Africa leaders mourn death of Ethiopia's Meles ZenawiBy AFP | Tuesday, August 21 2012 at 14:19
African leaders on Tuesday mourned the death of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi after the strongman's more than two decades in power.
His death at age 57 leaves a major power gap in the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia has played a key role in the fortunes of many of its neighbours, as well as host to the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa.
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki called Meles a "pragmatic and visionary" leader who helped stabilise his country and placed it on the path of economic growth, adding that his death is a "devastating loss".
"On behalf of the government and the people of Kenya, I convey our deepest sympathies," Kibaki said in a statement, adding Meles' leadership and negotiation skills would "forever be missed across the region and Africa."
Meles played a key part in brokering peace efforts between newly independent South Sudan and its former civil war foe Sudan, a role praised by South Sudan's Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin.
"He was one person who could say in black and white what the position of both countries was - and was respected by both," Benjamin said.
"To South Sudan it is a sad story. He was great, not only in our strategic relations between South Sudan and Ethiopia, but also as chairperson of the African Union, tasked with finding peace between Sudan and the newly independent South," he said.
Uganda was "shocked and saddened" by the death of Meles, said Asuman Kiyingi, state minister for regional cooperation, adding it was a "big loss for the whole of Africa".
"He has been so instrumental in finding solutions to African problems," Kiyingi said, noting Meles' support for AU forces battling Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab insurgents in Somalia.
Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia for a second time last year - after a US-backed invasion in 2006 - and Ethiopia is supporting an AU force's fight against the Al-Shabaab.
Kiyingi said that Uganda expected any new administration to continue its current partnership with the AU force - where Ugandan forces play a key role - to help stabilise Somalia.
South African President Jacob Zuma praised Meles as "a strong leader, not only for his country but on the African continent" and the Horn of Africa in particular.
"It is an absolute tragedy for Africa and the people of Ethiopia to mourn such an exceptional leader who contributed as an active role-player in various continental and global initiatives, especially in playing host to the African Union," Zuma said in a statement.
British Prime Minister David Cameron eulogised Meles as an inspirational spokesman for Africa on global issues.
On paper Meles's government has fostered a policy of ethnic federalism, devolving significant powers to regional, ethnically based authorities but central control remains firmly in the hands of the ruling party.
Meles's death could also potentially see changes in the relationship with arch-foe Eritrea, which split from Ethiopian rule in 1993, before spiralling into a bitter 1998-2000 border war in which tens of thousands died.
A peace deal led to a tense standoff, with Meles refusing to pull troops from the border town of Badme, even after an international court ruled the town belonged to Eritrea. The town has been the source of festering discontent between the two nations ever since.
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