Ethiopian First Lady Pulls No Punches

25 Sep


One of the more disorienting things for us as children, was to watch our parents have a humongous marital spat on this side of the front door and then, the moment that door opened, turn into these Stepford characters who were so harmoniously put together, they might as well have plastic genitalia and be called Barbie and Ken. Nor were they content to participate in this strange drama for an unknown public’s benefit by themselves: they insisted we learn how to duplicate their success too.

The first day of kindergarten, for example, I felt just as bad as all the other little children screaming their angry, frightened, red-faced heads off. But I don’t remember making a single peep all day. I just stood there in the middle of this new, terrifying world of strange, yelly toddlers with snot running down their faces and waited for the world to end without uttering a sound.

People can hardly believe it when I tell them this. “You must have cried a little?” is the usual response.

Of course I did. A lot, in fact. In private. With my ayah. A couple of weeks later when I’d finally settled in and gotten comfortable with the idea of school. It felt really good. In retrospect, I wish I’d joined the mass hysteria in kindergarten and let it all out – I might have liked school better.

So it always touches a chord when I come across someone like Azeb Mesfin – controversial and award-winning AIDS and women’s rights activist, businesswoman, Member of Parliament, knockout, mother of three and wife to Ethiopia’s Prime Minister. From the pool report of the arrivals at the G20 dinner hosted by the Obamas:

Next arrives Ethiopian President Meles Zenawi, who clearly did something in the car to anger his wife because she glares at him, Mr. Obama, Mrs. Obama, and anyone unfortunate enough to cross her line of vision.

The Obama’s both look slightly taken aback by her. Wonder what happened in the car? The Ethiopian First Couple are quickly dispatched inside.

Clearly, she doesn’t have my mother’s voice echoing in her head. :mrgreen: I’m all for this new model of political wife who lets it all out.


Posted by on September 25, 2009 in Newsmakers, Personal, Politics


7 responses to “Ethiopian First Lady Pulls No Punches

  1. Ghazab Azeb

    September 25, 2009 at 8:13 pm

    Azeb’s a cool cat! I like her already. Never been a big fan of the “making all the right politically correct noises in the name of social etiquette” thingy, since I grew up not having to worry about it at all under the auspices of my dad, who was something of a Mr.Azeb (in that he was same old same old on either side of the front door and consequently, other than immediate family who had little choice in the matter, our social life was rather, uh, limited — oh thank heavens for that)! Funny how a woman’s inherent “Azeb”ness tends to vanish though, after she ties the knot. Moreso in the case of political wives — Gawd, all that pressure to “perform”!

    But hey, what caught my eye scrolling down that pool report was the last para where — in addition to Brazil and Japan practically running into one another (ah, the world sure is a shrinkin’!) — the Japanese first lady is noted as having just returned from (did I frickin’ read that right?) Venus! I thought that was some kind of joke until I looked it up and found this. I’ll take a hideously herself Azeb anyday, over an Eastern extra-terrestrial. 😀

    Speaking of Barbie and Ken and being whisked off to Venus while you’re a sleepin’, you’ll never guess where *I* got “teleported” to, in my dream last night — *your* bedroom, some twenty years back! And I warn you, your brother’s not gonna like hearing this: You — having swiped his G.I. Joe — were staging a make-out session between Joe and Barbie in the back of Barb’s Ferrari, after trotting poor unsuspecting Ken off to work! Tsk tsk…precious, precocious Amrita. 😛

  2. Pitu

    September 26, 2009 at 11:46 am

    Haha awesome. Here’s to some nice public mein tamashas 😀

  3. memsaab

    September 26, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    They look none too happy in front of the world’s most famous monument to love, either!

  4. sachita

    September 27, 2009 at 5:27 am

    there is the whole story of how queen elizabeth used to be giving an earful all the while smiling for the camera.. I am happy with the put-on smile otherwise it would be 24 hrs reality tv and I am not a big fan so..

    Imagine the TV channel from the Jayaprada report replaying it hazaar times, NDTV calling out a panel to speculate what she would have been upset about..

    • GA

      September 27, 2009 at 11:52 am

      sachita, oh ya. Totally. Acting lessons are par for the course no? if one wants to be in the public eye, that is (be it as a politician or screen persona). What Amrita is perhaps craving is a dash of non-actor “peppering” of the political salad, every once in a while, to spice things up a bit.

      After all, put-on smiles tend to tire just as much as a never-ending parade of Prada patter. At the end of the day, straightforward news coverage sure sounds like one heck of a balancing “act”, oxymoronically speaking. 😀

  5. Amrita

    September 27, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    GAzeb – Don’t go all Edward Cullen on me! Ahhahahah@ “Eastern ET”. She looks like such a sweetie, though. I feel like giving her a hug all the time. Can you imagine the kind of shit she must be giving her husband about conspiracies though? hee hee hee! “Ask Obama about Area 51” must be her mantra.

    Pitu – my favorite kind, maa kasam!

    Memsaab – there’s a class photo of all the first wives at the G20 and she’s giving serious bitchface in it too. Cracked me up 😀

    Sachita – I cant stand most reality shows because they’re so fake. Political tamashas otoh are so absolutely cringe-inducingly real, I can’t look away from them at all. I loves them 😳

  6. Alem

    September 27, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    Azeb Mesfin is an Ethiopian women’s right activist, businesswoman, member of parliament, and political spouse. She is also the vice President of Organisation of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA) and founder and patron of Ethiopia’s National Initiative for Mental Health.[There has been an intense behind the scene power struggle between Azeb and Sebhat as she moved to take total control of Woyanne’s assets.]

    This appointment is yet another public role Azeb assumes following the split within the leadership of the TPLF in early 2000. Not only was Azeb elected to the Federal Parliament in 2005 by a constituency in Welkait, she is also a chairperson of its Standing Committee on Social Affairs. She was also elected as a member of the Central Committee of the TPLF, a place she first got four years ago.
    First of all, they deliberately give privileged and monopolistic economic power to a minority segment of the society to control huge amounts of assets by TPLF- the ruling party. Secondly, they create barriers to new market entrants, especially for those who refuse to enter into some kind of joint venture or cooperative activity with the parastatals. Thirdly, they create an endemic culture of obscene corruption by leveraging state resources and unfair trade practices through granting privileged access to land and information regarding procurement. Moreover, since these parastatals operate across various sectors, some have real strategic influence on other sectors [transport sector] and high demand commodities [fertilizer].

    In a matter of few years, she has become perhaps the wealthiest woman in Africa through corruption. Most of the profitable companies in Ethiopia share their profits with her. She heavily invests the money she steals from Ethiopia in the U.S. real estate market. She is buying houses and commercial properties in several states, including Washington DC, Ohio, California, and Arizona.
    Her appearance at a special ceremony to honor the First Ladies of Africa for their efforts against the spread of HIV/AIDS held by Georgetown University of Washington DC on January 15, 2007 was met by protests of exiled Ethiopians.Mr. Zenawi also witnessed hundreds of Ethiopian protesters condemning him as a ruthless tyrant who should stand before the International Criminal Court at The Hague and not at the G-20 Summit in London.
    Azeb Mesfin was appointed Deputy CEO of Endowment Fund for Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT), a conglomerate consisting of over 60 companies.The Ethiopian economy is controlled by two large interlocking conglomerates: The Endowment Fund For The Rehabilitation of Tigrai (EFFORT) and Mohamed International Development Research Organization Companies (MIDROC), the Saudi billionaire, Sheikh Mohamed Al-Amoudi’s vast business enterprise.

    However, the focus of this report is on EFFORT, the Tigrai People’s Liberation Front’s (TPLF) economic empire, that has monopolized the private sector of the Ethiopian economy to the extent never seen anywhere in the African continent.

    The seeds for the thriving TPLF business empire were planted back in 1978 when the Relief Society of Tigrai (REST), the financial umbrella of the rebel movement in Northern Ethiopia was created as an NGO. Though REST was a relief organization, a TPLF Central Committee member headed it; and it collected donations from the international community and channeled it to the TPLF, playing a key role in the survival and ultimate victory of the TPLF over the Marxist military Derg.

    After the TPLF came to power in 1991, REST was formally registered with the Ethiopian government’s Relief & Rehabilitation Commission as an “NGO”. As the financial backbone of the TPLF, REST continued enjoying state protection; and the restructured REST emerged as the richest “NGO” in the African continent. In the summer of 1995, about four years after the rebel group took control of power in Ethiopia, the TPLF established a stronger peer for REST – the Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigrai (EFFORT). Business documents suggest that EFFORT started its business venture with a lofty investment volume of about 2.7 billion birr — then just under U.S. $1 billion.Due to these Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE) the dominant market player, faced financial meltdown a few years ago as its level of non-performing loans (NPLs) passed the 50% mark, due to unregulated lending to state-owned companies, parastatals, and to private individuals with political or personal connections with bank officials.
    Some of the huge businesses are , to mention a few: Mesfin Industrial Engineering, Sur Construction, Addis Pharmaceutical Factory (APF), Almeda Textiles Factory, Express Transit Service P.L.C. (EXTRAN), Ethiopian Experience Travel (EET), Ezana Mining Development (EMD), Guna Trading House, Hiwot Agricultural Mechanization, Saba Dimensional Stones (SDS), Sheba Tannery Factory, and Trans Ethiopia. Azeb would replace Abadi Zemu, the current CEO and a Zenawi confidante who a few years ago replaced Sebhat Nega, the 72-year-old TPLF veteran largely credited as the architect for the rise of Meles Zenawi as TPLF leader long before the rebel group toppled the Derg military regime in 1991.
    The TPLF has clearly been engaged in massive corruption and unethical business practices by national or international business rules and practices since its rise to power in Ethiopia. As a ruling party, it not only owns strategic sectors of the economy and engages in commercial and trading activities, it also puts competing private sectors in a hopeless no-win situation. This preponderant economic dominance is also used as a political weapon to harass, incarcerate, dominate, weaken and control opposition forces in order to stay in power indefinitely.

    Under these untenable circumstances, it is a moral imperative for the Ethiopian people to continue the struggle against the total economic and political domination of the Tigrai ethnic minority regime, that hails from one of the poorest regions of Ethiopia and produces no exportable commodity, yet, parasitically exploits the natural resources of the country for its sole benefit.

    The economic hegemony of the TPLF coupled with its gross mismanagement of the nation’s resources and the massive systemic corruption that has infected the body politic of the nation is the ticking time bomb that may very well destroy the fabric of the Ethiopian society

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