Meet Meles Zenawi: "World's poorest leader"
By Eskinder Nega |April 1, 2011
Here I am, in my small living room on a beautiful tenish Thursday morning, comfortably settled in front of the solitary window. In my hand, I hold a transcript our first lady’s (sorry, President Girma, she insists on the title) undated, and, to my knowledge, unaired TV interview.
I gather this is the loyal troops’ rejoinder to the recent news from Spain about an alleged shopping spree in Europe by first lady Azeb Mesfin, wife to Ethiopia’s PM Meles Zenawi; MP; Politburo member of the TPLF and EPRDF; board member of one of the largest business conglomerates in the country , EFFORT; and Czar of the anti-HIV/Aids campaign.
There are more titles, of course. But these will suffice to underscore an important point: Azeb Mesfin is to be taken seriously! Take her for granted only at the risk of THE GLARE, famously witnessed and written about by an American reporter.(Meles was at the receiving end.)
But there is also a version of her popularized by Addis’ hyperactive, and apparently, at least as far she and her defenders are concerned, “delusional” grapevine: Azeb as a fabulously rich woman.
Indeed, no grapevine has ever demanded proof for its most sensational scoops, and in all fairness, Azeb’s is no exception. But the image has lingered doggedly over the years, believed rather than disbelieved by most people (as bitterly noted by the pro-EPRDF blog.)
And Azeb had felt the need to speak about it.
“...it is with this paltry amount that we pay for the children’s schooling…(inaudible)… (laughs)..I save for three months…and then I settle the (school) payment…”… way to go, first lady!...sacrificing for the children!...perfect role models!... “…Like I said earlier, both of us(Azeb an Meles) don’t have (money)…this is how(by saving) we manage (to handle the financial pressure)…”…poor Azeb!…Poor Meles!…aren’t you already feeling sorry for them?....I am!…sniff…sniff… “…One of our children, the eldest(Semahel), schooled at Sandford... She scored high marks in the SAT exams in the sixth grade…”...wonderful!...we are mighty proud of you, first daughter!...keep it up, gal!... “…She won a scholarship to a girl’s boarding school in England…I refused to let her go at that age…”…good for you, Azeb…that was the right decision… “…I asked for the scholarship to be transferred to (Sandford)…so that it could help me….”...hold it there, Azeb…they rarely oblige such requests…what happened?...must have been turned down, eh?...the rascals!…. “…They transferred the scholarship (to Sandford)…”…what?...how did you do it, Azeb?... “…She finished school( with the scholarship)…She (Semehal) will finish this year…”…so six years of free schooling!...how many smart kids have the same chance, one wonders….“…I rarely carry money on me…If I do, I always give it away…I support 11 street children children in Addis. They live on Bole street. They are like my children…”…touching story, Azeb…I believe you…“…it (their bank accounts and assets) could be checked by all means….”….ummmmm… “…I think the world knows us…If you ask, America knows…”….oooohhh...juicy!...Yamamato, any comments?... “..any country with information knows…We are the worlds poorest leaders…”…Guinness book world records: take note…”…you know what they said to me in Sweden?...they said, (people say) you are dirt poor… But no…I am not poor…Meles is not poor...”…excuse me ,Azeb…but…but…but…this goes against every thing you had said so far… “…If we wanted money, we would not steal from the Ethiopian people… I would convince Meles to leave this job (the Premiership), because Meles’ smarts is enough to buy me a house…”…yep!...here comes the inevitable Meles is a genius speech…brace yourselves… "…Meles’ smarts is good enough to pay for our children's schools….He could go anywhere, enter any labour market and be in demand for his brilliance….So I don’t steal..”…Azeb has finished now….great speech, Azeb!…Thanks!!…
Remember Imelda Marcos?
How could one forget the 3000 pairs of shoes? What you probably have not heard about are the 1000 handbags, over 500 gowns, and perfumes “no one has ever really tried to tally.”
Her estimated net worth: 10 billion US dollars!
This works out to a cool half a billion for each of the 20 years her husband, Ferdinand Marcos, was in power. All good years to unabashed Imelda. “Ferdinand was good for the Philippines. He was responsible for the only real economic development the country has ever known,” she frequently reminds her fellow citizens. And indeed, the economy has suffered since he left power; the world’s first victim to people power. But this not where the real story is.
“I am poor!” Imelda, now 82 and still going strong, intones frequently.
Every time she utters these words, they climb right to the top of world headlines. Best of all, there is her outrageously bejeweled image to go along with the story. Journalists couldn’t have enough of it. Neither could an intrigued, fascinated world.
And there is Leila Trabelsi, wife of Tunisia’s Ben Ali. Though noted widely for her passion for racy cars, mansions(50 of them), and shopping sprees, it was her occasional impulse to fly in exotic foods from Europe that earned her world fame. Her husband, somewhat low key, preferred a private Tiger, which was fed prime beef.
“I am poor!” Lelia, too, has claimed repeatedly.
Tunisians seem less charmed with their first lady than Filipinos are with theirs. Unlike Filipinos, who consistently besiege Imelda for autographs, they normally demand Leila’s hanging.
Fortunately, even Ethiopians, are graciously less harsh on Azeb. Anger is expressed in other ways. A facebook Azeb fan page, for example, boasts only 28 people. Her husband, on the other hand, has attracted over 3000 people on two pages. But a “Meles is a great leader” page has enlisted only 17 people. That is 11 less than Azeb’s. All is not lost, after all.
Ethiopia’s Federal Ethics and Anti- Corruption Commission defines corruption as “the offering, giving, soliciting or acceptance of an inducement, promise, or reward; the making of threats or the use of intimidation, in words or in behavior; exerting influence by the abuse of authority or its inconsistent application; which may improperly influence the actions subsequently taken, or not taken, by a body, its members, or its officers; for the benefit or competitive advantage of self or another.”
How this exactly relates to the atypical scholarship of the Prime Minister’s child (children?) demands more information. Foul play could not reasonably be assumed just because a PM is involved. He deserves the benefit of the doubt; the alternative being too crudely cynical But that the scholarship is also worthy of serious scrutiny is also beyond doubt. I seriously hope this serves as a reminder to Transparency International. Ethiopia patently lacks a potent anti-graft body.
How poor or rich Azeb and Meles exactly are may never be satisfactorily answered. What could rather be satisfactorily explained is why people, including passionate EPRDF supporters, are more inclined to believe than disbelieve the stories about hidden riches. In the absence of the checks and balances of a democracy, a despot is at liberty to take at will. Such a person is Meles Zenawi. He has unlimited power. Whether he has succumbed to the temptation or not is secondary. It is the unlimited power he has that unnerves people and induces them to suspect.
A friend sent this (author not specified):
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Cute! Thought it would be great for facebook posting. Keep on posting articles on your facebook pages. Fight tyranny from your PC!
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