Time to Assess Meles Legacy in Ethiopia

Posted August 22nd, 2012 at 2:12 am (UTC+0)

U.S. Looks to Maintain Security Cooperation

Reflections on the death of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi are as mixed as his legacy.

The former rebel leader helped end the communist “Red Terror” of Mengistu Haile Mariam, but dealt harshly with his own political opponents. He played leading roles in stabilizing Somalia and Sudan, but could never reconcile with former ally Issias Afewerki, contributing to an internecine border war with Eritrea.

Meles Zenawi leaves a mixed legacy in Ethiopia — strong on economic growth, but questions about human rights. Photo: AP


“He was one of those people who stood for the African vision, who understood very well what it meant and what it means to uphold the African ideals and how to push for it,” says Andrew Asamoah of South Africa’s Institute of Security Studies. “The Horn of Africa has also lost someone who was kind of pro-peace, even though I’m not sure all actors will agree.”

“I think his biggest legacy within the country and beyond has to do with the economic growth in the country since he assumed power,” Asamoah says. “And his ability to keep the country strong and relevant on the African landscape.


A Key U.S. Ally in Africa

That strength made Prime Minister Meles a principal U.S. ally against terrorism, especially following the attacks of September 11th, 2001.

“You have Somalia, which is a failed state in the East, Sudan, which for many years was in the state of civil war, so Ethiopia became the anchor in that part of the African continent,” says Christopher Fomunyoh of the U.S. National Democratic Institute. “I think the U.S. is going to look for ways to maintain this relationship with Meles’ replacement.”

Victoria Nuland, the U.S. State Department spokeswoman, says the Obama administration “does not anticipate at this stage that there would be any diminution of their commitment to security missions in Africa. That is something that we would hope would continue.”

Fomunyoh says the potential vacuum shows the weakness of African leaders who hold too much power too closely.

“If there are institutions in place in a country such as Ethiopia that can have people at the head of its foreign policy and governments, then it doesn’t matter who is the leader of the day; its alliances and relationships would always be maintained.”

Fomunyoh recalls the optimism of 1992 elections when “the rhetoric on democracy and good governance was very strong.” Twenty years on, he says Mr. Meles never found the balance between commercial growth and the expansion of civil liberties.

“On one hand he accomplished quite a lot in terms of economic development, reconstruction, rebuilding of Ethiopia,” Fomunyoh says. “He did a lot to stabilize the country and the Horn of Africa. But he’s also left a very questionable legacy in regard to human rights, respect for the media, freedom of the press, respect for the opposition and creating political space in Ethiopia.”

Though the United States long valued the prime minister’s cooperation on security, Nuland says Washington has “not been shy about expressing concern where it is necessary, particularly with regard to journalists’ freedom and human rights.”


Human  Rights Was a Concern

The current State Department human rights report says the Meles government arrested 100 opposition political figures, activists, journalists, and bloggers. It restricted freedom of the press and imposed severe restrictions on civil society and non-governmental organizations, or NGO’s.

Meles and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, shown here at a meeting in London in February, often discussed human rights in Ethiopia. Photo: AP


“Other human rights problems included torture, beating, abuse, and mistreatment of detainees by security forces; harsh and at times life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; detention without charge and lengthy pretrial detention,” the report says.

Amnesty International believes the change of power in Addis Ababa is an opportunity for Washington to recalibrate its relationship with Ethiopia instead of “consigning itself to a relationship with yet another ‘strongman’ and depend on the luck of the draw over his longevity.”

“The 21 years of Meles Zenawi’s rule were characterized by ever-increasing repression,” says Amnesty International USA’s Adotei Akwei. “Under his direction, Ethiopia stamped out dissenting voices, dismantled the independent media, obstructed human rights organizations and strangled political opposition.”

Akwei says the new Ethiopian government and the international community must change course, “ushering in an era of greater respect and accountability.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to “a strong partnership focused on strengthening development, democracy and human rights, and regional security.” Clinton said she is confident Ethiopia will peacefully navigate the political transition according to its constitution.

Richard Downie, deputy director of the U.S. Center for Strategic & International Studies, isn’t so sure.

“Meles’ broader legacy will ultimately be determined by what happens now that he has gone,” Downie writes. “His considerable achievements in delivering economic growth and development risk being undermined by his failure to put in place a viable succession plan. His unwillingness to lay the foundation for the growth of a more mature, representative political system in Ethiopia has increased the odds of a messy, unstable transition.”



22 responses to “Time to Assess Meles Legacy in Ethiopia”

  1. […] the article here: Time to Assess Meles Legacy in Ethiopia – Voice of America (blog) […]

  2. Ras Mitat says:

    One glance at the fractious opposition groups is enough to understand why Meles knew he had to go it alone, especially after they held the country hostage for 7 months refusing to take their parliamentary seats in 2005…Ethnocentric race-baiters and former members of murderous Communist Derg regime now calling themselves “social democrats” are not partners in development.

    Meles showed mercy and always pardoned political opponents, unlikely that will ever happen now with nobody to hold back the hardliners and military…We shall see who is brave enough to test the water first.

  3. […] MonitorEthiopian Leader's Death Highlights Gap Between US Interests and IdealsNew York TimesTime to Assess Meles Legacy in EthiopiaVoice of America (blog)Tampabay.com -Wall Street Journal -Reutersall 1,495 news […]

  4. […] death of Ethiopian leader Meles, US loses an anti-terror ally (+video)Christian Science MonitorVoice of America (blog) -The Guardian -Channel 4 Newsall 1,495 news […]

  5. […] MailEthiopian PM Meles Zenawi's death sparks fears of turmoilThe GuardianChannel 4 News -Voice of America (blog) -Christian Science Monitorall 1,504 news […]

  6. Alemayehu says:

    Meles was a good leader who tried to balance everything, meaning he was not perfect.We ask the Lord to provide a leader like him for our country development and to fight western’s bulky and unnecessary per-conditions.
    Meles RIP

  7. Idris yassin says:

    Mr. Meles was not only a leader but he was also a father of poor people we will remember him as hero of all time .

  8. NOVISION says:

    It has been a shocking and deeply saddening news of the passing away of the PM. Though difficult to imagine, I think his early departure must be respected and the nation should stand out as a a strong, stable and peaceful country with the new leader. The new leader shares his vision but the ‘Capacity Vacuum’ in all term must be filled by considering highly dedicated intellectual involvement in his government. Meles is remembered in all of our hearts and minds as highly intellectual leader with capacity to use his full power and intellect. We know it is difficult to think a leader of his quality who can think beyond the realms of ordinary person and ordinary thinking and selflessness, we at least have the new PM with intellectual background who can draw his cards for Ethiopia development. He must be also given a space to think his mind and bring fairness a style of his own to the table. He should also involve determined intellectuals to fill the ‘capacity vacuum’ and his enhance his regional as well as ‘global networking ability’.

  9. ti says:

    It is high time that Obama will start living by his words, “Now, make no mistake: History is on the side of these brave Africans, not with those who use coups or change constitutions to stay in power. Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.” Strongmen who use repression will pass away, but strong institutions are forever. When do the policy makers of the powerful nations ever learn? Isn’t “terrorism” a creation of western double standards? Hailing Meles and his rule irrespective of his bad governance and human right records have antagonized the 94% of the population. . .

  10. Alem says:

    I have been reading several articles on Meles Zenawi’s legacy. Most are simply the West wanting to congratulate itself and little to do with Meles and his 21 years in power. Moreover, Meles has been good to transnational investors and hence, the British, US business groups are mighty happy with the way things are run in Ethiopia. Ethiopians who get evicted or are thrown in jail on trumped up charges are simply of secondary importance!

    Perhaps his major legacy is this urge to start new initiatives without Ethiopians having a say in them. Which development program can VOA point to as evidence of great economic stride? Education reform is a mile wide and an inch deep. Majority Ethiopians live in constant fear they could any time be dispossessed of the piece of property they own, fear of not knowing where their next meal would be coming from, and the ever-present security apparatus.

    Another legacy of Meles is his ability to charm the West of millions [$32 billions in 20 years]. Not bad for a hardened Stalinist who spent his adult life studying the Achilles Heel of the West. Whether the money he got reached the people is another matter. Whether a bunch of money was pocketed [nearly $12 billions over a decade] was something no one wants to press. It is embarrassing to admit to that.

    So what was the result of the US “not been shy about expressing concern where it is necessary?” How does this compute with sending millions regardless?

    One last legacy is that Meles never allowed a strong leadership to develop – exactly the problem we are left with at his death. And yet the West has heaped accolades on him as an intellectual who has an excellent command of English language and is widely read, etc. [which are all true but do you hear that said of Tony Blair? To me such remarks smack of racism!]

    I agree with Akwei that the West for once needs to learn to see things from the perspective also of target populations.

  11. Mariam says:

    The way I see it rich countries will buy their way and impose their will via financial support on recipient countries like Ethiopia, but Meles did a good job of using his own will on the direction he was taking the country. He was not a puppet. He was strong willed and often spoke his mind to all without reservation or shyness. That makes him unique!

    Even NGOs in Africa are always working to impose their will on locals it is not always free and good will.

    He symbolized the legacy of the country as always carrying on with its agenda dating back to a few hundred years when Europeans were coming to assert their will on the African Continent. I hope that the future leader will learn from the things that could have been better and even take the country to a new era of peace and prosperity.

  12. Gash says:

    Meles was a corrupt and complicated person. He tried to show two face’s of Meles to the world. There was evil meles to his people and the ” democratic meles” to the west, specially to United States. He was smart, evil, dictator and butcher. I hope when this drama of his feneral is over, we will read and understand his 21 years of taireny and massacre of his own people.

    • HANCHO says:

      Don’t think this type of large people play drama they are showing their love for him and nobody has forced them to do. He has no two faces. He even challenges westerns not always accept their offers. He is not the leader of corruption.It is the people of Ethiopia bad trend which still is following and he is preaching democracy. Hope we Ethiopians will get to manage this problem and will hear his victory that is what we face. Those who are remnants of Derg have come to oppose and pretend that as they are massacred after they commit a crime, which is trying to get power by creating racism as the government has discriminated (against) the nation and nationalities of the people which the constitution has given them. That is a great crime which is commited during the time. Meles has given them mercy, not revenge. He gives a place in the parliament but they refuse. What they want is power without struggling in democratic manner and shame on them.

  13. Good says:

    Of course he is successful in many aspects as a typical dictator. He made us believe that he is the only outstanding, brave, developmental, a father of many leader. That is why many are crying in the streets for they are blinded to see others except him. This all is the product of his ETV propaganda. The reality, however, is not that. He killed kids and youth mercilessly not because they fired a single bullet but because he was threatned of his corrupt and despotic government in the peaceful election. Any way, it’s good to end here now. The entire system has to go down a cliff slowly but surely and buried for everlasting. We Ethiopians need to know that there is a long mile to go and fight this monstrous regime in unison!!!!!!!!

    • HANCHO says:

      typical dictators don’t show their capacity of thinking. Rather they show their strength and military forces. His contribution in many aspects does show he want to show himself only rather confirms his hard work. He surely is developmental and outstanding. That is the truth we face. The country is leading development from non oil countries of Africa. … As good governance cannot come within a day, we will fight corruption but this includes you and me. … Democracy which he has created will continue forever. Sooner I am sure we will hear what he has been writing from his outstanding mind his 30 years plans, and more. Nobody has predicted Ethiopians will develop but he did. May God give Ethiopia a leader who loves the country and wants to give his life with hard work. RIP MELES ZENAWI.

    • Tula says:

      Is that a fact. Yawn..

  14. Peace says:

    The majority of those who are tarnishing the good reputation of the ingenious PM of our country RIP Meles Zenawi are inept and avaricious Ethiopian diasporas who want to benefit unfairly at the cost of the mass or Eritreans/Somalians/… who don’t want the stability and prosperity of our region.
    The later ones don’t really matter in Ethiopian affairs, and the diasporas don’t represent Ethiopians as they have already left their country and denied their people to live conveniently abroad. It’s very difficult for you guys to really understand Ethiopian and African situation while living luxuriously in the developed world. We don’t have that well – established convenience here as that’s what we are striving to achieve for.
    Don’t forget the economic and political status of Ethiopia, and remember that there are more than 80 ethnic groups in our country most of which are firmly established. The ethnic groups want to speak their own language, cherish their own tradition and respect one another while being united as one nation under the umbrella of Ethiopia.
    To lead such a country, we need selfless, savvy, shrewd, liberal and charismatic leaders, like RIP PM Meles Zenawi, so as to foster our economy and political system while accommodating our diversity impartially. So, can you please desist your inane and parochial opinions and contribute something meaningful to your country leaving your baseless self – conceit and evil thoughts aside.
    You shouldn’t measure your life by the amount of scrumptious foods you eat, fancy cars you drive and luxury mansions you dwell in. RIP PM Meles Zenawi was the greatest, astute and pragmatic leader Ethiopia perhaps Africa has ever seen. He sacrificed his entire life for the welfare of Ethiopia and Africa, and should be regarded as honorificabilitudinitatibus by all Ethiopians, Africans and the world for his unfaltering lifelong commitment. Long live Ethiopia and shame to you, malevolent people!!!

  15. […] Anche Voice of America sottolinea l’impegno di Zenawi nel mantenere il Paese forte e rilevante nel panorama africano, il suo spirito di collaborazione verso gli Stati Uniti e l’impulso impartito alla crescita economica, ma allo stesso tempo rimprovera al defunto premier l’incapacità di promuovere tra le libertà e i diritti civili così come aveva fatto con lo sviluppo commerciale. E VoA lo sa bene: Zenawi ne aveva oscurato il segnale perché non gradiva le sue trasmissioni. […]

  16. Anche Voice of America sottolinea l’impegno di Zenawi nel mantenere il Paese forte e rilevante nel panorama africano, il suo spirito di collaborazione verso gli Stati Uniti e l’impulso impartito alla crescita economica, ma allo stesso tempo rimprovera al defunto premier l’incapacità di promuovere tra le libertà e i diritti civili, così come aveva fatto con lo sviluppo commerciale. E VoA lo sa bene: Zenawi ne aveva oscurato il segnale perché non gradiva le sue trasmissioni.

  17. Abba Bogibo says:

    A lot can be put in black and white about Meles Zenawi’s restless struggle from guerrilla to victory up on brutal regime and his struggle to alleviate the worst poverty of our country. To put it in a nutshell, he brought an end to a racial dominance … any one nation and nationality in Ethiopia can now proclaim “I am Ethiopian” in his mother tongue. … The poor Ethiopians are on the road map of eating at least three times a day, a never ever seen expansion of education, accessibility to health, universal and best infrastructures developed, and his genius representation of Africa on international stages made his success a giant victory and an icon of his continent. This all led his people to be keen on him. He was a man to be recognized during his lifetime, but his party, EPRDF’s strategy do not give a room for a single person outshining, off course, his success is the success of his party and of the martyrs as the prime has ones witnessed in public that, his aim is not outshining. His enthusiastic vision … eradicating poverty is a great assignment on the forthcoming leadership. The only way for success ahead is, the party should support the coming leadership, as the head of the government for outright success with no conflict in succession to power and should legitimize the power is the power of the party. As the public unanimously mourned his death, it indicated a clear sign for the devotion to the party, and a clear warning for the opponents of Ethiopians, inland and abroad. Thus the public’s response should be recognized and needs due attention. The interest of the west should not vary with change of leaders, as the leaders only represent the party. The issues of free press and democracy is not like the way depicted by few oppositions. The realty is that our country is poor economically, poor politically, poor in social development, therefore to change all this situations at a time is cumbersome and unlikely, and should be developed gradually. Change in economic development is the first step and then comes the others. As a leader of a giant nation the truck of PM Meles, is one with no alternative. It should be maintained in all aspects, and I hope the forthcoming leadership maintain it so.

  18. Abraham says:

    The actual legacy of Meles is a bit too early to tell at this point and it very much depends in which direction Ethiopia heads from here out. However, a few things stand out about Meles Zenawi. His ability to mesmerize aid agencies and western powers is unmatched in African history. This however doesn’t necessarily mean positive for Ethiopia. Under the guise of a magnanimous leader who brushed shoulders with G20 leader lier a shrewd and calculating Stalinist whose political world view had always been “Revolutionary Democracy”, as defined by Lenin himself. Meles threw out his dark blue fatigues for the wall street suits as soon as he learned the game of survival in this current capitalist world. Underneath he remained a hardened centralist/Leninist. I give him an A+ for his magical ability to hide this from the west. But, just take a look at the structure of the ruling EPRDF party, which he build and your see Stalin’s name written all over it. Even the economy of Ethiopia is highly centralized. Democracy in the western sense has no place in EPRDF’s Ethiopia. Never the less, I must admit there has been considerable economic progress, at least in the construction / infrastructure sectors. Unfortunately, thanks to high rates of inflation, this growth hasn’t meant much for the majority of Ethiopians, who are poor. In fact, Ethiopian per capita income is still one of the lowest in Africa. Other essentials of a modern economy, such as Cell phone connectivity, Internet speed and usage are even worst than the failed state of Somalia….So even on the economic front, when you consider the amount of aid money thrown at Ethiopia, the results haven’t been as stellar as predicted.

Scott Stearns

Scott Stearns

Scott Stearns is VOA’s State Department correspondent. He has worked as VOA’s Dakar Bureau Chief, White House correspondent, and Nairobi Bureau Chief since beginning his career as a freelance reporter in the Liberian civil war. He has written for the BBC, UPI, the Associated Press, The Jerusalem Post, and The Economist. Scott has a Bachelors and Masters in Journalism from Northwestern University.



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