Meles has the gift of the gab, and it has become his critics' thorn in the flesh

By Dilwenberu Nega
Nov. 21 2010

In general, everything else of Meles Zenawi inarguably attracts a mixed cascade of approval and disapproval, but with one of his endowments there is a universal approbation. The Prime Minister has, without a shadow of a doubt, the gift of the gab, an amazing ability to speak effortlessly and convincingly in both Amharic and English. We had seen it at PMQT, Prime Minister's Question Time, in the House of People's Representatives, at an AU Summit defending the continued presence of AU Headquarters in Addis Ababa, out on the hustings, at BBC's "Hard Talk", at Al Jazeera's "Frost Over the World" as well as at countless international forums.

This citation of Prime Minister Meles does not, under any strech of the imagination, mean that I have given in to scyophancy. My sole aim in raising it now is to give credit where credit is due, as a preamble to the issue about which I am writing. I, nonetheless, make no secret of my admiration for the pragmatism of a Prime Minister, whom Ms Clare Short - a one time Tony Blair's Secretary of State for International Development - described as "The most intelligent politician in the world.

Meles Zenawi who is also known by the sobriquet "The Great Communicator," has had more than his fair share of a bumpy ride in the swings and round-abouts of Ethiopian politicking. Addis Ababa's opposition-oriented private media had repeatedly vivisected every word that Meles had spoken, only to offer the public a ghoulash of distortions. The media resorted to such a 'game' because it easily provided it with the means to portray EPDRF in general and Meles Zenawi in particular as unpatriotic. And, lets be honest with ourselves and admit that those engaged in that 'trade' had scooped political and financial dividends for incredibly long period of time. A case in point is Meles Zenawi's "We have no problem with the cloth" remark which he had imparted with good intention- and by no means meant to defile the Ethiopian flag as claimed by his critics - in order to high-light the fact that as far as EPDRF was concerned, they had no problem with the tri-color per se, but rather with all the cruel deeds committed under the cover of a flag with an outlandish Conquering Lion embossed on the centre. Well, there was a blessing in disguse in this tale. Mind you, time, here, proved not only a great healer, but also a great teacher; and there is no better a venue to witness its demonstrable result than in Ethiopia's current healthy democratic milieu. With the benefit of hindsight the people of Ethiopia, are now resolute in their refusal to no longer be hoodwinked by or be guinea-pigs of power-mongers. Today, pride of place for the national tri-color has been included in the Statute Book for the first time since the creation of Ethiopia. If this is not a demonstrable act of patriotism, you and I would surely want to know what is.

No one disputes for one moment that Meles Zenawi's communication skills still remain his opponents' thorn in the flesh (a persistent difficulty that wouldn't go away) with no sign,yet, of Meles losing his lustre. Far from producing a pedigree of good communicators who can out-Meles-Meles, all the opposition-at-large had managed to come up with so far is a motley crew of communicatively-challenged critics and vuvuzela protesetors. I aggree that comparisons are odious, but just to elucidate my claim, if we were asked to compare the communications skill of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and that of 'Liperation Leader' Dr Birrhanu Nega, you may rest assured that we would be comparing Sir Winston Churchill and Field Marshall Idi Amin Dada respectively.

One such ineffectual critic of Meles Zenawi's communications skill is Ato Yilma Bekele. In his "Meles discussing trash and garbbage" (which appeared on nearly all opposition web-sites) Ato Yilma takes recourse to that tedious habit of twisting what the Prime Minister says. Incidentally, while it is common knowledge that Meles has far better things to do than "disscuss trash and garbbage;" such an indulgence, it must be noted, is the favorite pass time of Ethiopia's arm-chair politicians. Ato Yilma had the temerity of castigating the Prime Minister for rubbishing EU EOM's Final Report on Ethiopia's National Elections 2010. You see, what such an accussation shows us is a dearth of comprehension critics of Prime Minister suffer by not understanding where EPDRF stands and what EPDRF stands for on the question of Ethiopia's inter-actions with the outside word. Basically, the government values all its bi-lateral and multi-lateral relations as long as they are being conducted in a spirit of fairness, eqaulity and unflinching adherence to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign nations. It does so by following what I like to call "The Three Nevers:" Never kow-tow to hegemonists; Never be a Tutorial Government; and Never give in to arm-locking.

The opposition-at-large, on the other hand, wants Ethiopia to shiver every time either self-righteous HRW or the European Union sneezes. With more than 30 years of hands on experience in bilateral relations, Meles Zenawi is best qualified to know what to say, when to say it and how to say it. And when push comes to shove, Meles is an expert in cutting the likes of HRW and EU EOM to size. By giving vent to the electorates' pent-up feelings of anger on EU EOM's Final Report in such a no-nonsense and effective manner, all the Prime Minister was doing was discharge effectively one of his constitutional duties, that of protecting Ethiopia's sovereignty. It would be naieve, would it not, to assume that the words Meles had employed to denigrate The Final Report were somewhat vulgar or a misnomer. Circumstances surrounding the Final Report as well as its content had prompted Meles to call a spade a spade, and good of him to do so. Hence, he cannot be held guilty of either committing a faux pas or of violating Prime Ministerial etiquette. Incidentally, who ruled that politicians have to gag themselves especially when the chips are down? If that was the norm, then, the United States of America would not have continued to relish Ronald Reagon's 1983 "Evil Empire" speech. God only knows why the likes of Ato Yilma Bekele have now sought it proper to engage in a breast-beating excercise over what is for all intents and purposes a no-brainer. Meanwhile, could one of you refresh my memory? Who was it who once said:"An agile tongue and an intelligent mind are the natural endowments of a truly great leader?"