Thursday, August 30, 2012

Africa's last empire shaken by death of Meles Zenawi

(Aug 30, 2012, The Sunday Daily)--IT SAYS much when the long-time rulers of two of Africa's largest, most important nations, Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and Ethiopia's Meles Zenawi, had to fly to Europe for critical medical treatment because their own nations lacked facilities and specialists.

Meles' untimely death at 57 on Aug 20 in a Belgian hospital – probably from cancer – has left Ethiopia reeling. He and a junta of Tigrayans ruled Ethiopia's 90.8 million people with an iron first since 1991 after they overthrew the murderous Communist Derg regime of Col Mengistu Haile Mariam. Mengistu's Red Terror is said to have murdered tens of thousands and starved to death a million peasants.

Assessing Meles' rule is difficult. He was one of Africa's smartest, most sophisticated leaders. Meles maintained a reputation for financial integrity and personal austerity that was unusual in Africa, though his government was accused of widespread corruption. Under him, desperately poor Ethiopia enjoyed a stellar growth rate of 7-10% a year, thanks in part to investments of US$5 billion apiece from India and China that includes major rail projects. Large dams were built on Ethiopia's mountain rivers that boosted crops, but brought threats of war from downstream Sudan and Egypt.

However, the most important boost to Ethiopia's economy came from annul infusions of some US$1 billion in US military and economic aid. Under Meles, Ethiopia became America's policeman of the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia had played the same role under Emperor Haile Selaisse until his overthrow and murder in 1975 by Mengistu's Derg. Western human rights groups accused the Meles regime of gross human rights violations, political repression, and silencing media. Washington closed its eyes to Ethiopia's repression, as it did with Mubarak's regime in Egypt.

Ethiopia and Mubarak's Egypt became the twin pillars of US influence over Africa and close Israeli allies. Israel blocked criticism of their human rights records in Washington. Egypt and Ethiopia formed an entente with four other close US allies, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya and the new, US-engineered state of South Sudan. The first three are now sending troops into Somalia, financed by Washington. US drone aircraft now fly from Ethiopia. Read more the original article from from The Sunday Daily »

Related topics:
Ethiopia's Meles: Two sides of an autocratic coin
Why do so many African leaders die in office?

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