Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Meles Zenawi: A revolutionary bows out

It finally happened! After months of speculation about his absence fuelling many rumours about his health or death depending which side of the story you listened to, state-owned media in Ethiopia announced the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi Asres early Tuesday morning.

It was made in a terse statement: “Prime Minister Zenawi suddenly passed away last night. Meles was recovering in a hospital overseas for the past two months but died of a sudden infection at 11:40 (on Monday night).” Though it did not divulge much in the way of words, the announcement revealed more in what is between the lines. So, it was true that he was seriously ill and was being treated in a hospital outside Ethiopia. And not on vacation at a location within the country as the government spokesperson had said in response to the rumours around his months-long absence from the public.

Since early July, there had been varying reports whether he was abroad for treatment or somewhere in the country. The government’s attempts to pour cold water on questions about the Prime Minister only seemed to add more fuel to the fire. Eyebrows were raised even higher when he missed an African Union summit that was held in his own backyard, Addis Ababa. The first time he had not attended the event since he came to power in 1991. Perhaps he was following his doctors’ advice “to rest after experiencing exhaustion resulting from long years of service without a break” as Ethiopia’s communications minister Bereket Simon said.

As Ethiopia appears at the crossroads on the direction it will take, Zenawi’s legacy is equally split. While there is a lot of good that will be credited to his leadership, there is also lot of blame that will put on him. Under his leadership, there was impressive economic growth, reduced infant mortality and HIV/AIDS infection rates as well as improved food security according to statistics though the usual challenges that dog developing countries remained.

He may have pushed for national development but severely curtailed democracy and personal freedoms; he brooked no opposition and crushed his opponents. While at the helm, he led his country into a disastrous war with neighbouring Eritrea that still has repercussions, and got sucked into the Somali conflict. Was it out of geopolitical considerations considering Ethiopia’s place in the volatile Horn of Africa region or was it positioning himself within Western interests in the area for self-preservation? It was a bit of both.

Born Legesse Zenawi in May 1955, to an Ethiopian father and a mother from Eritrea, he adopted the Meles as a nom de guerre during the war against Haile Mariam Mengistu’s government. Upon toppling that government, as head of the rebels he became a transitional president from 1991 to 1995. Following a change in the constitution and secession of Eritrea, he became an executive prime minister from 1995 up to this year.

And what a year it is turning out to be, a number of African leaders have died in office including Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi and John Atta Mills of Ghana; and for Meles Zenawi, it is just another one bites the dust.

Monday, 13 August 2012

When the high and mighty commit the unforgivable sin

Just like in Christianity, there is the unforgivable sin, in journalism it is perhaps plagiarism. And when it is an internationally celebrated columnist and television show host from one of the internationally reputable media networks, it is akin to an angel coming down from heaven to dine with the Devil. Fareed Zakaria, who writes a regular commentary in TIME magazine and hosts Fareed Zakaria GPS, a world affairs show on CNN, was suspended after plagiarism was uncovered in an article he wrote on gun control. A paragraph in Zakaria’s article “The Case for Gun Control” was suspiciously similar to an earlier feature by Jill Lepore, a history professor at Harvard University. The similarity was picked up the Mediabusters website and quickly spread across cyberspace forcing Zakaria to apologise for the “lapse” (Apparently, it was not the first time as this note shows). Born in India in 1964, Zakaria is now an American citizen who holds a Bachelor’s degree from Yale College and a PhD from Harvard University, and has received various honours for his work which includes as a best-selling author. Now, all that could come crashing down because of a mere paragraph. Will he ever get past that? For the journalism fraternity in Uganda, it is a point to ponder: How many of our journalists are plagiarising other people’s work?