The Promota Magazine
World mourns the death of the Ethiopian leader Meles Zenawi
Meles Zenawi, who ruled Ethiopia for more than 20 years, has died while undergoing treatment for an undisclosed illness, according to Ethiopian state television.
Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia’s authoritarian prime minister who guided his impoverished nation closer to prosperity through a steady economic opening, has died. He was 57 years old.
Meles Zenawi, a former rebel leader who served as president and prime minister of Ethiopia, seen here on June 10, 1991.
Mr. Meles succumbed to an infection late Monday stemming from an illness that the Ethiopian government wouldn’t disclose. Bereket Simon, Ethiopia’s communications minister, also wouldn’t say where the prime minister had died, but Mr. Meles is reported to have been in Europe seeking medical treatment.
Mr. Simon, the government spokesman, said Hailemariam Desalegn, Ethiopia’s deputy prime minister and long seen as the political heir to Mr. Meles, would step into the country’s top job. National elections that would name a new prime minister for Ethiopia aren’t expected until 2015, Mr. Simon told reporters in the country’s capital, Addis Ababa.
The looming question is whether Ethiopia will continue on the path set by the late prime minister, whose economic success had become widely admired in Africa even as his government was feared at home.
“He’s managed to do what no other African strongman has done,” said Jakkie Cilliers, executive director for the Institute for Security Studies, a think tank in Pretoria. “He was the living embodiment of the development state.”
Mr. Meles, a former rebel leader who served as president and prime minister of Ethiopia, combined iron-fisted political controls with the loosening up of lucrative industries. Those moves attracted private and foreign investment into telecommunication and manufacturing, helping to ease chronic food shortages and transform Ethiopia into one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies.
The number of private sector businesses increased from almost zero in 1991 to more 45,000. Almost 95% of children now enter primary school, and the child mortality rate has fallen, according to U.S. AID. Ethiopia remains one of the world’s poorest countries, but its economy is now growing at about 9%.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi attended a session at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January. Mr. Meles died Monday.
Mr. Meles also has proved an effective yet prickly ally to the U.S., one of its largest foreign donors.
During his time in power, Mr. Meles sought to end to conflicts in Sudan and Somalia and remained a staunch backer of counterterrorism efforts in the East Africa region. Yet human rights activists criticized Ethiopia’s prime minister for crushing dissent—jailing journalists, blocking critical websites and marginalizing the political opposition. The fact that he stayed in power from 1991 till his death meant that was no darling of either home-based or foreign human rights activists. For them, this repression was the only reason he lasted as long as he did.
Mr. Meles, in turn, would lambast the U.S. and other western countries for linking government aid to human rights. He praised China’s no-strings-attached method of doling out financial assistance, and admired how Beijing has navigated the economic opening of a poor, agrarian country—much like his own.
Mr. Meles was born on May 8, 1955 in northern Ethiopia. After graduating high school in Addis Ababa, he studied at Addis Ababa University for two years, but cut short his studies in 1974 to join the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. He was awarded an honorary degree by South Korea.
In recent years, Mr Meles spearheaded African demands for a more fair and open engagement in global climate change talks.
In the following years, he rose through the ranks of the party and became chairman of the TPLF and the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Front, an alliance of political movements in Ethiopia. Zenawi and His rebel Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) came to power in 1991 with US backing when they toppled the then-military junta of the increasingly unpopular former Marxist Mengistu Haile Mariam.
In 1991, he became president of Ethiopia after the defeat of the military junta and also served as chairman of the African Union for a year.
Mr. Meles became prime minister in 1995 and was re-elected in 2000. He won again in 2005, but the elections were marred with violence. When opposition supporters demanded respect for their votes, police opened fire in Addis Ababa, killing 193 and wounding hundreds of others. Thousands of opposition leaders and supporters were rounded up and detained. In 2010, Mr. Meles was re-elected and swept all but two of the 546 declared seats in parliament, but critics said the elections weren’t free and fair.
He is likely to be best remembered for ending the war and signing a peace treaty with neighbouring Eritrea. This ended what had been a bloody conflict over independence and then border delineations.
Re-Edited by Ade Daramy
Original —Jenny Gross in London and Tesfalem Waldyes in Addis Ababa