How to bring down Meles Zenawi

By Abebe Gellaw / February 12, 2011
As ordinary Egyptians have erupted in jubilant euphoria at Tahrir Square and on the streets of Egypt after the fall of the three-decade long dictator Hosni Mubarak, Ethiopians in and outside of the country have been keenly watching the wind of change from North Africa. We have witnessed history unfolding once again. When people are determined to be free, nothing can stop them. After an epic struggle against him, Mubarak had no choice but to surrender. The world is a better place with the fall of one more dictator. What a beautiful moment to celebrate and watch!

The momentous events in Egypt and Tunisia are testimony to the power of nonviolent struggle. When people are united and speak in one voice, nothing can stop them. No guns and tanks have stopped the peaceful revolutions that have ended tyranny and ushered in liberation to ordinary people in many countries across the world. Ethiopians also know what revolutions are like. But they have never tasted the sweetness of freedom and smelt the aroma of true liberation. The new revolution should be different from the tragic upheavals that have turned our country into a land of slaves brutalized and exploited by a handful of slave masters.

Revolution is not a new phenomenon in Ethiopia. In the last four decades alone, two toxic and bloody revolutions have occurred in our country. Both revolutions were fought in the name of a better Ethiopia and liberation but the tragic changes they have wrought made matters worse by turning our land into a much harsher prison where calling for justice and freedom is a capital crime.

The first revolution was hijacked by a band of ruthless military officers and the second one empowered not the people but a band of bandits and divisive ethnocrats that have been exploiting Ethiopia by pitting one ethnic group against another.
Let the new march start afresh "Let the incoherent activities end. Let the petty bickering stop. And let Ethiopians unite against poverty, hunger, corruption, injustice, discrimination, humiliation…in their own country. Let the new march start afresh..."

The 1974 Ethiopian revolution swept away the monarchy and the ruthless feudo-capitalist system that had reduced the masses to tenants with no title deeds whose fates were controlled by the archaic ruling class. Land belonged to the Emperor and his cronies making the great majority of the Ethiopian peasantry landless in their own land. It was mainly the anger toward the land tenure system and the hidden hunger in Northern Ethiopia that mobilized so many Ethiopians under the banner of land to the tiller and bread to the hungry. In a disastrous turn of events, a small group of junior military officers hijacked the revolution and emerged as the most formidable force that defined the course of the popular uprising. What started as a nonviolent movement for change ended in bloodbath when the army officers turned their guns against the idealist young men and women who had a better vision for their people. During the dark era of the Red Terror, hundreds of thousands of fellow Ethiopians were tortured and slaughtered in cold blood.

Then came another revolution that has drastically changed Ethiopia for a second time. This time round, the revolution was not a result of peaceful mass protests. It was the climax of a protracted bloody civil war that brought down the Mengistu military regime. The 1991 ethnic-based revolution was dictated by two northern rebel groups that speak the same language, i.e. the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TEPLF) and the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF). With the full complicity of the TPLF, EPLF seceded Eritrea and declared independence. TPLF monopolistically controlled state power in Ethiopia and chose the colonial way of “power sharing” with its subservient puppet ethnic liberation groups it organised and created in its own image.

In the last two decades, the nation has been divided into two major groups, i.e. those who accept the supremacy and tyranny of the Meles and his cronies and those who have rejected the new TPLF-power arrangement. The pro-TPLF camp has been organised under various ethnic liberation fronts created, funded and controlled by none other than the TPLF. The anti-TPLF camp, represent those who have been totally excluded from the political arrangement. Anyone opposed to the TPLF dictatorship is labelled as “anti-peace and anti-people”.

As it stands now, the anti-TPLF camp, i.e. the entire people of Ethiopia, minus the ruling ethnic junta and its puppets, have only one parliamentary seat and two seats in local governments. In simple terms, while the TPLF controls almost everything in Ethiopia, the oppressed people of Ethiopia have been excluded from economic and political power. Within the hierarchical TPLF clan in power, Meles Zenawi enjoys absolute power as he is accountable neither to God nor to the people of Ethiopia. During the last fraudulent parliamentary election, TPLF and its puppets “won” by 99.6 per cent. The regional elections were even worse; TPLF took it all by over 99.999 per cent. This is not democracy but thievery at its worst.

The army is controlled by TPLF loyalists. Almost all the generals that have key positions in the army are TPLF members from one minority ethnic group and handpicked by Meles Zenawi. The economy is significantly dominated by two conglomerates. The billionaire Sheik Mohammed Al Amoudi, who has lost the respect of the Ethiopian people when he publicly declared to be a TPLF loyalist in 2005, has managed to have a significant share in many sectors of the economy. Nonetheless, the privileged Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT) has emerged as the unchallenged monopoly that pays neither income tax nor opens its accounts for external audit.

Nobody has access to EFFORT’s astounding wealth except Meles Zeanwi, his wife and his most trusted loyalists like masters of corruption Abadi Zemu, Arkebe Ekubay and Getachew Belay. After Meles appointed his wife, Azeb Mesfin, who is widely known as the first lady of corruption, as head of his business conglomerate, it turned out that EFFORT is nothing but a family business making billions of birr in annual profit. While EFFORT controls the fate of the Ethiopian economy, the stake of the TPLF in foreign aid is managed by two domineering NGOs called the Relief Society of Tigray (REST) and the Tigray Development Association (TDA). The exploitative ethnic apartheid Meles and his cohorts have imposed on the people of Ethiopia has reduced the nation into Africa’s most explosive powder keg that can erupt any time.

Ethiopia under Meles is more unjust than ever before. The poor people of Ethiopia are being exploited and the leeches in power have been sucking the blood of the nation. While in public TPLF preaches about state ownership of land, in reality it is leasing and selling the most virgin and irrigable land that can ensure food security for generations to come to foreign corporations mainly from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, India and China to grow food and cash crop for their own market. Under this illegal and unfair arrangement, poor peasants are being chased away from their birthplace. Out of desperation, so many peasants, who have lost their livelihoods, have ended up being slaves for the foreign entities and TPLF merchants exploiting their land and resources illegally. Nearly ten million peasants and their families still survive on food aid. The handouts given to them are so little that they barely survive but still starve and suffer unimaginable indignity and humiliation. They can neither raise serious questions nor complain. If they do, the ruthless ruling party goons will punish them. They will lose food aid.

In cities across Ethiopia, the ruling TPLF clan and their cronies show off their loots. They compete among each other to show off their villas, luxury cars, import goods, gold and diamond. And yet, the greater majority cannot afford to eat. They cannot afford to have a decent meal once a day despite the fact that Zenawi’s first promise was to make Ethiopia a breadbasket, where food would be available to all. What he has created instead is a hell for the majority and a heaven for the selected few TPLF elite who dine and wine with no limits and relax at Al Amoudi’s Sheraton Luxury Collection at the expense of the poor people of Ethiopia. This is not the Ethiopia its citizens have been dreaming of. This is not the Ethiopia that any citizens want to be part of. That is the very reason why Ethiopians need to dismantle the exploitative ethnic apartheid and create a country where every Ethiopian is free and equal.

The time for a revolution is long overdue. TPLF’s ethnic apartheid has survived for the last two decades not because of its strength but because of the fact that the people of Ethiopia have not found inspirational leaders that are capable of uniting and mobilizing them for the epic battle for freedom and break off their chains and shackles once and for all.

TPLF is a house of cards. It is fundamentally weak as it is founded on the ideologies of oppression, injustice, exploitation, domination, discrimination, corruption, thievery and fraud driven by a greedy colonialist mindset. The only reason why it is still riding roughshod over our people is because those who have stepped forward to be leaders of the freedom march have been preoccupied with their own infighting.

The time for self-promotion, empty promises and bravados must come to an end. Leaders as well as followers must focus on the real issues that really matter to ordinary Ethiopians. People who have resolved to change their destiny no longer need undemocratic leaders that preach about democracy and freedom. It is impossible to bring liberation without a clear vision. To be free of tyranny and oppression is a simple and powerful vision that can mobilize anyone suffering under the boots of Meles Zenawi and his cronies.

Land to the tiller and bread to the hungry are simple dreams for all. The end of injustice, indignity and tyranny should be a priority. For these to happen, credible leadership that never wavers must emerge not from the outdated elites but from the ordinary people. Ethiopians need leaders that speak the simple language of freedom, justice and equality. There is no need of calling every professor and doctor to be leaders as revolution is not an academic debate. There is also no need of recycling failed leaders that have shattered the aspirations and dreams of the people of Ethiopia to reclaim their dignity.

The momentous events in North Africa have reawakened the spirit of revolution in countries like Ethiopia where ruthless tyrants have been abusing, oppressing and exploiting their own people. Revolutions won’t come without a determination to revolt. Revolt against injustice a heroic act. It is a holy cause that is worthy of sacrifice. Ethiopians have to be determined to liberate a square where they will vent out their anger, defy tyranny and declare their freedom. The day should come when all Ethiopians should sing “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty we are free at last….”

As we have witnessed in the unfolding history in North Africa, bringing down a reviled tyrant like Zenawi is not a difficult task when people start speaking in one voice. In the second part of this piece, I will try to deal with practical strategies of nonviolent struggle in the Ethiopian context.

The writer, Abebe Gellaw, is editor of