Meles Zenawi a follower and not a leader
By: Naomy Zerzghi
October 19, 2003

It has always been obvious, at least to me, that the prime minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, is more of a follower and an emulator, than a genuine leader. So, every time he started acting up with his temper tantrums, I have often wondered, and asked, whom or what he was trying to replicate in his different stage acts. At first I thought maybe he was following the footsteps of his fellow "American pet" Sharon of Israel, or even Bush himself, but recently, after having read the Dowjones Newswires article where, by his own admission, it was revealed that in the case of the EEBC, it is the Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo that he has chosen to be as his mentor at least when it came to refusing to accept a verdict based on a signed agreement as final and binding.

Since we Eritreans were so absorbed with our own wars starting from 1998, I wonder how many of us were aware that a similar thing, as is happening now, was also going on between two other African nations, namely Cameroon and Nigeria. In the case of Cameroon and Nigeria there was no false pretext about the dispute, as was done in the weyane case where they pretended to claim Badme, whilst what they actually wanted was a war to get to Assab, and whereas in the weyane case Eritrea had to fight other ghost enemies such as the Russian mercenaries, super powers and so-called opposition of disgruntled ex- fighter traitors who were hoping to walk through the back door, the dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon was clean cut and was limited to a genuine oil-rich section of their border, the Bakassi peninsula. Anyway, the similarity is that, after a few skirmishes, (not a cruel, all out war, weyane style) they took their case to the International Courts and as a result the disputed area was awarded to Cameroon, to which Nigeria immediately objected to, although both parties had agreed beforehand, to abide by the verdict as final. This is what Meles Zenawi is trying to emulate, as he has already admitted.

Another similarity, besides Nigeria refusing to abide by its agreement, is in the voice of the international community and especially that of the United Nations where they tried to encourage the famous word "dialogue" and where the Nigerian president brought up questions about his concern over Nigerians who had lived in the disputed area, as well as raising the question of who was administering the area up until the dispute, just like what Meles Zenawi is parroting now. Similarly they had to go back to colonial times treaties and maps, and the courts, disregarding the above irrelevant questions as they did in the case of Ethiopia, went ahead and granted ownership to Cameroon. It would be interesting to follow how the case ended, or will end.

The sad part about all this is, the way the international community and the United Nations, not to mention the African Union, are setting bad examples for future disputes, by allowing one party to stray from agreements they had guaranteed, if the final ruling does not happen to suit it, and by not imposing any of the sanctions written for such eventualities in the agreement, instead of alarming the world, and the citizens of both countries, by using inflammatory language such as " the peace process is at an impasse" and "too ghastly to contemplate" or "is under stress" words used by none other than the head of the UN peacekeeping mission UNMEE, and special representative of the UN Secretary General in the region, Mr. Legwaila J. Legwaila, while on the other hand he says " there is no military build up, nor any signs of impending war." And at the same time, Meles Zenawi is declaring that he does not want a return of the war, while with the same breath he tells his parliament "border dispute with Eritrea could erupt at any time" What is all this drama supposed to mean anyway? If only the international community under the United Nations would show some respect for the international courts and the rule of law, this would not have happened. It is a pity, and also rather dangerous, how they are denigrating the validity and integrity of the international courts, so that in future their verdicts would hold no water, and that seeking their justice would only be akin to a waste of time and money amounting to nothing else but going back to zero and to the initial disputes to be resolved at the whim of lawless parties.

But Meles Zenawi is wrong in thinking that the Nigeria and Cameroon case could apply here. He and his party have caused the two nations too much pain for a dialogue or for any type of a relationship to take place at this early stage. The Nigerian President did not deport, or throw in prison all nationals of Cameroonian origin in unceremonious Hitlerite and holocaust like style, by confiscating their belongings and separating their families, and nor did the Cameroon leader deport, or imprison the nationals of Nigerian origin in that manner. The two African countries behaved relatively civilized, and therefore it was not difficult for them to have a dialogue even after the verdict was out. Also in the case of Nigeria and Cameroon it was strictly a border dispute while the weyane were into too many things, even after the arrival of the peacekeepers, to topple the Eritrean government by associating with and hosting various Eritrean opposition groups as well as inciting trouble by trying to isolate Eritrea from its neighbors, the Yemen and the Sudan, while at the same time they were encouraging their people to plant new mines on the borders and try to provoke UNMEE by having their soldiers cross the borders under the pretext of playing foot ball. Neither the Nigerian President nor the leader of Cameroon went that far to interfere in each other's domestic affairs, or to provoke one another. What Meles Zenawi and his party have created is deep wounds, which will take many years and perhaps many generations to heal. So let us just concentrate on demarcating the borders, leaving the choice of dialogue and relationships to future generations.

There was a time when President Issaias Afwerki very badly wanted to have a dialogue with the weyane before all this mess took place, but neither Meles Zenawi nor his party or even the shuttling mediators of the time, seemed interested in averting the war, as not even one voice was heard encouraging "dialogue" as much as they are doing now, after the fact. So what makes them think that now, after having come out victorious, Eritrea would give up her position to appease the weyane? Do they think they can scare us into it? This messy situation can only be described by borrowing a phrase from Mr. Legwaila's language: "too ghastly to contemplate!"