Former Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s widow, Azeb Mesin who allegedly has stakes in several companies and businesses in the country, says that she is not as rich as as it is often claimed. “I live with my monthly income and within my means,” Azeb Mesfin said in a radio interview with the Addis-based Zami FM 90.7. “I would have given away all the money to the public but I don’t have it,” she said.
Azeb is regarded as a symbol of the confluence of power and wealth, not only as head of the richest conglomerate company, Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT), but also her alleged association with many secret business ventures. However, in the interview, she denied those claims. “I am aware of there has been unsubstantiated claims of corruption against me but the scale of it, I am just coming to find out. They say I have I have farms in Gambela region. I have more than 20 buildings in Addis Ababa. I am engaged in injera export business. It is all baseless and unsubstantiated,” she said. Azeb said she has not even yet constructed a house. She said the campaign and deliberate defamation against her is also perpetuated by some government officials who tries to distract the blame targeted at them. The interviewer failed to press her on the subject and the identity of the so-called politicians.
Azeb who has taken over the CEO position at EFFORT in 2011 after its former CEO, Abadi Zemo sent to Khartoum as ambassador described EFFORT as an example of iconic organization that was once broken and staged a successful turnaround under her leadership. Almost all of EFFORT’s companies are profitable and have top tax paying companies in the nation, she said.
Azeb was also asked about a newspaper claim on her refusal to move from the national palace after the death of her husband, which she said was a “lie.” She said she knew the source who provided the news to the paper and said it did not reflect the reality. “When they asked us to leave, it was not yet forty days after Meles’s passing. There was not a house ready for us to go into. We were shown a house that previously belonged to a certain wealthy person. I was not interested. I’d like to thank Muktar (the then civil service minister) on this occasion for arranging to find the residence where we are today. Otherwise, my children were not under any illusion to stay there forever.”
Azeb has lavished praise on the personality of her late husband Meles Zenawi and what she described as many of accomplishments in the most glowing terms. She said that the country is not moving at the same pace as it used to during Meles’s time.
The one-to-one interview with Mimi Sebahtu, the proprietor of Zami and a journalist close to the regime did not look a journalistic effort; rather it sounded a public-relations stunt, according to many commentators. Mimi radiated sunny, positive enthusiasm, and thanked Azeb for saving Zami radio when it was on the verge of its closure.
On June 2015, Ethiopia’s media licensing agency was about to shut down Zami because of controversy related to its popular radio program, EthiopikaLink but later abandoned it after the interventions of higher government officials, including Azeb Mesfin.
The questions sounded workshopped—parts of the social media blasting the journalist for her “soft” approach and “poor” line of questioning.
By Selam Kirubel