By Seble Teweldebirhan
Addis Ababa, April 2, 2013 (Ezega.com) - This week, the widow of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Azeb Mesfin, made headlines for suggesting that her husband was ‘poor’ and lived with a meagre salary of 4000 birr (250$) per month. Azeb said that her late husband gave his entire life to his country and fought poverty with courage while remaining selfless.
For the delegates of the ninth convention of the ruling party EPRDF held in Bahir Dar, Azeb Mesfin, who is also a member of the political bureau of the TPLF and the executive committe of the EPRDF, complained about some points she believed missed from the eulogy of Meles Zenawi that was prepared by the party. The tribute eulogy was first presented to the congress of the TPLF held in Mekelle last month before it made through the 1000 delegates of all member parties of EPRDF this week.
‘Meles came to this world with nothing but ideas and he contributed these ideas to his fellow humans. His salary after tax and other contributions to his party was around 4000 birr. He lived by that and for that we are proud of him,’’ she spoke emotionally. ‘‘He never considered his family and what will happen to them in the future. He was an honest man who committed himself to his work,’’ she added.
Azeb went on saying that Meles didn’t even have a bank account. ‘‘He did not have an ID card or a driving licence,’’ she said. ‘‘He carried a great idea on how to construct this nation and that is what he lived for,’’ she strongly stated. Azeb also argued that the eulogy is incomplete since it missed Meles’s role as a founder and editor of the ruling party voice magazine ‘Addis Ra’ye’, his bravery not to compromise the national interest during Ethio-Eritrea war and his contribution in originating the idea of forming a training facility for the rank and file, now directed by Adisu Legesse, and the manual he developed. All of these ought to have been forcefully underlines, she said.
Howeve, her remarks on his financial situation and salary grabbed the attention of many in the news media and remained the most controversial matter of the week on social media like Facebook. In fact, her representation of the late PM (whose life was as glamorous as it gets for the outside observer), as a poor man who received a small wage forced many to react strongly. Her assertion that Meles did not even have an ID or a driver's licence, which sounded like it was meant to clear Meles from any corruption rumours, was strongly challenged.
Some suggested that if Meles was really paid as low as that, it is the country and the people who should be embarrassed. What kind of nation pays such a small wage to its own prime minister was a question many posted on their social media outlets? The post of a PM is the top job in the nation and the toughest for millions of reasons. Therefore, there is no doubt that it deserves a top pay the country can afford. From the outset, social media regulars agreed that Ethiopia affords a lot more than 4000 birr (250$) for its own prime minister.
In addition, Facebookers have been and still are fiercely arguing about whether the speech by Azeb Mesfen was appropriate or not. While a few have pitied for her for the loss and her situation, others, the majority, have challenged her approach to bring Meles’s personal and financial situation after he is already dead.
The triggering point, for many was her mentioning of ‘4000 birr salary’. In a country where this amount does not really comfort a single person with no other responsibilities to survive the day, her assurance that Meles only lived and supported his family by that money forced many to comment LOL and OMG.
On the one hand, social media regulars found it obvious that Meles was never really challenged financially. His basic needs, including the needs of his families has been taken care of at the expense of the nation. His children were able to attend at some of the best schools in Ethiopia and at prestigious universities abroad, and his wife, after his death, was given a full benefit included house of her choice in the country. It’s also relevant to mention her top post at the TPLF-owned Endowment Fund for Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT), a collection of many industries in the country, known as the gold mine of the ruling party with multi-billion dollars capital.
Meles never needed an ID and a driving licence, suggested social media regulars, since the country paid for professional drivers ready to serve him seven days a week. For a man whose face says a lot more than an ID and who travels all over the world with a diplomatic passport and latest aircrafts, many were unable to see the importance of him having an ID. Some commented that if he wanted an ID or a driving licence, for the man who was in a position to do whatever he wished, it was a matter of minutes to get it on a silver platter. Therefore, the conclusion was that her comments were inept and senseless. To many people, her words, rather than generating sympathy, disclosed the excess that is on full display with many inside the ruling party.
Facebookers were also unhappy that every politician in the country is trapped on Meles Zenawi. Some Facebook radicals wrote that they feel sorry for Meles not because he had financial problems but because he is used in many wrong ways by everyone around him. ‘’They are using his words and vision to prolong their time on power. For those who have no plan, intellect or idea of their own, he has become a foolproof path to claim power because ‘they are committed to his vision’ - and hence the rush to exceed others. His wife should have challenged this attitude and tell them to leave her husband alone and figure their way out on their own. She should have said ‘he did his best. What are you doing?’‘. This comment, in several ways, was shared by many.
In addition, many were uncomfortable with the notion that ‘Meles was a selfless saint’. Some made fun of this by suggesting the registration of Meles as the 45th saint of the country (considering the Ethiopian Orthodox Church already recognizes 44 saints). ‘We should establish a church to officially worship him’, others suggested sarcastically.
Outside the social Media, her speech grabbed attention among those who are curious where EPRDF is headed in the post Meles era. ‘’I think she is right’’ said Amanuel who watched her speech on ETV. ‘’Meles was a selfless man and it’s about time to recognize that. Those who wrote his memoir should have given emphasis for this aspect of his life. If they failed to do that, Azeb should be the one to highlight this fact since his legacy is also hers’’ he said.
Others found her plea unnecessary, and they felt at some level it might undermine her position as a trustworthy politician. ‘’She has a legacy of her own to protect. There are rumours that she is a candidate to be a mayor of Addis Ababa’’ Asrat commented. ‘’She is also running in the coming election for the Addis Ababa city administration. She should be focusing on her own ideas for her future political career instead of appearing like a housewife who couldn’t manage to get the attention of her husband because he was a workaholic,’’ she said.
All in all, Azeb’s speech to the delegates of the EPRDF remained the top topic in social media and Café controversy this week.
Seble Teweldebirhan is Addis Ababa based Columinst for Ezega.com. She can be reached by sending email through this form.