Ethiopia under Meles Zenawi

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At the 33rd G8 summit in Heiligendamm in 2007 (Meles at elevated row fourth from left)

Meles Zenawi was President of Ethiopia from 1991 to 1995 and became the Prime Minister of Ethiopia in 1995 following the general elections that year. He maintained the position of PM until his death in 2012.

During his tenure, Eritrea seceded which caused a border war.[1] He allowed large foreign companies to invest in the country, although the state still controlled the land and farmers were not allowed to sell their land.[1]

He and his government held a tight control over the country.[1]


The United States helped the EPRDF rebels to get power in Ethiopia and many angry demonstrators in Addis Ababa protested against Herman Cohen, the U.S. State Department's chief of African affairs who attended a conference that demonstrators viewed as legitimizing the EPRDF. A New York Times editorial commented in 1991,

Demonstrators cursing the Americans ignore two realities. The cold war is over in Africa, and Ethiopia is no longer a focus of superpower rivalry. Otherwise it would have been unthinkable for four contending Marxist groups to turn to Washington for help. The other reality is that Mr. Cohen cannot undo at the conference table what has happened on the battlefield[2]

Even though EPRDF's success was welcomed as a relief from DERG strong anti-EPRDF sentiments were present in many areas and strongly visible in Addis Ababa. These were just the beginning of the opposition to Meles' EPRDF party after it gained power and more strong opposition followed. Addis Ababa has since been the center of peaceful opposition to the EPRDF, while the eastern Somali Region has been the most active region for armed opposition.

Following the defeat and exile of Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991, the July Convention of Nationalities was held. It was the first Ethiopian multinational convention where delegates of various nations and organizations were given fair and equal representation and observed by various international organizations including the United Nations, Organization for African Unity, European Economic Community, and the United States and the United Kingdom.

Of the 24 groups, the ones with the largest delegations at the Convention were the EPRDF (32), the Oromo Liberation Front (12), Afar Liberation Front (3), the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Oromia (3), and the Western Somali Liberation Front (3). Near the end of the year, Meles became the president of the TGE, and following the first elections in 1995 Meles was elected as prime minister and Negasso Gidada became president. International election observers concluded that had opposition parties contested, they could have garnered seats.

In the 2000 general elections, Meles was reelected Prime Minister, and his ruling EPRDF party shared parliament seats with the opposition party United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF). According to observers organized by Ethiopian Human Rights Council, local U.N. staff, diplomatic missions, political parties, and domestic non-governmental organizations, both the general and the regional elections that year were generally free and fair in most areas; however, serious election irregularities occurred in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples' Region (SNNPR), particularly in the Hadiya Zone.[3]

Meles encountered his first real challenge in the 2005 elections. His party was declared winner and kept his prime minister seat for another term, although the major opposition groups (the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD), UEDF, and the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement) gained a number of seats in the national parliament. More than 30 other political parties participated in the election.[4] These elections were the most contested and the most controversial in Ethiopia's short democratic history, with some opposition parties arguing that the election was stolen by the ruling party. Allegations of fraud were especially strong in the rural areas, as the opposition parties won in most urban areas, whereas the EPRDF won mostly in rural districts.

The aftermath of the election led to riots and demonstrations against the results, particularly in the capital, which had to be stopped by peace officers. Some opposition parties blamed the government for the violence, even though they were tried and convicted in the court of the countries law. At the end of the demonstration, along with seven police officers 193 citizens were killed and 763 civilians wounded.[5][6] Tens of thousands of Ethiopians were also jailed. Many protesters and around 75 police officers were injured.[7] This led to many rounds of accusations between the government and the protesters where the Information Minister Berhan Hailu said the government was "sorry and sad", but blamed the violence on the CUD.[8] The opposition parties have continuously accused the government of a massacre. EU election observers concluded the election failed to meet international standards for free and fair elections while the Carter Center concluded the election was fair but with many irregularities and a lot of intimidation by both sides especially on the part of the government.[9][10] The Carter Center didn't publish its final report at the time. Meanwhile, CUD opposition members continued to accuse the ruling party of fraud. However some accusations of fraud coming from opposition parties were very strange. For instance, a day before the final count of votes in Addis Ababa, the CUD opposition party accused the ruling party of fraud and decided not to accept the result in Addis Ababa. But it ended up that the CUD party was actually refusing its own victory, since the vote count showed that the CUD won 100% of the votes in Addis Ababa.[11] According to critics, this strange event led to speculations that the main opposition party, CUD, had already planned not to accept the result no matter what, in order to paint a bad image of Meles's ruling party and the elections and gain the support of the international community following the predestined failure of the election.[12]

In an interview, the United States AID director repeated that the Carter Center understood that the ruling party (EPRDF) won the election and most of his peers confirmed that as well. The USAID director also criticized some EU observers, accusing them of bias and favoring the opposition. He said some European observers practiced outside of their jobs and went "overboard in encouraging the opposition and making them think that somehow they had won the election."[13] He concluded that the American government never believed the opposition won the election.[14]

An inquiry into the violence found the property damage caused by the rioters and protesters in Addis Ababa and other cities totaled to 4.45 million Ethiopian Birr, including 190 damaged buses and 44 cars as police officers tried to restrain the rioters. The SBS journalist, Olivia Rousset, indicated that the government used too much force to subdue the rioters. She also said that "stone-throwing rioters" tried to take the guns from the security forces.[15] Some EU observers have also shown their discontent at the post-election violence, suggesting that the police response was disproportionate, and blamed the government. In a rare response, Meles said that he was disappointed that "some people have misunderstood the nature of the problem and misinterpreted it." In its final report, the independent commission concluded that the aggressive steps taken by the police force were to "avoid large scale violence and to protect the constitution" and that the reason behind the riotings might have been the protestors' unfamiliarity with the "process of democratization" e.g., respecting election results. However, the commission also acknowledged that there were serious errors that needed to be addressed regarding the capabilities of the Ethiopian Security forces to control riots.[16] However, three members of the Inquiry Commission have defected and given their testimonies to members of the U.S. Congress and the International Media. The former Supreme Court Judge of the Southern Ethiopian nations and nationalities, Judge Frehiwot Samuel, who was also Chairman of the Inquiry Commission, and his Deputy, Judge Wolde-Michael Meshesha, have fled Ethiopia with a video and final report of the Commission’s findings that shows the commission deciding, through an eight to two vote, that the government had used excessive force and that there were grave human rights violations.[17] Some leaders, including the UK's Tony Blair, condemned the violence but repeated that Meles' ruling party "won the election."[18] Other European organizations also praised the election saying it was a "free and fair multi-party election."[19] So far, most of the US representatives have not changed their outlook and the US government supports the Ethiopian government in both military and aid assistance. Other analysts also described progress in Ethiopia's first multi-party parliament in history.[20]

Meanwhile, many international media outlets continued to display the post-election bloodshed, followed by criticism of Meles' ruling party. At the same time, some people implied that opposition members were planning to use violence or provoke it as a means to gain power.[21] In fact, various events were said to show that many opposition supporters, even in universities, try to provoke the police hoping that the security forces will overreact and create chaos.[22] About the violence U.S. state department reports said some opposition supporters were engaged in a peaceful movement to "create greater democratic space" but some opposition supporters were "demonstrating to overthrow the government" and were engaged in "violent protests."[23][24] Other reaction to the election issue was condemnation of the EU election observers. An Irish committee said "the situation in Ethiopia had not been helped by inaccurate leaks from the EU election monitoring body which led the opposition to wrongly believe they had been cheated of victory."[25]

In early 2004, Meles received medical treatment in the UK for an unspecified condition. Flanked by numerous UK police officers and diplomatic protection officers he was observed at the Parkside Hospital in southwest London, a private hospital staffed by numerous specialist consultants.

Domestic policy[edit]

Structural reforms[edit]

Economic structure[edit]

The Ethiopian economy is based on agriculture, which currently accounts for about 45% of the GDP and 85% of the employment. Agricultural commodities also dominate the export sector, mainly coffee, Khat, and hides and skins.

After the Meles Zenawi government gained power, major new players in the Ethiopian economy have been "endowment companies," as the ruling party calls them, commonly known as party companies. EFFORT, the biggest of all, is a conglomerate which is owned by what was Meles Zenawi's party, the TPLF, while he was alive. Some criticized this as having been the previous "government parastatals" during DERG regime being replaced by "party parastatals". In recent developments, Bloomberg reported that Guna Trading, owned by EFFORT,[26] plans to become one of the biggest coffee exporters.[27]

Land and agriculture[edit]

Ethiopian agriculture is predominantly rain-fed subsistence agriculture, troubled by recurrent droughts. After Meles came to power in 1991, there were three major droughts in 1999/2000,[28] 2002/2003[29] and 2009/2010.[30]

The most significant reform regarding land use after Meles took power was the dissolution of the collective farms and redistribution of land at local levels. The demand for land ownership, expressed in the slogan "Land to the tiller," was central in toppling the feudal monarchy. The demand, however, was not fully answered. The new constitution, in Article 40, section 3, states that, "The right to own rural and urban land as well as natural resources belongs only to the state and the people".[31] The farmers have land use rights, but uncertain transfer rights. Starting in 2008, this land policy was set back after the government announced that it would begin leasing large areas of "empty" farm lands to foreign investors. Derided internationally as "land grabs,"[citation needed] these operations threaten some smallholders with the loss of their plots. Reporting on this issue, the New York Times, quoting an expert, wrote, "One thing that is very clear, that seems to have escaped the attention of most investors, is that this is not simply empty land"[32]

The government defends its land policy, given the common occurrences of natural disasters such as drought or bad weather. The government says that had farmers been allowed to own land, they might have been forced to sell it during drought. To prevent this, the EPRDF government believes land ownership should not be privatized. Accordingly, the government states that it should focus on its agriculture sector while it is developing its industrial sector simultaneously, so that it can balance everything once the other sectors are developed and increase productivity. Government transformation of the construction sector, for example, led to a rare construction boom from the early 2000s until cement and other shortages caused it to slow down. The government believes privatization should be employed in the future but not presently. Knowing that constitutional change is required to privatize lands, the government assumed that it would hold a long-term super majority in parliament, to enable it to make the transition.

Since this approach to land ownership is unconventional, especially to Western nations, opposition political parties have used this to their advantage during elections, arguing that land ownership has to be privatized. Yet the government seems unfaltering and states that flexibility is needed to address the lack of industrial development in the country despite accusations from the opposition.[33]

Multi-party system[edit]

Meles became the first Ethiopian leader to develop a multi-party system, including an opposition party, in the Ethiopian parliament.[34] Though the country had its first national elections in 1995, a multi-party representative government was established in 2005, after the election of some candidates of the UEDF opposition party. Critics of the CUD included top UEDF leaders, Dr. Merera Gudina and Dr. Beyene Petros, and also Bulcha Demeksa, Lidetu Ayalew, Hailu Shawel, Birtukan Mideksa, Temesgen Zewdie and Hailu Araya. Many opposing politicians openly display deep anger for the ruling party's semblance of democracy, with some having labeled Meles a "dictator" and others having called for his resignation.[35] After the disputed 2005 national elections, opposition party members, led by the CUD, UEDP-Medhin, UEDF and Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM), filled almost one third of the Ethiopian parliament seats.[36] Despite the fact that the Ethiopian constitution dictates a multi-party system, Meles' full control of the military forces seemingly promoted the reality of a single-party state.

Ethnic federalism[edit]

The Meles government created an ethnic-based federalism, which came under attack by some Ethiopians. Meles' TPLF party believed that there was no choice—this was the only solution to the centuries-old oppression by centralist governments, and to domination of culture, language, politics and economy by one ethnic group, namely the Amhara. On the other hand, some parties like the OLF (Oromo Liberation Front), which was a partner in drafting the constitution, see Amhara and Tigrayan domination of the country. The aim of the government policy was to empower all ethnicities and develop their cultures and languages. Also it was widely seen as a solution to the demand of governance preferred by the ethnic-based liberation fronts and parties participating in the July Convention of Nationalities in 1991. In response to critics who say ethnic federalism can bring divisions, Meles said that this policy served many interests, including equitable distribution of wealth and empowerment of ethnicities. He said the "ethnic basis of Ethiopia's democracy stemmed from the government's fight against poverty and the need for an equitable distribution of the nation's wealth: peasants must be enabled to make their own decisions in terms of their own culture. Power must be devolved to them in ways that they understand, and they understand ethnicity.... Other approaches to development had been hegemonic and exploitative and had led to internecine strife and civil war."

Meles claimed that there are two basic views about ethnic federalism: "if you think it is a threat, it will be; if you think it a benefit, then it will be." Making this statement, he concluded that "ethnicity will become less an issue as the economy grows and Ethiopia's process of assimilation does its job."[37]

Opposition to ethnic federalism[edit]

Meles' policy of ethnic federalism has been attacked by two groups of opposition parties. Pan-Ethiopian opposition parties like AEUP, UEDP-medhin and Andenet accused Meles of harming the stability and unity of Ethiopia by dividing the country on language lines. They expressed their fear for the future unity of the country, pointing out a rise in ethnic conflicts after the ethnic federalism policy introduced, whereas in the past Ethiopia's economic marginalization of groups or ethnicities was a cause of warfare in the country, as experts indicated.[38]

On the other hand, ethnic-based opposition parties like the OFDM, Oromo National Congress (renamed OPC) as well as armed groups like the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) accused Meles' government of granting powers to the regions by the nation's constitution which were only good on paper. Dr Merara Gudina (from ONC) said, "The only thing EPRDF’s federalism has achieved is that it helped the party hold a tight grip on the people through a divide-and-rule system"[39]

Most of the opposition on both sides want to change the existing ethnic-federal system if they gain power. Those who reject ethnic federalism propose that administrative regions should be carved out on consideration of more factors than language alone. On the other hand, armed groups who favor ethnic federalism want to apply Article 39 and declare full independence for their own ethnic regions like Eritrea did in 1993.

It is important to underline opposition from both sides which are legally registered, and participated in the disputed 2005 election, won considerable seats.

Equity and growth[edit]

Throughout its operation, the government and the Prime Minister have advocated "pro-poor" domestic policies. According to World Bank's East African leadership, the Ethiopian government ranks number one in Africa on spending as a share of GDP going to pro-poor sectors.[40]

The administration has also created self-governing regional development organizations like Amhara Development Association,[41] Tigray Development Association,[42] Oromia Development Association and many others.[43]

Even though Meles' administration inherited one of the worst economies in the world, the country's economy grew steadily after he took office. During the last seven years, Ethiopia's GDP has shown a rate of growth of about 9 percent a year. The country was also in the top category for “policies of social inclusion and equity,” in the domain of “economic management,” and Ethiopia did exceptionally well in the domain of “structural policies” and “public sector management and institutions." Gross primary enrollment rates, a standard indicator of investment in the poor, went up to 93 percent in 2004 from 72 percent in 1990, contributing to a rise in literacy rates from 50 percent in 1997 to 65 percent in 2002.[44] Still some opposition parties in the Ethiopian parliament doubted the economic growth. During the House's 31st regular session where the parliament reserved its monthly "Opposition Day," some opposition MPs condemned the ruling party, pointing to double-digit inflation as a sign of the government's economic failures.[45] The African Development Bank and the Paris-based OECD Development Center stated that Ethiopia has become one of the fastest growing countries in Africa.[46]


One of the most important resources of the country, water (the Nile), has also been a focus of Meles's administration. Due to the potential conflict that can occur between Egypt and Ethiopia, Meles's EPRDF-led government has chosen to initiate and support programs that would benefit all sides in the use of the Nile. So far many small scale dams have been constructed in Ethiopia but large dams have been rare because of limited financial capabilities. Two of the big projects include the Tekeze hydro-electric power project in Tigray and the largest hydroelectric plant in Ethiopia located in Achefer Woreda of the Amhara State.[47][48] Yet the building of the Tekeze power project has dominated the media since it was built in the Tigray region, the home state of Meles. The country is planning to export electricity to Sudan and Djibouti by 2010, and has currently began the newest project in western Ethiopia to construct Africa's biggest hydroelectric dam, located on the Ethiopia-Sudan border.[49]

Freedom of religion[edit]

Although Muslims and Orthodox Christians lived together in Ethiopia for many centuries, complete religious freedom was formalized only in 1991. Many of the pre-existing issues – dominance of the state religion to 1974, seizure of the church properties by the Mengistu regime, 1974–91, state-sponsored persecution of non-Orthodox Christians, second-class citizenship accorded to Ethiopian Muslims, landownership problems and similar issues for non-Orthodox believers – have subsided for the most part. There are currently between 12 and 15 million Protestant Christians, as well as other new non-Orthodox Christians. Clashes have been very rare with the domination of the Orthodox. Most analysts say that since such equality and full religious freedom didn't exist before, the infrequent clashes might occur until the culture of tolerance grows between all old and new religions and denominations.[50][citation needed]

Private property of means of communication[edit]

Meles Zenawi's administration was the first to introduce private press in Ethiopia.[51][52][53][54][55][56] However, he has been under fire often for imprisonment of journalists and lately[when?] for some website censorship.[57] The Meles government defends its action on the ground that the banned media outlets advocated "a certain population should be quarantined" and incited "violence among different ethnic groups in the country," including using hate-filled text messages on mobile phones asking people to attack ethnic groups.[58][59] Some sources blame certain websites and papers who have been caught inciting violence and asking for bombings on companies.[60] A couple of them have even been sued for provoking uprising.[61] Others claim that the supporters of the previous dictatorship government are trying to use the new opportunity to freely express themselves by defaming the current government officials.[62] But the government critics say that the ruling party is not willing to be criticised. Many reports of international organizations support their claim. Strong criticism came from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). In its 2007 press freedom summary it wrote, "Ethiopia [is] the world's worst backslider on press freedom over the previous five years".[63][64] At the start of 2010, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported that an Ethiopian journalist has been jailed for a year for criticising Meles.[65]

Because of pressure from the government, the number of private media outlets is significantly lower than before 2005. In addition, its composition is also changing. While previously most of the media were politically oriented, following the government crackdowns on media after 2005 election the number of political media is going down while entertainment and business media are on the rise. On the other hand, for what is believed to be the first time in Ethiopia's history, the government granted private commercial FM radio licenses, to two domestic pro-government operators.[66][67] As of 2009, there are over 56 radio stations in the country that are owned and operated by regional governments, community organisations, and private companies. The government has issued licenses for seven regional states' television transmissions agencies, but there are still no private broadcasters in the country.[68]

Language policy[edit]

Meles Zenawi's government introduced a diverse but controversial policy of decentralization of the language system in Ethiopia. Most Ethiopians are taught using their mother tongue in primary schools and they are encouraged to develop their own languages. Some critics have said that this policy harms the unity and national identity of the country, while others have supported and praised the policy. Currently, many regional states have their own official state language. For instance, Afaan Oromo is the official language of the Oromia regional state but Amharic is still the official language in the State of Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples.[citation needed]


To bring order and transparency to the agricultural sector, the country started its first market exchange program and company, called the The Ethiopia Commodity Exchange (ECX).[69] In April 2008, the country finalized the ECX, to, according to Meles Zenawi, "revolutionalize the country's backward and inefficient marketing system."[70]

Other than the dominant coffee industry, the government has made the floriculture industry another sector where Ethiopia can have comparative advantage. Various Kenyan investors have already moved to Ethiopia and the industry seems to be growing rapidly.[71][72] Flower growers from other countries were also said to be relocating to Ethiopia.[73] Ethiopia recently became Africa’s second largest flower exporter after Kenya, with its export earnings growing by 500 per cent over the past year.[74] According to the Oromia Investment Commission, foreign investors are taking advantage of the new favorable investment opportunity in the sugar sector, where recently $7.5 billion has been invested.[75] Ethiopia also depends on livestock exports as well. Issues relating to wildlife conservation have been tackled aggressively under Meles Zenawi. The World Wildlife Fund praised the Ethiopian government's progress, saying, "Ethiopia has set a fine example for other countries to emulate."[76]

Another issue promoted by Meles Zenawi has been economic development in "green fashion." Discussing during an annual meeting under the Clinton Global Initiative in September 2007, Meles debated with Tony Blair and other world leaders[who?] about global warming and trade.[77][78] According to Reuters,Meles stated the need for a cap and trade mechanism and for different strategies towards Africa, since it did not contribute as much towards global warming.[79]

A recent issue has been the shortage of cement to sustain the construction boom in the country. However, foreign and native investment, including the recent investment in a US$5 billion cement factory in Misraq Gojjam Zone of the Amhara Region, are an attempt to stabilize the situation.[80] Still the brief severe shortage that occurred in 2005 was blamed on Meles Zenawi's policies that were alleged to ignore urban development. Other recent development in the country included a first car factory in Ethiopia that assembles cars to sell for local- and export-markets, as well as cars that use liquefied petroleum gas, bus manufacturing in Mek'ele and taxi manufacturing in Modjo city, Oromia state.[81][82][83] The dramatic development of most sectors in Ethiopia–including textiles, leather, garments, agriculture, beverages, construction, and others–has caused Ethiopia to be labeled the "East African land of opportunity" by the World Investment News.[84]

Some economists state that Ethiopia's economic growth has come at the expense of inflation.[85] The World Bank, in Ethiopia's country profile in 2010, mentioned the underlying inflation threat that started in 2008 might continue.[86] Despite the inflation and differences in the rate of economic growth in reports among several international organizations, they continued to praise the economic growth. The African Development Bank claimed that Ethiopia "is registering a remarkable economic growth in recent years."[87] On top of that various social concerns exist and the Ethiopian section of VOA news on its Amharic language program has reported about problems facing farmers and growers who often get less profit due to the market exploitation of middlemen.

Education policies[edit]

School expansion[edit]

Since the 1990s Ethiopia has experienced more increase of schools and colleges despite still not covering all regions.[88][89] Millions of Ethiopian birr (ETB) continue to be spent on building educational institutions and many new schools have been constructed since Meles Zenawi took office. However, the government's focus on the agricultural sector has slowed the growth of jobs in the urban areas of Ethiopia, which is reflected in the anger of the urban population and its students as well as the landslide victory of opposition parties in these areas during the recent national election.[90] Statistics showed that in 1991 only 27 percent of Ethiopian children attended school, but in 2004 gross enrollment rate was up to 77 percent and it reached 85 percent in November 2006.[91]

As of 2005, there were 13,500 elementary schools and 550 secondary schools. A majority of them are newly constructed and the secondary schools are connected by satellite in a new programme called School-Net.[92]

More colleges and Universities have been constructed and/or expanded during the last few years than in whole history of Ethiopia. These colleges and Universities include Adama University (Oromia), an expansion of Nazreth technical college, Jimma University (started earlier), Mekelle University newly built under Meles, Debub University, an expansion of Awassa college, Bahir Dar (Amhara state) University, an expansion of a polytechnic college and teacher's college, and others.[92][93] Also most of the older colleges have added various new departments, including faculties of law, business, etc. Other new growing colleges include Jijiga (Somali state) University, institutions in Debre Markos, Semera (Afar), Aksum, Tepi, Nekemte (Oromia), Kombolcha (Amhara State), Dire Dawa and in Debre Birhan. Wollega University in the Oromia state is the most recently finished university in Ethiopia with various modern facilities, with 20 new fields of study[94] and the new Wolaita Soddo University started taking in students in February 2007.[95][96] Including the new Axum University, 12 new universities are starting operation in 2007[97] Other fairly new universities like Dilla University in the Gedeo Zone SNNP region launched new facilities, expanded laboratories for research, and initiated new post-graduate studies.[98][99]

In the last decade, more than 30 new private colleges & universities have been created, including Unity College. The University Capacity Building Program (UCBP) is a leading project in this sector.[100]

Women's rights[edit]

The TPLF has associated itself with gender equality since the days of armed conflict, when, in the northern states, Tigrean and some Amhara women soldiers fought together with men against the Derg dictatorship. Meles Zenawi's administration, along with First Lady Azeb Mesfin, have strongly advocated for more equal rights and opportunities for women in Ethiopia. Despite the country having a rich history of respected queens and empresses, Meles inherited a national situation in which Ethiopian women did not have equality or basic rights. Since his administration began, there has been a steady growth of women's organizations, women activists and employment opportunities and a forum where women discuss backward cultural issues on national television.[101] In their long fight against destructive traditional practices, HIV transmission, early marriage, lack of legal rights for women, unfair public policies, job opportunity and other issues, various organizations continue to work with the government including the Ethiopian Women’s Lawyers Association (EWLA), Network of Ethiopian Women's Associations, the Ethiopia Media Women’s Association (MWA), the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), Women in Self Employment (WISE), the Ethiopian Medical Women's Association (EMWA), the Women’s Association of Tigray (WAT), the Kembatti Mentti Gezzima-tope (KMG), the Ethiopian Nurse Midwives Association (ENA) and others.[102] The Ethiopian leadership has made significant advances to protect women's rights in recent years. It has its first Minister of Women's Affairs and has overhauled legislation on rape, female genital mutilation, and other offences.[103]

Foreign policies[edit]

Meles with President of Russia Vladimir Putin on 3 December 2001

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.[104]


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 of independence to the Eritrean citizens in the hope that the independence referendum would vote against secession, according to Time magazine's 1991 analysis.[105] 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 people[who?] in the Meles administration, as well as opposition parties were angry over the decision to grant Eritrea its independence.[106]

Despite working together[104] 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.[107] The Eritrean-Ethiopian War began in May 1998.[108] After the Ethiopian breach of the western front and subsequent capture of 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.[109] Though Ethiopian troops controlled Badme,[110] after an international court[which?] ruled that Badme belonged to Eritrea, Ethiopia continued to maintain a presence of Ethiopian soldiers in the town.[111]


However, Meles signed a controversial United Nations peace treaty that was seen[by whom?] as favouring Eritrea. This decision angered many[who?] Ethiopians and caused an internal division inside the TPLF. The faction critical of Meles, led by Defense Minister Siye Abraha, disagreed with those aligned with Meles over "key issues of ideology" and accused Meles' supporters of corruption and Meles for failing to act quickly or decisively enough over the crisis with Eritrea.[112] This led to a showdown at a meeting of the Politburo of the EPRDF, wherein Meles won a 15–13 vote on his proposed statement that "the greatest threat that Ethiopia was facing was corruption and undemocratic tendencies." Meles said afterwards that the dissenting members had at that point insisted that the meeting be aborted and called for a general meeting of the TPLF, a move Meles described as "a violation of democratic principles and the statute of the front." A number of the dissenting members of the TPLF, including Siye, were quickly arrested and imprisoned. Siye was later released after six years in prison, and joined opposition parties.[113] This rift is thought[by whom?] to have led to the murder of Kinfe Gebremedhin, a former TPLF commander, Chief of Security and Immigration and a right-hand man of Meles.[original research?]

Meles was also criticised for his pre-war decisions that ignored Eritrean incursions and a claimed delayed Ethiopian response to the invasion.[citation needed]

As a result of Meles' Eritrean relations, he was accused of being too soft on the Eritrean government by members[which?] of his own TPLF party.[citation needed] Some[who?] believe Meles wanted Aferwerki to remain in power, despite their deep disagreements.[114] According to a BBC Monitoring report, Meles reportedly blocked four million dollars of support from being transferred from Yemen and Sudan to the Eritrean National Alliance opposition group which was trying to overthrow the Eritrean regime.[114]


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.[115] 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.[116]

Following this defeat, the Islamic Courts Union splintered into several different factions. Some of the more radical elements, including Al-Shabaab, regrouped to continue their insurgency against the TFG and oppose the Ethiopian military's presence in Somalia. Throughout 2007 and 2008, Al-Shabaab scored military victories, seizing control of key towns and ports in both central and southern Somalia. At the end of 2008, the group had captured Baidoa but not Mogadishu. By January 2009, Al-Shabaab and other militias had managed to force the Ethiopian troops to retreat, leaving behind an under-equipped African Union peacekeeping force to assist the TFG's troops.[117]

Some political parties[which?] in Ethiopia opposed Meles' policies and demanded the complete withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Somalia. Merera Gudina, leader of the opposition party United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF) said "the military victory against the Islamic Courts forces was not followed by political victory or national reconciliation."[118] He also said staying in Somalia harms the Ethiopian economy[why?] and some of the leaders in the transitional Somali government were not reaching out to civil society members in Somalia. With the exception of the SPDP, UEDP-Medhin (EDUP) and ONC opposition parties, not many opposition parties in Ethiopia supported the choice of intervention in Somalia by Meles' ruling party.[119] Some members[which?] of the Somali parliament also expressed their appreciation of Ethiopia's help publicly, but opposition remained against the intervention, which was portrayed as an invasion instead.[by whom?][120]

Between 31 May and 9 June 2008, representatives of Somalia's TFG and the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) group of Islamist rebels participated in peace talks in Djibouti brokered by the former United Nations Special Envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah. The conference ended with a signed agreement calling for the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops in exchange for the cessation of armed confrontation. Parliament was subsequently expanded to 550 seats to accommodate ARS members, which then elected Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the former ARS chairman, to office.[121]

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.[122] 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.[123]

Climate change[edit]

Meles played an important role in developing the African Union's position on climate change since 2009[104] and was a 'friend of the Chair' at the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).[original research?]

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.[citation needed]

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.[124]

On 3 September 2009 Meles made a speech to the Africa Partnership Forum where he said:”[125]

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.

On 12 December 2009 at COP15, the Africa Group made a further submission to the UNFCCC that called for 45% emission reductions by developed countries by 2020, finance for adaptation of $150 billion immediately as special drawing rights from the IMF, $400 billion in fast-track financing, and 5% of developed countries' GNP in longer-term financing.[126] On 15 December 2009 Meles Zenawi issued a joint press release with the President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, which declared that the African Union position at Copenhagen was a 2 °C temperature target, 10 billion euros in 'fast-track financing,' and 100 billion euros in 'long-term financing.'[127] This new position from Meles was observed to be the same[by whom?] as the European Union's position[128] and received widespread condemnation by other African leaders, including Namibian Prime Minister Nahas Angula, Lesotho’s Bruno Sekoli, Ugandan chief negotiator and Minister of Water and Environment Maria Mutagamba and Sudan’s Ambassador and Chair of G77, Lumumba Di-Aping. African civil society groups[which?] condemned the position as a betrayal of Africa. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said the two degree target "condemns Africa to incineration and no modern development".[129][130]

The Copenhagen Accord went on to reflect the EU's position as adopted by Meles.[original research?]


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