Monday, August 27, 2012

Ethiopia's Meles: Two sides of an autocratic coin

(Aug 27, 2012, Mail & Guardian)--The cerebral 57-year-old Meles Zenawi, who ruled Ethiopia for the past 21 years, died this week. He was a man of many parts. Celebrated by donors as a visionary philosopher-king who brought development to his country of 75-million people, his domestic critics condemned him as an iron-fisted dictator. 

Ethiopian army soldiers escort the body of the late PM Zenawi to the presidential palace (AP Photo)
Meles's Tigray People's Liberation Front had waged a successful war alongside the Eritrean People's Liberation Front to topple Soviet-backed dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam. Meles came to power in 1991 and he supported Eritrea's independence in 1993, but within five years the former allies were fighting a bloody war that, by 2000, had resulted in nearly 100 000 deaths.

In power, Meles pursued a pragmatic course in a coffee-dominated economy, 30% of which still relies on foreign aid. There was a nationalist restriction on foreign banks combined with government monopolies in the energy and communications sectors, plus incentives for foreign leasing of agricultural land to produce food and flowers.

Meles often pursued an independent economic course based on a carefully considered strategy to commercialise small-scale farming and promote manufacturing. Rural schools and clinics grew in number and child mortality was reduced. The late prime minister consistently called for fairer trade and an end to aid dependency in Africa. Ethiopia has had impressive annual growth – about 9% – for a ­decade. Yet Meles's critics say ­villagers were forcibly relocated to make way for foreign investors and poverty and food insecurity are still widespread.

Meles's ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front has remained the dominant political group in Ethiopia since 1991. In 2005 the opposition won 23 parliamentary seats in Addis Ababa, but the regime reacted harshly, killing 200 protesters and jailing 30000 opponents. Some were later tried for treason.

Five years later, continued repression – including a clampdown on the media and foreign-funded non-governmental organisations, as well as the use of draconian anti-terrorism laws – and a divided opposition ensured that the Revolutionary Democratic Front and its allies won 99.6% of parliamentary seats. More arrests followed these polls. Read more the original article from Mail & Guardian »

Related topics:
Why do so many African leaders die in office?
Zenawi’s legacy and the future of free press in Ethiopia (by Mohammed Ademo)
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi dies at the age of 57-(Video report) 
Fears for Ethiopia’s stability follow death of longtime ruler (Washington Times)
Is Hailemariam Desalegn Ethiopia’s new longtime leader or just a placeholder?
The Meles Zenawi I Knew ( BY BARRY MALONE) 

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