What makes a great leader?

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When I left home last month, it was not easy to say goodbyes to friends and families. However, the excitement of travelling, seeing new places, and meeting new people from different part of the world, surpassed the butterflies in my stomach. Then two weeks after arriving in Phoenix, breaking news from my country started to pull me back home; it seems that things that Ethiopia see in eighty or fifty years time are happening in just two weeks. I could not help feeling as if I missed history in the making. His holiness Abune Paulos, the Patriarch of Ethiopian Orthodox Church passed away due to undisclosed illnesses. He has been the head of the Church since 1992.   http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-19285459 .  Even before the funeral of the Patriarch was executed, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi died at the age of 57 and no detail was given about his illness.   http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-19454253 .  By the way it is not a cultural thing to hide cause of death in Ethiopia.  When normal people get sick and passed away, we often get to hear the whole story.

Prime minister, Meles was in power since 1991 and I never thought I would see him step down from power let alone dead. So you can imagine how shocked I was by the news. But, I started to get rather fascinated, when I read and heard about how the news was received by people at home and abroad. For the first time I heard many people and some of my friends using words like ‘great leader’ ‘hero’, ‘father of the country’ ‘symbol of Ethiopia’s unity’ to describe our late prime minister. Probably I had not been paying enough attention or these words came out of pure emotion. But they surely are portraying him as a person who commands great leadership in Ethiopia and that remains debatable.  The government is going to build mausoleum to commemorate his life, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-19463563. I wonder if this would be one of those monuments that we get rid of when we have a regime change.

But I should not forget the groups on the other extreme, who rejoiced by the news. They see

Prime minster Meles Zenawi was receiving treatment abroad. Photograph courtesy BBC News

m to have hard time addressing the prime minister anything but a dictator and keep on reminding people of his grave mistakes and flaws as a leader of the country for the past 21 years.

With all the praises on the one hand and condemnation on the other, I started to ask what makes a leader a great leader.  Doesn’t one need to have a charisma and command of respect even by his opponents to be a great leader?


4 Comments on “What makes a great leader?”

  1. Dear Kibnesh,
    This is great reflection. You really captured how people in the country reflected to the death of PM. As you observed there is more than expected mourining events from general public in the country. It is not coercive as I heard from his critics. I think he has done something valuable for this country and even Mengistu HM has done many importnat things, which need due appreciation. But in my opinion, whether we like people or not we need to judge from macro picutures than our individual needs.

    In conclusion, great should have something in commenon from both his supporters and oponents but the issue is how both supporters and oponents see things irrespective of their personal affilation or needs.

    1. I agree with you, my biggest wish for my country is for a leadership who sees the bigger picture and work for the best interest of the nation.

  2. It was indeed a strange time to be away from home when so much seemed to be happening in a short space of time. People showed a genuine sadness at the passing of Meles which some might be surprised at but I think at a very basic level people understood that he was a husband, a father and someone (whether you agree with his policies or not) dedicated most of his life to Ethiopia. There is also something to be said for the fact that this was the first time Ethiopians had publically buried a leader – Menilik’s death was hidden for years and we all know what happened to Haile Salese! I also saw in many older persons that they saw their lives and the live of the nation reflected in his life-story … I think this made the pain more personal for people.
    Now we have a new PM, who comes from a minority ethnic group and a minority faith so these are definitely new times in Ethiopia. We can only hope that it will also bring with it a renewal in the belief in the dignity of all Ethiopians to live in peace and prosperity.

    1. It is only natural to feel and share the pain of a family losing a loved one. He was a husband and father. It is a shame that we had to be exposed to that side him too late. It is unfair to disregard all his dedication and contributions to the country. However, it is bizarre to see him described as flawless leader. I hope that we will get a true account of his leadership, when the dusts settle.

      Yes it is a new beginning for Ethiopia and I am up for something new!

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