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Faces of Africa 01/21/2013 Meles Zenawi: The man who gave back

01-21-2013 03:36 BJT

It is harvest season in Tigray, northern Ethiopia… and the wheat is heavy with seed.

One of the world’s oldest known farming areas, the Ethiopian highlands have served as the region’s grain basket, for centuries.

And in many fields, wheat is still harvested the old fashioned way – by hand.

But new strains of wheat have increased yields and this farmer is looking forward to a good year.

GABRESELASSIE, FARMER, “This year I expect three quintals, 2.5 at the very least, which is more than before”

The late Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi when he was a young man.

From the countryside to the cities, Ethiopia is in the midst of the biggest transformation in its long history.

Cycles of drought and famine have long played a role in Ethiopia’s politics. In 1974, a terrible famine resulted in the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie. His death at the hands of a ruthless military dictatorship ended a long line of emperors going back to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

But the bloody crackdowns of Mengistu Haile Mariam’s military regime or Derg, sparked a new wave of rebellion. Among the rebels, a smart young man from Tigray-  calledMelesZenawi.
Initially, the Marxist rebels were given little chance of success.

At 14, MelesZenawi won a scholarship to a prestigious school named after World War II guerilla warfare expert Orde Wingate.

Instead, Meles would sacrifice that future for another, emerging from the long years of rebellion as a skilled and pragmatic politician.

AIDAN HARTLEY, ANALYST,  “These were urban boys who had been raised with some privilege in Addis Ababa and to find themselves living out in the hills of Tigray with no money, no resources, in fear of their lives, relying on the local peasantry to sustain them, and yet to continue the ideological debate because I know that that happened is almost, it’s an extraordinary legend….this handful of students brought their ideas out into the wilderness of northern Tigray and that they relied on the local peasantry to feed them, to sustain them, until they decided that it was time to begin the insurrection and they did this by raiding one police station where they picked up several guns and they were able to begin raiding passing traffic and to recruit people.”

It was in the mountains of Tigray that Aidan Hartley, then a young reporter for the news agency Reuters, got to know the rebels - and Meles.

AIDAN HARTLEY, "I met a very unassuming, quite young man. He looked like a café-ole Lenin. And he was smoking quite heavily, that’s what I remember from my first meeting with him. I had no idea who he was and he said “my name is MelesZenawi and you’re going to go to Tigray, starting tomorrow and good luck”.

While Meles himself was little known to the outside world, his grasp of both ideological and military tactics had already elevated him to the top ranks of the rebellion’s secretive leadership circles.

MELES ZENAWI, THE LATE, FORMER PRIME MINISTER OF ETHIOPIA, "Revolutionary wisdom does not imply uncontrolled practices, revolutionary wisdom starts with Marxist-Leninist analysis."

AIDAN HARTLEY, "When he was running a guerilla group in the mountains of Tigray he knew that the most effective way to rule was through the authoritarian apparatus of  Marxist-Leninist League of Tigray. And he knew that by the time he arrived in Addis Ababa, he would have to speak a language that would make sense to the West and the international Community. But he did it in a very charming way. He announced to the world that he had enrolled at a correspondence course  learning economics.”

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