Negasso on Meles
Dandi, Negasso’s path is the result of collaboration between Dr. Negasso Gidada and journalist Daniel Tefera. Daniel coauthored the memoir based on a series of interviews he had conducted over a period of three months. He wrote down and arranged the material in the first person and Negasso edited and approved every chapter. Thus, though Daniel actually did the writing, it is reasonable to consider the work an autobiography.
The chapter on the relationship between Negasso and Meles makes a good reading, which is the focus of this post. It emerges that Negasso is a proud socialist in his politics, which is one of the reasons he favored TPLF, which grew out of the Marxist-oriented student movement against the Haile Selassie regime. Marist-Leninist explanation for the poverty of the mass of the population had validity for the TPLF at the start, which Negasso found appealing too. But to Negasso’s bewilderment, Meles started quietly dropping references to Marxism and pursued a political philosophy more acceptable to the West. This development left Negasso “deceived” and “angry,” a recurring state of mind in “Dandi.”
How well does Negasso channel his former comrade and current enemy?
Negasso says he and Meles never had a close personal or working relationship. “When we were named ministers during the transitional period, he invited us to the palace and made a congratulatory remark,” he recalls. “The other occasion that I use to see him was when he was chairing meetings.” Negasso hails Meles’s intelligence and persuasive discourse, and thinks Meles’s great advantage over most colleagues and opponents is his analytic and synthetic prowess. “He is well-read and he has a particularly good understanding of ideological theories, and history. He has grasped the philosophy of Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky.During the armed years, he was famous for working all night, reading voraciously and training cadres. I have visited the cave where he was staying. That was where he enriched his knowledge using generators and candles. In meetings, Meles used to engage participants in reasoned discussion, forward suggestions and reply to criticisms. He gave a chance for everyone of us to participate. He was not an autocrat. “
Meles’s brand of revolutionary democracy was as strange to Negasso as it was to many people. In one of the conversations he had with Meles, Negasso recalls he had the opportunity to ask him about the nature of revolutionary democracy. Meles said it had its origin in the failed 1904 Russian revolutionary precedent developed by Lenin. “It is a capitalist system that would prevail for a brief time before the transition from feudalism to socialism. With this formative period, the peasants and pastoralists along with revolutionary intellectuals would take power. (Without allowing capitalists to be the political players.) Then socialism would take over the political scene,” Meles told him. But Negasso says Meles never suggested reference books for him.
Negasso believes Meles has a fierce temper, and a tendency to demonize opponents. “He could get abrasive and foul-mouthed. He would say anything that comes to mind without any regard for others. He would deploy a threat, fib, anything at his disposal, to exert his will on a counterpart.” Meles would also do anything to have his own way and would decide on key issues without consulting the executives, according to Negasso. He cited an instance of how Meles revoked of General Tsadekan’s and Abebe’s military title, without consulting the executive and obtaining their approval. Afterward, Negasso has managed to reveal his exasperation to Meles, who told him that he had to do it as he found it necessary. “You don’t have to be angry about it,” Meles is reported as saying.
Negasso was frustrated at Meles’s inaction to clean out corruption in the government high-ranking officials, which he said undermined public confidence. When he once pressed the matter with him, “You need to get evidence to fight corruption. Securing evidences is not easy. Corruption could be fought more successfully by bringing change in the society. There is nothing I could do right now,” was Meles’s response. Then Negasso says he has come to a conclusion that “this man” has no any commitment to fight the vice.
Negasso particularly felt let down by the increasingly corrupt and grasping political class that has come to give up initial vision of a socialist Ethiopia. The direction taken by Meles towards capitalism hasn’t been pleasing to Negaso, who demonstrated discomfort with this cruel system.Although in his earlier days Meles proclaimed to espouse socialism that would favor the mass, he seems to have changed his mind somewhere along the way.Negasso joined the TPLF movement believing it expressed a broad commitment to democratic rights, including the rights of the different nations in Ethiopia. Negasso says he was flabbergasted when he heard Meles say, “We have put socialism under a table, in order to get the Western nation’s assistance and also win heart of Ethiopians who have come to regard the system in a negative light because of the Derg.” Negaso feared ethnic groups including the Oromos would have no place in the capitalist system as they have not accumulated capital yet.When Negasso confronted Meles with the issue, his response was typical, rude and dismissive. “Anyone who failed to notice the policy shift in the 1992 program was an illiterate person who can’t even work out that two plus two make four.”
The splits between them widened to take in more fundamental issues, becoming hostile in 2001 when a splinter group of dissidents from TPLF were expelled from the party.Negasso says he has made his views clear that he felt the dissident affair was not handled in a democratic manner by the government. It becomes clear from Negasso’s account that Meles harbored the feeling that the president was demonstrating a sentimental attachment to the splinter group and even branded him of being a “conspirator”. “I know you have been hosting Tewelde at the palace and conspiring with him,” Meles is quoted as saying. (Tewelde is one of the dissident suspended from TPLF). An accusation which Negasso says was “baseless and mischievous”.
The frustrations brought Negasso’s discontent with Meles to a climax at a meeting when Meles was speaking in a conceited way against the splinter group. “We stripped them away their jacket and send them away”, said Meles. Negasso was staggered. He raised his hands and said, “Excuse me, you are sounding exactly like Mengestu Hailemariam”. The room fell silent in shock. Genet Zewde who was sitting beside him wept bitterly.
The turf of war between Meles and Negasso continued until 22 June, 2001 when the latter was expelled from the EPRDF. The recollection adds a fresh layer of understanding about the relationships between the two men, and other issues which I will save for another post.