Meles Zenawi was born in Adwa, Tigray in Northern Ethiopia, to a Tigrayan father from Adwa, Ethiopia and an Eritrean mother from Adi Quala, Eritrea. He received elementary education at the Queen of Sheba School and completed secondary school in 1972 at the General Wingate School in Addis Ababa. He joined the Medical Faculty at the Addis Ababa University (formerly known as Haile Selassie University) where he studied for two years before interrupting his studies in 1974 to join the Tigrayan Peoples' Liberation Front (TPLF).
The TPLF was one of many armed groups struggling against the dictator, Colonel Lieutenant Mengistu Hailemariam. Zenawi was elected Leader of the Leadership Committee in 1979 and Leader of the Executive Committee in 1983. He is the chairperson of both the TPLF and the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) since the Derg regime was overthrown in 1991. The EPRDF is an alliance of the country's four main political parties coming from the Amhara State, Oromia State, Southern Nations Nationalities & Peoples State and Tigray State. He was president of Ethiopia during the transitional period after the Derg, during which Eritrea suceded from the country and the experiment of ethnic federalism started. Then in 2000, he was elected to PM in Ethiopia's first ever multi-party elections when his ruling EPRDF party shared parliament seats with the opposition party United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF). He was re-elected to the Prime Minister position for a second term in 2005 following a highly disputed election where some observers accused Meles's government of vote rigging.
EPRDF's victory was said to be a triumph for the thousands of Ethiopians 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, the big support it received from peasants and rural areas helped EPRDF maintain peace and stability. Foreign support was diverse; Western nations, as well as the Arab League, 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.
There were some misconceptions that the United States helped the EPRDF rebels to get power in Ethiopia and many angry demonstrators in Addis Ababa protested against Herman Cohen, the State Department's chief of African affairs who attended a conference that demonstrators viewed as legitimizing the EPRDF. A New York Times article in 1991 said,
"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.
Since then, Addis Ababa remained the base of opposition to EPRDF and the most active region for opposition parties who adhered to peaceful movement, while the southern region of Ogaden remained the most active region for armed opposition forces.
Even though EPRDF's success was praised by some of the fronts, ethnicities or Ethiopians who suffered under the Mengistu dictatorship, there was an anti-EPRDF sentiment in Addis Ababa and in Washington D.C. by those who sympathized with DERG regime or held high positions under the previous regime. After the accusations and the demonstrations by Pro-Derg Ethiopians in Washington D.C. in 1991, a U.S. spokesman, Paul B. Henze, made this statement under the auspices of U.S. House of Representatives' Africa Select Committee on Hunger:
These were just the beginning of the opposition to Meles Zenawi's EPRDF party after it gained power and more strong opposition was followed.
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. Out of the 24 groups, the ones with the most number of mandates in the council were EPRDF (32), OLF(12), IFLO (3) and OILF(3.) Near the end of the year, Meles Zenawi became the Interim President of Ethiopia from 1991 to 1995. Meles Zenawi was then elected as Prime Minister and Dr. Negasso Gidada as President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia in 1995 following the first elections, that were heavily boycotted by opposition parties. International Election Observers concluded that had opposition parties contested, they could have won seats. In 2000 Meles was elected Prime Minister after national elections where the main opposition UEDF gained parliamentary seats. Meles was also elected for another term after his party, EPRDF, won the elections, while the top opposition groups, the CUD, UEDF, UEDP and OFDM, gained a lot of votes in the 2005 elections.
More than 30 other political parties participated in the election. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was elected into office after the elections, the top favorites being the EPRDF and Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD).. These elections have been 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.
Although the aftermath of the election led to riots and demonstrations against the results, particularly in the capital, it received an enormously unproportional and chaotic response by the police forces. Some opposition parties blamed the government for the violence. At the end of the demonstration, six police officers and 193 protesters/rioters were dead showing both the violent nature of the protesters as well as the irresponsible action of the police force. Many protesters and around 75 police officers were also injured. 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. The opposition parties have continuously accused the government of a massacre. EU election observers concluded the election failed to meet international standards for a 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 the government. 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. 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, the elections and gain the support of the international community for the predestined failure of the election.
In an interview, the United States AID director repeated that the Carter Center understands that the ruling party (EPRDF) won the election and most of his peers confirm that as well. The USAID director also blamed some EU observers, accused them of bias and blamed them for favoring the opposition. He said some European observers practiced out of their jobs and went "over board in encouraging the opposition and making them think that somehow they had won the election. He concluded that American government never believed the opposition won the election.
Also an inquiry on the violence claimed 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 calm the rioters. She also said that the "stone-throwing rioters" tried to take the guns from the security forces. Some EU observers have also shown their discontent at the post election violence, suggested that the police response was unproportional and blamed the government. In a rare response, Meles Zenawi said that he was disappointed that "some people have misunderstood the nature of the problem and misinterpreted it." And on the final report, the independent commission concluded that the aggressive steps taken by the police force was 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. 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 eight to two vote, that the government has used excessive force and that there were grave human rights violations. Some leaders including UK's Tony Blair condemned the violence but repeated that Meles's ruling party "won the election. Other European organizations also praised the elections saying it was a "free and fair multi-party election." 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.
Meanwhile many international media outlets continued to display the post election bloodshed, followed by criticism of Meles's 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. 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. 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." 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.
The above article lacks to demonstrate the fact that the EPRDF regime has both tastes. EPRDF has done notable improvements in different areas of reform. Allowing the different nations and nationalities of Ethiopia to use their first language as the medium of instruction for primary education and regional working language (With its limitations), The transformation to a free market economic system (With its limitation of immature liberalization in my opinion), introduction of a "virtual" multi-party election system (which resulted in the killings of hundreds of innocent civilians by government forces) and a lot more. The truth seems that the EPRDF is better than the previous Military regime yet clearly fails to be reflective of its claimed democratic structure. The fact is in the 18 years of the EPRDF regime a single person runs the nation which is four terms and two years taking a US as a benchmark.
The state cannot unlawfully use private lands, but the government has a “custodian” like policy where it guards the rural farm lands from randomly being sold by its owning farmers. Generally in circumstances of natural disasters such as drought or bad weather, farmers might have no choice but to sell their land. To solve this problem, the government believes it should not allow the random buying and selling of land. The government states that some parts of its agriculture sector are where Ethiopia has comparative advantage from other countries and Ethiopia can not afford the dropping of output from that sector and the sector needs monitoring & support.
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. Thus it believes privatization would be employed in the future but not presently. It has also increased the nation's development capacity. The leadership has transformed its construction sector leading to a rare construction boom since the late 1990s until cement and other shortages caused it to slow down.
Since this approach to land ownership is unconventional (especially to western nations) and very controversial, opposition political parties have used this to their advantage during elections. 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.
In April 2008, the country finalized its first commodity exchange, the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange (ECX), to "revolutionalize the country's backward and inefficient marketing system" according to Meles Zenawi.
Meles Zenawi is the first Ethiopian leader in Ethiopian history to develop a multi-party system of governance, with a multi-party parliament. Though the country had its national elections first in 1995 under Meles, Ethiopia established a multi-party representative government in 2000 after the election of the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF) opposition party. Alongside the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD), the UEDF and its leaders Dr. Merera Gudina and Dr. Beyene Petros became the most critical politicians inside Ethiopia. Other critical top opposition policians included Bulcha Demeksa,Lidetu Ayalew, Hailu Shawel, Birtukan Mideksa, Temesgen Zewdie and Hailu Araya. Most opposition politicians are known for openly displaying deep hatred for the ruling party, with some labeling Meles as a "dictator" and others calling for Meles Zenawi's resignation. After the disputed 2005 national elections, dozens of opposition parties, led by the CUD, UEDP-Medhin, UEDF and Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM), control almost one third of the Ethiopian parliament seats.
The Meles Zenawi government created an ethnic based federalism which has come under attack by some Ethiopian opposition parties. However some analysts believe it was not a choice but it was the only solution to the century old oppression under centralist governments and one ethnic domination of culture, language, politics and economy - said to be controlled by the Amhara ethnic group. It was also a policy to give back the colonized nationalities their lands and shape it back to the pre-colonization stage which would empower all ethnicities and develop their cultures & languages. Also it was widely seen as a solution to the demand of governance preferred by various Ethiopian groups, liberation fronts and parties during the July Convention of Nationalities in 1991. In response to critics who say ethnic federalism can bring divisions, Meles Zenawi said this policy serves many interests including equitable distribution of wealth, empowerment of ethnicities, and since this was how the nationalities were before colonization ethnicity was the language they understood best. 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 Zenawi 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 concludes that "ethnicity will become less an issue as the economy grows and Ethiopia's process of assimilation does its job.
Meles Zenawi's policy of Ethnic federalism has been attacked by two groups of the opposition, often associated to different ethnicities. The opposition parties like CUD, and others that are dominated by ethnic Amhara and Gurage ethnic group politicians accuse Meles Zenawi for harming the unity of Ethiopia. They say Meles Zenawi's government is similar to the renowned apartheid regime of South Africa because it decentralized government power based on ethncity. In contrast, peaceful opposition parties like Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM), Oromo National Congress (renamed OPC) as well as armed groups like the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) accuse Meles Zenawi's government for not decentralizing the government more and for not employing deeper ethnic federalism.
Some observers say that these two deeply contrasting opinions of the two sides of the opposition parties show that Meles Zenawi's government's policy is favorable because it touches the midpoint of two radical ideologies of extreme Cultural assimilation and extreme Ethnic nationalism. However, both sides of the opposition ideologies have gained a lot of momentum. Those who reject ethnic federalism and seek assimilation have dominated the peaceful opposition movement and won a lot of seats in parliament, though they complain that Meles Zenawi's government rigged the 2005 elections. At the same time, those who want deeper ethnic federalism up to secession have dominated the armed movement and make up most of the insurgencies. Both opposition have vocal support in the Ethiopian Diaspora: the CUD most notably in Washington D.C. and the OLF and ONLF most notably in Minnesota.
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. However critics say that the rich is getting richer as the poor is getting poorer just like other capitalist economies in the West.
The administration has also created self-governing regional development organizations like Amhara Development Association, Tigray Development Association, Oromia Developmemt Association and many others.
Even though Meles Zenawi's administration inherited one of the worst, if not the lowest, economies in the world, the country's economy has been growing steadily since he took office. During the last three 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. Still some opposition parties in the Ethiopian parliament doubted the economic growth. During the House's 31st regular session where the parliament reserved for 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. African Development Bank and the Paris-based OECD Development Center stated that Ethiopia has become one of the fastest growing countries in Africa.
Even though Muslims and Orthodox Christians lived together for many centuries, complete religious freedom didn't arrive until 1991. Many of the issues that existed before; for example, pre-1974 state religion followed by seizure of the Church by 74-91 government, the state sponsored persecution of non-Orthodox Christians, the 2nd class citizenship of Ethiopian Muslims, landownership & similar issues for non-Orthodox religions have subsided for the most part. Currently there are between 12-15 million Protestant Christians (see also: Pentay) as well as other new non-Orthodox Christians. Even though there was one big religious war in Ethiopia many centuries ago, after that, clashes have been very rare with the domination of Orthodox. In contrast there has been more violence lately since there is no state religion (Orthodox) guardian-like control of other religions in Ethiopia thus creating a rise in religious clashes. Some of these are causes because of inability to share lands equally as well as due to aggressive evangelism and conversion which some relate to Western vs Arab proxy politics. Still 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/new religions and denominations.
Meles Zenawi's administration was the first to aggressively push the development of private media and introduce free press in Ethiopia. However, he has been under fire lately for some website censorship and imprisonment of journalists.Despite the accusations, the banned media outlets were cited saying "a certain population should be quarantined" and inciting "violence among different ethnic groups in the country," including using hate-filled text messages on mobile phones asking people to attack ethnic groups. Some sources blame certain websites & papers who have been caught inciting violence and asking for bombings on companies. A couple of them have even been sued for provoking uprising. 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. But the government critics say that the ruling party is not willing to be criticised. Even though the number of private media outlets are lower than during Meles Zenawi's first term, there are still several of them currently. For what is believed to be the first time in the Ethiopia's history, the government has granted licences to two domestic private commercial FM radio operators.
Meles Zenawi's government introduced a diverse but controversial policy of decentralization of the language system in Ethiopia. All Ethiopians are taught using their mother tongue and they are encouraged to develop their own language. 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, the majority ethnicities in every regional state have their lingua as their official state language. For instance, Afaan Oromo is the official language of the Oromia regional state.
Meles Zenawi was the highest political figure in the 20th century to help advance Qubee Afaan Oromo in Ethiopia. Particularly, two years after Meles Zenawi’s new government, Oromo historians state that eight million copies of dozens of textbooks were published in Afaan Oromo and “in 1993 and 1994 alone more material was produced in Afaan Oromoo than from 1880 to 1992.” Qubee was officially adopted in Ethiopia in 1991.
According to Oromo historians, there was “suppression and replacement” of Oromo language in Ethiopia before Meles Zenawi’s government arrived because previous governments wanted to enforce "homogeneous nation-states.” Though the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), then part of the transitional government, contributed to the progress of the Oromo language, most of the current development of Qubee and Afaan Oromo language inside Ethiopia is attributed to the policies of the Oromo Peoples Democratic Organization (OPDO) sub-party of Meles Zenawi’s EPRDF ruling party. Presently, Afaan Oromo is taught in every school of Oromia region. According to historians depicting the previous difficulties, after Emperor Haile Selassie I was overthrown, the 1980s government of Mengistu Haile Mariam made teaching Afaan Oromo illegal at any level in its school system.
Recently, Afaan Oromo has increasingly become the instructional medium for primary and junior secondary schools throughout the region and its administrative zones.
To bring order and transparency to the agricultural sector, the country started its first market exchange program and company called the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECEX.) Other than the dominant coffee industry, the government has made the floriculture industry another sector where Ethiopia can have comparative advantage. Thus Various Kenyan investors have already moved to Ethiopia and the industry seems to be growing rapidly. According to the Oromia Investment Commission, foreign investors are taking advantage of the new favorable investment opportunity in the Sugar sector, where the most recent being a $7.5 Billion investment. Ethiopia also depends on livestock exports as well. Issues relating to wild life conservation has been tackled aggressively under Meles Zenawi. World Wildlife Fund also praised Ethiopian government's progress saying "Ethiopia has set a fine example for other countries to emulate, Critics say that the government has not set up workable forest conservation programme.
Other issues 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 about global warming and trade. 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.
Some recent issues have been the shortage of cement to sustain the construction boom in the country. However foreign and native investors, including the recent investment on a US$5 billion cement factory in Misraq Gojjam Zone of the Amhara Region, are an attempt to stabilize the situation. 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 assemble cars and to sell for local- and export-markets as well as cars that use Liquefied Petroleum Gas, Bus manufacturing in Mek'ele and Taxis manufacturing in Modjo city, Oromia state. But the drastic development of most sectors in Ethiopia; including textiles, leather, garments, agriculture, beverages, construction and others have made Ethiopia to be labeled the "East African land of opportunity" by the World Investment News.
While some economists state that Ethiopia has not had significant economic growth under Zenawi, several observers continued to praise the economic growth. African Development Bank claimed that Ethiopia "is registering a remarkable economic growth in recent years." However 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 city brokers and urban businessmen. Flower growers from other countries were also said to be relocating to Ethiopia. Ethiopia recently became Africa’s second largest flower exporter after Kenya, with its export earnings growing by 500 per cent over the past year.
This policy of self-determination has been opposed by some political parties, particularly CUD, which wants to limit regional autonomy and outlaw the rights of states to secede. However, this CUD policy is casually opposed by the TPLF and largely against the interests of by OPDO, SEPDF, and OFDM political parties and historically opposed by OLF and ONLF rebel groups.
Indeed, many have accused Meles Zenawi of provoking anti-Amhara teaching in schools but most allies of the government oppose this accusation and favor the introduction of the real and at times dark history of 19th century Ethiopia where slavery and oppression subsisted. Before multi-party election was held, OFDM, an opposition party representing the ethnic Oromos declared several years ago that,
OFDM believes that there will be better harmony among the country’s diverse peoples and cultures, if young Ethiopians were taught the true and genuine history of the country in general and that of the Southern regions and peoples in particular, which is a history of conquests, subjugation and grinding poverty.
Accordingly, most Ethiopians both from the southern regional states and the northern regional states hold the common knowledge that both southerners and northern people (including Amharas) “were cut off from the world” and exploited by the Emperors and their close Shoan relatives and friends who were the only beneficiaries and lived in the central, near Addis Ababa city area. Consequently, this progressive form of curriculum is carried out in some colleges.
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.
More colleges and Universities have been constructed and/or established during the last few years than in whole history of Ethiopia. These colleges and Universities include Adama University (Oromia), Jimma University (started earlier), Mekelle University, Debub University, Bahir Dar (Amhara state) University and others. 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 and the new Wolaita Soddo University started taking in students in February 2007. Including the new Axum University, 12 new universities are starting operation in 2007 Other fairly new universities like Dilla University in the Bale Zone of Oromia launched new facilities, expanded laboratories for research and initiated new post-graduate studies.
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.
In a reflection of the gender equal rights valued since TPLF's battle days where 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 sternly advocated for more equal rights & opportunities for women in Ethiopia. Despite the country having a rich history of respected queens, rulers & empresses, Meles inherited another unfavorable national conditions were Ethiopian women did not have equality or basic rights. In contrast, since his administration began, there have been a steady growth of women's organizations, women activists, employment opportunities and a forum where women discuss backward cultural issues on national television. In their long fight against destructive traditional practices, HIV transmission, early marriage, women legal rights, 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), Ethiopian Medical Women's Association (EMWA), the Women’s Association of Tigray (WAT), Kembatti Mentti Gezzima-tope (KMG), Ethiopian Nurse Midwives Association(ENA) and others. 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 overhauled legislation on rape, female genital mutilation and other offences.
Meles Zenawi, just like previous Ethiopian governments wants Ethiopia to have a larger share of the Nile River. In order to end its decade long dependency on foreign aid Ethiopia needs to develop its irrigation system. The country has already lost millions of people to poverty due to its inability to use the Nile water which 85% of its water runs through Ethiopia.
With the exception of Eritrea (through which the Nile doesn't stream), all East African nations have developed their economies enough to finance a greater use of the Nile River. However, due to the 1929 Blue Nile accords between Egypt and England as well as other agreements, Ethiopia is not allowed such use of its Nile river water. But in contrast to his predecessor, Meles Zenawi and his political party favors diplomatic solutions and accommodating ways to solve this stalemate since Egypt will also fall into poverty without the Nile resources.
Just like Emperor Haile Selassie and Mengistu Haile Mariam, Meles Zenawi and his administration preferred a united but federal nation that included the Eritrean state. However, since Zenawi's TPLF fought together with EPLF, Zenawi originally left the decision of independence to the Eritrean citizens. Also according to Time magazine's 1991 analyzes, Zenawi and the TPLF:
However after the EPLF secured their borders when Mengistu's regime fell and after the majority of Eritreans voted for independence on May 24, 1993, Isaias Afewerki Isaias became the new leader of the youngest nation in Africa after Eritrea seceded from Ethiopia. Many people in Meles Zenawi's Ethiopian government and the opposition parties were angry over the decision to grant Eritrea its independence in 1993.
But despite working together against the Derg regime, Meles and Issaias' positive relationship turned sour after Meles succumbed to US pressure to deliver elections within a year and Issaias abandoned his original promise to create a transitional government in the early 1990s.. The Eritrean-Ethiopian War began in May 1998. After the Ethiopian breach of the western front and subsequent capture of parts of western Eritrea, the 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. The stance of the EPRDF-led Ethiopian government to pull out its troops and let go of the Asseb port and eastern Eritrea led to one of the many reasons for EPRDF's unpopularity in Ethiopian cities. However since the Ethiopian government accepted the border ruling "in principle" with 5-point condition, tensions between these two nations still exist.
Meles Zenawi and his government have a strong relationship with the internationally recognized Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia. Two of the main points of agreement are state borders and secular values. In contrast, the vastly growing and powerful Islamic Courts Union (ICU) was accused on bringing religious extremism as well as strict law and order by intimidation (using Sharia law sternly) whereby Somali citizens are hung or executed if they disobey the Sharia law.
Both the TFG and Ethiopia respect the current Ethiopia-Somalia border while the ICU rejects it and considers the Ogaden region part of “Greater Somalia.” Secondly, both TFG. and Ethiopia share secular values where church and state stay separate. Lastly, the United States accused the leadership of ICU of harboring the suspects of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, while Ethiopia also labels ICU as “Jihadists” due to the assistant ICU received from terrorist groups (Al-Itihaad) and others mainly crossing the border to Africa from Arab nations of the Middle East.
Also according to RAND corporation, several Al-Qaeda fugitives had "found sanctuary in Somalia" and exploited the lack of government. There were also several Al-Qaeda operatives identified in southern Somalia. Despite Western interest to solve the problems in Somalia, RAND claims that world powers have failed to practiced their will, particularly in financing the peacekeepings and humanitarian assistance. In addition other analysts have identified documents and Al-Qaeda letters to increase their involvement in Somalia.
Even though the ICU and its Al-Qaeda militant foreign allies received support from various sources, the war was a shortlived one with Ethiopia and the Somalia government defeating the ICU and its allies The battle between the allied Ethiopian/Somali forces and ICU/alleged Eritrean forces ended abruptly and placed the Somali Transitional Federal Government back in control of the capital Mogadishu but an insurgency developed since then. It is reported that the ICU lost hundreds of its fighters but the most important factor might have been the self-destruction of ICU's allies and united militia.
However, the transitional government still faces many security issues and the hundreds of Somali refugees that left Somalia because of ICU's extremism are not willing to return back to Mogadishu. Also some political parties in Ethiopia continued to oppose Meles Zenawi's policies and demanded the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops. 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." He also said staying in Somalia harms Ethiopian economy 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 other opposition parties in Ethiopia supported the choice of intervention in Somalia forwarded by Meles Zenawi's ruling party. Some members of the Somali parliament expressed their appreciation of Ethiopia's help publicly, but other oppositions remained against the intervention which was portrayed as an invasion instead.
On December 13, 2003 (in the Gambella Region) an ethnic conflict led to the death of 61 Anuaks in one day and hundreds more over the coming months. It is alleged that the highlanders were also being helped by the Ethiopian Defense forces. According to Amnesty International, federal soldiers participated in the killings and regional authorities did not take necessary preventative measures against the violence.
The highlanders are mostly from the northern regions of Amhara and Tigray (but also Oromia) which populated the Gambella region after they were forced to move southwest from north in the mid-1980s. When the Marxist & dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam was ruling in the 1980s, more than 1.5 million Ethiopians were forced to relocate which led to more than 200,000 Ethiopians dead and many more sick in what is described as one of the worst humanitarian crisis of that decade. Since those old days some of the northern highlanders have been living in Gambella, and added a fuel to the already existing conflict between the Nuar and Anuaks.
In December 2003, some of the highlanders who worked for Ethiopian refugee agency, were looking for new camps to shelter the thousands of Sudanese fleeing from their country's internal battles. In that early December a group of armed Anuak killed many highlanders. Anuak rebels have also attacked civilians many times including killing eight people after attacking a United Nations vehicle as well as killing traditional gold miners. But these incidents triggered a tragic & new wave of ethnic violence in which the ethnic highlanders have the power & financial edge since they owned most of the businesses in Gambella. Highlighting this disaster which was labeled a "genocide" by some Anuaks and anti-Ethiopian government diaspora Ethiopians was that Barnabas Gebre-Ab, who was the Ethiopia’s Minister of Federal Affairs for the State of Gambella, was never charged of any wrongdoing after the court hearings.
A lot of ethnic conflicts occur also since the region is rich with oil and minerals. It is said that the Anuak (Anyuak) people feel they have been gradually displaced from their traditional lands. Despite 5,000 Ethiopian troops being deployed to keep peace in the area, tensions are still high. Anuak tribesmen interviewed by BBC correspondents said they appreciated the government's effort to keep peace against Anuak rebel's, yet ordinary Anuaks still fear for their lives. In October 2005, Anuak rebels attacked a catholic church and a police station.
The Ethiopian government, including PM Meles Zenawi, stated that both the Anuak insurgents and the highlander militias were responsible for the conflict. And "without the intervention of the army, the killings would have continued indefinitely." Even though the regional security forces made an effort to restrain the tension between the ethnic groups which are historically enemies, after an independent investigation, four town soldiers have been put in prison for favoring one ethnicity over another during the ethnic conflicts. Also many regional government officials say the number dead was not 400 in that day but claim that around 200 both armed Anuaks and 'highlanders' were tragically killed after the ethnic violence. They also claim that making a conclusion based on the accusations of some Anuaks who fled after the ethnic conflicts or foreign organizations using the testimony of only these same Anuak people who obviously do not like the other two ethnic groups in Gambella (Nuar and 'highlander' Amharas & Tigeans) is an unprofessional and dishonest observation.
The government and other critical analysts often disregard using just pro-Anuak sources of information and testimonies for seeing them as bias against other local ethnicities. However some Anuak (Anywaa) sources also depicted diverse accounts of the story. For instance, Anuak refugees and witnesses who claimed they saw the conflict & massacre said that the bloodshed was started by anti-government civilians as well as anti-government soldiers & anti-government officials in order to create problem for the government. One witness said,
"I think that among the mob and the soldiers there was a group of people who were against the government and wanted to use this opportunity to put the government in a problem. I think that there were anti-government and anti-Anywaa elements within the army who orchestrated this type of killing."
Despite progress to curb the historical ethnic divisions & political tensions, there still remains a relatively tense political situation in the Gambella region. Recently the Gambella Peace Olympics, a sport festival promoting peace and development amongst Gambella Region's ethnic groups including Anuaks & nuers, was held in a bid to bring about constructive dialogue and long-term peace among the region's often feuding ethnic groups.
On October 18, 2006 an independent report said Ethiopian police massacred 193 protesters, mostly in the capital Addis Ababa, in the violence of June and November following the May 2005 elections. The information was leaked before the official independent report was handed to the parliament. The leak made by Ethiopian judge Wolde-Michael Meshesha found that the government had concealed the true extent of deaths at the hands of the police. This leak also brought more accusations that the opposition party which provoked the riots was trying to damage the reputation of the government by leaking the inquiry unlawfully. Gemechu Megerssa, a member of the independent Inquiry commission, which Mr. Meshesha once worked with, said Mr. Meshesha taking the report "out of context and presenting it to the public to sensationalise the situation for his political end is highly unethical.
The judge in Europe described the deaths as a massacre and said the toll could well have been higher. However, the judge was filing for an Asylum and is currently living in Europe, bringing a speculation that he was bias to begin with in support of the opposition party. But he claimed that he had to leave the country because he thought he would be "harassed" by the government. He speculated that Zenawi ordered troops to shoot at protesters. But according to New York Times, Meles said "he did not authorize the police to use live bullets.
The official report described by the parliament and the government gave the exact same details as the leaked inquiry. It said that 193 people had been killed, including 40 teenagers. Six policemen were also killed and some 763 people injured. Police records showed 20,000 people were initially arrested during the anti-government protests. However various witnesses from the Kinijit (CUD) opposition party members have testified that CUD leaders assured them of a demise of Zenawi's party and government in order to start an armed rebellion. The witnesses stated that CUD leaders encouraged them to start military training and planing to overthrow the government. The commission members living in Addis Ababa also criticised the government saying;
But the independent Inquiry commission members added Mr. Meshesha going to Europe and reporting out of context information was "dishonest", ugly politics as well as insensitive to the process of developing Ethiopia's young democracy. Then the commission said Ethiopians need to solve their problems themselves so that these kinds of violences will not occur again. It said respecting authority & each other and working together is important as well as changing the mentality of the police is what the "government has to think about seriously.
Despite all these post-election issues & complications, in addition to the Carter Center and the US government, British MPs continued to praise the democratic process in Ethiopia. After meeting with some opposition parties, the British MPs also stated that the Ethiopian government should always stand firmly against those who try to use "undemocratic and unconstitutional means" to change government.
Presently, all except 20 of the elected opposition members have joined the Ethiopian parliament along with the EPRDF party members. The other top opposition parties, UEDF and UEPD-Medhin, are peacefully working with the government for negotiations on the democratic process. Yet many opposition parties are still represented in the Ethiopia Parliament where representatives from Oromia state hold the most positions and representatives from the Amhara State hold the second most position, in correlation with the population order of the corresponding states. Various opposition parties including UEDF, UEPD-Medhin, Somali People's Democratic Party (SPDP), EDL, Gambella People's Democratic Movement (GPDM), All Ethiopian Unity Organization (AEUO), Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM)and Benishangul-Gumuz People's Democratic Unity Front (BGPDUF) hold positions in the parliament. Despite pressure to release the CUD leaders who were rounded up after the post election violence, the Ethiopian court convicted 38 of the top CUD leaders. However after various negotiations to solve the deadlock via a political agreement, the convicted CUD leaders signed a document, which many believe was coerced out of them, accepting their "mistakes" and an accountability ranging from partial to full responsibility for the post election violence.
Currently, all of the main opposition party's (CUD) leaders are out of jail after an alleged attempt to overthrow the government and initiating the post election violence. All of these charges are denied by CUD leadership both in Ethiopia and international, and the European Union continues to plea for the political prisoners to be released after a speedy trial. Some of these elected CUD officials endure very harsh conditions inside Ethiopia's poorly maintained prisons and they are at risk of various medical complications. As a result of the violence after the elections, many thousands were arrested and imprisoned, even though some have been freed few still remain in prison. Up to the end of 2005, around 8,000 Ethiopian rioters were freed. However many Ethiopians, including the ruling party's supporters, declare that the live bullet 2005 shootings were a big mistake by the police.
After a long and slow judicial proceedings an Ethiopian judge dropped the controversial charges of attempted genocide and treason against 111 people arrested after election protests. Twenty-five accused, mostly journalists and publishers, have also been acquitted of all charges. However several opposition leaders remain in custody, accused of trying to violently overthrow the government. After the original arrests the Prime Minister told the parliament that releasing "these hardliners" would embolden them to think "whatever their action, they will not be held accountable." Thus he stated "the government has made it abundantly clear that interfering with the judicial process for the release of hardliners is out of the question. The government has taken this unwavering position not because of stubbornness or for a lack of willingness to resolve issues through dialogue and negotiation. The ruling party has accused the group of trying to utilize street uprising techniques as a way to change regimes. Various supporters of the government and supporters of peaceful opposition parties who function in the parliament continue to accuse the imprisoned opposition group of "extremism" and accuse them of following the textbook directions given by Dr. Negede. An exiled & educated Ethiopian, Dr. Negede is known for the famous book he wrote on how to overthrow the government through street uprising. However Amnesty international and the supporters of the group in jail claim that the detainees are "prisoners of conscience", innocent and should be freed immediately and unconditionally. As of June 2007, the Ethiopian court found the opposition party CUD's 38 senior figures guilty of the charges. After CUD's top leaders signed a paper accepting responsibility for the violence, some sources claim the leaders would be freed in a short time. All the leadership of the CUD party were released after the pardon board accepted their apology letter. According to VOA news, a CUD spokesman Hailu Araya said "We signed it voluntarily. We apologized to the people, to the government. Yes, we did. That’s what the paper said, and that’s what we signed.
Meles Zenawi's government has allegedly carried out brutal counter insurgency techniques against the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), particularly after the ONLF killed more than 70 Chinese and Ethiopian Oil facility workers in the region in April, 2007. Both sides accuse each other of human rights abuses. In June 2008, HRW criticized the lack of Western condemnation to Meles Zenawi's counter insurgency policy and to the military activities by Ethiopian Defence forces in reaction to ONLF's attacks.
Both fighting forces accuse each other of killing civilians and burning villages, with HRW claiming that accounts by refugees fleeing out of the country support ONLF's accusations. Both Ethiopia and its allies claim refugees fleeing out of Ethiopia, instead of taking shelter from the conflict inside Ethiopia, were supporters of the ONLF who can not be used as independent source of evidence.
Western governments continued to state that they will check into the various allegations from all sides.
Ethiopia has seen a rise in the general level of prices since around 2004, which has worsened the drought problems caused by the lack of rain, as reported by UN humanitarian organizations. The inflation rate was reportedly in the low teens in 2005- 2006, high teens during 2007 and in the 20s in 2008. This inflation crisis has deeply affected the urban population in Ethiopia.
According to UN's Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program, the inflation problem is occurring because "More income for farmers" is causing "higher prices in shops." Ethiopian farmers are the driving force of the rural based economy where only 15% of the population belongs in the urban. The UN report says "as markets get less centralized, and farmers become more sophisticated and better informed traders are starting to complain about the market power of the farmers" so "farmers are now better off, and able to wait and spread their grain sales through the year, rather than having to rush everything to market immediately after harvest when prices are at their lowest." The UN report says that "grain prices in Ethiopia, however much they may have risen, however unaffordable they may be to the urban poor, are still below world prices and below prices in most neighboring countries."
Currently, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is serving as co-chairman of the Global Coalition for Africa. He has also been involved to end the civil wars in Sudan and Somalia, with talks with Sudan's Omar al-Bashir and Somalia‘s Interim President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, despite running a 3rd world country, has 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 recently are 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.
Although many opposition parties and parliamentarian critics disagree, some Ethiopians also portray the arrival date of Meles Zenawi's government, May 28 1991 (Ginbot 20), as the "Birth of democracy" in Ethiopia while diplomats and analysts say the country is slowly moving towards democracy.
Prime Minister Zenawi served as the Chairman of the Organization for African Unity (OAU, now the African Union - AU) from June 1995 to June 1996.
Prime Minister Meles acquired an MBA (Master of Business Administration) from the Open University of the United Kingdom in 1995 and an MSc. (Masters of Science) in Economics from the Erasmus University of the Netherlands in 2004. Some University professors and renowned college administrators stated that Meles Zenawi was a very smart and gifted student. At a public Speech in George Washington University, vice chancellor of Open University said, "President Meles Zenawi was a brilliant student who achieved distinctions on every course he took." In July 2002, Meles has also received an honorary doctoral degree in political science from the Hannam University in South Korea. Meles Zenawi is married to Azeb Mesfin and is the father of three children. Azeb Mesfin is now the chair of the Social Affairs Standing Committee of Parliament, and in January 2007, she was given the "Legacy of a Dream" award for her leadership against HIV/Aids during a ceremony held in memory of America's civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King. In addition, Azeb Mesfin and various government agencies have addressed Child mortality issues in Ethiopia. According to UNICEF, Child mortality rate in Ethiopia has declined by 40% since the current ruling party took office.
Meles Zenawi's hobbies are reportedly reading, swimming and playing tennis. His real first name was Legesse, thus Legesse Zenawi (Ge'ez: ለገሰ ዜናዊ legesse zēnāwī) but he is better known by his nom de guerre Meles. He changed his first name to "Meles" in honor of a University student and a revolutionary radical who was executed by the previous government in 1975. In early 2004 Meles Zenawi 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 south west London, a private hospital staffed by numerous specialist consultants.