Power vacuum as Ethiopia's Meles Zenawi dies at 57
Instability feared in Horn of Africa after death of PM who held power for 21 years
THERE are fears of increased instability in the Horn of Africa after the death of Ethiopia's strongman leader, Meles Zenawi. Neighbouring Kenya has called for a peaceful transition in the vacuum his demise creates.
Zenawi ruled Ethiopia as prime minister for more than two decades after helping oust dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991. Instantly recognisable for his bald head, round face with arched eyebrows and goatee beard, he died at the age of 57 after suffering from a long illness, the nature of which has not been disclosed, surrounded by his family.
At first, he was praised as a moderate, liberal leader. But Zenawi was accused by the UN of becoming increasingly authoritarian as his rule progressed. It was claimed he had persecuted and even tortured his critics. In 1998 he took the country to war against Eritrea over a border dispute.
Yet Ethiopia boomed under Zenawi. Economic growth rose from 3.8 per cent in the 1990s to 10 per cent in 2010, reports The Daily Telegraph.
Zenawi was praised by the US, with Bill Clinton once describing him as a "renaissance leader" in reference to his fierce intellect and bookish habits. And it was from America that the crucial support came in the late 1980s enabling Zenawi to topple Mengistu.
While rights groups saw Zenawi as one of Africa's worst offenders, crushing dissent, some governments took the pragmatic view that he provided stability desperately needed in the region. In 2010 he was re-elected on 99 per cent of the vote.
With Zenawi gone, The Guardian quotes Kenyan PM Raila Odinga as telling the BBC World Service: "We need a seamless, peaceful, transition of power. The region, the horn of Africa, needs stability."
Ethiopian communications minister Bereket Simon said that everything was "stable" and the country's deputy PM, Hailemariam Desalegn, will be sworn in as PM after an emergency meeting of parliament.