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Ethiopia: Where is Meles Zenawi?

Rumors about the health of Ethiopia’s Prime Minster Meles Zenawi have dominated the Ethiopian social media sphere for weeks raising questions about the future of Ethiopia without him.

Zenawi has not been seen around since G20 meeting which was hosted in Mexico in June. He has not even attended the 21st Ordinary Session of the African Union which is being hosted in Addis Ababa until 16 July 2012.

Netizens have been sharing their thoughts regarding his health and disappearance on Twitter and Facebook. Social media users have been wondering why the story about his health and whereabouts is overlooked by the mainstream media.

Janice Winter tweeted:

‏@janice_winter: Are foreign correspondents in Addis Ababa awake? Where is English news of Zenawi's ailing health & disappearance from planned public events?

Meles Zenawi at the World Economic Forum in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, May 2010. Photo courtesy of World Economic Forum (CC BY-SA 2.0)

On his Facebook page Desta Wegegnaw asked [amh]a similar question:

ኧረ ወሬው ከምን እንደ ደረሰ ንገሩን? ዶይቸ ቬሌም ቪኦኤም ምነው ፈሩሳ የጠቅላያችንን የጤና ጉዳይ መንገር? ማን ይሙት አሁንም አልሰማንም ሊሉ ነው? ድንቄም::

Deutsche Welle or DW and Voice of America (VOA), are you scared of telling us the truth about Prime Minister’s health? Or didn’t you hear about it? What an irony!

Abiye Teklemariam in his extended note on his Facebook page reflected:

Facebook is awash with rumors of Meles Zenawi's impending demise. Most of the variables on the ground in Ethiopia indicate that the regime is what political scientists call “Triple Threat”. Its features include a very strong military that is often used as a last resort adjudicator of political contentions, a strong leader with military background, and a party with an ideological facade that keeps its moderate cohesiveness. Triple threats resemble personalist dictatorship in that they wouldn't allow the rise of individuals with power bases to contest the supremacy of the dictator's rule.

But while it is very unlikely for classical personalist dictatorships to survive the demise of the dictator, triple threats have a remarkable ability to remain resilient even after the death of the strong leader because of the structure and power of their armies. In Ethiopia, the army is organized in a manner that makes collective action for opponents of the regime within it very difficult but mobilization of resources and man power by regime supporters easier. I think if Meles dies, we will see a quick move by regime supporters within the army to quash lone wolf rebellions inside the army and spontaneous mass uprisings outside. Were there organized opposition forces with the ability to exert coercive power in Ethiopia, the army would face serious challenges and might make concessions. Without such alternative centers of power, I expect a relatively quick consolidation of power and a return to a more repressive rule. This is a long-winded way of saying that people with democratic aspirations for Ethiopia shouldn't get all too excited about Meles Zenawi's death before we did our homework.

Daniel Berhane receive a dismissive remark from a government official when he tried to probe about Meles Zenawi’s health:

I did my best to probe about Meles Zenawi health and the answer I got could be summed up in this dismissive remark from one official:

“what is the matter with these [media?] guys…can't you live without rumors….can't the man get rest? he is just exhausted……we aren't gonna say anything b/c it not necessary. You will see him in a few days anyways…..”

Zelalem Kibret has collected Twitter reactions on Storify titled “Meles, Where are You?”

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