the bud halfway in the ocean while ferociously swimming and fighting against the storms of poverty and deprivation aimed at extricating the whole nation of Ethiopia from the doldrums of human development.
The last time I met Meles was in 2010 during the International Federalism Conference hosted by the FDRE Government in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia, at the UNDP/ECA Hall and later at a luncheon invitation for the participants of the conference at the National Palace; we had a brief chat, he was pale and his skin complexion a bit whitish brown. I sensed out of my gut feeling that everything wasn’t fine with Meles Zenawi healthwise. Sadly, it turned out to be the only time I got to be near him as two years later, he died from some illness while being treated in a foreign hospital. While the news hit me hard, what I remember most from post-Meles’ death was the sounds/voices of his wife’s and daughters’ and close friends and family members’ mournful and inconsolable weeping while coming down the stairs of Ethiopian jetliner that carried the prime minister’s remains from a foreign country to Addis Abeba, Ethiopia. It was utterly heart-breaking and devastating for any parent to see Meles’ daughters crying out
to their father who just mere weeks earlier had held them in his arms to say what turned out to be his last goodbye.
Of course, the loss of a beloved and admired one is something we all have to deal with at one point or another, either directly in our own family or indirectly through the loss experienced by one of our friends. The sad irony, though, is that no matter how many times we experience this emotional turmoil—of feelings of pain, loss and sadness—it doesn’t get any easier to handle, nor does it help us understand better what our family/friends need us to say or do. I suppose the main reason for that is because the death of a person doesn’t simply mean the end of their life; it also marks the end of the relationships they had with those around them, of the bonds that held them together. In that light, it’s understandable that the loss of some people will impact us far greater than others and why we can never really prepare for the loss of someone dear to our hearts, no matter how many times we’ve already endured it.
This issue came to mind after hearing a friend discuss the growing reality that he might lose his dad to cancer. As I saw when my own father died, in 1995, the loss of a parent can be difficult to handle at any age, especially if the bond between the parent and a child is a strong one; I know Meles’ bond with his off-springs was very strong, as he confided to me some years back. The truth is the death of a parent represents not only the loss of a father or mother, but also the end of a relationship that has spanned all our life. More than any other person, our parents have been the ones that helped us shape not only our lives, but who we ultimately become. And yet, perhaps this is one way to finally overcome our grief and sense of loss; that in the end, what will matter more is not their departure from our lives, but the impact, the difference, they’ve made to it. That’s not to say the pain would be any less or difficult; rather, that perhaps this may be that light at the end of the tunnel that allows us to make peace with this loss. No matter how many times we suffer the pain of losing a loved one, it never prepares us for the next time we have to endure it. But maybe that’s just part of the process we need to go through to remember the difference they’ve made in our lives.
For me and for many of my close friends at home and abroad, Meles Zenawi was undoubtedly like the Sun among the numberless equally big/large and shining stars in the galaxy. He was so bright and so shining compared to the timid other stars sparsely spread far and wide across the fathomless sky. The Sun Meles has set now, it’s all darkness; for the whole country, for the people, for the ruling party and government. It will surely take some time before daylight overcomes again. For the time being, fear, anxiety and uncertainty seem to fill the air and grip the whole nation. Yes, the whole nation is deeply mourning the death of its great son and a beloved leader; rural peasants and urban dwellers in huge numbers are assembled in the Mesqel Square, weeping and wailing with utmost grief and sorrow. What is in store for us in the near future, only time will tell. Whatever the case, the nation has unambiguously but sadly lost a great and visionary leader of all times. May his soul rest in peace. May God the almighty grant strength, consolation and peace to his wife First Lady Azeb Mesfin and his dear daughters Semhal and Marda, and his brothers, sisters and other close family members.