Meles Zenawi: A Philosopher King or Machiavellian Prince?

Topics: Political philosophy, Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi Pages: 15 (4665 words) Published: August 23, 2013

Meles Zenawi: A Philosopher King or Machiavellian Prince?

By Asrat Abraham

The late prime minister of Ethiopia Meles Zenawi and his leadership was a hot issue for the past 22 year at home in Ethiopia and abroad. He was an extraordinary and mysterious person to many. For this reason, people said it is difficult to understand him, his character and leadership. For instance, Tadale Lemma described him as a controversial figure with mixed legacy:

“For the average bystander trying to understand just what sort of a leader Ethiopia’s late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was mystifying. He was loved by many but at the same time dreaded; feared but at same time respected’ idolized but at the same time loathed; a warmonger but at the same time a peace maker. He hated neo liberalism but he was a darling of neoliberal west; he presided over a country with the most draconian civil society laws, but he left behind a county that is one of the largest donor’s money recipients. He was everything many would wish to be and nothing many would like remotely looks alike.

The tricky thing in all these is for a towering figure he was in any event- in or outside of the county- one can hardly manage to be a bystander when it comes to him. At home, he was unavoidable; a one man warrior who preside over and made rules and decisions with all their consequences for more than 80 million people. Abroad, he was a person who stood not only for his country but for the whole continent ‘not only due to the size of his country but the size of his ideas,’ as President Jacob Zuma of South Africa spoke at his state funeral ceremony.”

This controversial personality of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi attracted many political commentators and journalists to writer and comment on his leadership and personal behaviors. And even some others try to analysis him philosophically and compared with the model leaders who suggested by the most known philosophers; like Plato, Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes. for instances, Ezana Sehay (Meles: the philosophic king) portrait him as “the philosophic king who is the indispensable leader, the genus politician, smart economist, an inspiring leader and a teacher.” It is look like for Ezana, prime minister Meles Zenawi is not only the philosopher king, he is also an armed prophet like Moses, who saved his people from slavery and build a democratic and prospered nation by his own philosophy.

Addis Ray (New Vision) the political organ of EPRDF also compared the late prime minister meles Zenawi to well known political philosophers like Hegel, Karl Marx and Engels. The organ of the party stated that as Hegel and Karl Marx for Germany, so is Meles for Ethiopia. According the Addis Ray he was everything: a political philosopher, a visionary leader, a great leader, a prophet, etc; only one word is left not said to admire him: it did not said he was God.

Really it seems for the party he was more than a philosopher king. But the new ruler of EPRDF may not happy with the world “king” as most of them were extreme communist at young age. So, they prefer to use the phrases “visionary leader” or “the great leader”, when they want to express their former beloved leader. In fact, in the profiles and ranks of the EPRDF leadership, he was “the one-eyed king among the blinds” as Desiderius Erasmus said.

Adekeye Adebajo (Meles Zenawi: Ethiopia's pragmatic philosopher-king or cruel despot?) also describe the mixed legacy of prime minister Meles Zenawi, as ‘the cerebral ruler of Ethiopia for the last 21 years, is a man with many reputations. Celebrated by donors as a visionary philosopher-king who has brought development to his impoverished country of 75 million people, his domestic critics have condemned him as an iron-fisted dictator.”

The idea of philosophic king was first coined by Plato as Socrates’ vision in his Republic. For Plato best leader is a person...

References: Plato (1991). The Republic: the complete and unabridged Jowett translation. New York:
Vintage Books
Niccolo Machiavelli (1986) The Prince: penguin New York: books Ltd.
Tadale Lemma (2012) Learning about Ethiopian’s late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is
Mystifying but it was hard to avoid: Addis Standard magazine
Ezana Sehay (2012) Meles: the philosophic king:
Muktar M
Berhane Kahsay (2012) In Defence of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi:
A. mulat (2006) Meles charting the path of the TPLF to Eritreazation:
Girma Kebede (2008) From Machiavelli to Meles Zenawi the Prince of Addis Ababa:
H. Menelik (2008) Machiavellian principles as applied by Meles Zenawi: www.
Adekeye Adebajo (2012) Meles Zenawi: Ethiopia 's pragmatic philosopher-king or cruel despot?
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