Bereket Simon

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Blog   |   Ethiopia

In Meles' death, as in life, a penchant for secrecy, control

The late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, shown here in 2010. (AFP/Simon Maina)

Ethiopians awakened this morning to state media reports that Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, 57, the country's leader for 21 years, had died late Monday in an overseas hospital of an undisclosed disease. Within seconds, Ethiopians spread the news on social media; within minutes, international news media were issuing bulletins. Finally, after weeks of government silence and obfuscation over Meles' health, there was clarity for Ethiopians anxious for word about their leader. Still, it was left to unnamed sources to fill in even the basic details. Meles died in a Brussels hospital of liver cancer, these sources told international news organizations, and he had been ill for many months.

"Death of yet another African leader highlights secrecy & lack of transparency when it comes to ailing leaders," CNN's Faith Karimi noted on Twitter, where the hashtag #MelesZenawi was trending globally.

Blog   |   Ethiopia

Where is Meles Zenawi? Ethiopians don't know.

Rumors abound about the health and whereabouts of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. (AFP/Simon Maina)

If you search for the name of Ethiopia's prime minister, Meles Zenawi, on Twitter these days, you'll see a flurry of incongruent postings: Meles is hospitalized in critical condition; he's fine and returning to work; he died two weeks ago; he's on holiday. Journalists for international news outlets have tried to sort out fact from rumor, but they've gotten no help from Ethiopian government officials who offered only vague assurances that the country's longtime leader was ill but recovering. In Ethiopia, where the government has imposed increasingly repressive measures on the domestic press corps, news coverage has been minimal and contradictory.

International news outlets, such as ReutersThe Associated Press, and the BBC, reported last week that Meles was hospitalized for an undisclosed condition. Reuters, citing diplomatic sources, said he was being treated in Brussels, although even that scant nugget of information was not officially confirmed.

Blog   |   Ethiopia

Intimidation or imprisonment by 'democratic instruments'

The government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, foreground, is holding seven journalists, most on anti-state charges. (Reuters)

Three years ago, I met Minister Bereket Simon at his office at the center of Addis Ababa. I was with my colleague Abiye Teklemariam -- who was recently charged with terrorism, treason and espionage along with five other journalists, including myself.

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