By Fred Oluoch
With the exit of Robert Mugabe, will the former Ethiopian dictator, Mengistu Haile Mariam, continue enjoying asylum in Zimbabwe?
That is the question that has been doing the rounds in Addis Ababa since November 14, when the military announced that it put his “protector” Mr Mugabe under house arrest after 37 years in power.
The Ethiopians who experienced Mr Mengistu’s 17 years of “Red Terror” reign are hoping that he will be the second former African president to be tried for international crimes after former Chad’s Hissene Habre.
Mr Habre was sentenced to life in prison in June 2016 by the Extraordinary African Chambers sitting in Senegal after Macky Sall took over as president after years of protection by Abdoulaye Wade.
Now, most victims of Mengistu reign of terror are hoping that President Emmerson Mnangagwa will allow the extradition of Mr Mengistu after 26 years of protection by Mr Mugabe.
Elias Miseret, a journalist based in Addis Ababa, told The EastAfrican that some Ethiopians wish that Mr Mengistu would be brought back to account for his atrocities, having been sentenced to death in absentia by an Ethiopian court in 2008.
Habtamu Baye, a consul at the Ethiopian embassy in Nairobi said he needed more time for consultations before giving his government’s position on the issue.
Mr Mengistu’s supporters, especially those in diaspora, maintain that he tried to keep Ethiopia together during his 17-year rule and blame the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front — which overthrew him in 1991 — of letting Eritrea secede, leaving the country without a seaport.
Mr Mengistu has been living in Harare as a “guest of Mugabe,” where the government has spent millions of dollars on his security and upkeep, providing him and his family with a villa in the Gun Hill suburb of Harare and enjoying round-the-clock protection.
Analysts say that there are strong indications that Mengistu will still find favour with President Mnangagwa.