The Death of a Big Man
It was reported that Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi died on August 20th at the age of 57, a relatively young age for an African dictator. Zenawi had been the de facto leader of Ethiopia since the coup he led dislodging Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991. Zenawi is known for his repressive and intolerant leadership style that jailed dissident journalists, killed hundreds of opposition members and protesters, and forced numerous Ethiopians into exile. While his human rights record leaves much to be desired, Zenawi’s economic successes and policies are hard to ignore with realistic claims of 11% annual growth since 2004, a revived agricultural sector, and a (mostly) honest and well intended use of donor funds.
Some commentators have expressed concerns that the fragility of Ethiopia, which Zenawi managed to hold together, could leave a power vacuum—especially considering the irredentist ambitions of Somalia and persistent grievances emanating from Eretria. However, Jason Mosley, an Associate Fellow at the Chatham House, correctly stated that while Zenawi’s party is by no means “monolithic” and that plans were evidently in motion for a leadership transition in the near future, but it is likely that Zenawi was planning to solidify himself as the head of his the state anyway. Mosley comments further that few historical precedents exist in Ethiopia to help guide this transition process along, complicating the situation further. Continue reading