Speech by H.E. Mr Jean Ping, Chairperson of the African Union, during AU’s tribute to the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi (August 31, 2012)
The Representative of the Ethiopian Government,
The Deputy Chairperson of the Commission,
The Chairperson of the PRC,
Ambassadors and members of the diplomatic corps,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
“I am proud to be an Ethiopian. I am proud to be part of that History.” I deliberately chose to start my tribute today with these eloquent words spoken by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi before a gathering of American intellectuals, as a testimony to the deep love he had for his country.
With heavy hearts and choked with emotion, we are gathered here today in the same prayer and in memory of worthy son of Africa, a visionary leader and a brother whose words were heeded, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who left us during the night of 20 to 21 August 2012.
It is painful to think and even more difficult to believe that Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is no longer in our midst. We had hoped that his illness would only deprive us only momentarily of his extremely active presence and his highly stimulating dynamism at our meetings and conference, reassuring ourselves with what we knew of his strength of character, his pugnacity and above all, his courage.
Alas, since 21 August, with every passing hour and every passing day, the announcement of his demise has taken on an increasingly far-reaching and considerable impact, and we have been forced to face the inevitable, and heartbroken, accept the unspeakable. If anyone ever seemed to be strong or even invulnerable, for their could be no doubt about his personality, his charisma and immense energy, it was indeed Meles Zenawi, who over the years and through his actions, had become and real institution in Ethiopia as well as in the continent at large.
One of the greatest recognitions for a public figure here and anywhere else in the world, is to be called by his first name alone, and for everyone to immediately know who it refers to. Meles, the Prime Minister, had attained that stage; once the name Meles was mentioned, whether here in Ethiopia or elsewhere in Africa, no one could be mistaken. He was the emblematic figure of Ethiopia, the Ethiopian locomotive, the man who elevated Ethiopia from its status as one of the least developed countries in the world, to the rank of the fifteen countries with the most rapid economic growth in our modern-day world. During his lifetime, Meles was constantly active on all fronts, whether it was a question of building the Ethiopia of today, or preparing the country for its entry into the globalized world.
It is said that happy are those who were able to fulfill their commitments, Prime Minister Meles is among those happy few, because he always cherished the dream of extricating Ethiopia from poverty and ensuring its food security. Today he has left a booming country as acknowledged by the unanimous tributes that have been pouring in from around the world for the past few days, evidence of the high esteem he had acquired and which are commensurate with what he built. Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people can find comfort in and be proud of the fact that the late Meles could be counted among the very limited circle of those who had gained international respect and credibility for what they achieved for their country and their people.
His foresight and the desire to bring to fruition his vision of prosperous Ethiopia that was integrated into the globalized world, guided him and firmly anchored him on the path that he had chosen for the development of his country and the wellbeing of the people of Ethiopia, despite all the difficulties. Under his dynamic leadership, security and stability were established in the country, which clearly formed the basis of its rapid and visible transformation. We cannot but be gratified by the promising results recorded in the country for sometime now, and we are convinced that the government and the people of Ethiopia will continue the work that the late Prime Minister Meles was able to put on track.
“We will never accept any global deal that does not limit global warming to the minimum unavoidable level, no matter what levels of compensation and assistance are promised to us…While we will reason with everyone to achieve our objective, we will not rubber stamp an agreement that is not consistent with our minimal position. If needs be we are prepared to walk out of any negotiations that threaten to be another rape of our continent.”
This strong and unambiguous statement made on 3 September 2009 at the African Partnership Forum is one of the numerous statements which attest to he unwavering commitment of Prime Minister Meles to Africa and to its noble causes. This commitment was reflected in this eagerness to contribute to the diplomatic and military efforts of our continental organization by supporting peace initiatives and the restoration of legality in areas where they were undermined. The clout he gained in the Horn of Africa stemmed, among others, from his involvement in diplomatic and military efforts to resolve the crises in Sudan, South Sudan, Darfur and Somalia. He used to state that: “I have no problem talking to anybody so long as it helps the purpose of peace…”
His commitment and courage endeared him to his peers to the extent that they, rightly entrusted him with the task of leading African delegations during various negotiations and at international for a such as the G20 and the G8, the Conference of Parties of the United Nations Conference and Climate Change, and thereby raising high the banner of Africa. At each of the international meetings, Prime Minister Meles strongly defended the interest of the continent. He left his imprints everywhere and also made a strong impression. I will always remember how his interventions were widely anticipated and followed with keen interest at various international fora.
There are several ways of living the life of an African statesman. For Africa to develop, the sons and daughters of the continent, especially those in authority, will have to show commitment at all times. Prime Minister Meles understood this very early and that explained why he agreed to become in 2007 the Chairperson of the NEPAD Heads of State and Government Orientation Committee. Under his stewardship the Committee contributed in no small way to highlighting the potential of Africa as pole of growth and the last frontier.
The demise of Prime Minister Meles, has silenced forever one of the most respected African voices of this decade, the inspired and committed voice of a convinced Pan-Africanist. Africa is conscious of this immense and cruel loss and reiterates its solidarity with the bereaved people of Ethiopia whose pain we understand and share. We also pay tribute to this Statesman who devoted all his energy and time to his country and to the developed of the continent.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Before I conclude this painful duty, I would like to crave your indulgence to allow me to share my memories of him and to express what is in my heart. I would like to recall a man that I deeply admired and with whom I had affectionate relations based on mutual respect. Concealed in the look of an austere person, the somewhat caricatured portrait of a Statesman or the mask of a politician was a simple and funny man full of warmth, youthful, exuberance and jokes, who will be sorely missed by his family, his loved ones and friends alike.
For me, the late Prime Minister Meles was a source of constant support and inspiration and whose pieces of advice were always useful to me. I have no doubt that many are those who have benefited from the advice and support that he willingly gave when he was requested to do so.
“We all know that we must die one day but we do not believe that we will die” as Bossuet used to say. In actual fact, “we are obliged to gradually come to terms with this reality, especially where those around us are involved.” This painful truth, we feel it today but the pain which has seized us should not blind us to the lessons of life that t he late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has bequeathed to us all, courage and determination.
May The Almighty God in his infinite Mercy welcome the soul of our dear Prime Minister Meles Zenawi among His Elect! May our Brother rest in perfect and eternal peace.
I thank you.
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