Meles’s analysis of foreign relations was informed by a deep sense of history and the structural determinants of politics. I recall going to see him in March 2011, barely a fortnight after the overthrow of the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. I was expecting a discussion about Sudan, but he opened with a question: “What is happening in Tunisia and Egypt, is it 1989 or 1848?” He was referring to the popular uprisings that overthrow Communism in eastern Europe, and to the “springtime of the people” in the mid-19th century, in which there was a brief moment of democratic hope, before the liberals took fright and sided with the forces of repression, leading to a protracted authoritarian crackdown—but not before the spirit of revolution had been kindled across Europe.
Meles answered his own question: the Arab Spring was more like 1848. He foresaw that in Egypt, the liberal revolutionaries would not be able to sustain their breakthrough, and that the future of the country would be contested between the military establishment and the Islamists. And he predicted that, whatever government was in power, it would soon face the problem of the unrealized aspirations—principally the economic aspirations—of the Egyptian people. Hence it would try to externalize its problems. Constrained by the Americans from threatening Israel, he foresaw that Egypt would raise the issue of the Nile Waters and might seek to confront Ethiopia.
Meles’s diplomacy around the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam therefore included pro-actively engaging with the downstream nations to allay their legitimate concerns over the Nile Waters. He believed in a future of cooperation with Egypt, not confrontation. He was sure that the issue of the Nile waters could be resolved with a win-win formula.
This is a fine example of what I would like to see as Meles’s guiding principle of intellectual leadership. According to this principle, you must define and master an issue, or it will master you.
[Remarks byAlex de Waalon the occasion of the first anniversary commemoration of the death of Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, August 20, 2013.]
Source: Danielberhane’s Blog