News / Africa

Meles Zenawi Leaves Mixed Legacy After 20 Years in Power

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in Addis Ababa, January 27, 2012.
Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in Addis Ababa, January 27, 2012.
Gabe Joselow
NAIROBI — 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 had been recovering overseas.  Meles leaves a mixed legacy after more than 20 years in power, having guided rapid development with one hand, while silencing all forms of dissent with the other. 

Rise to power

Meles came to power in a 1991 coup, as the head of an alliance of rebel groups called the EPRDF (Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front).

Their rebellion helped to end a harsh communist dictatorship, known as the Derg, during which time tens of thousands of government opponents were imprisoned or executed.

Meles has been praised for helping to dig Ethiopia out of poverty following years of civil war.

His ruling party has gone to great lengths to incorporate the United Nations Millennium Development Goals into its national policy.  According to the U.N., the country has spent 60 percent of its total expenditures on agriculture, education, health and other poverty-alleviating sectors in the last seven years.

Hands-on

Meles outlined his hands-on development philosophy in a speech at the U.N. General Assembly in 2010.

"We have taken full charge of our destiny, devised our own strategy, and maximized the mobilization of our domestic resources to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  We made the best use of the limited available international assistance to supplement our own efforts," he said.

While Meles often dismissed the effectiveness of foreign assistance, external aid to Ethiopia averaged more than $3.8 billion per year between 2008 and 2011, according to the World Bank.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia Tibor Nagy described Meles as a visionary with a clear plan for his country's future.

"I had many private conversations with the prime minister and he's not shy in using words like 'Ethiopia cannot be a beggar nation' or 'If our people don't see certain progress in x number of years then we're all finished.'  He was very realistic about that and not afraid to articulate it," said Nagy.

US ally

Meles also was known as an ally with the United States in the war against terrorism.

But Nagy recognizes there were philosophical issues that were difficult to bridge, including the government's reluctance to relinquish control over telecommunications, to open up to private ownership or to allow foreign banks to operate in the country.

Human rights groups have long-criticized the Ethiopian government for suppressing opposition voices by limiting freedom of speech and assembly.

“Those rights have been steadily eroded throughout the leadership of Meles Zenawi, so we have a situation now where it's almost impossible in Ethiopia for people to express their opinions, to protest, to criticize the government, and in that context that means that the government continues to commit a wide range of human rights violations," said Claire Beston, the Ethiopia and Eritrea researcher for Amnesty International.

Beston says the rights situation really deteriorated after the 2005 elections, which opposition parties say was rigged.  Nearly 200 people died in post-election violence and protests.

In recent years, Ethiopian courts have sentenced journalists and opposition activists to lengthy prison sentences under an anti-terrorism law.

Eritrea

For nearly the entire Meles regime, tension between Ethiopia and neighboring Eritrea remained high.  The two countries fought a border war from 1998 to 2000 that killed more than 70,000 people.

The Ethiopian military has also twice intervened in neighboring Somalia to confront Islamist militants allegedly backed by Eritrea.

While Meles has been a strong and visible force behind the ruling party for the last 20 years, analysts say he also has groomed a number of younger politicians, including Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn - a technocrat with an engineering degree from a university in Finland.

Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington says any successor will have “big shoes to fill.”

“There is a shift in generation and whether that transition will be smooth, whether it will be successful remains to be seen.  But the fact that provision was made for a technically prepared next generation itself is, I think, another legacy piece," he said.

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.

You May Like

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: MUNA from: ETHIOPIA
August 31, 2012 7:52 PM
ETHIOPIAN HAPPY DAY

by: Adiss Giba from: London
August 25, 2012 7:09 PM
Meles was a traitor and enemy of Ethiopia who voluntarily made Ethiopia land locked by giving Assab to his Eritrean cousins.

He was an advocate of Eritrea and the disintegrations of Ethiopia.
He was the half Eritrean Head of army who made the sacrifies of 100s and thousands of Ehiopians army meaningless by stopping the war movement towards Asmara and Asab just before it was finalised. This to protect his Eritrean cousins.
Death is less than he deserved. Only sorry he did not face Ethiopian Justice.


by: Mulu from: Seattle
August 22, 2012 11:29 AM
The paper can be straight forward. Instead of writing "Nearly 200 people died in post-election violence and protests". It could state that "Melles and his security killed 200 civilians in cold blood while they were protesting and arrested more than 30000 people in a single week". It is not fair to try to soften a crime he committed. After all, no one recently has killed 200 unarmed civilians in a single incident. Only Melles and his gangs.
In Response

by: Glad is gone from: ethipia
August 31, 2012 7:50 PM
come on so many bad things happen under this guy. If he were a good leader he would never wnat to be in power for more than 20 years. Thank God he is gone for good. I woulder who would take turn on us next.
pray harder Ethipian God is with us
In Response

by: Samuel Gebremedhin from: Ethiopia Hawassa
August 23, 2012 5:17 AM
of course, this happen not because of Meleses' leadrship only but also due to the arrogant thinking and mobilization scheme of opposition party. But I can asure you that the leadership of Melesse and his wonderful legacy will be reminded in minde of the whole people of Ethiopia. Donn't think the situation of Ethiopia has changed, don't try to tell us what you don't know But the nation, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia know what would be best for them.

by: Samu from: AA
August 21, 2012 8:36 AM
Meles is personally a brilliant and disciplined guy but he is a man who after 20 years in power has failed to take us into a sustainable democratic system.
As head of state, he is responsible for the killing, torture, and imprisonment of thousands of political opponents. His party is responsible for the unfair economic resource distribution which favors party affiliated groups or persons.
We know he has achieved quite good results in the social, economic, and regional/international politics, but for a poor country like Ethiopia, first and foremost establishing a sustainable and democratic system is what matters most.
Had he and his colleges established a sound government system, we would not have worried as to what may happen now.
The bottomline, Meles is a failure!
In Response

by: Tina from: US
August 31, 2012 9:02 PM
I can't believe you said him failure! Do you really know what you are talking about. I don't live in Ethiopia and I have been only once there since Meles has been in power. I have been in the capital (ADDIS) and in provinces to visit my poor relatives. I heard what people say about him, how they learn the respect of any job from him. I witnessed the change in the country. He was the figure of success in Africa. Look at the mourning and preparation for his burial. He lived honored and respected and also died respectably. He is an example of being loved by his people. Please think what you are going to write and learn to write and talk the truth,
In Response

by: Tesfay Seyoum from: Mekelle
August 23, 2012 10:46 AM
My goodness,what kind of people are living in ethiopia? By the way,what party are you? Do you remember the past Derge regime? We know everything? Why we are cheatting for ourthelves. All Ethiopian citizes are living in the best peace,democracy and equal nations and natinalities.I do not know,if you are trying to live by falsfying and denying the truth.
I recommend you to go to Amanuel Hospital realy from my heart.
Do not try to turn others to the rabisg thoughts.
In Response

by: Jose from: AA
August 22, 2012 7:47 AM
Samu, You are an amazing guy just because your not a simple hater, I appreciate that. But, I completely disagree with you on what you said about PM Meles. FAILURE????? OMG !!!! I can't explain this this to a person as logical as you.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs