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Meles Zenawi

Leaders in Africa disappointed me- Jan Pronk

Jan Pronk(Photo Petterik Wiggers)

The time has come for Johannes Pieter Pronk’s memoirs. After surviving a major heart attack last year, the former Dutch development minister, born in 1940, feels as if every new day is a bonus for him. At his home in The Hague he whips through reports of his many diplomatic encounters and does that with with the same strict discipline as he showed as minister. Some of these meetings took place in presidential palaces but many were with guerrilla fighters along the Nile or desperate Rwandans deep in the Congolese jungle. His first volume is called “Battle of the Great Lakes”, and it focusses on the crises in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo during the nineties.

Pronk was always helpful towards journalists during his working visits. I often travelled with him, but one never really got to know him. Pronk always came across as an intellectual, not an emotional person. The latter only very occasionally, very briefly. We were once flying to Northern Kenya when suddenly the windows were covered with thick black slurry. The pilot warned us he might have to crash-land. After a successful emergency landing, unloading ourselves while peeing side by side on the runway, I heard some emotion in Pronk’s voice. “Life is certainly worth living,” he sighed. But a few minutes later, when the pilot had screwed the cap on the oil tank, he sounded distant again: “Luckily I’m am still in time for the parliamentary debate tomorrow.”

Jan Pronk(Photo Petterik Wiggers)

Read further:

-How Kofi Annan let Pronk down

-How Pronk in vain asked Kagame not to hurt a dissident minister

-How Meles Zenawi wanted to do his masters with Pronk on the subject of human rights 

All pictures of Jan Pronk and Kofi Annan by Petterik Wiggers  {read more…}

Mourning for Meles Zenawi – photos by Petterik Wiggers

Click on the image to view Petterik’s gallery

Also see the articles on Meles by Richard Dowden and one by Koert Lindijer here on The Africanists

Liberator with a tyrannical tendency


Guerrilla fighter Meles Zenawi in 1990 in Tigray. Photo Koert Lindijer

Guerrilla fighter Meles Zenawi in 1990 in Tigray. Photo Koert Lindijer

Meles Zenawi was, as the Ethiopian culture prescribes, distant and polite. But after an interview he also could talk straightforwardly. “I am a communist and have no reason to hide it,” the guerrilla fighter said in 1990 in a Tigrayan village at the time of the collapse of the Communist empire. Later as Prime Minister in the capital, Addis Ababa, after a conversation of three hours, he put his feet on the table and said: “I just had the French ambassador for a visit. What an asshole that guy was. These Western envoys think they can impose anything on me. Do you have a cigarette? ”

Meles was not the leader to break the traditional authoritarian power system in Ethiopia. Under the feudal regime of Emperor Haile Selassie (1930-1974) Ethiopians could not think for themselves. Under his successor, the ruthless military Marxist Mengistu (1977-1991), no one ventured to express his own opinion. Under Meles Zenawi it was also better not to deviate too much from the ideas of the ruling party. Rulers in Ethiopia tend to rule like gods. {read more…}

How Meles rules Ethiopia

Meles Zenawi © Petterik Wiggers

Meles Zenawi is the cleverest and most engaging Prime Minister in Africa – at least when he talks to visiting outsiders. When he speaks to his fellow Ethiopians, he is severe and dogmatic. But he entertains western visitors with humour and irony, deploying a diffident, self-deprecating style which cleverly conceals an absolute determination to control his country and its destiny, free of outside interference.

He was one of four African presidents to be invited to the Camp David G8 meeting last weekend. The aid donors love Meles. He is well-informed, highly numerate and focused. And he delivers. Ethiopia will get closer to the Millennium Development Goals than most African countries. The Ethiopian state has existed for centuries and it has a bureaucracy to run it. So the aid flows like a river, nearly $4 billion a year. And Meles is the United States’ policeman in the region with troops in Somalia and Sudan. He also enjoys a simmering enmity with his former ally, now the bad boy of the region, President Isias Afwerke of Eritrea. “It’s Mubarak syndrome,” a worried US diplomat told me. “We only talked to Mubarak about Egypt’s role in the region, never about what was happening inside Egypt. It’s the same with Ethiopia.” {read more…}