on the veranda of their favorite bar where they usually meet to have a few beers and chat for a few of hours. For the two close friends, this bar, which is located near Haya Hulet near St. Gabriel Hospital, is like their second home where they are served cold draft beer especially for the last couple of years. In most cases, Endale does not waste time to rush to the bar immediately. Fitsum also closes his woodwork shop and heads to the bar.
For Endale, the usual topic is obviously sharing his experience and how he spent his day working at one of the Chinese-owned construction companies situated on the outskirts of the city. The first issue he usually talks about is either his Chinese immediate boss or about a customer whom he met with when the latter came to purchase gravel stones and bricks. Meanwhile, Fitsum begins the usual chatting about how many pieces of furniture were ordered and the rising prices of timber and raw materials.
Both look naturally enthusiastic to talk about one’s own business rather than listening to the other’s.
Despite the cold rainy season, the momentum of noisy chatting is getting hotter and hotter after each sip. More and more empty beer mugs crowd the table. At the same time, the point of discussion expands. More heated discussions and more ‘expert’s’ opinion flow with no restriction. After all, it is a bar, everyone is an ‘elite’ and all are wise, knowledgeable, heroes and so on.
Amid the noisier discussion and disagreement and conflicting philosophical views and attitude, Endale and Fitsum have one topic they can agree on – the cost of living. Both complain about the sky-rocketing price of goods and inflation. However, whatever complaining they always churn out, it never deters their leg from rushing to their favorite bar and have a few beers.
Meanwhile, a young boy carrying newspapers and magazines stood on the veranda hoping to sell them. Without stopping his talking, Endale summoned the boy and grabbed a sports newspaper. Fitsum politely asked the boy to look at one of the magazines. Fitsum took time as he slowly scanned the main headlines and picture on the cover page of the magazine. But Endale had no patience to go through the content of the newspaper and returned it back to the boy.
“What are the papers saying? Are there any developments regarding Meles Zenawi’s health?” Endale asked and changed the topic of discussion. Actually, Prime Minister Meles’s health has nothing to do with the paper he tried to see since it was a sports newspaper.
Fitsum returned the fashion and art-related magazine to the paperboy and tried to answer his friend’s question.
“I heard someone say that he died a week ago,” Fitsum responded. But Endale did not accept Fitsum’s information and showed him a disapproving from. “No no no… that is a baseless lie. He is recovering and is on vacation.”
Fitsum immediately brought another point. “What if he is here in the country enjoying his sick leave. But a friend of mine recently told me that the PM is hopeless and I don’t think that we can see him again on duty.”
Both kept on explaining their own assumptions and information citing unnamed and unknown sources.
Sipping beer after beer, more analysis and prediction about the possible scenarios of post-Meles Ethiopia and wider and shapeless points kept on flowing. The argument changed its mood and around midnight the two almost fought each other.
It has been over a month since the health issue and disappearance of Meles from the political scene been one of the major points of discussion. Meles’s name has recently become one of top searches on Google and one of the most discussed topics on social media, including Facebook and Twitter.
Still the government has held the position that the PM is in good health and is recovering fast after having medical treatment from an undisclosed hospital.
According to the head of Government Communication Affairs Office, Bereket Simon, PM Meles was supposed to be on duty at least as of late this week. However, the actual truth of the PM remains mysterious. As a result, this has opened doors for speculations, rumors and confusion.
The existing trend of hiding information with regard to the whereabouts of the PM is said to have already created divided societies with contradicting ideology and assumptions. For others it has already created asense of confusion and fearing.
Though illness is a common and natural phenomenon for any human being, the case may take gross effects and wild incidence and different attention when it comes to public figures and leaders.
It cannot be also considered as merely an individual’s case, many argue. As leaders represent their people, the people have the right to know and be informed about the leader.
In the absence of clear and transparent information with regard to the PM’s health condition, confusion and speculation is growing fast.
The Ethiopian culture of secrecy
Last year, most western media and pundits were once busy seeking any possibly new facts and information about the death of North Korea’s communist leader, Kim Jong Il. But it was not an easy task to uncover anything from this country as its door is sealed and opaque.
Nothing was available for media consumption about who Kim Jong Un is. He emerged as the world’s youngest head of government Hence North Korea is considered by the West as “The most secretive country on the planet.”
Referring the historical background and the cultural make-up of the Ethiopian public, one can argue that the nature of the people is so concealed. This argument might be sound or unsound depending on an individual’s outlook and belief.
Menelik II, Lij Iyasu and Haileselassie
Emperor Menelik II is still regarded as one of the most prominent and visionary leaders of Ethiopia and Africa. Many argue that Ethiopia was transformed under Menelik. The major signposts of modernization were put in place. Externally, his victory over the Italians had earned him great fame. Many also consider him as an African icon and one of the most powerful black people in history.
Ironically, the cause of his death was not known for at least seven years at that time. Despite various suggestions, there is no still clear and sound fact that shows whether he was killed by someone else or he died of natural causes.
Similarly after Lij Eyasu, Menelik’s successor, was arrested by the then Ras Teferi Mekonnen (Emperior Haile-Selassie), the matter was kept secret. The circumstance of his death is also a complete mystery.
The date and cause of death were never made public and his place of burial has never been revealed. Rumors and legends abound, but none are backed by firm evidence. It is said that just weeks before the announcement of his death, Italian planes had dropped leaflets over Desse and Addis Ababa stating that Italy was there to remove the usurper from the throne and restore the rightful monarch Iyasu V to the throne of Solomon. Could this have hastened the death of Lij Iyasu? It may very well have don.
Again, when Emperor Haileselassie was overthrown during the 1974 popular revolution, the fate of his Majesty was mysterious until the military junta announced it. Even after Derg confessed that Haile-Selassie had passed away, it was not publically revealed.
There was no public knowledge as to where exactly the longest serving king was buried.
Currently, the existing Ethiopian leaders are the former President and military junta leader, Mengistu Hailemariam, who is now in the exile in Harare under the protection and shelter of Robert Mugabe, and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who is still in power but is facing health problems.
Nowadays, the biggest agenda among the public is how fast the missing in action Meles is recovering and whether Meles can be seen back to his office after his prescribed sick leave or whether there is any chance of possible power transition. In fact, there can be no better source other than the Government Communication office headed by Bereket Simon for those sort of things.
That was why Bereket called a press conference when he told local and international media that Meles has taken a sick leave and would be back on duty in a short period of time. Apparently, his statement did not seem to fully convince the public.
As an alternative, there are also several traditions and sayings that may support the ideas and arguments of how closed and nontransparent Ethiopians are. To show one example, Ye wof wondu, ye sew hodu ayitawokm, which is roughly translated as neither the sex of a male bird nor a human’s heart is known. Another one is Muya be lib new, which is roughly translated as wisdom is inside ones heart.
When Bereket was asked for the reason behind his office and the ruling party’s silence regarding the PM his response was just “We did not want to rush and make the issue a public relation tool and it is the culture of our party to keep secrets.
But it is not simple to determine how much Bereket or the party considers the culture of being secretive is worth important as far as transparency and accountability to fellow people is concerned.
Now there are two pictures regarding Meles’s status among the public which happen to be very opposite and contradicting. Social media are drumming the news of death and on the flip side social and other mainstream media heralding the PM speedy recovery.
One side anticipates the news of his death and eager to see the post- Meles era. The opposite category forecasts Meles would maintain his health but may not continue in power.
At present, rumors are out pacing facts. So, observers suggest that breaking the silence is the only remedy for the mounting confusion and illusion. Had it been done earlier, Endale and Fitsum either would have more beers on their veranda or they would have not ended up quarreling with one another.