In 1975, he left Haile Selassie I University to join the TPLF and oppose the Derg. After the overthrow of the Derg's military government, he was elected as President of the transitional government and later as Prime Minister. He has lifted his country from the ruins of civil war and transformed it into one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies.
Meles was born in Adwa, Tigray, in northern Ethiopia, to an Ethiopian father Zenawi Asres from Adwa and Alemash Guebreluel from Adi Quala, Eritrea. He was the third of six children. His first name at birth was "Legesse" (thus Legesse Zenawi, Ge'ez: ለገሰ ዜናዊ legesse zēnāwī). However, he eventually became better known by his nom de guerreMeles, which he adopted in honor of University student and fellow Tigrayan Meles Tekle who was executed by Mengistu's government in 1975. He received primary education at Queen of Sheba Junior School located in Adwa. It took him 5 years to complete the regular 8 years program as he was able to skip grades and join the next level. He then joined the prestigious General Wingate High school in Addis Ababa on full scholarship and completed high school in 1972.
Early political career
Ethiopian Civil War (1974-1991)
After high school, Meles studied medicine at Addis Ababa University (at the time known as Haile Selassie University) for two years before dropping out his studies in 1974 to join other students and form Tigrayan National Organization (TNO) the forerunner TPLF in Dedebit, Tigray. Aregawi Berhe, a former member of the TPLF, notes that historians John Young and Jenny Hammond "vaguely indicated" Meles as founder TPLF in their books. Aregawi insists that both he and Sebhat Nega joined the Front "months" after it was founded. While a member of the TPLF, Meles established the Marxist-Leninist League of Tigray (MLLT).
Meles Zenawi (far right, middle) sitting next to Bereket Simon in a 1970s political meeting
TPLF was one of armed groups struggling against Lieutenant Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam and the Derg, the junta which lead Ethiopia under iron fist from 1974-1991. Meles was elected member of the leadership committee in 1979 and chairman of the executive committee of TPLF in 1983. He was the chairperson of both the TPLF and the EPRDF after the EPRDF assumed power at the end of the Ethiopian Civil War in 1991. He was president of the transitional government of Ethiopia (TGE), during which Eritrea seceded from the country and a federal Government that is based on representing the nation and nationality of the country started.
Presidency of Ethiopia (1991-1995)
Meles stated that EPRDF's victory was a triumph for the thousands of TPLF-fighters who were killed, for the millions of Ethiopians who were victims of the country's biggest famine during the Derg regime, when some estimates put up to 1.5 million deaths of Ethiopians from famine and the Red Terror. Accordingly, he maintained that the big support it received from peasants and rural areas helped EPRDF maintain peace and stability. Foreign support was diverse; the Arab League, as well as Western nations, supported the EPRDF rebels against the communist Moscow-supported government (although the TPLF was at the time Marxist) at the height of the Cold War.
"What the implications of this will be in terms of relations between Ethiopia and the European Union, we will have to wait and see but I don't think you will be surprised if Ethiopia were to insist that it should not be patronised."
The United States facilitated peace talks between different rebel groups including EPRDF and the Derg to bring an end to civil war which lasted for 17 years and reach some kind of political settlement in 1991. The talks didn't bear any fruit as EPRDF's force were moving to the capital and Mengistu fled the country. The United State agreed to support the EPRDF which would have, nevertheless, seized power without anyone's support.Many angry demonstrators in Addis Ababa reacted to this by protesting against Herman Cohen, the U.S. State Department's chief of African affairs who attended a conference that demonstrators viewed as legitimizing the EPRDF.
Although Meles and his administration claimed they preferred a united but federal state that included the Eritrean state, since Meles' TPLF fought together with EPLF, Meles originally left the decision to the Eritrean citizens in the hope that the independence referendum would vote against secession, according to Time magazine's 1991 analysis. However, after the EPLF secured their borders when Mengistu's regime fell, and after the majority of Eritreans voted for independence on 24 May 1993, Isaias Afewerki became the leader of Eritrea. Many[who?] in the Meles administration, as well as opposition parties were angry over the decision to grant Eritrea its independence.
Despite working together against the Derg regime, Meles and Afewerki's positive relationship turned sour after Meles succumbed to U.S. pressure to hold an election within a year, but Afewerki abandoned his original promise to create a transitional government in the early 1990s. The Eritrean-Ethiopian War began in May 1998 following the Eritrean troops invasion of Badme and parts of Sheraro woredas. Following the invasion Ethiopia demanded that the Eritrean troops leave the invaded areas completely. However, president Afeworki of Eritrea refused to pull out. Then the Ethiopians responded with huge counter - offensive measures which subsequently lead to the capture of the disputed Badme area and most parts of western Eritrea, Ethiopian President Negaso Gidada gave a victory speech and a peace treaty was signed a few weeks later. According to the peace treaty Ethiopia then pulled out of the Eritrean Territory. Though Ethiopian troops controlled Badme, after an international court[which?] ruled that Badme belonged to Eritrea, Ethiopia continued to maintain a presence of Ethiopian soldiers in the town.
Meles moved to have Ethiopia gain a larger share of the Nile River water. Part of this entailed using Ethiopia's hydropower prospects as leverage in exporting power to Egypt, amongst others. He had also aided the Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement prior to South Sudan's independence as the rebels fought the government in Khartoum. Since the War on Terrorism, Meles sought to consolidate Ethiopia's hegemony in East Africa, including his mediation efforts with Sudan and South Sudan, as well as stabilizing Somalia towards the end of the mandate of the Transitional Federal Government. Though he had controversially sent troops to fight against the Islamic Courts Union, since 2009 he had been praised for working towards a stable situation along with the African Union.
After a threat on an invasion of Ethiopia, Meles declared war on the ICU. In 2006, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) assumed control of much of the southern part of Somalia and promptly imposed Shari'a law. The Transitional Federal Government sought to re-establish its authority, and, with the assistance of Ethiopian troops, African Union peacekeepers and air support by the United States, managed to drive out the rival ICU. On 8 January 2007, as the Battle of Ras Kamboni raged, TFG President and founder Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, a former colonel in the Somali Army, entered Mogadishu for the first time since being elected to office. The Somali government then relocated to Villa Somalia in the capital from its interim location in Baidoa. This marked the first time since the fall of the Siad Barre regime in 1991 that the federal government controlled most of the country.
In October 2011, a coordinated multinational operation began against Al-Shabaab in southern Somalia, with the Ethiopian military eventually joining the mission the following month. According to Ramtane Lamamra, the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, the additional Ethiopian and AU troop reinforcements are expected to help the Somali authorities gradually expand their territorial control.
At the 33rd G8 summit in Heiligendamm in 2007 (Meles at elevated row fourth from left)
On 31 August 2009, Meles was appointed Chair of the African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change (CAHOSCC). The group had been established following the 4 February 2009 decision at the 12th AU Assembly of Heads of States to build a common Africa position on climate change in preparations for COP15.
Prior to Meles' appointment, but in light of the AU's decision and the Algiers Declaration on the African Common Platform to Copenhagen, on 19 May 2009 the Africa Group made a submission to the UNFCCC that included demands for US$67 billion per year in finance for adaptation funding and US$200 billion per year for mitigation and set targets in terms of reductions of emissions by developed countries not by reference to temperature.
On 3 September 2009, Meles made a speech to the Africa Partnership Forum, where he said:
We will never accept any global deal that does not limit global warming to the minimum unavoidable level, no matter what levels of compensation and assistance are promised to us… While we will reason with everyone to achieve our objective, we will not rubber stamp an agreement by the powers that be as the best we could get for the moment. We will use our numbers to delegitimize any agreement that is not consistent with our minimal position. If needs be we are prepared to walk out of any negotiations that threaten to be another rape of our continent.
In July 2012, questions arose concerning Meles' health when he did not attend African Union summit meetings in Addis Ababa. Opposition groups[which?] claimed that Meles may have already died on 16 July while undergoing treatment in Belgium; however, Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn attributed Meles' absence to a minor illness. A press conference, during which the government planned to clarify Meles' health status, was scheduled for 18 July but postponed until later in the week. While the government acknowledged that Meles had been hospitalised, it stated that his condition was not serious. There were further rumours of his death when he was not seen in public after the 2012 G20 summit and at the time of the death of the head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Abune Paulos.
It's a sad day for Ethiopia. The man who led our country for the past 21 years and brought economic and democratic changes, has died. We have lost our respected leader. Meles has been receiving treatment abroad. He was getting better and we were expecting him to return to Addis Ababa. But he developed a sudden infection and died around 11:40pm last night. His body will be returned to Ethiopia soon. We have set up a committee to organise his funeral. More information will be released about that soon. As per Ethiopian law, Hailemariam Desalegn has now taken over the leadership. He will also be in charge of the Ethiopian military and all other government institutions. I would like to stress, nothing in Ethiopia will change. The government will continue. Our policies and institutions will continue. Nothing will change in Ethiopia. Desalegn will be confirmed by parliament."
After his body was repatriated two days later, thousands of mourners congregated on streets from the airport to Meles' former residence to pay their last respects as his coffin, draped in the flag of Ethiopia, was accompanied by a military band. The event was attended by political, military and religious leaders, as well as diplomats and his wife, Azeb Mesfin. The body will lie in state and the funeral date set is arranged. A declaration of national mourning was also issued. There were also fears of a power vacuum after his death, as well as a possible detriment to Eritrea-Ethiopian relations.
Meles’s funeral took place in Addis Ababa on 2 September 2012 in a religious ceremony attended by at least 20 African presidents and thousands of Ethiopians gathered in Meskel Square.
Political leaders, states and institutions offered their thoughts on Meles following his death.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office issued a statement that read: "[Netanyahu] presented his condolences to the Ethiopian people. Meles was loved in his country. He was also a true friend of Israel. During his mandate Ethiopia became one of Israel's closest friends."
Prime Minister David Cameron called Meles "an inspirational spokesman for Africa."
President Barack Obama released the statement: "It was with sadness that I learned of the passing of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia. Prime Minister Meles deserves recognition for his lifelong contribution to Ethiopia’s development, particularly his unyielding commitment to Ethiopia’s poor. I met with Prime Minister Meles at the G-8 Summit in May and recall my personal admiration for his desire to lift millions of Ethiopians out of poverty through his drive for food security. I am also grateful for Prime Minister Meles’s service for peace and security in Africa, his contributions to the African Union, and his voice for Africa on the world stage. On behalf of the American people, I offer my condolences to Prime Minister Meles’ family and to the people of Ethiopia on this untimely loss, and confirm the U.S. Government’s commitment to our partnership with Ethiopia. Going forward, we encourage the Government of Ethiopia to enhance its support for development, democracy, regional stability and security, human rights and prosperity for its people."
President Lee Myung-bak released this statement: "The passing of Prime Minister Meles is being mourned across the globe. We all have just lost a great leader of Ethiopia and a preeminent advocate for Africa and the developing world. [...] I pray for the repose of a truly bright mind who lived an intense and moving life – my close friend."
Western NGOs Amnesty International called for the new administration to end Meles' "ever-increasing repression" and Human Rights Watch similarly added that the next administration should repeal the 2009 anti-terrorism law. As the New York Times asked about a gap between the United States of America's strategic and ideological goals in relation to its support for Meles' government, it quoted HRW researcher Leslie Lefkow as saying: "There is an opportunity here. If donors are shrewd, they will use the opportunity that this presents to push a much stronger and bolder human rights stance and need for reform." Author Dan Connell, who had interviewed Meles in June, said that "he seemed focused [then] on wrapping up a number of major projects as if he were aware the end was near. Meles knew his days were numbered." The Committee to Protect Journalists cited and criticised the secrecy around Meles' death. The Washington Post said that the "circumstances of his death remained laced with intrigue."
Meles acquired an MBA from the Open University of the United Kingdom in 1995 and a masters of science in economics from the Erasmus University of the Netherlands in 2004. In July 2002, he received an honorary doctoral degree in political science from the Hannam University in South Korea. Meles Zenawi was a follower of the Christian Orthodox faith, and he was a member of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church from his baptism at birth till his death. Meles was married to Azeb Mesfin, a former rebel fighter in the TPLF and, as of 2013[update], a Member of Parliament. Meles was the father of three children.
Titles, awards and honors
Prime Minister Meles received various international awards for setting up a good foundation for the development of Ethiopia. Even though Ethiopia remains one of the poorest countries in the world, the near double-digit annual economic growth rate recently is seen as the beginning of Ethiopia's long marathon struggle to eliminate poverty. Acknowledging the rapid GDP growth of the country, the UK newspaper The Economist said in December 2007 that "Ethiopia's economy has been growing at record speed in recent years." In 2008, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) described the speed of Ethiopia's economic growth in recent years as the "fastest for a non-oil exporting country in Sub-Saharan Africa", with Ethiopia ranked as the second-most attractive African country for investors.
Although many opposition parties and parliamentarian critics disagree, some Ethiopians also portray the arrival date of Meles' government, 28 May 1991 (Ginbot 20), as the "birth of democracy" in Ethiopia, while diplomats and analysts say the country is slowly moving towards democracy.
Before he joined the Medical Faculty of Addis Ababa University, Prime Minister Meles was awarded the Haile Selassie I Prize Trust, a highly selective award given only to the most outstanding graduating students.
The Rwanda government awarded Meles Rwanda’s National Liberation Medal, the "Uruti," in July 2009 for helping to liberate Rwanda and end the genocide in the country. Alongside two other African leaders, Meles was also given Rwanda's highest accolade, the "Umurinzi" medal, Rwanda’s Campaign Against Genocide Medal.
PM Meles Zenawi was awarded the World Peace Prize for his contributions to global peace and his effort to stabilize the Horn of Africa through cooperation with Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD).
Tabor 100, an African American entrepreneur’s organization, honored PM Meles for his contribution toward economic and social transformation in Africa with its prestigious Crystal Eagle International Leadership Award in April 2005. Tabor 100, a U.S.-based nongovernmental organization, calling Meles Zenawi "international leader of the year 2005", also honored the efforts of the Ethiopian government in general for its war on poverty and backwardness.
PM Meles was awarded the Good Governance Award of the Global Coalition for Africa for leading Ethiopia along a democratic path during the challenging period of transition. He was selected for the good governance award by the US-based Corporate Council on Africa.
PM Meles received the Norway-based 2005 Yara Prize for Green Revolution (Yara) for initiating a good foundation for economic progress in Ethiopia, particularly in the agricultural sector, where the poor country has doubled its food production. During the award ceremony held in the Norwegian capital of Oslo on 3 September, the director of the UN project for Africa said, "With our support, Ethiopia can lift itself from poverty and hunger. Under Prime Minister Meles the country has created the grass roots structure to enable this to happen."
Meles was given the Africa Political Leadership Award of 2008 by the US-based newspaper, Africa Times. Previous winners of the award include Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and others.
Ethiopia’s military honored Prime Minister Meles for his leadership during the 1998–2000 war with its northern neighbour when Eritrea invaded Ethiopia in 1998.
Residents of the historic and ancient UNESCO town of Axum in Ethiopia honored Prime Minister Meles for his political and diplomatic leadership role in the return and re-erection of the Obelisk of Axum after a 68-year stay in Rome, Italy.
Meles received a Gold Order of Merit award from the Confederation of African Football (CAF) in February 2007. PM Meles was given the CAF organisation's highest award for his services in advancing the progress of African football. Ethiopia was one of the founding countries of the CAF (1957) and the organization, with the dedication of AU leaders like Meles, was celebrating the International Year of African Football in 2007.
Meles was a Co-Chairperson of the Global Coalition for Africa (GCA.) The Global Coailition for Africa brings together senior African policy makers and their partners to deepen dialogue and build consensus on Africa's priority development issues.
First multi-party parliament with opposition MPs (since 2000)
First unrestricted freedom of religion for evangelicals/Pentecostals (since 1994; a Pentecostal succeeded him in 2012)
Meles was given the Green Revolution award and a financial prize of 200,000 dollars by the Norwegian Yara Foundation in September 2005 "in recognition of past accomplishments and encouragement to achieve economic development for the people of Ethiopia."
Meles donated his $200,000 financial award to a foundation called "Fre—Addis Ethiopia Women Fund" (Fre-Addis Ethiopia Yesetoch Merja Mahiber). The Fre-Addis Ethiopia Women Fund has an objective "to empower girls through providing educational opportunities" and it currently supports 514 needy and orphan rural girls to pursue their education throughout the country.
The Eritrean Struggle: From Where to Where? (1980)
African Development: Dead Ends and New Beginnings (2006)
"The rest of the contextual factors have no relevance whatsoever to the investigative process. Indeed, they remind me of the famous Tina Turner song. 'What’s love got to do with it?'"—Meles Zenawi's response to EU-EOM implying Mrs. Ana Gomez's alleged contradicting accusations.