About Meles (www.meleszenawi.gov.et)
January 11, 2013- Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, passed away on August 20th. .He had been Prime Minister of Ethiopia since 1995. He was the chairman of the Tigrai People’s Liberation Front, and Chairman of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (ERPDF).
Leading the EPRDF to victory over the military dictatorship in 1991, he was President of Ethiopia from 1991 to 1995, and became Prime Minister following the first general election that year. As President and then as Prime Minister, his overnment was responsible for introducing a new Federal Constitution, based on the Nations, Nationalities and People’s of Ethiopia, and a multi-party political system, as well as presiding over the introduction of the private press in Ethiopia and of an economic system which produced steady economic growth in the last decade and introduced safety net programs which have produced several victories in the war on poverty.
Meles Zenawi was born Legesse Zenawi on May 8th 1955 in Adwa in what is now the Tigrai Regional State. Educated first at the Queen of Sheba School, he was chosen as a scholar of the General Wingate School in Addis Ababa in 1968, moving on to Haile Selassie 1st (now Addis Ababa) University in 1972. A pre-medical student, he dropped out of the university at the age of 19, to join the Tigrai People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) which was set up when the student Tigraean National Organization decided to launch armed struggle against the military dictatorship, the Derg, in February 1975.
He then took the nom du guerre of Meles in memory of Meles Tekle a student activist killed by the Derg. A little over a year after joining the organization he became an alternate member of the Central Committee and a full member in 1979. What contemporaries described as “his immense intelligence, political acumen, extraordinary command of languages (Tigrinya, Amharic and English), and rhetorical brilliance” rapidly brought him to prominence in the Front.
He was chosen to head the TPLF’s cadre school set up in 1983 at the TPLF’s Second Organizational Conference and elected to the Executive Committee. He was subsequently elected head of both the TPLF and of the MLLT, and he became the first chairman of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) when it was set up in 1989.
After the ERPDF swept into Addis Ababa in May 1991 and the military dictatorship collapsed, Meles, as Chairman of the EPRDF, became President of the Transitional Government and Chairman of the Council of Representatives, the legislative body of the transitional government until 1995. In 1995 after the first elections organized under the new Federal Constitution drawn up in 1994 and promulgated in 1995, he became Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. The introduction of federalism created nine regional states with their own Meles Zenawi (1955-2012), President and Prime Minister of Ethiopia, 1991-2012 parliaments and provided the nations, nationalities and people’s in the country with their first opportunity to govern their own areas.
It was enthustically welcomed.
As the voice of the collective leadership of the EPRDF he was the spokesperson for the political and economic theories linking ethnic identity, state power and economic renewal based on the aim of winning the war on poverty. He told the first press conference he held in Addis Ababa that “he would consider his government a success if Ethiopians were able to eat three meals a day.” As part of his “pro-poor” domestic policies, he subsequently pioneered a series of schemes designed to assist those most in need including the Productive Safety Net Program which started in 2004, a Social Cash Transfer Program and the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange which opened in 2008.The result of these and other similar policies was that when the Horn of Africa suffered from disastrous droughts in 2010/2011, there was no famine in Ethiopia. Ethiopia now ranks among the top categories for policies of social inclusion and equity in its economic management, making major advances in health and education.
In the last decade, Meles has articulated his own vision of the democratic developmental state, drawing on the models provided by Taiwan and South Korea. He argued that the way to achieve accelerated economic development was through a strong and effective state encouraging and directing investment to provide for the areas in which the country could excel, including the production of food and manufacturing goods cheaply. He launched economic policies that led to the achievement of eight years of double-digit economic growth from 2004, with a focus on the development of Ethiopia’s energy resources, and began the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile. This will be Africa’s biggest hydro-electric dam and has fired the imagination of country, a symbol of the country’s Renaissance. Ethiopia now has one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, and indeed the world.
Once in power in Addis Ababa, Meles demonstrated that the EPRDF and its member organizations were ideologically pragmatic and as Africa’s youngest head of state (aged 36) and as the leader of an organization that had overthrown a communist regime, he was welcomed by international leaders. As leader of the EPRDF, he was the first Ethiopian leader to develop a multi-party system to include opposition parties. There were multi-party national and federal elections in 1995, 2000, 2005 and 2010, and Meles led the party to victory in all of these.
Meles Zenawi (1955-2012), President and Prime Minister of Ethiopia, 1991-2012 When the EPRDF came to power in 1991, one of its first acts was to agree to the independence of Eritrea, de facto in 1991, and formally recognized as an independent state in May 1993 after a referendum. Relations between the two countries were close until in 1998 Eritrean forces invaded Ethiopia and precipitated a conflict for which Ethiopia was ill-prepared having greatly reduced its armed forces in the previous few years. The war lasted two years before Eritrea agreed to peace, accepting a Cessation of Hostilities Agreement in June 2000.The subsequent decisions of the Boundary Commission did not please Ethiopia, but they were fully accepted in November 2004 though Eritrea has subsequently refused to discuss the practical demarcation of the border. As a result , Ethiopian-Eritrea relations have remained extremely poor, exacerbated by Eritrea’s continued support for armed opposition extremist groups and for efforts to destabilize the country even going so far as to support elements in Somalia aligned with international terrorism.
Elsewhere in the region, Ethiopia has played an active role in encouraging peace and stability notably in Somalia where Meles was a mediator and a negotiator for peace, between the clans, steadily working for the rebuilding of the collapsed state in organizing a number of reconciliation conferences and backing the building blocks approach to Somali reunification. At the same time, Ethiopia was closely involved in the efforts to resist the growth of extremism and terrorism in Somalia. He responded to appeals from the Transitional Government in 2006 to provide military support in anticipation of regional or international involvement. In its absence, Ethiopia stayed until 2009 before withdrawing as AMISOM began to deploy on a large scale. Meles remained closely involved and supportive of the process leading to the ending of the transitional
period this month.
Meles also played an important role, both directly and through IGAD, in the whole peace process in Sudan and the implementation of the Comprehensive Framework of Agreement which finally resulted in the independence of South Sudan last year. Since then, Meles became the sole international mediator trusted by both sides in the disagreements and intermittent conflicts between the two states. Ethiopia has been hosting the on-going peace talks between the two sides and has managed to keep up good relations with both.
More widely, Meles was an important figure in the transformation of the OAU into the African Union, with the new organization keeping its headquarters in Addis Ababa. He was a strong supporter of gradual progress towards African unification and towards the continent’s economic Meles Zenawi (1955-2012), President and Prime Minister of Ethiopia, 1991-2012 integration. He was a leading figure in the creation of NEPAD and represented Africa in a number of international fora, including G8 and G20 meetings as well as the Copenhagen Summit and other aspects relating to climate change. It was appropriate that UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon appointed him a co-chair of the UN Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing.
Prime Minister Meles became one of the most influential leaders in Africa during the last decade, taking a leading role in the negotiations on climate change, in opposing terrorism and extremism in Somalia and in peacemaking in Sudan. He was very clear that he wanted his legacy to be the conquest of poverty in Ethiopia. “As far as halving poverty [in Ethiopia] is concerned we will achieve it. I have no doubt about it. I believe by 2025 we will be a middle income country with a per capita income of at least $1000 a year and at around that time, slightly before perhaps, we will be completely free of aid of any variety.” He also believed in peace and stability both in Ethiopia and in Africa. He was rightly proud of the Constitution and saw himself as a builder of institutions. He said“ We believe that democracy, good governance and transparency and fighting corruption are good objectives for every country, an intellectual leader he wanted ” but he did not believe it was possible these could be imposed from outside:“Internalization of accountability is central to democratization; the state has to be accountable to the citizens”.
Prime Minister Meles’s vision for Ethiopia remains unfinished, but he leaves Ethiopia far stronger in every respect than when he came to power himself. He will be much missed by the Ethiopian people and by Africa. His legacy, however, remains one of inspiration and encouragement for his successor to achieve his far-reaching aims.
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