Meles Zenawi: A Philosopher King or Machiavellian Prince? Essay

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Meles Zenawi: A Philosopher King or Machiavellian Prince? By Asrat Abraham The late prime minister of Ethiopia Meles Zenawi and his leadership was a hot issue for the past 22 year at home in Ethiopia and abroad. He was an extraordinary and mysterious person to many. For this reason, people said it is difficult to understand him, his character and leadership. For instance, Tadale Lemma described him as a controversial figure with mixed legacy: “For the average bystander trying to understand just what sort of a leader Ethiopia’s late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was mystifying.

He was loved by many but at the same time dreaded; feared but at same time respected’ idolized but at the same time loathed; a warmonger but at the same time a peace maker. He hated neo liberalism but he was a darling of neoliberal west; he presided over a country with the most draconian civil society laws, but he left behind a county that is one of the largest donor’s money recipients. He was everything many would wish to be and nothing many would like remotely looks alike. The tricky thing in all these is for a towering figure he was in any event- in or outside of the county- one can hardly manage to be a bystander when it comes to him.

At home, he was unavoidable; a one man warrior who preside over and made rules and decisions with all their consequences for more than 80 million people. Abroad, he was a person who stood not only for his country but for the whole continent ‘not only due to the size of his country but the size of his ideas,’ as President Jacob Zuma of South Africa spoke at his state funeral ceremony. ” This controversial personality of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi attracted many political commentators and journalists to writer and comment on his leadership and personal behaviors.And even some others try to analysis him philosophically and compared with the model leaders who suggested by the most known philosophers; like Plato, Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes. for instances, Ezana Sehay (Meles: the philosophic king) portrait him as “the philosophic king who is the indispensable leader, the genus politician, smart economist, an inspiring leader and a teacher. ” It is look like for Ezana, prime minister Meles Zenawi is not only the philosopher king, he is also an armed prophet like Moses, who saved his people from slavery and build a democratic and prospered nation by his own philosophy.

Addis Ray (New Vision) the political organ of EPRDF also compared the late prime minister meles Zenawi to well known political philosophers like Hegel, Karl Marx and Engels. The organ of the party stated that as Hegel and Karl Marx for Germany, so is Meles for Ethiopia. According the Addis Ray he was everything: a political philosopher, a visionary leader, a great leader, a prophet, etc; only one word is left not said to admire him: it did not said he was God. Really it seems for the party he was more than a philosopher king.But the new ruler of EPRDF may not happy with the world “king” as most of them were extreme communist at young age.

So, they prefer to use the phrases “visionary leader” or “the great leader”, when they want to express their former beloved leader. In fact, in the profiles and ranks of the EPRDF leadership, he was “the one-eyed king among the blinds” as Desiderius Erasmus said. Adekeye Adebajo (Meles Zenawi: Ethiopia’s pragmatic philosopher-king or cruel despot? ) also describe the mixed legacy of prime minister Meles Zenawi, as ‘the cerebral ruler of Ethiopia for the last 21 years, is a man with many reputations.Celebrated by donors as a visionary philosopher-king who has brought development to his impoverished country of 75 million people, his domestic critics have condemned him as an iron-fisted dictator. ” The idea of philosophic king was first coined by Plato as Socrates’ vision in his Republic.

For Plato best leader is a person who has the knowledge and the virtue of philosophy. According to Plato this king should has a characteristic of a philosopher as he described famously in his much known book the Republic: “To say that a philosopher’s heart is that intend pon wisdom means that he seek to understand things clearly, and completely, attaining to a full consciousness of what is of the whole truth; about himself, about the world, and about the all. ” Therefore, Philosophers should be kings to cultivate the moral and intellectual lives of citizens. Then the polity is the perfect city-state because it governs for the good of the people.

This is the main reason behind what the apostles of EPDRF want to portrait the late prime minister as the philosophic king.But for me there is one great difficult thing to consider Prime Minister Meles Zenawi as platonic philosopher king. As Plato said the philosopher king “must think of the land he dwell in as a mother and nurse whom he must take thought for and defend against any attack and of his fellow citizens as brother born of the same soil. ” On the matters his political decisions, Prime minster Meles Zenawi was favored the stability and continuity of his power than territorial sovereignty of the country.

In this regard, he is the last to none among all the former Ethiopian leaders.All great Ethiopian leaders believed the Red Sea is a natural frontier of Ethiopia; contrary to this belief and truth, Meles brought Shabia to power and allowed the secession of Eritrea and gives away the land with all its Ports without any precondition. In the entire of his life, Meles was an advocator of the Eritrean cause. Besides to this, even after the secession of Eritrea, he helped the building of the Eritrean army that later bombed and killed our children in Mekele, Ayder school.

Even after this horrifying attack, he failed to act quickly or decisively enough over the crisis with Eritrea.For this reason, he was considered as an Eritrean agent by many. Once upon a time, when he had an interview with an Eritrean Diaspora wave site called Asena. com he clearly stated his stand on the Eritrean sovereignty: “any attempt to incorporate Eritrea in the fold of Ethiopia will not succeed in incorporating Eritrea; it will simply succeed in dismantling Ethiopia, because it will dismantle the fundamental principles on which Ethiopia is formed”.

Similarly, he was very negligible on the border issues with Sudan.According some reports on the Ethio-Sudan border issues, he was agreed also to give some substantial territories to Sudan for the exchange of security form any insurgencies. Therefore, because of all the above reasons, he is not able to qualify to be a platonic philosopher king. Another writer called Berhane Kahsay (In Defence of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi) also portrait Meles as the cleverest and pragmatic African leaders; “who his service to his country is second to none.

…so far, no-one has come near him in terms of his sheer determination to bring about a qualitative change in the standard of living of the Ethiopian people.He has been at it since his early teens, and his desire to take the country to the dizzy heights of economic success is undiminished. ” In some way differently from the above, Muktar M. Omer (Analyzing the Political Philosophy of Meles Zenawi) described Prime Minister Meles Zenawi as Leviathan in 21st century who is “a dwarf God, answerable to none. He has arrogated to himself the twelve principal rights of the Hobbesian sovereign which include prescribing the rules of civil law and property and to be judge in all cases.As the judge of all cases, Meles heard the cases of all sides and passed a verdict: That he is the only person who can lead Ethiopia to development.

The indispensability syndrome of archetypal despots cannot be missed in this verdict. ” Omer further stated that “Meles has subtly found unshackling terminologies that allow him to practice Marixim-Leninism without suffering the reflexive charge of ‘a communist in the 21st century’ from overbearing global capitalism. He was a communist at young age; he is a closet communist now. He is exhibiting the delusional trait of dictators.He believes that the EPRDF is a democratic party and that today’s Ethiopia is a democratic State.

Gaddafi too did not understand why Libyans were demanding his exit, comically claiming that he could not resign because he was neither a president nor a king. He was merely ‘a brother leader’. With deceptive developmentalist State philosophy and delusional democracy, Meles wwas prepared to rule Ethiopia by force for the foreseeable future. Meles has put contingencies in place in case Western aid, which is key to the survival of his regime, is cut because of his rejection of genuine electoral democracy and respect for human rights.

Finally, Omar concluded his analysis with some qualifications that try to fair on his comments about Meles: “Let me therefore confess that I agree with some of Meles’s political philosophies, but distrust his motives. I like Meles’s anti-western interventionist stance even though I understand it emanates from a deep desire of perpetuating tyranny at home, without the bother of a foreign censure. ” Similarly, the Economist magazine also described him as “the man who tried to make dictatorship acceptable. ” Truly speaking, Prime Minister Meles was an acceptable dictator for the west and as well as for the east.

On the other opposite side, three Ethiopian writers portrait prime minister Meles Zenawi as something like the prince of Machiavelli on their articles: A. Mulat (Meles charting the path of the TPLF to Eritreazation), Girma Kebede (From Machiavelli to Meles Zenawi the Prince of Addis Ababa) and H. Menelik (Machiavellian principles as applied by Meles Zenawi). The reason of A. mulat to portrait Meles as Machiavellian prince is the following: “No other book on political conspiracy fits with the political maneuver of Meles as “The Prince” of Nicccolo Machiavelli written as an advice to Princes who want to cling to power by might and deception.

For both Machiavelli and Meles the actions taken to achieve a certain goal are justified as long as you achieve the goal. The action, as witnessed in our recent past, includes extra judicial killing, breaching of civil liberties and constitutional laws, arbitrary arrests, etc. , the list can go on; and in Machiavellian or Meles-ian politics (I think they are synonymous), such wicked acts are considered to be just as long as you are eventually the winner. ” Girma Kebede also had created an imaginary letter as it had written by Machiavelli to Meles and this ideal letter begins with following paragraph: I have been observing your unseemly political career with fascination for the past three decades. Your astute political maneuvers have the hallmark of my half millennium old scriptures.

Your capacity to outmaneuver your political peers and hoodwink the unsuspecting public; your rhetorical eloquence and the unsightly perversions of your regime had always captivated my attention. I am very grateful to know that you have been using as a reference manual, The Prince – one of my best writings on preserving and exercising brute power. ”When we continuing reading the fictional passage of Girma Kebede, we will find very fantastic expressions like the following one: “I dealt with ruthless and power-crazed monsters of every epoch. But my fascination with you is indeed unequaled.

Remember the Commission for Africa? That was my Idea. I was the one who convinced Prince Blair to invite you to that short-lived Commission and to the influence-wielding Plutocratic Club – the G8. From a firebrand radical guerrilla fighter with no political credence, I leaped you into the limelight.Now you are a flamboyant aristocrat – a member of the glitterati, the well-heeled filthy-rich. Your track record is somewhat extraordinary. You will go down in history as the first Ethiopian ruler to conquer the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.

You have realized dreams that evaded your equally ambitious predecessors; Menelik, Haile Selassie, and Mengistu Haile Mariam. You will also go down in history as a ruler who unraveled the archaic medieval nation into fragmented and ill-governed, ethnic-based satellite regions.Your archenemies are envious of your impressive feat in vanquishing the irredentist Somalis while keeping Eritrea and the internal opposition at bay. Well, your honeymoon with the West seems over. At this point in time, do not try to play hardball to secure concessions from Washington or London.

You have to look to the East for a new saviour – China. You need to backtrack on promises you made to the West in ensuring transparency, human rights observance, freer and fairer democratic practice, decentralization of governance and economic reform.Unleash your propaganda machine! You need to revamp your political formula for manipulation of quasi-autonomous regional states in Ethiopia which has already served you well for most of your 18 years in office. Your life time acolytes, Addisu Legesse, Abadula Gemeda, Shiferaw Shigute, Abbay Sehai and Bereket Simon are already experts in the fine arts of the EPRDF’s monkey business – the expedient strategies of manipulation, divide and conquest and gerrymandering of regional elections. Remember that the end justifies the means.You have to do everything possible to get “re-elected” for another term of premiership.

” H. Menelik was another writer who believed that prime minister of Ethiopia Meles Zenawi applied Machiavellian principles in his leadership: “In this short article an effort is made to compare Meles Zenaw’s behaviour and actions against Machiavellian principle. I don’t know how historians will judge him, but for me undoubtedly he is the most feared than loved Ethiopian leader. Let’s have a glimpse at some of his behavior and actions.

Writing about the standard behavior a ruler should adopt in the term of his leadership, Machiavelli wrote:” a prince who wishes to maintain his power aught therefore to learn that he should not be always good, and must use that knowledge as circumstances and the exigencies of his own affairs may seem to require. ” Therefore, in this regard, I am not the first person to portrait the late prime minister of Ethiopia Meles Zenawi as the Machiavellian prince. Let me add some example from the Machiavelli book the Prince to show in what extent the leadership of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was identical with the advice of Niccolo Machiavelli.Meles was first becoming the chair of the party and then placed in power by the warlords of TPLF so he find it more difficult to maintain his position because those who surround him will consider themselves his equals and his selection leader arbitrary as Machiavelli point out the difficulties of a new prince who placed in power by the nobles. In fact Meles was not come only by the interests of the TPLF warlords, some dissents leaders of TPLF accused for his crime and wicked activities to rise to the throne through crime and helped by his mentor Sibhat Nega. 1.

Be a friend of the weak rivals and not depend on fortuneMachiavelli argues that the prince should befriend weak rivals but crush strong ones. In addition to this Machiavelli argues that fortune is only the judge of half of our actions and that we have control over the other half with “sweat”, prudence and virtue. Even more unusual, rather than simply suggesting caution as a prudent way to try to avoid the worst of bad luck, Machiavelli holds that the greatest princes in history tend to be ones who take more risks, and rise to power through their own labour, virtue, prudence, and particularly by their ability to adapt to changing circumstances.There were many examples how Meles always the same trick on his rivals and how he was able to keep and control his fortune. For instance, He becomes ally with EPDM to crushed EPRP.

He becomes ally with OPDO to crushed OLF. He becomes friend of Dr. Negassao Gidada temporarily to eradicate the real OLF leader Lencho Letta from the transitional cabinet of the government. He gave his open arms to Lidetu Ayalew and Ayele Chamiso on contrary he sent the leaders of CUD to kality prison in order to weaken the party. 2.

If necessary use of immoral means to achieve your endsThere is a fictional story that when Duchess of Sforza rebelled Cesare Borgia asked Machiavelli what to do. Machiavelli supposedly advised him thus, “My Prince, I advise you to treat with Caterina Sforza under a white flag. Her troops are too strongly encrenellated in the fortress, and it will take months to root the rebels out. For everyday we fight, more of your loyal troops are slaughtered, more of your good citizens have property damaged or destroyed, and the crops go unharvested and children starve. The battle must be ended.

Therefore my advice is this.Treat with Caterina Sforza under a white flag and under the pretense of peace. Then seize her and take her captive. Once she is captive, strip her of her fine garments and place in her in an iron cage to parade her in front of the rebel troops, and rape her before their eyes before you kill her. The enemy forces will know their leader is captured and humiliated and the magnitude of this deed will so horrify them that in they will flee from battle and fear and never raise arms against your might again.

” Cesare Borgia supposedly did so.The war soon ended. For Machiavelli, the end always justifies the means. He famously asserted that good rulers sometimes have to learn “not to be good,” they have to be willing to set aside ethical concerns of justice, honesty, and kindness in order to maintain the stability of the state. Machiavelli argued that the most successful kings were not the ones who acted according to dictates of law, or justice, or conscience, but those willing to do whatever was necessary to preserve their own power–and thus indirectly preserve the order of the state.Prime Minister Meles did many immoral and wicked things on his most rivals after defeated Meles did not tolerate opposition to his regime, even if it was constructive criticism within his party.

He was believed to have eliminated his potential rivals by ousting them from their powerful positions in the party hierarchy or in the government, such as the founding military leader of the TPLF, Aregwi Berhi in 1980; the post- war Tigrean hero and the ex- defence minister Ato Seeye Abraha in 2001.We can also remember how he had thrown the former prime minster tamrat Layne and the CUD leaders especially W/t Burtukan Medekisa into prison. For this reason the followers of those people when they learned that how their leader were captured and humiliated; then they defeated morally and become pessimistic on the matters of their own country. Most of the time meles was used character assassination as a means to destroy his known rival individuals. 3.

Better to be feared than loved and not keeping word if necessaryMachiavelli famously writes that it is best to be both loved and feared, but if one has to choose between the two one should be feared. It is best to appear liberal to most of the people most of the time but be ruthlessly authoritarian to the individual who steps out of line. One should seek the safety of being feared. All the above Maciavelian principles used by Meles; for him beloved or be virtuous is not the matters that come first and give the priority, but the survival of his leadership and the glory of power that matters all.For Machiavelli even though keeping a word is good for a prince, he also notes that a prince is also praised for the illusion of being reliable in keeping his word. A prince, therefore, should only keep his word when it suits his purposes, but do his utmost to maintain the illusion that he does keep his word and that he is reliable in that regard.

Therefore, a prince should not break his word unnecessarily. “He should appear to be compassionate, faithful to his word, guileless, and devout. And indeed he should be so. But his disposition should be such that, if he needs to be the opposite, he knows how. As noted in chapter 15, the prince must also appear to be virtuous, and should be virtuous, but he should be able to be otherwise when the time calls for it; that includes being able to lie, though however much he lies he should always keep the appearance of being truthful. The above express is fit very much to the character of Prime Minister meles Zenawi and his leadership.

Always he promised to do something at the same time he promised oather one but when it seems to him it is unnecessary to keep them he do the opposite and give unrealistic reason for it. 4. You should have the means to keep your supportersMachiavelli writes that reforming an existing order is one of the most dangerous and difficult things a prince can do. Part of the reason is that people are naturally resistant to change and reform. Those who benefited from the old order will resist change very fiercely. By contrast, those who stand to benefit from the new order will be less fierce in their support, because the new order is unfamiliar and they are not certain it will live up to its promises.

Moreover, it is impossible for the prince to satisfy everybody’s expectations. Inevitably, he will disappoint some of his followers.Therefore, a prince must have the means to force his supporters to keep supporting him even when they start having second thoughts, otherwise he will lose his power. As Machiavelli said Meles used different things as a means to force his supporters to keep supporting him even when they know he is on the wrong direction.

Because he often told them that “the worst things come if they don’t supported him; he told them through his propaganda machines that the chauvinist and extremist may will come again and destroyed everything if they don’t stand with him in every his decisions.For instance, the cases of the secession of Eritrea and the sea port of Assab. I know most of the supporters of TPLF and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was not happy about his decision on the assab and other territorial matters; but they don’t want to lose the power, fighting for assab with the Eritrean regime. So, for this sole reason, they continue supporting the party.

5. 5 Build Strong own loyal army Machiavelli notes that two most essential foundations for any state, whether old or new, are sound laws and strong military forces. A self-sufficient prince is one who can meet any enemy on the battlefield.He should be armed with his own arms. Machiavelli also warns to be suspicious of everyone when hostile attitudes emerge. That is why, Prime Minister meles Zenawi build very strong and loyal army second in Africa next to Egypt and 28th in the world.

Besides to this, personally he organized the Agazi brigade that keep him from any internal or external attacks and whenever it is necessary he gave order to his this Agazi snipers and also didn’t show any regret and amply demonstrated his sadistic character when he deemed the slaughter of the defenders of democratic rights as a correct deterring measure.The Agazi brigade keep him for the past 21 years until the almighty angle of death came and taken him forever. 5. 6 install a puppet regime and loyal ministers Machiavelli arguing that when the newly acquired state complete destruction is the most certain way of securing a state that has been free in the past.

A prince who does not take this route places himself in a position to be destroyed himself. No matter how long it has been since the state was acquired, rebellions will always revive the legacy of ancient institutions and notions of former liberty, even if the state has benefited from the prince’s rule.This sense of tradition will unify the people against the prince. Therefore, the first is to destroy it; the second to reside in it; the third to leave it under its own laws, choosing for its governors from the inhabitants such as will be friendly to you and Let them keep their own orders but install a puppet regime. Look how Prime Minister meles Zenawi created the ethnic regional sates in Ethiopia and how install the puppet regional presidents over there it is identical with what Machiavelli advice.

Machiavelli notes Wise and loyal ministers contribute to the image of a wise prince. Inversely, incompetent and disloyal ministers give the prince the image of incompetence. On the matters of assigning ministers Machiavelli advice is this: If a minister thinks more of himself than of the prince and does everything for personal profit, then he is a bad minister. A prince should recognize this state of affairs. Good ministers, however, should be rewarded to maintain their loyalty. Rewards can be paid in money, honor, and expanded responsibilities.

It is crucial for a prince to have a confident relationship with his ministers. Furthermore, even if they were to turn against the prince, they would not be able to muster support from any subjects because they hold no personal loyalties. It is true indeed for most ministers who assigned by Prime Minister meles Zenawi. Most of them were very loyal to him and they have not any personal loyalties from their subject even from their own families, so to maintain their ministerial post and their comfortable life is always depend on the merit of the Prime Minister.

. 7 Make friends with your neighbors Machiavelli advice the prince: “keep your kingdom secure by not allowing people as strong as you are into the neighborhood. Also, make friends with your neighbors. Don’t let people hate you, but don’t worry too much if they grumble a bit.

Maintain a reputation for awesomeness. ” Prime Minister meles Zenawi had made friends with all his neighbors at the expanse of the national interests of country and its people. 5. 8 Be skeptical about the advice he receivesAccording to Machiavelli most important, a prince must always be skeptical about the advice he receives, constantly questioning and probing. If he ever discovers that someone is concealing the truth from him, he must punish that person severely.

In the end, no matter how intelligent a prince’s advisers might be, a prince is doomed if he lacks intelligence of his own. Wise princes should be honored for good actions proceeding from good advice. Prime Minister meles Zenawi had many advisors some most of them bad and some most of wise according their intelligent but no one sure whether he take their advisor or not.According to his former colleagues he was very skeptical about another person advice as Machiavelli said.

III. References Plato (1991). The Republic: the complete and unabridged Jowett translation. New York: Vintage Books Niccolo Machiavelli (1986) The Prince: penguin New York: books Ltd. Tadale Lemma (2012) Learning about Ethiopian’s late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is Mystifying but it was hard to avoid: Addis Standard magazine Ezana Sehay (2012) Meles: the philosophic king: www. aigafourm.

com Muktar M. Omer (2011) Analyzing the Political Philosophy of Meles Zenawi: Ward eernews. com Berhane Kahsay (2012) In Defence of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi: www. aigafourm. com A. mulat (2006) Meles charting the path of the TPLF to Eritreazation: www.

addistoday. blogspot. com Girma Kebede (2008) From Machiavelli to Meles Zenawi the Prince of Addis Ababa: www. Sudan tribune. com H.

Menelik (2008) Machiavellian principles as applied by Meles Zenawi: www. ethiopianreview. com Adekeye Adebajo (2012) Meles Zenawi: Ethiopia’s pragmatic philosopher-king or cruel despot? www. theguardan. co.


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