The ultimate chess game: Meles and the 2010 "election"
By Golto Aila | Posted to the Web January 15, 2010



The game of chess may not be the best metaphor for the political games Meles plays, but it is the best I can think of. It is not my intention to demonize or insult anybody in this piece, but as Ethiopia moves toward what Meles calls an "election", I feel I must share how I see him and the game he plays in the clearest way I can! It is clear to me the there is one true chess player at the table and the rest have, either knowingly or inadvertently, decided to be pieces on the chess board. I hope this analysis will help you re-evaluate your perspectives and expectations of the process he is currently conducting.

As Ethiopians, or friends of Ethiopia, we all have similar hopes for Ethiopia – that she will be a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic country in which all her children will live in harmony with each other, with Ethiopia’s neighbors, and with the wider world. The path along which Ethiopia will travel to reach that point is where there are disagreements. Here are some examples:

  1. Peaceful political struggle within the country against the current regime;
  2. Peaceful political corporation/opposition with the regime to bring about democratic change;
  3. Armed struggle to remove the regime by force;
  4. Civic movements within the country and around the world to bring pressure on the regime to change its ways.

All these approaches have been tried in the past and continue to be practiced. As we stand on the threshold of Meles’ “2010 general election”, five years after he took away the people’s vote, locked up their leaders and massacred innocent civilians who were asking for return of their vote, there is one prevalent view by the majority of people – the 2010 election will not be democratic and that it is just an exercise Meles has to go through to continue winning acceptance from those whose support he needs from outside. I applaud every effort to remove an illegal, brutal regime from Ethiopia but I also believe that this should be done in a manner that:

  1. Ensures the integrity of Ethiopia;
  2. Ensures security for all Ethiopians irrespective of their backgrounds;
  3. Ensures firm establishment of rule of law and democracy in Ethiopia; and
  4. Ensures peace and stability in the Horn of Africa.

I, like many Ethiopians, don’t believe these goals are achievable with Meles in the driver’s seat in Ethiopia. It is my view that Meles’ goal for Ethiopia is different from what I listed above. I believe when he took arms against Mengistu Haile Mariam, he was sincere in his aim to liberate Tigray from Ethiopia, but along the way and over the duration of his rule in Ethiopia, his priorities and objectives have morphed into serving and protecting himself and those who help keep him in power. Meles has ruthlessly and cynically exploited every opportunity and everybody to maintain his power in Ethiopia, and currently, sensing that the world around him has been changing to his dislike, is in the mode of fighting for his survival. The following are examples of how Meles has exploited people and opportunities to perpetuate his grip on power, forgive me for repeating myself since I have said these things many times:

  1. The general Ethiopian population: He set up a constitution which promised regional autonomy up to and including secession! Only Eritrea was allowed to go, so that HE will control power in Ethiopia unchallenged by the leader of Eritrea. By encouraging regional autonomies he was able to create a situation where he was able to sow seeds of distrust between the different regions, while he enjoyed the trust of all, or at least, maintained the level power that allowed him to control the regions. The distrust and even hostilities emerged between regions, ethnic groups, religious groups etc, and the only beneficiary has been Meles.

  2. The Ethiopian population of Tigray: Immediately he took power as a leader of a liberation movement, it was inevitable that the ethnic Tigreans would be viewed with suspicion by the other ethnic communities. Meles exploited this, he instituted differential regional development favoring Tigray region; he placed the administrative leadership in the hands of ethnic Tigreans; and preferencially treated Tigrean businesses thereby generating envy and resentment among other ethnic groups, while increasing the sense of insecurity among ordinary Tigreans, even those who had nothing to do with his administration. This way he maintained his power base.

  3. Opposition politicians: He has created dummy opposition parties all over the regions; they have representation in the parliament! They go through the “opposition” motions which give the appearance that free and unfettered debates by peoples’ representatives are going on in parliament, mainly for the consumption of the outside world! These so-called opposition parties – genuine and fake alike - have absolutely no influence on the national agenda! True opposition has no space in Ethiopia. If you want to see true opposition fighting for true freedom in Ethiopia, you will find them in jails or in exile!

  4. The Military: Most top positions in the military are in the hands of his loyal supporters, mostly from his brand of Tigreans. But no doubt he has a mechanism in place to ensure that no mutiny can take place against his rule.

  5. Famine: He uses famine to make a case of support from donors abroad, but uses the relief food to win political support of the vulnerable people.

  6. Somalia: He invaded Somalia to eliminate fundamentalists. That was an exercise which served several purposes, not least: diverting international attention from political crisis at home; financial and military support from George Bush; and of course showing off his muscle to the fundamentalists in Somalia. Uncountable loss of innocent lives – both Ethiopian and Somali – and displacement of thousands later, his biggest achievement was a more vicious terrorist movement called the Al-Shabab! Guess what, he seems to have already won Obama’s support as an ally in the war to stop the Al-Shabab in its tracks!

  7. Eritrea: He helped create independent Eritrea, and rendered Ethiopia landlocked. No leader interested in the survival of his nation would do that! Well, maybe he could not stop Issayas Afewerki at the time. But in the war of 1998-2000, the Ethiopian army could have gone all the way to Asmara and taken the country! At least, having experienced the hardship of being land-locked, and given that Eritrea would do anything to exploit that status, Meles could have retained a corridor to the sea at Assab and would have won the international support, but he made no effort in that regard and about 100,000 young people lost their lives for nothing. No true leader of a nation would do that to his country!

  8. Sudan: The leader of Sudan in wanted by the International Court of Justice for genocide in Dafur, but he is probably the closest foreign ally to Meles! A disputed region between Ethiopia and Sudan was ceded to Sudan without consultation with the people of Ethiopia. The people on the land were evicted and their homes burned down. Why would a man who wants to be accepted as a true leader of Ethiopia want to be such a close friend of an international war criminal, and why go the extent of giving a sovereign Ethiopian territory to a historically hostile nation? The answer lies in the fact that, if the going gets tough in Ethiopia and he has to retract to Tigray, Sudan is the only exit point for him!

  9. Egypt: The hostilities between Ethiopia and Egypt are legendary, based on the disagreement on the quota of Nile water use! Just last month, again behind the backs of Ethiopians, and the backs of the other Nile Basin signatories, Meles apparently signed mutual agreement with Sudan and Egypt on the use of Nile water, and even went further and gave thousands of acres of Ethiopian land for development by an Egyptian company! The calculation here is likely to be similar to that of Sudan.

  10. The international community: Having helped create instability in the Horn of Africa by mutilating Ethiopia; creating fostering terrorist breeding ground in Somalia; destroying any hope of democratic rule in Ethiopia while pretending to do just the opposite; and implementing agricultural policies which perpetuates famine and poverty in Ethiopia; he seems to have find a formula that he uses to build trust, especially with the West. Given the situation in the in the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa, one can understand why stability is so important in Ethiopia. But this argument can be used convincingly against Meles – The Destabilier-in-Chief of the Horn of Africa.

One can go on, and on, and on! As one goes through the list of the atrocities Meles has committed, one sees that he is very consistent – he will protect himself and those who are associated with him, by whatever means at his disposal! However, it is important that he is seen to be using democratic means to stay in power. That Ethiopia’s his Western friends (some of whom are already predicting his victory) will continue his friendship indefinitely, but if need be he will use massacre to stay in power, as he has done before! The question is – why does he have to do this? The answer is simple – if he loses power, he will have NOWHERE TO GO and those who are supporting him today likewise will be finished, and they may be in mortal danger. Thus, they have one choice and that is to stick to power with all they have!

So, while it is understandable that many of his frustrated opponents would try negotiations to make the next elections “democratic”, it is important that they understand the BOTTOM LINE for Meles – HE HAS TO SURVIVE! It is also important that they understand, as does Meles, that by participating in the “2010 elections”, they are throwing him a lifeline when he is in a rather serious predicament. It is conceivable that with his back against the wall, Meles may even cut a deal with his current and most agreeable opponents, and may even agree to share power with them! In that scenario the message to the rest of the population will be that Meles was weaker than they thought, and that those who cut deal with him were traitors! The anger will be mostly against the guys who sold them out, and even in that situation it will be Meles who will have the last laugh!

To find a lasting and meaningful solution to Ethiopia’s problem it is of utmost importance for all, especially the oppositions and civil society organizations to come together and chart the way forward! I don’t think Ethiopia withstand another upheaval, and be able to survive as one nation!

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The writer can be reached at gurmesa51@yahoo.com


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