Thursday, May 1, 2008



By Jerry Okungu

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Stranded at the Addis Ababa Airport for the second time in less than five months gave me time to think about Prime Minister Melles Zenawe of Ethiopia. Having been around Addis City for two nights and driven across the city on sometimes very rough terrain and seen massive constructions going on, I suddenly realized that no matter how his unflattering human rights records may be, the man has done well for Ethiopia.

In the years Melles Zenawe has been in power, he has single-mindedly focussed on reconstructing the once pathetic infrastructure. The Addis Airport that was once the size of Kisumu Airport is now a spacious ultramodern international hub for the Horn of Africa. The streets of Addis Ababa that once resembled the dark alleys of New York’s ghettoes are now a glittering spectacle from its skylines.

Now the government of Melles Zenawe has turned its attention to facilities and transport infrastructure. New high class hotels are springing up on a regular basis and at an amazingly faster rate. The days when the choice was between the overpriced and overrated Sheraton and the Hilton hotels are long gone. More modern, classy and cheaper hotels have filled the void.

The latest facility to don the Addis Ababa metropolitan scene has been the recent opening of the Millennium Dome, a huge leisure complex that was constructed to mark Ethiopia’s own Millennium that was celebrated seven years after the international Millennium festival.

The roads reconstruction, undertaken by multiple Chinese construction companies is slowly transforming Addis Ababa into a modern city that will soon only be compared to Johannesburg and Cairo on the continent.

Talking to several Ethiopian taxi drivers in Addis Ababa, one got the impression that Melles Zenawe was becoming more popular with ordinary Ethiopians with each passing day. Their main reason for liking the man is that unlike past leaders such as Haile Selassie and Mengitsu Haile Mariam, Melles is short on majesty and rhetoric and long on pragmatism. They say he is a realist who knows what Ethiopians want and goes ahead to give it to them.

Having watched Melles Zenawe chair the African Union’s African Peer Review Heads of State Summits, I got the impression that he is an avid and meticulous reader and tickler for details. The way he ravaged country reports from Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Algeria and Benin, one was left with the impression that the Ethiopian leader was no pushover when it comes to responsibility and accountability.

Many Ethiopians concur that despite the fact that their country has not gone through the rigours of African Peer Review assessment, they are happy to note that the current government has managed their national resources well. There are few corruption cases. Taxes are used for what they are intended. Government budgets are adhered to.

Most of all, Melles Zenawe has no patience with perennial whiners and government critics that are only too ready to spot mistakes and problems without offering alternative solutions. He is highly intolerant of corrupt public officials. More often than not if caught, they would end up in jail.

Talking of NEPAD and APRM initiatives, Melles Zenawe seems to have delayed the implementation of the APRM in preference to the implementation of NEPAD programmes especially infrastructure reconstruction. He believes that if he can get infrastructure right first, the economy will take off and with booming business for Ethiopia, wealth will be created for Ethiopians that will culminate in better life and well being for all in Ethiopia. Only after that will he turn his attention to the softer issues of human rights and freedoms of speech.

However as it is, the development of infrastructure that includes the provision of water, electricity and communications services has already spurred service delivery, food security, education for all, healthcare and decent housing for thousands of Ethiopians. Because Ethiopians are finding jobs in the new initiatives, employment rate is climbing.

Right now, Melles Zenawe is looking up to South Africa, Botswana, Egypt, Libya and possibly Morocco and Tunisia as his role models. He is no longer interested in underperforming states such as Sudan, Tanzania, Kenya and Nigeria. He knows he has many enemies from within and without that are envious of his success story. He knows just too well how mortal he is and that like Mengitsu and Selassie before him; he must one day leave the scene. However, he is determined to bequeath a positive legacy for the next generation Ethiopians who have for years yearned for moral and accountable leadership.

We hope other African leaders will see the light and emulate Prime Minister Melles Zenawe.