Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam’s moving family story as revealed by siblings ; lesson for African leaders

It is not unusual to hear stories of African leaders linked to corruption stashing away millions of dollars (even billions) in oversea banks. Ethiopia itself is now corrupted at a higher level. However, the story of Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam, who is currently living in Zimbabwe, is remarkable different in a good way. Two of his siblings revealed the story in an interview with Journalist Dereje Haile.

Ethiopia - Mengistu Hailemariam - Ethiopians
Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam

borkena
August 20, 2019

As a man who led Ethiopia for 17 good years, Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam is definitely one of the most controversial figures in Ethiopian history.

There are those who accuse him as “butcher of Ethiopia,” as was often propagated in mainstream media in the west.  He is mostly accused of the “red terror”, certainly one of the darkest spots in the contemporary history of Ethiopia, and they claim that he is personally responsible for the deaths of thousands of young Ethiopians.

And there are those who tend to see his leadership within the context of a revolutionary situation in the country starting the year 1974 and in light of struggle between ‚Äúrevolutionary” and “counter-revolutionary” forces. This group argued that the “red terror” was rather a response to a political group that dared to advance opposition to the transitional military government, which Mengistu led; through violent means (they call it “white terror).

We still have another group of Ethiopians who tend to criticize Mengistu but for a different reason. They blame him for leaving Ethiopia and for not fighting to the end of his own life in Ethiopia.  From the perspective of this group, there seems to be an assumption that Mengistu made a conscious choice to escape from Ethiopia and leave for Zimbabwe – which is still a debate that is not settled for good. 

What is not disputable about Mengistu Hailemariam is that he led a selfless life as a leader and is not implicated in corruption – in all its forms.

Two of his siblings (he has four brothers and two sisters) are now revealing the circumstances ( economic and social) under which Colonel Mengistu’s parents and siblings lived both when he was in power and after he was toppled by Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) led a coalition of guerrilla groups. 

Dereje Hailemariam, host of Benegerachin lay in Arts World TV, spoke to Yeshi Hailemariam (sister and last born) and Dereje Hailemariam.

The interview revealed that Mengistu Hailemariam’s family led the life of an ordinary Ethiopian. In fact, it even appeared that the family struggled.

Dereje Hailemariam is a plumber and he still does not have a permanent job and has to struggle in the slow market for plumbers in Ethiopia, in the capital Addis Ababa.

All that his sister, Yeshi Haile Mariam, remembers as far as the financial benefit is concerned is while colonel Mengistu was in power is that at one time she asked him money for shopping; three siblings wanted to buy clothing.  And she remembers that he told her “Medab will give you.” He was referring to his wife Wubanchi Bishaw. And the wife gave them 150 Ethiopian birr – probably about the US $70 during that time.

Most Ethiopians do seem to know that Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam is clean when it comes to corruption and most of his colleagues have similar stories.

But what the two siblings revealed about their economic situation is very moving.

They also revealed that neither Mengistu himself nor his children (who are all grown up now and medical doctors by profession) are in touch with them.

The interview with Dereje Haile (in Amharic) is shared below.



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