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

Islamic State Survivor: A Yazidi Girl's Tale

Sarah Said Haydar, captured a year ago while fleeing Islamic State onslaught in northern Iraq, was so traumatized by militants, she sought to end her own life More

EU, US Applaud Kosovo Law on Special Court

Joint statement says lawmakers' decision to address allegations of war crimes 'demonstrated their commitment to the rule of law and to honor international agreements' More

ASEAN Ministers to Push for S. China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' 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.
Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Tradei
X
Robert Carmichael
August 04, 2015 3:07 PM
Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Trade

Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Growing Number of E. Jerusalem Palestinians Seek Israeli Citizenship

Most Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have long rejected the option of full Israeli citizenship, seeing it as a betrayal to their political cause - the formation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. But as that dream remains elusive, more and more Palestinians are applying for Israeli citizenship. Zlatica Hoke reports the decision is hard for many Palestinians who say they have to be pragmatic about it.
Video

Video With No Money, More Students, African Universities Struggle

Academics from around the African continent converged in Johannesburg last week for the African Universities Summit, a chance to tackle some of the major issues facing higher education in Africa today. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Wisconsin's Voter ID Law Still Mired In Controversy

Voter ID laws have sparked controversy across the US. More than 30 states enacted laws requiring citizens to show identification before they vote. Against fierce opposition, the state of Wisconsin recently enacted one the most restrictive voter ID laws in country. As Jeff Swicord reports, no one can predict its impact as the 2016 election nears.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Hailed as Highly Effective

At last, there's a way to end the suffering from the Ebola epidemic that has ravaged West Africa for more than a year. Researchers say the vaccine is so effective, there may never be a major outbreak of Ebola again. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs