In December 2010 I traveled to Cancun, Mexico to cover the UN climate change talks – the COP16. It was there that I met and had a brief chat with the late Ethiopian President Meles Zenawi. Zenawi had been selected by African heads of state to represent collective views of African states at the talks.
It wasn’t easy to access him, just like any other leader at such a big world summit but I got a moment after he appeared on a panel talking about economy and climate change. He was as sharp as a tack cutting through all figures of what price the continent’s people were paying as a result of global warming and other climatic effects and what it would take for us to adapt to the changing patterns.
After the session I had a brief interview with him before he was led to some stall he had to visit. On the way back I had one more question for him and I did make a successful attempt.
I was amazed by his interest in details. I had told him am Ugandan but he wanted to know where exactly in Uganda I was from. When I mentioned west, he still wanted to know which town I was from. Then I went on to say near Mbarara and on his insistance I finally said Bushenyi. I had yet to visit Ethiopia where I have great friends who are like family to me in many ways.
When I finally visited the country later that month, I was told about the suppression of the people. I was shocked to know that even a Facebook status complaining about food prices and what government was or wasn’t doing could put one in trouble. I found it a great country with great history whose peoples were yet to see freedom.
Ethiopia appears in the last deck of countries when it comes to civil liberties, press freedom and Meles presided over a government that did little listening to dissenting voices.