Prime Minister of Ethiopia
Upon the defeat of the military junta, Meles became president of the Transitional Government of Ethiopia and Chairman of the Council of Representatives (the legislative body of the transitional government) from 1991 to 1995.
In 1995 after the first elections organised under the new Federal Constitution drawn up in 1994 and promulgated in 1995, he became Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. As leader of the EPRDF, he was the first Ethiopian leader to develop a multi-party system to include opposition parties. The introduction of federalism created nine regional states with their own nations, nationalities and people's in the country with their first opportunity to govern their own areas. There were multi-party national and federal elections in 1995, 2000, 2005 and 2010, and Meles led the EPRDF party to victory in all of these elections.
As the voice of the collective leadership of the EPRDF he was the spokesperson for the political and economic theories linking ethnic identity, state power and economic renewal based on the aim of winning the war on poverty. He told the first press conference he held in Addis Ababa that "he would consider his government a success if Ethiopians were able to eat three meals a day." As part of his "pro-poor" domestic policies, he subsequently pioneered a series of schemes designed to assist those most in need including the Productive Safety Net Program which started in 2004, a Social Cash Transfer Program and the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange which opened in 2008. The result of these and other similar policies was that when the Horn of Africa suffered from disastrous droughts in 2010/2011, there was no famine in Ethiopia. Ethiopia now ranks among the top categories for policies of social inclusion and equity in its economic management, making major advances in health and education.
In the last decade, Meles had articulated his own vision of the democratic developmental state, drawing on the models provided by Taiwan and South Korea. He argued that the way to achieve accelerated economic development was through a strong and effective state encouraging and directing investment to provide for the areas in which the country could excel, including the production of food and manufacturing goods cheaply. He launched economic policies that led to the achievement of eight years of double-digit economic growth from 2004, with a focus on the development of Ethiopia's energy resources, and began the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile. This will be Africa's biggest hydro-electric dam and has fired the imagination of country, a symbol of the country's Renaissance. Ethiopia now has one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, and indeed the world.
When the EPRDF came to power in 1991, one of its first acts was to agree to the independence of Eritrea, de facto in 1991, and formally recognized as an independent state in May 1993 after a referendum. Relations between the two countries were close until in 1998 Eritrean forces invaded Ethiopia and precipitated a conflict for which Ethiopia was ill-prepared having greatly reduced its armed forces in the previous few years. The war lasted two years before Eritrea agreed to peace, accepting a Cessation of Hostilities Agreement in June 2000.The subsequent decisions of the Boundary Commission did not please Ethiopia, but they were fully accepted in November 2004 though Eritrea has subsequently refused to discuss the practical demarcation of the border. As a result , Ethiopian-Eritrea relations have remained extremely poor, exacerbated by Eritrea's continued support for armed opposition extremist groups and for efforts to destabilize the country even going so far as to support elements in Somalia aligned with international terrorism.
Elsewhere in the region, Ethiopia has played an active role in encouraging peace and stability notably in Somalia where Meles was a mediator and a negotiator for peace, between the clans, steadily working for the rebuilding of the collapsed state in organizing a number of reconciliation conferences and backing the building blocks approach to Somali reunification. At the same time, Ethiopia was closely involved in the efforts to resist the growth of extremism and terrorism in Somalia. He responded to appeals from the Transitional Government in 2006 to provide military support in anticipation of regional or international involvement. In its absence, Ethiopia stayed until 2009 before withdrawing as AMISOM began to deploy on a large scale. Meles remained closely involved and supportive of the process leading to the ending of the transitional period this month.
Meles served as chairman of the Organization of the African Union from June 1995 until June 1996. He was co-chairman of the Global Coalition for Africa. He was also actively involved in IGAD's efforts to end the conflicts in Sudan and Somalia, and Africa initiatives to seek a solution to the crises in Burundi. In 2004, he was appointed by UK Prime Minister Tony Blair as one of the Commissioners in the Commission for Africa.
Meles was the co-chairperson of the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (Novmber 2006). Under his leadership, Ethiopia has become the Forum's co-chair country. Meles also represented Africa at the G8 and G20 summits. Nominated by the African Union, Meles led an African Delegation at the Global Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen in 2009. In February 2010 the UN appointed him co-chair of the new high-level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing.
Meles also played an important role, both directly and through IGAD, in the whole peace process in Sudan and the implementation of the Comprehensive Framework of Agreement which finally resulted in the independence of South Sudan last year. Since then, Meles became the sole international mediator trusted by both sides in the disagreements and intermittent conflicts between the two states. Ethiopia has been hosting the on-going peace talks between the two sides and managed to keep up good relations with both.
Prime Minister Meles became one of the most influential leaders in Africa during the last decade, taking a leading role in the negotiations on climate change, in opposing terrorism and extremism in Somalia and in peacemaking in Sudan. He was very clear that he wanted his legacy to be the conquest of poverty in Ethiopia. "As far as halving poverty in Ethiopia is concerned we will achieve it. I have no doubt about it. I believe, by 2025, we will be a middle income country with a per capita income of at least $1000 a year and at around that time, slightly before perhaps, we will be completely free of aid of any variety." He also believed in peace and stability both in Ethiopia and in Africa. He was rightly proud of the Constitution and saw himself as a builder of institutions. He said; "We believe that democracy, good governance and transparency and fighting corruption are good objectives for every country, an intellectual leader he wanted" but he did not believe it was possible these could be imposed from outside: "Internalization of accountability is central to democratization; the state has to be accountable to the citizens".
Prime Minister Meles's vision for Ethiopia remains unfinished, but he leaves Ethiopia far stronger in every respect than when he came to power himself. He will be much missed by the Ethiopian people and by Africa. His legacy, however, remains one of inspiration and encouragement for his successor to achieve his far-reaching aims.
Key International Positions held by Honourable Prime Minister Meles Zenawi
- Honourable Prime Minister Meles was a Co-Chairperson of the Global Coalition for Africa (GCA.) The Global Coalition for Africa brings together senior African policy makers and their partners to deepen dialogue and build consensus on Africa's priority development issues.
- Honourable Prime Minister Meles was the co-chairperson of the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (Nov.2006) Ethiopia is the Forum's co-chair country. It led to the adoption of the Beijing Action Plan (2007-2009) for partnership for economic progress and cultural exchanges. It also stated to support Africa's "development of international political, economic, trade and financial systems."
- In 2004, Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom appointed Honourable Prime Minister Meles as one of the commissioners taking part in the Commission for Africa.
- Honourable Prime Minister Meles served as the Chairman of the Organization for African Unity (OAU, now the African Union - AU) from June 1995 to June 1996.
- In 2007, the African Union elected Honourable Prime Minister Meles to chair the executive committee of the NEPAD (the New Partnership for Africa's Development).
- Honourable Prime Minister Meles was chosen to represent Africa at the G8 Summit and the G20 summit in London.
- The African Union selected Honourable Prime Minister Meles to lead an African Delegation to the Global Conference on Climate Change at Copenhagen in 2009.
- In February 2010, the UN named Honourable Prime Minister Meles as co-chair of the Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing, a new high-level U.N. advisory group on climate change financing.