Thousands of Ethiopians gathered in the capital, Addis Ababa, for the funeral of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi today as the ruling party plans to meet to endorse Hailemariam Desalegn as his successor.
A public ceremony was held in Meskal Square attended by several African leaders, including South Africa’s Jacob Zuma and Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan, followed by a private burial at Holy Trinity Cathedral.
“He was a man of such high caliber, rare talent and selflessness that we all fear the magnitude of the gap he has left,” Rwandan President Paul Kagame said at the ceremony.
The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front’s council is set to meet after the funeral and will probably “legally endorse” Hailemariam as party chairman, Seikoture Getachew, the foreign relations head of the party’s secretariat, said in an interview on Aug. 26. Hailemariam was appointed acting prime minister after Meles’s death.
Meles died on Aug. 20 from an infection after not being seen in public for weeks due to ill health. He ruled Ethiopia for 21 years, helping to attract investment and foreign aid and overseeing one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa. He was criticized by human rights groups for cracking down on civil liberties and introducing anti-terrorism laws in 2009 that have been used to jail opposition politicians and reporters.
“I would reassure you that the EPRDF and our developmental and democratic state will immediately act to implement all the policies and strategies” of Meles, Hailemariam told mourners at the public ceremony today. “Our beloved Prime Minister Meles Zenawi may have departed from us in flesh, but his spirit will always live with us in all our struggles.”
Meles, a key U.S ally in the region in the fight against terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda, favored a state-led economic development model that channeled loans, aid, investment and domestic revenue into infrastructure, industry and public services. The result was growth that averaged 11 percent in the past seven years.
“We renew our commitment to our valued partnership with the people and government of Ethiopia,” Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said at the public ceremony today.
Parliament, which has only one opposition representative out of 547 lawmakers, is on “stand-by” to swear in Meles’s successor after the nation finishes mourning, Communication Minister Bereket Simon said on Aug. 23.