CAIRO: The health situation for Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi continues to remain uncertain, even as overnment officials say he is “improving.” But they have thus far refrained from detailing what the PM is suffering from, leaving many in the country wonder over what comes next for the East African country.
On Monday, Amsterdam-based Ethiopian Satellite Television said the the prime minister was dead, saying it based the report on information from a Brussels-based think tank, the International Crisis Group.
However, the ICG released a statement saying it has “no direct knowledge” of Meles condition and is not in a position to speculate about it.
Meles Zenawi is 57 years old and has ruled Ethiopia since taking power in a 1991 coup. For many Ethiopians, the health situation for their leader has sparked a debate over where Ethiopia is heading and if a post-Meles country will be better.
While the Prime Minister continues to use his power to crackdown on newspapers over reports that his situation is serious, many in the country, especially the youth, are wondering what their country will look like when the hardliner has left his position atop the country.
“It will definitely be interesting to see how we all react,” said one student activist, who asked not to be named due to the security crackdown on those speaking about the PM’s health.
The activist told Bikyamasr.com that “Ethiopia will be better when we are all, Christians and Muslims work together to build a country based not on one group dominating the other, but on the idea that we can have a solid country for all Ethiopians.”
According to most reports, Zenawi is gravely ill, although little else is known on what exactly he is suffering from. Newspapers have been silenced for reporting on his health condition as censorship and tightening of the government’s power takes form.
For many, it appears to be the final wind for the PM and his government, which activists have called “ruthless.” Writer Buri Waddesso argues that the continued show of force by the government means that even without Zenawi at the helm, the government is likely to persist.
“The fact that the regime held together, even if haphazardly, without its leader of three decades at the helm augurs well for its continuing vitality. In the same vein, the failure of the opposition to even make a stir after the window of opportunity presented by Muslim protesters speaks volumes about its state as well as its preparation,” Waddesso wrote in an article published by opride.com.
“The problem is that these observations hold only in the short term. There are a number of dynamics at work to make the future less certain than the present.”
One of those issues that Ethiopia will have to come to terms with is the near split in demographics of Muslims and Christians. Although Christians claim a majority in the country, it is likely the two faiths are closer in numbers than official statistics show. Add in the animists in tribal areas of the country and many fear a breeding ground for sectarianism.
But both Christians and Muslims tell Bikyamasr.com that Ethiopians do not want to battle over faith. A student group in Addis Ababa has repeatedly said they do not see a battle over Islam coming in the country. For them, the future of Ethiopia will be determined by how the government reacts in a post-Zenawi world, if it comes.
“We, and including our Christian brothers and sisters, believe that the future of Ethiopia will not be determined by politicians who have been in power for decades, but by our voices,” the student group said. “We are not afraid to take to the streets if we have to in order to be heard.”
And for many, despite the exodus of Zenawi from the political picture, his government is likely to remain, however tedious, and the people could be faced with a situation that demands their participation in protests in order to change the status quo.
“Ethiopians are ready and we have seen from the Arab world that protests can achieve more than working within the system. It is an uncertain period that we all are watching closely,” added the students.