The epic encounter between heroic Ethiopian journalist Abebe Gellaw (David) and Meles Zenawi (Goliath) will surely go down in Ethiopian history as one of the most shinning stories of our time. The story is neither a fairy tale nor a fictional movie script. It is a true story whose impact is still felt with the fall of Ethiopia’s Goliath.
The showdown happened in one fateful morning of May 18th, 2012, at the Ronald Reagan Building, coincidentally located at Freedom Plaza in Washington DC. Thanks to ESAT, Ethiopians across the world also witnessed the golden moment when the voice of tyranny was disrupted and interrupted while Ethiopia’s demand for freedom thunderously filled the air, chocked and humiliated Meles Zenawi in front of world leaders. The more I watch the video, the more I realize the historic nature and significance of our own story of David and Goliath.
One of the best known biblical stories, among Christians and non-Christians alike, is found in the Old Testament, 1 Samuel chapter 17. Israelis and the Philistine armies had been facing each other for a battle. The rival armies camped on the opposite sides of Valley of Elah. Goliath, a fearsome Philistine giant measuring over nine feet tall and wearing armor, terrorized the Israelite army for forty days. He challenged and mocked at the Israelites to come out and fight.
One day Jesse sent his youngest son David to the battlefield to bring back news of his three older brothers. Young David learnt that Goliath was terrifying the Israelites. David told King Saul that he wanted to fight Goliath. His older brother Eliab ridiculed him. But with his insistence, King Saul reluctantly agreed to let David confront Goliath.
David said to the Philistine: “You come against me with sword and spear…, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty… it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”
As the battle between the two began, Goliath surged to attack him, David struck the Philistine on the forehead using his sling. The stone sank into Goliath’s forehead. David triumphed over the Goliath. Goliath represented conceit, defiance, arrogance and tyranny. But David, the underdog, has exemplified the power of courage, wisdom and faith. The Ethiopian version of Goliath vs. David drama has a similar undertone.
For over three decades, dictator Meles Zenawi and his army of oppression terrorized Ethiopia. Meles became probably more arrogant than the biblical Goliath. He imposed his wicked will on Ethiopians. He projected himself as invincible, omniscient and omnipresent. He ignored the cries of millions of Ethiopians. He divided people, jailed, killed and maimed so many innocent. He condemned the best patriots “traitors” and “terrorists”. At every opportunity, he ridiculed Ethiopians that are unhappy with his misrule and tyranny. He told them go to mount Limalimo to fight with his army. Like Goliath, he challenged the people to come out and fight with him. But he and his cronies caused so much misery and destruction in the name of liberation.
In the aftermath of the rigged May 2005 elections, he killed and jailed so many innocent Ethiopians. “This is not your run-of-the-mill demonstration. This is an Orange Revolution gone wrong,” Meles told Reuters. During his last twenty-one brutal misrule, Zenawi never missed an opportunity to disparage Ethiopians, ridicule their wisdom and belittled their glorious history. Dividing the people along ethnic lines, Zenawi and his cronies abused and dehumanized the great and patient people of Ethiopia. Like leaches on cows, the despot and his associates sucked the blood of the poor people of Ethiopia.
Inflated with his unbridled ego and unusually excessive arrogance, Zenawi was an overinflated balloon waiting for a deflating moment. The inevitable happened and the rest was history. Meles was taken aback, shocked, bewildered and totally deflated with a piercing voice in the most unlikely place where he came to receive accolade from President Obama as an African Green Revolutionary.
The American motivational writer Orison Swett Marden (1850 – 1924) once wrote: “Don’t wait for extraordinary opportunities. Seize common occasions and make them great. Weak men wait for opportunities; strong men make them.” Abebe must have heeded to Marden’s golden advice and was well prepared to change on an ordinary day into an extraordinary moment. In fact, his journey from student activism to shooting down a reviled tyrant shows that freedom fighters must always be prepared for the moments of challenge.
For Meles Zenawi, who went to the G8 food security symposium flanked by his top cronies including Berhane Gebrekirstos and Neway Gebreab, May 18th, 2012 was one of his days at a high profile global forum. The globe-trotting tyrant never expected a problem. After all, he had travelled around the world to speak to admiring foreigners who hardly care about his tyrannical misdeed. In fact, he was honored to be handpicked by President Obama along with the late Ghanaian President John Atta Mills, Benin’s President Yayi Boni (as chairman of AU), and Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete.
Apparently there were over 800 people at the august meeting hall where heads of states and governments, ministers, special advisers, diplomats, corporate CEOs, celebrities like Bono and world class experts were gathered at the Atrium Hall within the Ronal Reagan Building. President Obama opened the meeting with a keynote speech that recognized the African leaders for their “leadership” in food security.
Obama announced a new partnership with the African countries, including food aid dependent Ethiopia, to ensure food security. “We’re going to sustain the commitments we made three years ago, and we’re going to speed things up. And we’re starting with these three countries, Tanzania, Ghana and Ethiopia, precisely because of their record in improving agriculture and food security,” President Obama said.
Then it was the African leaders’ turn and their partners to speak. The four African leaders, along with four others including Andrew Mitchell, British Secretary of International Development, took the stage for panel moderated by USAID chief Dr. Rajiv Shah. As the symposium’s full video shows, about 20 minutes into the discussion on food security at G8,Meles got a second chance to give his self-congratulatory speech.
Looking at him admiringly, Dr. Shah said to Zenawi: “Could you speak, even as we’re launching a new alliance to engage the private sector, about some of the comments you’ve shared with us privately about how important it is that we live up to our commitments to invest in public investment and public institutions?”
“Ultimately,” said Zenawi, “Agricultural transformation in Africa is going to be a partnership between the small-holder farmer and the private sector. But the most important actor here is the small-holder farmer. That’s 70 percent of the.” He could not finish the last sentence; it was interrupted by a thunderous and truly scary condemnation and call for freedom. The attention shifted from Zenawi the oppressor to an Ethiopian journalist courageously speaking on behalf of the oppressed people of Ethiopia.
“Meles Zenawi is a dictator! Meles Zenawi is a dictator!” the voice reverberated across the hall. It was like the sky falling down on the dictator. He was awe-stricken and looked at the uninvited protester in total disbelieve and shock. He was chocked and silenced. It looked as if his eyes would pop out of their sockets. It was a moment that was out of his control. No guns and bullets by his side.
Abebe Gellaw’s voice got louder and louder: “Free Eskinder Nega and all political prisoners!”
Caught off guard, the moderator spoke softly, “Security.”
The bold journalist was unfazed: “You are a dictator! You are committing crimes against humanity!”
“70 percent of the population in Africa,” Zenawi tried to interrupt the messenger of truth, but to no avail. His voice, even with the help of the microphone, was overwhelmed again. Zenawi looked at the moderator again to appeal for help. The “omnipotent” despot looked like a scared rabbit.
“Don’t talk about food without freedom! We need freedom more than food! We need freedom!” the voice continued uninterrupted.
Dr. Shah tried to help. “Excuse me, sir. We are in” the USAID chief could not finish his sentence too. The thunder continued loudly and flawlessly.
“Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!” Zenawi looked at the gallant journalist for a moment. He could stand the quick strikes no more. Goliath gave in to the restless attack and buried his head in humiliation and shrank in his seat. He looked like the ostrich that tried to hide its head in the sand. There was no chance to escape the full brunt of Abebe Gellaw Blitzkrieg, lightning attack in full view of the world leaders.
“Can we have security help, please?” Dr. Shah appealed once more with a sense of resignation.
“Meles Zenawi is a dictator! Meles Zenawi is a dictator! Free Eskinder Nega and all political prisoners!” Ethiopia’s David finished his disabling laser-focused attack against Goliath in less than a minute. No doubt all the leaders and celebrities in the hall whispered to themselves, “Poor Zenawi!”
Relieved with the end of the lightening strike, Dr. Shah said: “We’ve heard from you. Thank you!”
After a few minutes, Abebe was apparently escorted out by police. But the bombs he dropped on Zenawi proved to be debilitating and lethal. According to sources, Zenawi fell sick on the same day. He cancelled the state dinner in his honor at the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington DC.
May 18th 2012, definitely opened a new chapter in the life of the dictator, who had never been seriously challenged let alone facing such a humiliating attack. On May 20, Zenawi flew back to base. Apparently, he collapsed and had to be transported all the way to St. Luke University Hospital in Brussels, Belgium. The dictator’s vanishing act triggered concern and interest. Four weeks passed by, but there was hardly any news about Zenawi, who loved to appear on TV at every opportunity. Unusually, he started cancelling events, meetings and conferences.
For the first time in four weeks, the G20 meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico created a rare opportunity to see Zenawi in public. On 18th June, he appeared on Chinese state media CCTV meeting President Hu Jintao. The video image was shocking. Ethiopia’s Goliath appeared gravely sick and lost a lot weight.
After Zenawi returned to Ethiopia, he vanished once again. ESAT reported that he was flown back to Brussels in what appeared to be a medical emergency. So far all the evidence tells us that Zenawi no longer exists. His reign was over a few months ago. Meles Zenawi’s vanishing act has generated so much interest at a global level.
As far as I am concerned, Meles Zenawi was dead on May 18th, 2012. Whether he is dead or alive, that fateful battle between Ethiopia’s David and Goliath brought a crushing defeat to the tyrant. Abebe Gellaw’s act of bravery has changed the course of history. The brave journalist, who owed his victory to Almighty God that gave him extraordinary courage and faith, has made history. He proved the worth of what he said on May 9 at the Oslo Freedom Forum. “Voice is a powerful weapon against tyranny.”
Ethiopia’s David that brought down the brutal Goliath Zenawi has undoubtedly energized the struggle for freedom. He has started a different kind of revolution whose full impact and ramifications are yet to be seen. The fall of Zenawi is certainly a landmark that has seriously cracked the foundation of tyranny and created a vacuum hard to fill in Ethiopia.
The story of Ethiopia own David and Goliath is a lesson to all those who want to live and fight for a cause.
It is said that action speaks louder than words. In this case, both action and words combined to create a lethal effect that needs to be emulated for generations to come.