Dutch Ethiopians: ‘Ethiopia is at crossroads’
Many Ethiopians living in the Netherlands share the same ambiguous feelings about the recent death of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zelawi. They are sad that a fellow human being has passed away, but at the same time they think it’s a blessing for the country.
“I was very shocked to hear that he died,” says Mesfun Hagas, owner of an Ethiopian restaurant in Amsterdam. “I did not expect it. According to the information I had, he was not as ill as everyone said he was.” Hagas believes that Zenawi pushed the country in the right direction. “Now we have more than thirty universities. We used to have only one. Health care has improved. There are highways, and, most importantly, under his rule the economy of Ethiopia has grown.”
Shrouded in mystery
Zenawi’s death on Monday is still shrouded in mystery. Rumours circulated for months about the health of the strongman, who took power in 1991 from Mengistu Haile Mariam’s military junta. Those rumours became stronger when he didn’t attend the African Union Assembly last July. According to some sources, Zenawi had a brain tumor; others say he suffered from throat cancer.
According to Ethiopian state television, Meles died on Monday the 20th of August. “But we know that he already passed away a few days ago”, says journalist Fasil Yenealim, Fasil works for Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT) and lives in the Netherlands. “According to our sources Zenawi died a few days ago as the result of an infection, but he had been ill for quite some time.”
Yenealim and Hagas are two of the very few Dutch Ethiopians who were willing to state their name when Radio Netherlands Worldwide talked with them. As Ethiopia has become increasingly repressive over the years, many Ethiopians living in the Netherlands became afraid to openly express their views. Even when they have been living in the diaspora for decades, they still fear the regime’s reprisals against their relatives back home.
In Ethiopia many people are still in shock about the news. Amsterdam restaurant owner Mesfun Hagas, who is in constant contact with his relatives back home, says that the people feel that they’re in limbo. “Some are afraid of what will happen. They have withdrawn their money from the bank because they fear a new civil war.”
Sit down and talk
Political commentator say that Ethiopia is at a turning point. According to journalist Fasil Yeanalim, the future for Ethiopia is indeed very uncertain. “Ethnically, in the past 20 years, the country has become more divided. Economically, contrary to what many people think, the country is very poor. Politics is very polarised, so I think that we, as Ethiopians, have to sit down and talk about the future of Ethiopia.”