Meles Zenawi vehemently squashed idea of statue for late Emperor Haileselassie revived

11 May

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory

Without a doubt, the latest action of the Ethiopian president stands out presidential and worth reacting to. It is one of the rare gestures in Ethiopia’s political life, which has far reaching implications. It represents the healthiest baby steps towards the future of learning our history within its contexts; it in turn calls for the possibilities of acknowledging the important contributions of Ethiopia’s historical personalities to all past achievements bringing us to the present.

The importance of this lies in the fact that without it, our nation and the young generation would simply be denied of true knowledge of their history, an idea of their origin as members in one of the oldest independent nations in the world, and who they are as a people. Allowing the distortions of the past two decades to go unchallenged represents the height of indifference to the brutalization against the Ethiopian mind and persona the TPLF has bred and spread in the past two decades in particular, of which Meles Zenawi had served its intellectual godfather and chief architect.

In a measure that has no comparaison, therefore, President Girma Woldegiorgis has asked, according to The Reporter, for statue to be erected in honor of the late Ethiopian Emperor Haile-Selassie within the premises of the African Union (AU). To this end, it is reported that the president has sent this request in a formal letter to Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn.

As an Ethiopian, who attaches high importance to the role of history in society’s development, I am truly enthused over this for two reasons. The first is the fact that today or tomorrow the emperor’s statue would need to be built, because he has deserved it by his contributions to Africa; at the same time, we need to realize that escape from history’s radar is hardly possible for nations.

Secondly, if this initiative is entirely of the president’s mind, at last, President Girma Woldegiorgis has arisen in defense of history. While his courage must be recognized, belated as it may have been, he needs to move faster aware that there are tons of tasks that require such corrective measures.

I stress this in the face of the many crimes against history in recent years, which have opened the door for a torrent of many other crimes against our citizens and the country itself. I do anticipate the president to be aware of the latest evidences of widespread TPLF’s engrossment in ethnic cleansing, many of which have been documented and are targeted actions aimed at weakening the country and the rise of all others. Our attention has rested on what is happening in the process – the repeated victimization of Ethiopian citizens of Amhara, Oromo, Afar, Gambellan origins, etc. This may be happening out of desire or strategy to take control of their resources, such as land or its subterranean contents, or intent on limiting their development.

Therefore, I consider this latest action by President Girma as fresh breathe of sanity in Ethiopia. For the last two decades, a combination of historical agnosticism, fervent denials of history and consequently the deliberate tarring of our country’s past has been overplayed. This also included defaming some of the country’s great leaders who had sacrificed their lives in defense of the Ethiopia we all share in common, the best and recent example of which was defending it from take over by European colonialism.

In an interview with The Reporter, which is skeletal for an interview, in the circumstances the president simply requested, “A statue must be erected to commemorate the Emperor … he was the first leader of Africa and I think he deserves a statue.”

Kwame Nkrumah is pushed into the fray, fortunately amongst his admirers

Kwame Nkrumah's statue within the AU complex

Kwame Nkrumah’s statue within the AU complex

When the statue of Kwame Nkrumanh was inaugurated a little over two years ago, as another illustrious African with immense contributions, many Ethiopians, Africans and non-Africans appreciated the gesture. Indeed, we cheered – I cheered in an article I wrote on the subject – especially his country Ghana for the extra miles it had gone to see that this was realized.

Nevertheless, deep inside as Ethiopians we grieved at our misfortune. We regretted the fact that today’s Ethiopian and African leaders should turn their backs on history. This became cause for the grief in our hearts for both our country and Africa itself. Moreover, just like us, judging from the commentaries that followed on cyberspace, many Africans, including Ghanians, and non-Africans derided the historical blindness that obliterated Emperor Haileselassie.

On February 3, 2011, in an article Reminiscences of history on Ethiopia’s role in the founding of the OAU, I stated about the orphan-kind of feelings this omission left me with in the following words:

    “[T)he effort to stand him alone (Nkrumah) left a bad taste inside me; I see it as an attempt to systematically amend or revise history, especially the decisive activities of the other former leaders preceding the founding of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963.”

Candidly speaking, in stating that I primarily had in mind the emperor. I had of course thought of former Presidents Sekou Touré of Guinea and Modibo Keita of Mali, about whose indispensable role in facilitating the emperor’s efforts much has been written. Fortunately, those who were dumbfounded by this monstrous omission at last saw it as small-mindedness and inadequacy of today’s Ethiopian leaders, especially of Meles Zenawi, after he swaggered in parliament in April 2011, haranguing on the probity of not having the emperor’s statue within the premises of the AU.

His argument did not strike me as serious, since it was not. That day, I gave up hope on any prospect of that person’s redeemability.

Of this, observers believed it was a reflection of Meles’s brittle ego, which was bereft of the courage of self-confidence. Therefore, one conclusion became inescapable: as a man singularly preoccupied with his own love for power and glory, he must have feared that a dead emperor would totally eclipse him.

Surprisingly, there are a number of Africanists not bought into this, including many renowned Ethiopians. I salute those old opponents of the imperial domain from our youthful days at Haileselassie I University for making their voices heard about the emperor being denied a place next to Nkrumah’s statue. These folks and the experts were angered, as they must be, at the TPLF’s trivialization of the emperor, among others, as his and TPLF’s way of turning him down from being counted for acknowledgment by Africa for his role in ushering the Organization of African Union (OAU).

Therefore, the views of these experts is that, while this devious and anachronistic decision by Meles reflects the shared anti-Ethiopian ideology within the TPLF, plainly they saw it more as a reflection of the of ignorance of some of those people about the importance of history, even to their projects. After all, their failure to learn has left them constantly engaging in distortions of history, an incurable problem caused partly by self-inflicted ignorance and partly by historical amnesia.

Another, group of Ethiopians attribute the whole problem to some TPLF leader’s ambivalence of their Ethiopian identity, a legacy of both their upbringing and their ill-digested ideology on the equality of all citizens, irrespective of ethnicity or religion.

Although Meles was the high priest of their prevailing outlook, many experts are firmly convinced that the upbringing of many of TPLF leaders in families that collaborated with Italian fascists was partly responsible for their deeply ingrained anti-Ethiopian stance. This TPLF members’ resentment of Ethiopia, about which some experts have dwelt on, including Alemseged Abbay’s (Identity Jilted or Re-Imgining Identity (1998), conducted through field work has reached similar conclusion, consistent with the reality we have been witnessing in Ethiopian politics of the past two decades.

It goes that a combination of factors have been creating tensions in TPLF policies. While one sees efforts toward progress of the nation on one hand, there is also its relegation by deliberate underhanded strategies fanning numerous political problems. For them, therefore, the conclusion emerging is that Ethiopia is good to TPLF members, so long as they benefit from its high economic prospects it has demonstrated in the past decade. When it does not, they appear to be preparing a hideout, something much reflected in their nepotism and the direction of the priorities and benefits they have been doling out, a typical manifestation of TPLF discriminatory practices.

Should other African leaders also be history blind?

Meles was not alone in this trivialization of the Ethiopian emperor and the country’s history and its present – for a nation with time tested loyalty and conviction that has kept it true to Africa’s interests.

In spite of that, the African group allowed Meles to take advantage of them for his self-serving vindictive domestic politics. Surely, in the African group, he had displayed better capability in some respects, good sense and exerted some influence.

In reality, however, that “Club of Brothers” in theory – with two women leaders now – has been a prisoner of its own need to protect its back – since they cannot risk encouraging someone throwing back at their glasshouses.

African leaders need to see that they can only improve their image, when they stand for principles. But since 1970s, the days of the dictators, this has not changed. Because it still is comprised of members of indebted deadweights on each other and, at the same time, one another’s gravediggers. We clearly saw this not long ago in the case of the demise of the African paymaster Gaddafi or the election stealing in Cote D’Ivoire by Laurent Gbagbo. Africa made itself a laughingstock of the world.

Therefore, when Meles said no to Haileselassie’s statue, none had the courage to turn to history to justify the idea. That is why in the above-mentioned article, I apportioned blames to African leaders of not rising for principles. Thus, in connection with the denial of statue to the emperor, high on the heat of the moment, I wrote the following, none of which I regret:

    It is unfortunate that some leaders and officials of the AU turned a false default state to enable them get away with unacceptable actions. In other words, the omission of some aspects of history has been utilized with convenience of the jostle and bustle of a summit and willful historical neglect and irresponsible abandonment of the home countries of the other founding fathers, i.e., Ethiopia, Guinea and Mali in particular, so much politically self-absorbed and possibly with a sense of vindictiveness against the statures of long gone leaders that have done some good for their countries and Africa.


The emperor was human, a disposition with all its frailties

I know that Haileselassie was not an angel, although he was literally worshipped. That is why in my student days I was member of the student movement and opposed to his feudal regime. However, here I am now defending what duly belongs to him. I have learnt that I had failed then to see that each period, system of government and the actors therein must be judged by the horizon of their period and the dictates of the environment they were in.

With the vision available to the emperor, he has tried to bring Ethiopia into modernity, although much of the country remained a booty for the nobility. To his credit, unlike the TPLF leaders now, he never had a separate pocket to steal and hide from Ethiopia. Nor has he been credibly accused of disloyalty to Ethiopia’s interests. Everyone would agree that he ably defended with his stature and astute diplomacy the nation’s territorial integrity, which Meles and the TPLF dared to injure, at last rendering it landlocked.

As far as Africa was concerned, he has contributed immensely to its liberation struggle from colonialism. He was the first leader, who authorized apartheid South Africa to be taken to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which eventually resulted in its isolation and pariah status. This helped South African refugees and the ANC to find the support they needed for sustenance, protection and continuing the struggle against the white minority regime.

As an intelligent person, in this age and time Meles could not get over his infantile hatred of a nation, its history and its past – clear indication of the problems with his insight. All the more, in time out of concern for his powers, he became terribly anti-Ethiopian.

In the light of this, Meles lacked the moral authority to judge Haileselassie, much less block his from being honored and recognized by Africa as the leader founder of its regional organization. At a difficult time, the OAU has allowed Africa to stand shoulder to shoulder with other independent countries and regional groupings within the international system.

I do hope that Africa still has sufficient sensibilities to recognize this and ally with history, instead of self-serving politics of inferior quality by any measure.


Read also:

To the dismay of Meles Zenawi, lo and behold, Nkrumah recites poetry in praise of Ethiopia’s wisdom and role in Africa

2 Responses to “Meles Zenawi vehemently squashed idea of statue for late Emperor Haileselassie revived”

  1. kemal Mohammed May 13, 2013 at 00:30 #

    Now you are complaining for not erecting the statue of H/selasie whom he denied africans by saying we are not negros. And tomorrow you will ask for the statue of Mengistu. Who do you think you are to call Meles ignorant. Hahaha


  2. Dessalegn May 13, 2013 at 06:13 #

    Well said, Ethiopia Observatory! Haile Selassie, no matter his mistakes – human rights violations – is universally recognized – throughout Africa – as the main founder of the OAU. Denying this universal recognition simply adds to the every increasing Ethiopian psychosis! We don’t need any more of that. President Girma, as you say, has breathed some much needed sanity into Ethiopian politics. Well done, President Girma!


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