FINELINE- The most hectic weeks for Addis Abeba


Here comes one of — hosting close to 37 heads of state, two vice presidents, and three prime ministers; not to mention their delegates, which number close to 4,000 in total. Add to that mix the near complete bulldozing of the whole town, to the frustration of motorists and commuters alike. There will also be 19 first ladies descending on Africa’s political capital, to take part in their own meeting with the first ladies’ coalition against HIV/Aids.

It will be interesting for gossip corridors to note who will represent Ethiopia at this meeting.

Traditionally, it was Azeb Mesfin, widow of the late Meles Zenawi, who had played the role of first lady, representing her country in such a venue; she was a founding member of the coalition, gossip disclosed. As a result, she was often widely referred to by the state and a large part of the private media as “first lady”, although this is a title ususally reserved for the spouse of the President, gossip recalled.

Ethiopia’s Constitution has a clear division of labour, between the role of the President, head of the state, and the Prime Minister, head of the government. The first lady should indeed be the spouse of the head of the state.

Titles in Ethiopia are precarious affairs.  There is always a slippery slope on how people want to be addressed, gossip observed. It is of little surprise in a society that is very much hierarchical and obsessed by procedures and protocols, claims gossip.

Azeb is no longer a candidate for the role of first lady, whether or not the Constitution would have permitted it, claims gossip. The family in residence up at Arat Kilo has changed, with the unexpected and unfortunate passing of her husband, gossip observed. It will be interesting to see how the state media handles this delicate matter, with Azeb’s place in the coalition of first ladies to be taken on by Roman Tesfaye, the spouse of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.

Roman is scheduled to sit in this club of spouses of heads of state, disclosed gossip. Yet, the state media is in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” type situation.  Introducing Roman to the public as “first lady” would only contribute to an extension of past mistakes, whilst a simple address as “spouse of the Prime Minister” would expose its double standards, claims gossip.

Be this as it may, the ongoing summit by the heads of state of the African Union (AU) is expected to elect Hailemariam as the chair of the Union for the next 12 months. They will also pass resolutions on a series of events to take place during this period, in relation to the marking of the organisation’s 50th anniversary, to commence in May 2013.

It will no doubt be a momentous period for Africans, where they will invite many notable personalities from outside of the continent, according to gossip.

One such personality will be Barack H. Obama, president of the United States, gossip disclosed. A joint invitation, issued by Prime Minister Hailemariam and Chairperson of the AU, Dlamini Zuma (PhD), has been sent out to the White House, gossip disclosed. Obama is not new to Africa, not simply because he draws his heritage from the continent, through his Kenyan father. His grandmother still lives there, and he has visited her previously, both as a college student and as senator.

Neither is he new to Ethiopia, having been here in 2008, when he travelled to Dire Dawa and the Somali Regional State, visiting USAID relief projects in the area. Whether or not he will honour Ethiopia with a visit as President of the United States is a question that American diplomats are reluctant to answer, for obvious reasons, according to gossip.

Pending a last minute official announcement, however, the positive nod from the White House has already been made last week, to the delight of Ethiopian diplomats and their AU counterparts, gossip disclosed. Although there have been a few former presidents to visit Addis Abeba; Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George Bush (Jr), Obama’s visit in May will be historic, in that he will be the first American serving president to spend a night or two in Addis Abeba, gossip disclosed.

Anything is possible; or so say some of the State Department’s old hands in gossip corridors.

Published on Jan 27, 2013 [ Vol 13 ,No 665]



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