Saturday, November 20, 2010 @ 08:11 AM ed
By Abebe Gellaw
Meles Zenawi’s game of succession is getting more and more bizarre. He preached about the urgency of giving the mantle of power to the “younger generation” and the accomplished Machiavellian removed almost all the veterans and promoted his own wife as second in command in the TPLF oligarchy. Zenawi has not stopped there. He has been deploying his tired horses in many odd places. Once revered the original founders of the tribal movement, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, Sibehat Nega, Abay Tsehaye, Seyoum Mesfin and the other long serving puppets are now amongst those who have faced the ultimate humiliation of being tossed out of the corridors of power.
According to Zenawi’s trumpet, Walta Information Center, the dictator has “appointed” (though the correct word is demoted) his long-time servant Abay Tsehaye as “minister” of a fictional ministry called Sugar Corporation. As of the beginning of November, Abay’s long official job title has been Director General of Sugar Corporation with the Rank of Minister. To be more respectful to his Excellency, we should rather address him as Honorable Minister of Sugar and Salt. It appears that this one more inclusive as TPLF is already a monopolistic merchant of both commodities.
Abay’s trouble with Meles began during the 2001 botched rebellion within the TPLF leadership. During the power struggle within the TPLF central committee, which was mainly triggered by Zenawi’s dubious leadership of the war with Eritrea and the ensuing Algiers peace agreement, which the dissenters described as treasonous, there were 12 bigwigs that were out to remove Zenawi from power. The ring leader, the then Defence Minister Siye Abraha, and Tigray head of regional affairs, Bitaw Belay, were arrested and faced corruption charges. Former Tigray State President Gebru Asrat and the TPLF deputy chairman, Tewolde Wolde Mariam were sacked. Abay Tsehaye, Hasen Shifa, Awelom Woldu, Alemseged Gebreamlak, Aregash Adane, Solomon Tesfay, Gebremeskel Hailu and Abraha Kahsay were summery dismissed from their party and government positions.
As it became clear that the dissenters lost the power struggle, Abay Tsehaye and Hassen Shiffa, swiftly rushed back to Zenawi and knelt down before him. They were forced to publicly express their deep remorse and admit their transgressions.
The political somersault Abay and Hassen performed at least saved them from being sent to jail or completely losing their power and privileges, unlike the other dissenters. In fact, as one of the richest TPLF oligarchs who have allegedly stashed millions of dollars under their matters and offshore accounts, Abay and a few others were also very likely to face corruption charges given the fact that Zenawi has a “corruption file” on every official that goes off track. There may still be an omen, a kind of a coded message, when Zenawi appointed Abay as minister of sugar. The announcement was made in the shortest press release the Office of the Prime Minister has ever issued. It was only 28 words long as published by the Ethiopian News Agency.
When Tamirat Layne fell from the pinnacle of power, the dictator frogmarched him to his puppet parliament and scolded poor Tamrat like a child for licking sugar without his permission. What was even worse was the fact that the whole drama was transmitted to the nation on live TV. Despite the fact that the dictator and his wife are now fully in charge of the major sources of sweet sugar and cream, Zenawi has been ruthlessly punishing those who have broken his rules. The majority of those facing the corruption charges are now junior officials.
When Abay tried to seek Zenawi’s embrace after their fallout, it was quite obvious that he would no longer be one of the dictator’s trusted confidants. If fact, the new position may not be too bad for Abay as the sugar industry is rife with corruption, kickbacks and rent-seeking. If Abay will be able to turn his misfortune to his own advantage, is yet to remain to be seen.
The concentration of power in the hands of Meles and his wife is quite sweeping, consolidated further with the appointment of yes-men and sycophants as senior government officials. Dictators are usually good at perfecting what is called negative selection, so is Zenawi. Princeton Professor Stephen Kontain describes negative selection in dictatorships as “a kind of anti-meritocracy. If you’re dumb and incompetent you have a better chance of getting promoted because you won’t be smart enough to take away the job of your boss.”
If anyone takes a closer look at Zenawi’s “new cabinet” the lack of merit is loud and conspicuous. The majority of the new ministers are not only inexperienced and undereducated dummies but also known for their naked opportunism more than anything else. Take, for instance, the man appointed foreign minister, Hailemariam Desalegn. Before he joined TPLF’s Southern Ethiopia branch, only to end up Zenawi’s lackey, he was a teacher at Arab Minch Water Technology Institute (renamed Arab Minch University).
Hailemariam has neither the background nor experience of the complex world of foreign policy, international relations and the art of diplomacy. As a matter of fact, that is the very reason why Zenawi put a label of foreign minister on the novice. Moreover, he is also deputy leader of the ruling party, and leader of the Southern wing of the TPLF. This is a classic case of negative selection, the dumb guy pleasing a smart looking dictator. Interestingly enough, Hailemariam is also deputy prime minister which requires him to work under the direct supervision of Meles. So by extension, it is actually the dictator himself who is the real foreign minister. Hailemariam will only play a role of a messenger parroting whatever his boss says. The absolute concentration of power in the hands of Meles makes the rest of the cabinet nothing but a band of parrots that repeat whatever phrases the dictator utters. Hailemariam has already been well versed in attacking “neo-liberals” despite the fact that he does not seem to know who these evil guys are that are out to tarnish the image of a daredevil tyrant.
The tyrant never stops playing with people. Everyone on his chessboard is a pawn that will be moved around in his strategy games. He is the jockey with too many horses. It is sad that those horses like Sebehat, Abay, Addis Legesse, Tefera Walwa are sidelined as the new horses like Hailemariam will be jockeyed around until they are tossed out unceremoniously.
One must admit, however, that the fate of Abay as the minister of sugar and salt is much better than multimillionaire Sebhat Nega, who is said to be on the verge of drinking himself to death. During the last TPLF central committee meeting held in Mekele, all knives were out against him and those who reportedly “resigned”. Sebhat was reportedly humiliated and reduced to tears as Zenawi’s new buddies in the TPLF took turns to attack him for being “corrupt”. It is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
The despot brutalizing Ethiopia will never stop playing a jockey riding roughshod over the nation. For him, nobody is off target. Ethiopia has now too many “ambassadors” and “ministers”, doing nothing except sucking the blood of the poor people of Ethiopia. Some of them are “advisers”, God knows what they advise an omniscient dictator. There are also these TPLF’s minister d’états, not to mention his ambassadors stationed in embassies across the world.
For now, Abay Tsehaye is the new minister of sugar [and salt], a position which may open the door for more ministers in charge of every known commodity. We should not be taken aback if Zenawi will soon appoint ministers of cement, sand, beer, tej, tela or enjera….The drama will continue!