ADDIS ABABA — Ethiopia has laid to rest Prime Minister Meles Zenawi who led the country for more than 20 years before his death, announced last month. Heads of state from around the continent praised Meles' intellect and his vision for his country and Africa.
Ethiopian soldiers stood in formation as the flag-draped casket carrying the body of Meles was carried into Meskel Square in downtown Addis Ababa.
Thousands of Ethiopians gathered to pay their respects to the late prime minister, who was credited with bringing economic development to the country during his many years in power. Foreign dignitaries, including heads of state from across Africa also attended the ceremony.
Former South African President Thabo Mbeki praised Meles for his commitment to his country and the continent.
"We too, your fellow Africans, are here to join you to pay tribute to Meles Zenawi and to convey to you our sincere condolences of the loss to you of a great architect of a new Ethiopia, and to us who come from outside the borders of this country, the loss of a great architect of a new Africa of which a billion Africans dream,” said Mbeki.
While many African leaders credited Meles for his single-minded dedication to development, he was often criticized in the West for stifling the opposition and putting economic success ahead of human rights.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame said the prime minister was misunderstood by critics because he was ahead of his time.
“Where some would have been compromised for short-term profit or gains, or easily succumbed to pressures, he was steadfast and always took a definite stand on issues of right and wrong and more often than not, he was on the side of right,” he said.
A woman wails while lifting a portrait of Ethiopia's PM Meles Zenawi as she waits for the arrival of his remains in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, August 21, 2012.
The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said she enjoyed a close relationship with Meles. Rice praised him for what she called his “world-class mind,” but said they sometimes “profoundly disagreed” on issues including human rights and foreign policy.
She said as the United States will continue to work with Ethiopia to help develop the country's institutions.
“As always, we will encourage peaceful political dialogue, civil society development and protection of human rights, including freedom of the press,” said Rice.
Meles' deputy, Hailemariam Desalegn has taken over the powers of the prime minister's office and is due to be sworn in after the funeral. He says he plans to continue on the path of development started by his predecessor.
“Today we are prospering because of the vision and guidance of Meles Zenawi,” he said. “He paved the road for prosperity and peace that we are committed to follow.”
After the ceremony, Meles' casket was carried to the Holy Trinity Cathedral, where he was buried next to other prominent leaders of Ethiopia, including former Emperor Haile Selassie.
A 21-gun salute marked the end of the ceremony, and a long and transformative political era in Ethiopia.