Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia’s memorable and disciplined prime minister died on Monday night, a spokesperson for the leader said on Tuesday. He passed away in a hospital on Brussels from an undisclosed illness that has puzzled outsiders for many months now. He was only 57. The New York Times notes that Meles Zenawi contracted a secondary infection at the unknown hospital in Brussels which caused his health to fail quite suddenly.
Mr. Meles became prime minister in 1995 after he pushed his way into power and quickly squashed any type of oppositional movement in his wake. That track record remained accurate into this year. The New York Times most succinctly portrays the differing views of the spearheading leader:
Mr. Meles was seen as the mastermind behind many of his governmentís plans. While many human rights groups vilified him, some development experts celebrated him, saying Ethiopia has vastly better famine prevention programs than it did when Mr. Melesís insurgent group seized power in 1991.
He came to power after ousting communist leader, Mengistu Haile Mariam, in the early 1990s. To do so, he became the leader of a guerilla rebel group that eventually came to power and he took the office of Prime Minister in 1995. Many people who worked with him portrayed him as an austere, focused and intellectual personality. Despite his successes in boosting the Ethiopian economy at lightning speeds, (it expanded by 7 percent last year) many human rights advocates have criticized his steely clench on the press and the freedom of speech in Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian government put away two Swedish journalists for 11 years each last year and jailed a local Ethiopian journalist as well after they were accused of dabbling in oppositional movements. Many journalists and people who oppose the government are quickly shut down and shut out, leading global critics to categorize Ethiopia as one of the worst human rights violators in recent decades. The government has also been criticized for displacing groups in order to build a dam in a region of the country.
Western leaders, especially from the UK and the United States, often praised Mr. Meles for his work in fighting Islamist militants in Somalia, which also made him many enemies in that very same country for his alliance with western powers. Critics of the government have been hopeful that Ethiopia’s current governmental structure will topple in the wake of the leader’s sudden death.
Current leaders of the government have affirmed that business will go on as usual and the minister of foreign affairs, Hailemariam Desalegn, will step in as a fully functional Prime Minister. These assertions come in the wake of statements made by Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, that a power vacuum could affect the region severely. In recent months, Mr. Meles had been heavily involved in trying to broker peace between Sudan and South Sudan.
Western leaders, such as Britain and the United States, will miss this leader. He was one of the most favored African allies to western powers in recent years, providing resources for many of the western projects that are currently ongoing in Africa.
Photo Credit: Helene C. Stikkel