News / Africa

Ethiopian PM Meles Dies at 57

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, September 17, 2011
Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, September 17, 2011
VOA News
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has died at the age of 57, after months of speculation about his health.

State television announced his death Tuesday, saying he died from a sudden infection late Monday at a hospital abroad.

Speaking with VOA Somali Service, government spokesman Bereket Simon would not say where Meles died, or disclose the illness that led to his hospitalization.

"The prime minister had been sick for quite a while," he said.  "And he was attending medical support in, somewhere in, ah, abroad.  And he had some chance in recuperating.  But ultimately some infection happened to him and doctors couldn't control that infection."

Meles had not been seen in public for nearly two months before his death.

Spokesman Bereket said Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn will serve as acting prime minister.

He said Meles' body will arrive Tuesday in Ethiopia, and officials are making plans for the funeral.

Meles Zenawi

  • Born May 8, 1955 in Adwa, northern Ethiopia
  • Suspended studies in 1974 to join Tigrai Peoples Liberation Front, TPLF
  • Chairman of TPLF and Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front since 1989
  • Led EPRDF rebels to seize power in 1991 and became president
  • Prime minister since being elected in 1995
  • Serves as African Union spokesperson on climate change
  • Praised for helping lift Ethiopia out of poverty after civil war
  • Criticized for silencing all forms of dissent
  • Known as ally with U.S. against terrorism
Prime Minister Meles ruled his country for more than 20 years, after the rebel alliance he led, the EPRDF (Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front), seized power in 1991.

Meles earned praise abroad for improvements in the economy, education and health care.  But human rights groups sharply criticized him for various abuses, including restrictions on independent media.

Under Meles, Ethiopia fought a border war with Eritrea and sent troops to Somalia to fight Islamist militants.  

Ethiopia and Eritrea fought from 1998 to 2000 in a conflict that killed more than 70,000 people.  Tension between the two countries remained high.  

Meles was also known as an ally to the United States against terrorism.  

In 2006, Ethiopian troops entered Somalia to fight Islamist militants allegedly armed and trained by the Eritrean government.  Ethiopian forces returned to Somalia last year in a multi-nation offensive against militant group al-Shabab.

Meles' most serious political challenge came in the 2005 elections, when opposition parties said the government rigged to results to cheat them of victory.  Nearly 200 people died in post-election violence and protests.

In the most recent elections in 2010, the EPRDF and its allies took all but one seat in parliament, sparking new accusations of fraud.

The criticism increased in recent years as Ethiopian courts jailed journalists and political activists under an anti-terrorism law that rights groups said was overly vague and broad.

Meles was born in the northern Ethiopian town of Adwa in 1955.  He attended Addis Ababa University for two years before joining the Tigrayan Peoples' Liberation Front, or TPLF, one of several groups that was fighting the government of Mengistu Hailemariam.  The TPLF later became the core group within the EPRDF.

After taking power in 1991, Meles served as president for four years before assuming the prime minister's post in 1995.

Photo Gallery: Meles Zenawi

  • The casket containing the body of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi arrives at the Addis Ababa International Airport, Ethiopia, August 22, 2012.
  • The body of Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is escorted upon arrival in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa early August 22, 2012.
  • Ethiopian women in black gather to mourn as the body of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi arrived in Addis Ababa, August 22, 2012.
  • Ethiopians carry posters in Amharic reading "Meles We Love You" as they gather to mourn as the body of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi arrived in Addis Ababa, August 22, 2012.
  • Ethiopian national flags fly at half mast in Addis Ababa, August 21, 2012.
  • Officials move a portrait of Meles shortly after the announcement of his death in Addis Ababa, August 21, 2012.
  • Ethiopian government spokesman Bereket Simon (R) makes the official announcement of Meles' death in Addis Ababa, August 21, 2012.
  • U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with Meles at the London Conference on Somalia, February 23, 2012.
  • The late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi arrives with his wife Azeb Mesfi for the 18th African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, January 29, 2012.
  • Meles speaks to reporters after meeting with Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf in Cairo, Egypt, September 17, 2011.
  • Meles and other world leaders pose during a group photo at the G20 summit in Toronto, Canada, June 27, 2010.
  • Meles lifts his cap to salute supporters of the EPRDF party at the Meskel Square in Addis Ababa, May 25, 2010.
  • A poster featuring the prime minister displayed in downtown Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, May 2010.
  • U.S. President George W. Bush chats with Meles during a meeting with Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi for talks on combatting international terrorism, the White House, Washington, December 5, 2002.
  • German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder welcomes Meles to Berlin, Germany, February 5, 2002.
  • Meles and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet in Moscow, Russia, December 3, 2001.
  • UN Secretary General Kofi Annan with Meles before their meeting in the office of the prime minister in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, April 30, 1998.
  • Salim Ahmed Salim, Secretary General of the Organization of African Unity, meets with Meles in Addis Ababa, June 28, 1995.
  • Meles accompanies Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as he arrives at Addis Ababa's African Hall to attend a meeting, June 26, 1995.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

You May Like

Afghanistan, Pakistan Leaders to Hold Icebreaking Talks in Paris

Two sides are expected to discuss ways to ease bilateral tensions and jointly work for resumption of stalled peace talks between Afghan government and Taliban officials

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Osman D. from: Debrezeit, Ethiopia
August 23, 2012 4:43 AM
All Ethiopians miss a great leader. I appreciate him that he did'nt take any action on the Derge regime top officials they did in the past. He never know the word "revenge He was realy a mankind.
In Response

by: Arada from: USA
August 23, 2012 12:06 PM
Hitler was a great leader too...For his circle as Meles.

A good leader would have sentenced prisoners and made a stop to genocide, ethnic discrimination & corruption. There is no law in Woyane’s regime but Meles's NAZI rule.

by: Tizazu from: Bisheftu
August 22, 2012 12:09 PM
"what ever the phase of an individual's life is, Ethiopia is here, and protestors are there in America; it continuous like this forever!"
-----------------NO one can be like PM Meles Z----------------------

by: Peter K.Gony from: USA
August 22, 2012 11:28 AM
It is indeed a profound great loss for all African peace and stability. moreover, his policies for his Govt that he worked for Tirelessly for 20 years will live on forever and make Ethiopia a better place and to live. His Soul is now Dancing in Heaven with all our Great African Freedom Fighters who gave thier lives for many so that we may live in peace. May God rest your Soul in Peace and peace to his Widow and children. For those critics there is no perfect Leader in the World!!!
I am SFC Peter Gony, United States Army.

by: Behailu Tekleab from: USA
August 21, 2012 6:28 PM
I am really sad to hear the death of our great leader PM Meles Zenawi suddenly & quickly at the age of 57. Its painful & hard to accept ! I am in deep sorrow to lose the strong man of Africa. I wish this is a dream ! Omg, rest in peace our hero, we love you & remember you forever !

by: Omar from: United States
August 21, 2012 6:17 PM
He was a real tyrant who is praised because of his obedience to his masters in the west. Tens of Thousands of Ethiopians are in prison today without charge and are being tortured on a daily basis. Burma treats its citizens better. Much of the country's resources are concentrated in the hands of his small tribe. Never mind the fact that he also armed criminal entities in Somalia that continue to deny any stability to that country as well.
In Response

by: alemybrah legesse from: china
August 24, 2012 1:52 AM
oppossers are opposition they are always looking for power whatever comes and whatever happen our pm are model to all africa leaders no war each other ,peace and stablity ,all ethiopians are enjio on this
In Response

by: Anonymous
August 23, 2012 12:41 AM
this is very true. for those of you that do not know the country and history of the government, this man is the worst thing that happened to Ethiopia. He was what you would call a true Dictator.

by: Tsige from: Ethiopia
August 21, 2012 11:44 AM
Our PM Meles Zenawi was not only the hero of Ethiopia but he was the hero the world.

by: Kefena from: Ethiopia
August 21, 2012 9:23 AM
Leader of our historic times who tried to pull this country out of deep poverty. He led Ethiopia move forward in development. He left back mixed legacy but memorable!

by: dad from: bahirdar
August 21, 2012 7:34 AM
rest in peace our visionary prime minestre Melese zenawi
In Response

by: genet from: uk
September 16, 2012 7:09 PM
meles zenawi== Hitler
In Response

by: genet from: uk
September 16, 2012 7:04 PM
meles is the reason for the killing of thousands of eritrean youngesters and many more others, he did this to please western countries. he never rule of his head but by the head of america. the blood of all these youngesters wil face him in the sky in front of the heavenly father.
In Response

by: lib from: Addis Abeba
August 21, 2012 10:16 AM
I proud of a very brlianet pm

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs