by Mohammed Ademo
New York (OPride) – Brussels-based nonprofit, the International Crisis Group, categorically denied rumors that cited the organization and pronounced the death of Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
On July 30, shortly after 2 p.m. an opposition outlet, ESAT radio announced the premier dead as breaking news citing diplomatic and international sources, including the ICG. Social media exploded when rumors spread that "ICG declared Meles Dead."
International Crisis Group declares Meles Zenawi has died! fb.me/1XbAX6hWl— zehabesha (@zehabesha) July 30, 2012
The Prime Minister has been out of the public eye for 40 days now. His whereabouts and health has become a subject of wild speculations and rumors starting mid-July. After initially refusing to disclose any information regarding the premier's health, government spokesman, Bereket Simon told reporters in Addis Ababa on July 19 that the prime minister was on a doctor prescribed sick leave and will resume full duty without specifying when.
Shortly afterwards, allegedly pro-government paper, Addis Fortune, in a massive headline, declared, citing anonymous government sources, that Meles was back in town.
A few days later, another Addis Ababa-based weekly, also close to the ruling party, The Reporter, offered a contradicting news and indicated that Zenawi was still abroad. In an interview with Addis Admas last week, veteran TPLF leader, Sehbat Nega, confirmed that Meles is in Europe but declined to say which country.
Citing the French newspaper, Le-Monde, journalist Daniel Berhane wrote a Facebook note saying Zenawi might have been transferred to U.S. military hospital in Germany sometime in mid-July. It is believed that Zenawi's health deteriorated around this time. Landstuhl Regional Medical center, located in the southwestern German state of Rhineland-Palatinate, is a Level I Trauma Center according to the American College of Surgeons.
For a few days, Ethiopia's rumorville and gossip columns were running out of scenarios. That is until yesterday when ESAT breathed life into it.
After online request above from OPride, ICG responded via Twitter, saying, “Crisis Group has never commented on Zenawi’s health or his fate, and is not in a position to speculate about it.”
— CrisisGroup (@CrisisGroup) July 30, 2012
@opride Crisis Group is not in a position to speculate about the fate of PM Meles Zenawi, nor have we commented on it to date.
@CrisisGroup: @opride this was not announced by us, we do not announce breaking news, rather we provide more in-depth analysis into international conflict
In a statement posted on its website on Tuesday, the group added, it “has no direct knowledge about the state of health of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.” “Crisis Group categorically denies any media claims to the contrary”
Unfortunate lack of transparency has the Ethiopian political rumorville in a frenzy.— Solome Lemma (@InnovateAfrica) July 30, 2012
OPride sources in Addis said security around the Menelik Palace is unusually tense amid reports of succession talks by high-ranking government officials.
Tuesday afternoon, in an editorial posted on Addis Voice, ESAT's Abebe Gellaw said the decision to broadcast the news about Zenawi's death "has never been easy." But "it was hard to ignore information from such a highly reputable international organization," wrote Gellaw, adding the Brussels-based Crisis Group "concluded that Mr. Zenawi was deceased" last week.
Referring to his May 18 encounter with Zenawi, during the food security talk at G8 summit, as "a turning-point in the tyrannical life of Mr. Zenawi," Gellaw insisted he is dead.
As far as I am concerned, our sources at ICG are more credible. I admit that I have not personally seen a death certificate or the dead body of Ethiopia’s former dictator. Based on the credible information we have received from Brussels, I am convinced that Meles Zenawi is dead. I do not believe that such reputable think tanks like ICG will get this wrong.
For the record, ESAT never quoted ICG. It quoted anonymous but credible sources working at ICG in Brussels. We are aware of ICG’s Tweet...ESAT never relied on a speculation or comment from ICG. We only had the privilege to access confidential information held by ICG that conclusively claimed Zenawi was dead...The Ethiopian people has a right to know the whereabouts of its ruler. Bring Meles Zenawi out alive or in a coffin for a final farewell. Then we will stand corrected.
For more information about the health and whereabouts of Meles Zenawi, see our Timeline below.
Born on May 8, 1955 at Adwa in northern Ethiopia, Zenawi has been the prime minister of Ethiopia for nearly 17 years. Prior to that, he served four years as the president of Ethiopia's transitional government. The former rebel-leader dropped out of Addis Ababa University's Medical School, where he studied for two years, to join the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front in 1974. He has been the chairman of both the TPLF and the ruling coalition, Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front, since 1989.
After the highly disputed 2005 election, Zenawi consolidated his grip on power acting against his critics without impunity. When his party won 99.6 percent of seats in the 2010 parliamentary election, many warned against the emergence of a strong one-man rule system. Zenawi's regime has been widely criticized in recent years for using draconian laws to stifle free press and the civil society. Earlier in July , Ethiopia's kangaroo court handed down heavy sentences to 24 dissidents, including prominent journalist Eskidner Nega. The country's only functioning "media", the Ethiopian Television and Radio, serve as megaphones for those in power.