Meles Zenawi Asres (Ge’ez: መለስ ዜናዊ አስረስ mäläs zenawi asräs listen ; 9 May 1955 – 20 August 2012, born Legesse Zenawi Asres) was the Prime Minister of Ethiopia from 1995 to 2012. From 1989, he was the chairman of the Tigrayan Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF), and the head of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) since its formation in 1991. Before becoming Prime Minister in 1995, he served as President of the Transitional Government of Ethiopia from 1991 to 1995.
In 1975, he left college to join the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), and opposing the Derg. After the overthrow of the military regime, he was elected as President of the transitional government and later as Prime Minister.
Meles Zenawi’s ruling EPRDF is infamous for human rights violations and authoritarian leadership that spanned for more than 25 years.
Meles was born in Adwa, Tigray, in northern Ethiopia, to an Ethiopian father Zenawi Asres from Adwa and Alemash Guebreluel from Adi Quala, Eritrea. He was the third of six children. His first name at birth was “Legesse” (thus Legesse Zenawi, Ge’ez: ለገሰ ዜናዊ legesse zēnāwī). However, he eventually became better known by his nom de guerre Meles, which he adopted in honor of university student and fellow Tigrayan Meles Tekle who was executed by Mengistu’s government in 1975. He received primary education at Queen of Sheba Junior School located in Adwa. It took him 5 years to complete the regular 8 years program as he was able to skip grades and join the next level. He then joined the prestigious General Wingate High school in Addis Ababa on full scholarship and completed high school in 1972.
After high school, Meles studied medicine at Addis Ababa University (at the time known as Haile Selassie University) for two years before dropping out his studies in 1974 to join other students and form Tigrayan National Organization (TNO) the forerunner Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in Dedebit, Tigray. Aregawi Berhe, a former member of the TPLF, notes that historians John Young and Jenny Hammond “vaguely indicated” Meles as founder TPLF in their books. Aregawi insists that both he and Sibhat Nega joined the Front “months” after it was founded. While a member of the TPLF, Meles established the Marxist-Leninist League of Tigray.
TPLF was one of armed groups struggling against Lieutenant Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam and the Derg, the junta which lead Ethiopia under iron fist from 1974-1991. Meles was elected member of the leadership committee in 1979 and chairman of the executive committee of TPLF in 1983. He was the chairperson of both the TPLF and the EPRDF after the EPRDF assumed power at the end of the Ethiopian Civil War in 1991. He was president of the transitional government of Ethiopia (TGE), during which Eritrea seceded from the country and a federal Government that is based on representing the nation and nationality of the country started.
Presidency and Premiership
Meles stated that EPRDF’s victory was a triumph for the thousands of TPLF-fighters who were killed, for the millions of Ethiopians who were victims of the country’s biggest famine during the Derg regime, when some estimates put up to 1.5 million deaths of Ethiopians from famine and the Red Terror. Accordingly, he maintained that the big support it received from peasants and rural areas helped EPRDF maintain peace and stability. Foreign support was diverse; the Arab League, as well as Western nations, supported the EPRDF rebels against the communist Moscow-supported government (although the TPLF was at the time Marxist) at the height of the Cold War.
“What the implications of this will be in terms of relations between Ethiopia and the European Union, we will have to wait and see but I don’t think you will be surprised if Ethiopia were to insist that it should not be patronised.”
The United States facilitated peace talks between different rebel groups including EPRDF and the Derg to bring an end to civil war which lasted for 17 years and reach some kind of political settlement in 1991. The talks didn’t bear any fruit as EPRDF’s force were moving to the capital and Mengistu fled the country. The United State agreed to support the EPRDF which would have, nevertheless, seized power without anyone’s support.Many angry demonstrators in Addis Ababa reacted to this by protesting against Herman Cohen, the U.S. State Department’s chief of African affairs who attended a conference that demonstrators viewed as legitimizing the EPRDF.
Even though the victory of EPRDF success was welcomed as a relief from DERG’s military rule, there was strong anti-EPRDF sentiments present in many parts of the country and was strongly visible in Addis Ababa. The main opposition to EPDRF’s and by implication Meles’s rule emanated from the fact that EPDRF facilitated and supported at best or didn’t at least oppose the secession of Eritrea which left Ethiopia land-locked. This was just the beginning of the opposition to Meles’ EPRDF party after it gained power and more strong opposition followed. Addis Ababa has since been the center of peaceful opposition to the EPRDF, while the eastern Somali Region has been the most active region for armed opposition.
In July 1991, Convention of Nationalities was held. It was the first Ethiopian multinational convention where delegates of various nations and organizations were given fair and equal representation and observed by various international organizations including the United Nations, Organization for African Unity, European Economic Community, and the United States and the United Kingdom.
Meles moved to have Ethiopia gain a larger share of the Nile River water. Part of this entailed using Ethiopia’s hydropower prospects as leverage in exporting power to Egypt, amongst others. He had also aided the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement prior to South Sudan’s independence as the rebels fought the government in Khartoum. Since the War on Terrorism, Meles sought to consolidate Ethiopia’s hegemony in East Africa, including his mediation efforts with Sudan and South Sudan, as well as stabilizing Somalia towards the end of the mandate of the Transitional Federal Government. Though he had controversially sent troops to fight against the Islamic Courts Union, since 2009 he had been praised for working towards a stable situation along with the African Union.
Although Meles and his administration claimed they preferred a united but federal state that included the Eritrean state, since Meles’ TPLF fought together with EPLF, Meles originally left the decision to the Eritrean citizens in the hope that the independence referendum would vote against secession, according to Time magazine’s 1991 analysis. However, after the EPLF secured their borders when Mengistu’s regime fell, and after the majority of Eritreans voted for independence on 24 May 1993, Isaias Afewerki became the leader of Eritrea. Many in the Meles administration, as well as opposition parties were angry over the decision to grant Eritrea its independence.
Despite working together against the Derg regime, Meles and Afewerki’s positive relationship turned sour after Meles succumbed to U.S. pressure to hold an election within a year, but Afewerki abandoned his original promise to create a transitional government in the early 1990s. The Eritrean-Ethiopian War began in May 1998 following the Eritrean troops invasion of Badme and parts of Sheraro woredas. Following the invasion Ethiopia demanded that the Eritrean troops leave the invaded areas completely. However, president Afeworki of Eritrea refused to pull out. Then the Ethiopians responded with huge counter – offensive measures which subsequently lead to the capture of the disputed Badme area and most parts of western Eritrea, Ethiopian President Negaso Gidada gave a victory speech and a peace treaty was signed a few weeks later. According to the peace treaty Ethiopia then pulled out of the Eritrean Territory. Though Ethiopian troops controlled Badme, after an international court ruled that Badme belonged to Eritrea, Ethiopia continued to maintain a presence of Ethiopian soldiers in the town.
After Meles signed a United Nations peace treaty, Defense Minister Siye Abraha, disagreed with those aligned with Meles over “key issues of ideology” and accused Meles’ supporters of corruption and Zenawi for failing to act quickly or decisively enough over the crisis with Eritrea. This led to a showdown at a meeting of the Politburo of the EPRDF, wherein Meles won a 15–13 vote on his proposed statement that “the greatest threat that Ethiopia was facing was corruption and undemocratic tendencies.” Meles said afterwards that the dissenting members had at that point insisted that the meeting be aborted and called for a general meeting of the TPLF, a move Meles described as “a violation of democratic principles and the statute of the front.” A number of the dissenting members of the TPLF, including Siye, were quickly arrested and imprisoned. Siye was later released after five years in prison, and joined opposition parties. This rift is thought to have led to the murder of Kinfe Gebremedhin, a former TPLF commander, Chief of Security and Immigration and a right-hand man of Meles.
Some believe Meles wanted Aferwerki to remain in power, despite their deep disagreements. According to a BBC Monitoring report, Meles reportedly blocked four million dollars of support from being transferred from Yemen and Sudan to the Eritrean National Alliance opposition group which was trying to overthrow the Eritrean regime.
After a threat on an invasion of Ethiopia, Meles declared war on the ICU. In 2006, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) assumed control of much of the southern part of Somalia and promptly imposed Shari’a law. The Transitional Federal Government sought to re-establish its authority, and, with the assistance of Ethiopian troops, African Union peacekeepers and air support by the United States, managed to drive out the rival ICU. On 8 January 2007, as the Battle of Ras Kamboni raged, TFG President and founder Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, a former colonel in the Somali Army, entered Mogadishu for the first time since being elected to office. The Somali government then relocated to Villa Somalia in the capital from its interim location in Baidoa. This marked the first time since the fall of the Siad Barre regime in 1991 that the federal government controlled most of the country.
Following this defeat, the Islamic Courts Union splintered into several different factions. Some of the more radical elements, including Al-Shabaab, regrouped to continue their insurgency against the TFG and oppose the Ethiopian military’s presence in Somalia. Throughout 2007 and 2008, Al-Shabaab scored military victories, seizing control of key towns and ports in both central and southern Somalia. At the end of 2008, the group had captured Baidoa but not Mogadishu. By January 2009, Al-Shabaab and other militias had managed to force the Ethiopian troops to retreat, leaving behind an under-equipped African Union peacekeeping force to assist the TFG’s troops.
Some political parties in Ethiopia opposed Meles’ policies and demanded the complete withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Somalia. Merera Gudina, leader of the opposition party United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF) said “the military victory against the Islamic Courts forces was not followed by political victory or national reconciliation.” He also said staying in Somalia harms the Ethiopian economy and some of the leaders in the transitional Somali government were not reaching out to civil society members in Somalia. With the exception of the SPDP, UEDP-Medhin (EDUP) and ONC opposition parties, not many opposition parties in Ethiopia supported the choice of intervention in Somalia by Meles’ ruling party. Some members of the Somali parliament also expressed their appreciation of Ethiopia’s help publicly, but opposition remained against the intervention, which was portrayed as an invasion instead.
Between 31 May and 9 June 2008, representatives of Somalia’s TFG and the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) group of Islamist rebels participated in peace talks in Djibouti brokered by the former United Nations Special Envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah. The conference ended with a signed agreement calling for the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops in exchange for the cessation of armed confrontation. Parliament was subsequently expanded to 550 seats to accommodate ARS members, which then elected Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the former ARS chairman, to office.
In October 2011, a coordinated multinational operation began against Al-Shabaab in southern Somalia, with the Ethiopian military eventually joining the mission the following month. According to Ramtane Lamamra, the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, the additional Ethiopian and AU troop reinforcements are expected to help the Somali authorities gradually expand their territorial control.
Meles played an important role in developing the African Union’s position on climate change since 2009 and was a ‘friend of the Chair’ at the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
On 31 August 2009, Meles was appointed Chair of the African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change (CAHOSCC). The group had been established following the 4 February 2009 decision at the 12th AU Assembly of Heads of States to build a common Africa position on climate change in preparations for COP15.
Prior to Meles’ appointment, but in light of the AU’s decision and the Algiers Declaration on the African Common Platform to Copenhagen, on 19 May 2009 the Africa Group made a submission to the UNFCCC that included demands for US$67 billion per year in finance for adaptation funding and US$200 billion per year for mitigation and set targets in terms of reductions of emissions by developed countries not by reference to temperature.
On 3 September 2009 Meles made a speech to the Africa Partnership Forum where he said:”
We will never accept any global deal that does not limit global warming to the minimum unavoidable level, no matter what levels of compensation and assistance are promised to us… While we will reason with everyone to achieve our objective, we will not rubber stamp an agreement by the powers that be as the best we could get for the moment. We will use our numbers to delegitimize any agreement that is not consistent with our minimal position. If needs be we are prepared to walk out of any negotiations that threaten to be another rape of our continent.
On 12 December 2009 at COP15, the Africa Group made a further submission to the UNFCCC that called for 45% emission reductions by developed countries by 2020, finance for adaptation of $150 billion immediately as special drawing rights from the IMF, $400 billion in fast-track financing, and 5% of developed countries’ GNP in longer-term financing. On 15 December 2009, Meles Zenawi issued a joint press release with the President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, which declared that the African Union position at Copenhagen was a 2 °C temperature target, 10 billion euros in ‘fast-track financing,’ and 100 billion euros in ‘long-term financing.’ This new position from Meles was observed to be the same as the European Union’s position and received widespread condemnation by other African leaders, including Namibian Prime Minister Nahas Angula, Lesotho’s Bruno Sekoli, Ugandan chief negotiator and Minister of Water and Environment Maria Mutagamba and Sudan’s Ambassador and Chair of G77, Lumumba Di-Aping. African civil society groups condemned the position as a betrayal of Africa. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said the two-degree target “condemns Africa to incineration and no modern development”.
The Copenhagen Accord went on to reflect the EU’s position as adopted by Meles.
Criticism and scandals
Allegations of repression in Oromia
According to Freedom House, under the government of Meles discrimination against and repression of Oromo people was widespread. Human Rights Watch (HRW) notes that local government in the Oromia Region has “routinely commit[ted] various human rights violations against people they believe to be critical or unsupportive of the government.” After relations between the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and the ruling government broke down in 1992, the government banned the OLF, and has since regularly accused political detainees of being OLF operatives. HRW further notes that “according to former Ethiopian President Negasso Gidada, when he left office in 2001 roughly 25,000 people were in prison on OLF-related charges throughout Oromia and in Addis Ababa and no public moves have since been made to substantially reduce the number of detainees.”
On 13 December 2003, an ethnic conflict in the Gambela Region led to the death of 61 Anuaks in one day and hundreds more over the coming months. It is alleged that highlanders were being helped by the Ethiopian Defense forces. According to Amnesty International, federal soldiers participated in the killings and regional authorities did not take necessary preventative measures against the violence.
The highlanders are mostly from the northern regions of Amhara and Tigray (but also Oromia). They populated the Gambela region after they were forced to move southwest from the north in the mid-1980s. When Mengistu Haile Mariam ruled in the 1980s, more than 1.5 million Ethiopians were forced to relocate, which led to more than 200,000 Ethiopian dead and many more sick in what is described as one of the worst humanitarian crises of that decade. Since then some northern highlanders have been living in Gambela, adding fuel to an already existing conflict between the Nuar and the Anuaks.
In December 2003, some of the highlanders who worked for the Ethiopian refugee agency were looking for new camps to shelter the thousands of Sudanese fleeing from their country’s internal battles. Early that month, a group of armed Anuak killed many highlanders. Anuak rebels had also killed eight people in an attack on a United Nations vehicle. Ethiopian Defense Forces set up their headquarters at the refugee camp and took the bodies of the dead highlanders to Gambella town for burial, triggering an attack against Anuak civilians on 13 December 2003, which continued for several days. The massacres were labeled a “genocide” by Genocide Watch, which later charged that genocidal massacres were also committed against ethnic Ogadenis, and other groups, and called for an investigation of the human rights record of the Meles regime in an open letter to the UN Commissioner for Human Rights.
The Anuak people maintain they have been gradually displaced from their traditional lands. Despite 5,000 Ethiopian troops being deployed to keep peace in the area, tensions are still high. Anuak tribesmen interviewed by BBC correspondents said they appreciated the government’s effort to keep peace against Anuak rebels, yet ordinary Anuaks still fear for their lives. In October 2005, Anuak rebels attacked a Catholic church and a police station.
The Ethiopian government, including Meles, stated that both the Anuak insurgents and the highlander militias were responsible for the conflict and “without the intervention of the army, the killings would have continued indefinitely.” Regional security forces made an effort to restrain the tension between the ethnic groups, which are historically enemies. After an independent investigation, four town soldiers were put in prison for favoring one ethnicity over another during the ethnic conflicts. Many regional government officials claim the number of dead was not 400, but that around 200 armed Anuaks and highlanders were killed after the ethnic violence.
The government and other critical analysts often disregard pro-Anuak sources of information and testimonies, seeing them as biased against other local ethnicities. However some Anuak sources gave diverse accounts. For instance, Anuak refugees and witnesses who claimed they saw the conflict and massacre said that the bloodshed was started by anti-government civilians as well as anti-government soldiers and anti-government officials in order to create problems for the government.
Despite progress to curb the historical ethnic divisions and political tensions, there still remains a relatively tense political situation in the Gambella region. Recently the Gambella Peace Olympics, a sport festival promoting peace and development amongst the Gambella region’s ethnic groups, including Anuaks and Nuars, was held in a bid to bring about constructive dialogue and long-term peace among the region’s often feuding ethnic groups.
Meles played great role in Ethiopian politics. He created ethnicity based federalism and each nation nationality lack trust among them. He also jailed a number of journalists, political leaders,civil right activists and innocent people. Since 2007, there is no freedom of speech, assembly. Even registered legal oppositions can’t make a single meeting in the Hotels of Addis Ababa. You can’t think of political movement in the rural part of Ethiopia. A number of media duplication have been ceased. The democratic aspect of the country is deconditioning and it is very scary as it may lead to civil unrest. In response to the aftermath of the 2005 election, Meles told the Washington Post: “I would love to be the African leader that steps down, that overthrows this idea of a Big Man ruler. I don’t want to stay in office forever.”
On 18 October 2006, an independent report said Ethiopian police massacred 193 protesters, mostly in Addis Ababa, in the violence of June and November following the May 2005 elections. The information was leaked before the official independent report was handed to the parliament. The leak made by Ethiopian judge Wolde-Michael Meshesha found that the government had concealed the true extent of deaths at the hands of the police.
This leak also brought more accusations that the opposition party which provoked the riots was trying to damage the reputation of the government by leaking the inquiry unlawfully. Gemechu Megerssa, a member of the independent Inquiry commission, which Meshesha once worked with, said Meshesha taking the report “out of context and presenting it to the public to sensationalise the situation for his political end is highly unethical.”
The judge in Europe described the deaths as a massacre and said the toll could well have been higher. The judge was filing for asylum and is currently living in Europe, bringing speculation that he was biased to begin with in support of the opposition party, but he claimed that he had to leave the country because he thought he would be “harassed” by the government. He speculated that Meles ordered troops to shoot at protesters. But according to the New York Times, Meles said “he did not authorize the police to use live bullets.”
The official report described by the parliament and the government gave exactly the same details as the leaked inquiry. It said that 193 people had been killed, including 40 teenagers. Six policemen were also killed and some 763 people injured. Police records showed 20,000 people were initially arrested during the anti-government protests. The government said various witnesses from the Kinijit (CUD) opposition party have testified that CUD leaders assured them of a demise of Meles’ party and government in order to start an armed rebellion. The witnesses stated that CUD leaders encouraged them to start military training and planning to overthrow the government. The commission members living in Addis Ababa criticised the government saying;
We are not saying the government was totally clean. The government has a lot to be accountable for. The mentality of the police needs to be changed, and then we will be able to minimize those kinds of casualties in the future. Building of [democratic] institutions is required, but that is going to take time. The government was not prepared to tackle violence like that which took place last year. They could have brought an alternative way of dispersing rioting crowds.
The independent Inquiry commission members added Meshesha going to Europe and reporting information out of context was “dishonest” and ugly politics, as well as insensitive to the process of developing Ethiopia’s young democracy. The commission said Ethiopians need to solve their problems themselves so that this kind of violence will not occur again, that respecting authority and each other and working together is important, and that changing the mentality of the police is what the “government has to think about seriously.”
Despite all these post-election issues and complications, in addition to the Carter Center and the US government British MPs continued to praise the democratic process in Ethiopia. After meeting with some opposition parties, British MPs stated that the Ethiopian government should always stand firmly against those who try to use “undemocratic and unconstitutional means” to change government.
Presently, all except 20 of the elected opposition members have joined the Ethiopian parliament along with the EPRDF party members. Top opposition parties, UEDF and UEPD-Medhin, are peacefully working with the government for negotiations on the democratic process. Many opposition parties are represented in the Ethiopia Parliament, where representatives from Oromia state hold the most seats and representatives from the Amhara State hold the second-most seats, in correlation with the population order of the corresponding states. Various opposition parties including UEDF, UEPD-Medhin, Somali People’s Democratic Party (SPDP), EDL, Gambella People’s Democratic Movement (GPDM), All Ethiopian Unity Organization (AEUO), Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM) and Benishangul-Gumuz People’s Democratic Unity Front (BGPDUF) hold seats in the parliament. Despite pressure to release the CUD leaders who were rounded up after the post election violence, an Ethiopian court convicted 38 of the top CUD leaders. After various negotiations to solve the deadlock via a political agreement, the convicted CUD leaders signed a document, which many believe was coerced out of them, accepting their “mistakes” and an accountability ranging from partial to full responsibility for the post-election violence.
Currently, all of the leaders of the main opposition party (CUD) are out of jail after an alleged attempt to initiate the post-election violence and overthrow the government. All of these charges are denied by the CUD leadership both in and outside Ethiopia, and the European Union continues to plea for the political prisoners to be released after a speedy trial. Some of these elected CUD officials endure very harsh conditions inside Ethiopia’s poorly maintained prisons and they are at risk of various medical complications. As a result of the violence after the elections, many thousands were arrested and imprisoned. Even though most have been freed a few still remain in prison. Up to the end of 2005, around 8,000 Ethiopian rioters had been freed.
After long and slow judicial proceedings an Ethiopian judge dropped the controversial charges of attempted genocide and treason against 111 people arrested after election protests. Twenty-five accused, mostly journalists and publishers, have also been acquitted of all charges. However several opposition leaders remain in custody, accused of trying to violently overthrow the government. After the original arrests the Prime Minister told the parliament that releasing “these hardliners” would embolden them to think “whatever their action, they will not be held accountable.” Thus, he stated, “the government has made it abundantly clear that interfering with the judicial process for the release of hardliners is out of the question. The government has taken this unwavering position not because of stubbornness or for a lack of willingness to resolve issues through dialogue and negotiation.” The ruling party has accused the group of trying to utilize street uprising techniques as a way to change regimes. Various supporters of the government and supporters of peaceful opposition parties who function in the parliament continue to accuse the imprisoned opposition group of “extremism” and accuse them of following the textbook directions given by Dr. Negede. An exiled and educated Ethiopian, Dr. Negede is known for the famous book he wrote on how to overthrow the government through street uprising. However Amnesty International and the supporters of the group in jail claim that the detainees are “prisoners of conscience” who are innocent and should be freed immediately and unconditionally. In June 2007, the Ethiopian court found the CUD opposition party’s 38 senior figures guilty of the charges. After CUD’s top leaders signed a paper accepting responsibility for the violence, some sources claimed the leaders would be freed in a short time. All of the leadership of the CUD party were released after the pardon board accepted their apology letter. According to VOA news, a CUD spokesman Hailu Araya said, “We signed it voluntarily. We apologized to the people, to the government. Yes, we did. That’s what the paper said, and that’s what we signed.”
Illness and death
In July 2012, questions arose concerning Meles’ health when he did not attend African Union summit meetings in Addis Ababa. Opposition groups claimed that Meles may have already died on 16 July while undergoing treatment in Belgium; however, Deputy Prime Minister Haile Mariam Desalegne attributed Meles’ absence to a minor illness. A press conference, during which the government planned to clarify Meles’ health status, was scheduled for 18 July but postponed until later in the week. While the government acknowledged that Meles had been hospitalised, it stated that his condition was not serious. There were further rumours of his death when he was not seen in public after the 2012 G20 summit and at the time of the death of the head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Abune Paulos.
On 20 August, Meles Zenawi died after contracting an infection in Belgium.
Minister of Information Bereket Simon announced on state television:
It’s a sad day for Ethiopia. The man who led our country for the past 21 years and brought economic and democratic changes, has died. We have lost our respected leader. Meles has been receiving treatment abroad. He was getting better and we were expecting him to return to Addis Ababa. But he developed a sudden infection and died around 11:40pm last night. His body will be returned to Ethiopia soon. We have set up a committee to organise his funeral. More information will be released about that soon. As per Ethiopian law, Hailemariam Desalegn has now taken over the leadership. He will also be in charge of the Ethiopian military and all other government institutions. I would like to stress, nothing in Ethiopia will change. The government will continue. Our policies and institutions will continue. Nothing will change in Ethiopia. Desalegn will be confirmed by parliament.”
After his body was repatriated two days later, thousands of mourners congregated on streets from the airport to Meles’ former residence to pay their last respects as his coffin, draped in the flag of Ethiopia, was accompanied by a military band. The event was attended by political, military and religious leaders, as well as diplomats and his wife, Azeb Mesfin. The body will lie in state and the funeral date set is arranged. A declaration of national mourning was also issued. There were also fears of a power vacuum after his death, as well as a possible detriment to Eritrea-Ethiopian relations.
Meles’s funeral took place in Addis Ababa on 2 September 2012 in a religious ceremony attended by at least 20 African presidents and thousands of Ethiopians gathered in Meskel Square.
Political leaders, states and institutitions offered their thoughts on Meles following his death.
- Olympic gold medalist Haile Gebrselassie praised Meles’ achievements.
- Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised Meles’ “exceptional leadership.”
- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office issued a statement that read: “[Netanyahu] presented his condolences to the Ethiopian people. Meles was loved in his country. He was also a true friend of Israel. During his mandate Ethiopia became one of Israel’s closest friends.”
- Prime Minister David Cameron called Meles “an inspirational spokesman for Africa.”
- President Barack Obama released the statement: “It was with sadness that I learned of the passing of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia. Prime Minister Meles deserves recognition for his lifelong contribution to Ethiopia’s development, particularly his unyielding commitment to Ethiopia’s poor. I met with Prime Minister Meles at the G-8 Summit in May and recall my personal admiration for his desire to lift millions of Ethiopians out of poverty through his drive for food security. I am also grateful for Prime Minister Meles’s service for peace and security in Africa, his contributions to the African Union, and his voice for Africa on the world stage. On behalf of the American people, I offer my condolences to Prime Minister Meles’ family and to the people of Ethiopia on this untimely loss, and confirm the U.S. Government’s commitment to our partnership with Ethiopia. Going forward, we encourage the Government of Ethiopia to enhance its support for development, democracy, regional stability and security, human rights and prosperity for its people.”
- President Lee Myung-bak released this statement: “The passing of Prime Minister Meles is being mourned across the globe. We all have just lost a great leader of Ethiopia and a preeminent advocate for Africa and the developing world. […] I pray for the repose of a truly bright mind who lived an intense and moving life – my close friend.”
Western NGOs Amnesty International called for the new administration to end Meles’ “ever-increasing repression” and Human Rights Watch similarly added that the next administration should repeal the 2009 anti-terrorism law. As the New York Times asked about a gap between the United States of America’s strategic and ideological goals in relation to its support for Meles’ government, it quoted HRW researcher Leslie Lefkow as saying: “There is an opportunity here. If donors are shrewd, they will use the opportunity that this presents to push a much stronger and bolder human rights stance and need for reform.” Author Dan Connell, who had interviewed Meles in June, said that “he seemed focused [then] on wrapping up a number of major projects as if he were aware the end was near. Meles knew his days were numbered.” The Committee to Protect Journalists cited and criticised the secrecy around Meles’ death. The Washington Post said that the “circumstances of his death remained laced with intrigue.”
Regional groups responded with the Ogaden National Liberation Front saying it hoped his death “may usher [in] a new era of stability and peace” and Al Shabaab that it was celebrating the “uplifting news.”
Meles acquired an MBA (Master of Business Administration) from the Open University of the United Kingdom in 1995 and a masters of science in economics from the Erasmus University of the Netherlands in 2004. In July 2002, Meles received an honorary doctoral degree in political science from the Hannam University in South Korea.
Meles was married to Azeb Mesfin, a former rebel fighter in TPLF and, as of 2013, a Member of Parliament. Meles was the father of three children.
Prime Minister Meles received various international awards for setting up a good foundation for the development of Ethiopia. Even though Ethiopia remains one of the poorest countries in the world, the near double-digit annual economic growth rate recently is seen as the beginning of Ethiopia’s long marathon struggle to eliminate poverty. Acknowledging the rapid GDP growth of the country, the UK newspaper The Economist said in December 2007 that “Ethiopia’s economy has been growing at record speed in recent years.” In 2008, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) described the speed of Ethiopia’s economic growth in recent years as the “fastest for a non-oil exporting country in Sub-Saharan Africa”, with Ethiopia ranked as the second-most attractive African country for investors.
Although many opposition parties and parliamentarian critics disagree, some Ethiopians also portray the arrival date of Meles’ government, 28 May 1991 (Ginbot 20), as the “birth of democracy” in Ethiopia, while diplomats and analysts say the country is slowly moving towards democracy.
- Before he joined the Medical Faculty of Addis Ababa University, Prime Minister Meles was awarded the Haile Selassie I Prize Trust, a highly selective award given only to the most outstanding graduating students.
- The Rwanda government awarded Meles Rwanda’s National Liberation Medal, the “Uruti,” in July 2009 for helping to liberate Rwanda and end the genocide in the country. Alongside two other African leaders, Meles was also given Rwanda’s highest accolade, the “Umurinzi” medal, Rwanda’s Campaign Against Genocide Medal.
- PM Meles Zenawi was awarded the World Peace Prize for his contributions to global peace and his effort to stabilize the Horn of Africa through cooperation with Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD).
- Tabor 100, an African American entrepreneur’s organization, honored PM Meles for his contribution toward economic and social transformation in Africa with its prestigious Crystal Eagle International Leadership Award in April 2005. Tabor 100, a U.S.-based nongovernmental organization, calling Meles Zenawi “international leader of the year 2005”, also honored the efforts of the Ethiopian government in general for its war on poverty and backwardness.
- PM Meles was awarded the Good Governance Award of the Global Coalition for Africa for leading Ethiopia along a democratic path during the challenging period of transition. He was selected for the good governance award by the US-based Corporate Council on Africa.
- PM Meles received the Norway-based 2005 Yara Prize for Green Revolution (Yara) for initiating a good foundation for economic progress in Ethiopia, particularly in the agricultural sector, where the poor country has doubled its food production. During the award ceremony held in the Norwegian capital of Oslo on 3 September, the director of the UN project for Africa said, “With our support, Ethiopia can lift itself from poverty and hunger. Under Prime Minister Meles the country has created the grass roots structure to enable this to happen.”
- Meles was given the Africa Political Leadership Award of 2008 by the US-based newspaper, Africa Times. Previous winners of the award include Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and others.
- Ethiopia’s military honored Prime Minister Meles for his leadership during the 1998–2000 war with its northern neighbour when Eritrea invaded Ethiopia in 1998.
- Residents of the historic and ancient UNESCO town of Axum in Ethiopia honored Prime Minister Meles for his political and diplomatic leadership role in the return and re-erection of the Obelisk of Axum after a 68-year stay in Rome, Italy.
- Meles received a Gold Order of Merit award from the Confederation of African Football (CAF) in February 2007. PM Meles was given the CAF organisation’s highest award for his services in advancing the progress of African football. Ethiopia was one of the founding countries of the CAF (1957) and the organization, with the dedication of AU leaders like Meles, was celebrating the International Year of African Football in 2007.
- Meles was a Co-Chairperson of the Global Coalition for Africa (GCA.) The Global Coailition for Africa brings together senior African policy makers and their partners to deepen dialogue and build consensus on Africa’s priority development issues.
- Prime Minister Meles served as the Chairman of the Organization for African Unity (OAU, now the African Union – AU) from June 1995 to June 1996.
- In 2007, the African Union elected Meles to chair the executive committee of the NEPAD (the New Partnership for Africa’s Development)
- Meles was chosen to represent Africa at the G8 Summit and the G20 summit in London.
- In February 2010, the UN named Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles as co-chair of the Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing, a new high-level U.N. advisory group on climate change financing.
Several social, economic, religious and political developments and systems were established for the first time in Ethiopia under Meles’ rule.
- First regional referendum for peaceful Secession (Eritrea, 1991–)
- First Multi-party National election for opposition (2000, 2005, 2010)
- First institutionalized linguistic freedom at local level (1994–)
- First ethnic based federalism (since 1994)
- First private media outlets in Ethiopian history (since 1994)
- First consecutive double-digit GDP growth – International Monetary Fund (since 2006)
- First multi-party parliament with opposition MPs (since 2000)
- First unrestricted freedom of religion for evangelicals/Pentecostals (since 1994; a Pentecostal succeeded him in 2012)
Meles was given the Green Revolution award and a financial prize of 200,000 dollars by the Norwegian Yara Foundation in September 2005 “in recognition of past accomplishments and encouragement to achieve economic development for the people of Ethiopia.”
Meles donated his $200,000 financial award to a foundation called “Fre—Addis Ethiopia Women Fund” (Fre-Addis Ethiopia Yesetoch Merja Mahiber). The Fre-Addis Ethiopia Women Fund has an objective “to empower girls through providing educational opportunities” and it currently supports 514 needy and orphan rural girls to pursue their education throughout the country.
“They don’t want to see a developed Africa. They want us to remain backward to serve their tourists as a museum” – in response to critics of hydro dam and other development projects
- “I regret the deaths but these were not normal demonstrations. You don’t see hand grenades thrown at normal demonstrations”—on post election issue
- “Africa’s downfall has always been the cult of the personality. And their names always seem to begin with M. We’ve had Mobutu and Mengistu and I’m not going to add Meles to the list.”—Dimbleby questioning Meles on his exposure to the people.
- “We have taken measures and beefed up our defense capabilities around the border since December to prevent any miscalculation by the other side,” post-Eritrean-Ethiopian war complications
- “..countries pretend their foreign policy is based on democratisation when this is clearly not the case. For all the challenges in Zimbabwe, for example, it is a bit of a stretch to say it is less democratic than some of the sheikhdoms of the Gulf. But none of the sheikdoms has a problem visiting Europe.”– Meles Zenawi’s response about European sanctions and travel ban on Zimbabwe’s Mugabe
- “If it is presumed that the Kenyans will democratise in order to eat the peanuts of development assistance from the European Union… it would be a big mistake”– Meles Zenawi’s reaction to European threat of sanctions on Kenya.
- “Democracy is the expression of a sovereign people. To impose it from outside is inherently undemocratic.”– Meles interviewed by The Guardian
- “It’s true we have our disagreements on border issues, we have disagreements on trade and related issues, but you don’t go invading a country whenever you have a dispute on trade issues, … We have more civilized mechanisms on resolving such problems.” – after Eritrea’s attack on Mekele, Ethiopia
- “America didn’t give us any money because of Somalia intervention. This doesn’t mean America hasn’t given us food aid or money for HIV prevention before. It certainly has. But we aren’t going to fight Somalia using Condoms.” – Meles’s reply to MP Bulcha Demeksa’s teasing question on whether America gave financial support to Ethiopia for the Somalia intervention.
- “This is not your run-of-the-mill demonstration. This is an Orange Revolution gone wrong” – PM Meles accusing opposition parties for the violence.
- “I have never heard of any convincing reason as to why we should privatize land at this stage.” Part of PM Meles’ controversial reply to Dr. Abdul Mejid Hussien.
- “The violence has marred the image of Ethiopia,… The worst is clearly behind us and we do not expect any such violence in the near future.”—on post-election events
- “Even when we obey international laws after exhausting all peaceful means, some countries might not support our move to defend Ethiopia because of their own national interests or diplomatic rationale. So what do we do? Two choices: either we seat & welcome our enemies to invade our homes or we stand up for ourselves. I hope parliament chooses the second option…we don’t need the blessing of other nations to defend our country.”—Meles speaking to parliament about Somali Islamic courts. (from amharic translation)
- “I am proud to be an Ethiopian. I am proud to be a part of that history.”—Meles speaking to American intellectuals about Ethiopia and its history.
- “When they (Somali Jihadists) control the whole of Somalia it would be very naive to assume that they will mend their ways, cease to be terrorists and become very civilized and very tame pussycats.”—Interview with AP on Somali extremists.
- “As we respond to the assault of our enemy and defend our country, we must never break international laws. Crime can not be solved by more crime.” – Meles Zenawi speaking to Parliament 23 November 2006. (from Amharic translation)
- “We believe the problem between ourselves and Eritrea will have to be resolved through dialogue, but it takes two to tango”—on border dispute with Eritrea
- “The rest of the contextual factors have no relevance whatsoever to the investigative process. Indeed, they remind me of the famous Tina Turner song. ‘What’s love got to do with it?'”—Meles Zenawi’s response to EU-EOM implying Mrs. Ana Gomez’s alleged contradicting accusations.
- “So why don’t you give them additional concessions?’ We said, ‘What concessions? Concessions from our sovereignty? That has never been done by any government in Ethiopia in 3,000 years.’ That is the only thing of great value what we have inherited from our past, our unflinching determination to keep our…country independent even if we are dying of hunger.”—Response to EU’s demands for Eritrea
- “While they are entitled to their own opinion, this government and this country are incapable, unwilling and unable to be run like some banana republic from Capitol Hill. It is very worrisome that some of these individuals appear to have entertained such views.”—In response Rep. Donald Payne’s pressure for Hailu Shawel & Co.