Meles Zenawi

Meles Zenawi in December 2010, at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Cancun, Mexico (Cris Bouroncle/AFP/Getty Images)

He hadn’t been seen publicly for two months. Twitter and the blogosphere were buzzing with questions – where was the prime minister of Ethiopia? Was he ill? Travelling? On Tuesday morning, confusion fell away. State television announced that Meles Zenawi, aged 57, had died of a sudden infection, after a prolonged stay in a “hospital overseas”. A guerrilla fighter-turned-tenacious leader, Meles held power for 21 years, becoming a political heavyweight who won billions of dollars of aid from western governments while attracting condemnation from human rights groups for his crackdowns on journalists and opposition activists. While some observers hope his death may help usher in a less autocratic government in the Horn of Africa’s most populous country, others foresee a destabilising tussle for succession.

In the FT

  • The prime minister’s death leaves a vacuum both in the region and at home, report Katrina Manson and William Wallis, in an analysis that highlights the many contradictions in Meles’ life. “He was a Marxist who courted foreign investment; a liberation fighter who cracked down on marginalised peoples crying out for their own freedom and an intellectual who brooked little debate at home. In the west, he was admired for delivering development and economic growth while marshalling security; at home he suppressed dissent and mastered party political control of the economy with autocratic vim”.

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