5 August 2012 [ESAT]
The Ethiopian Prime Minister was last seen on television after he returned from a G20 Summit in Los Cabos, Mexico. That was on June 20 and it makes it a good 45 days ago. Apart from one impromptu press conference and an in-office short statement given by the country’s propaganda chief, the government has largely been mum on the health status of the Prime Minister. The Minister for Office of Government Communication, Bereket Simon, hasn’t been forthcoming. The only information given by Bereket was an admission that the Prime Minister is sick and getting treatment which the government was bluntly denying for a number of weeks until that press conference. After ESAT reported the news of the Prime Minister’s death, citing diplomatic sources and expert leaks from inside of ICG, Bereket once again came to the television screen to deny and dispute the veracity of ESAT’s news. He didn’t give much other than claiming that the Prime Minister is recuperating and is currently enjoying his holiday. He didn’t say when Meles will be back to his work.
ESAT has stood by its news report even after Bereket made the statement categorically denying Meles’ death. As consequential as the death of the Prime Minister could be politically and security wise in Ethiopia and horn of Africa, Ethiopians are confounded by the apparent lack of interest displayed by the international news organizations.
Depending on which media organization one gets its news from the Prime Minister is either dead or currently enjoying his holiday after 21 years of toil. Information is a scarce commodity in Ethiopia. The last remaining newspaper that writes on issues of Ethiopian politics, the weekly Feteh, was forced to shut down two weeks ago technically because it published a cover story about the health status of the Prime Minister. For now, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are filling the void. Ethiopians all around the world scour and share information whenever any news crop up about the Prime Minister. The #WhereIsMeles hash tag has become a popular destination for twitter users. The spectrum of the news on the Prime Minister’s health on social media mirrors what is available on traditional media. Those who have made up their mind that the Prime Minister is not coming back are already writing about the immediate ramification of his departure by death or otherwise. Others speculate about what his legacy would be in the future Ethiopia. Supporters of the Prime Minister seem content with the information coming from the government. Though many are becoming visibly disillusioned still a good number of them believe he is coming back soon. However even for supporters who wish the Prime Minister well it is not clear how soon is ‘soon’?
Speculation is equally ubiquitous as to why the resourceful and well experienced western media organizations are not trying to get to the bottom of the matter. A lot of Ethiopian observers suspect media organizations either already know or are able to know the status of the Prime Minister. Some attribute their silence to a gag by American and European governments. Others say may be Ethiopian issues are not as important for them.
In a rough sample poll done by representatives of ESAT in regional Ethiopia two weeks ago 51% of Ethiopians believe the Prime Minister is dead and the balance seem to agree with the narrative that he is seriously ill and may be even incapacitated to the extent that he may not be coming back again. After ESAT broke the news of the Prime Minister’s death this week, the number of Ethiopians who believe that the Prime Minister is dead has spiked considerably. The fact that even after 45 days the Prime Minister is not seen or heard from seem to have given ESAT’s report a credence.
Our reporter in Addis Ababa said ESAT’s bold challenge to the government’s propaganda minister, Bereket Simon, to come up with a video or audio evidence to refute ESAT’s report has engendered confidence among many followers of ESAT’s news while supporters of the regime are disillusioned with the slew of speculations from pro-government papers; and far and wide and oftentimes bland denials coming from Bereket Simon.
Saturday’s weekly Addis Admas reported that the Prime Minister is back in Ethiopia as of last week. Addis Admass cited a higher official in the government for the news. It even went on to allege that the Prime Minister was slated to have a brief media appearance to calm the growingly nervous Ethiopians which later had to be called off due to a sudden bout in the Prime Minister’s health.
The paper claimed currently the Prime Minister is visited only by four of his close confidantes in its cover story news. If the news by Addis Admass is to go by, Meles is making decisions and passing orders from his bed in the national palace while he is being cared for by two Ethiopian born doctors.
Addis Admas’s news contradicts the cover story published by the pro-government weekly Addis Fortune three weeks ago which made a bold declaration that the Prime Minister is back in Addis Ababa; and that of Bereket’s official statement that claimed the Prime Minister is on holiday somewhere in the world.
Only a week ago, the ruling party owned radio station, Radio Fana, fielded a topic for the public to discuss on about a possible replacement of the Prime Minister on its talk back program. Many have taken this rather uncommon and not so ordinary topic of power transfer as a harbinger of what is to come soon.
Ethiopians are wallowing in a bevy of speculations coming from all sides and often times contradicting. For now it seems like Ethiopians are condemned to stay in limbo about the fate of their highly polarizing Prime Minister. That of course is only until the government is forced to be forthcoming or western media organizations with resources and knowhow find out where indeed Meles Zenawi is.