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What does the death of Meles Zenawi mean to East Africa and the West?

The sudden death of Ethiopia's prime minister on Tuesday plunged one of the West's key African allies into a succession crisis and raised fears of increased insecurity in a volatile region. Zenawi who was reported to have died in Brussels hospital at 57 had not been seen in public since June and speculation about his health had increased, despite consistent statements from his government that he was "resting" and would return to work "soon". But great concern about his health rose when he missed a summit in Addis Ababa last month. Some sources say he had been struggling to be healthy in the recent past adding that there were fears that the country would be plunged into uncertainty. Having Taken power from the dictator, Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991, he became a pivotal member of the new generation of African leaders who had overthrown dictators and would embrace democracy. Most described him as despotic and autocratic, crushing dissent, jailing critical journalists and bloggers and, during the 2005 election, deploying troops who opened fire on protesters, killing as many as 200. Despite the fact that Ethiopia is a non oil dependent economy yet rated among the fastest growing in the developing world, good strides had been realized towards the UN Millennium Development goals through his stewardship. States like Britain has pledged more than 1.3 billion pounds to the country between 2010 and 2015, making Ethiopia one of the largest beneficiaries of British aid in the world. Nevertheless his government was frequently being accused of killing and displacing members of traditional groups who live along Omo River valley of southern Ethiopia so that the it can build a hydroelectric dam and lease land to foreign sugar companies. Best known for his shrewdness, intelligence and a voracious reader, his tireless efforts with the West to combat Muslim extremism in the Horn of Africa despite the ever growing complaints, even among his backers, about his penchant for violence in quashing dissent will remain a legend. US have been well-known to be close allies of his leadership. US military spy drones are based at Ethiopian airports and they still patrol East Africa. In East Africa, Ethiopia has seen Eritrea secede, then fought a war with the new country. It also twice sent troops into Somalia to fight militants linked to al-Qaeda and with the most recent being trying to help broker peace between Sudan and the newly independent nation of South Sudan and still has peacekeepers camped at Abyei. His death therefore leaves national leaders in most of these countries carrying out hasty computations about what Mr Meles' death means for them. Great attention will toggle to whether Mr Meles built strapping systems to outlast him. But nevertheless with such statements like sure Ethiopia will collapse coming from among them their greatest enemies the al-Shabab Islamist militants in Somalia where Mr Meles twice sent troops to fight leaves a lot to be done. While other political transitions in Ethiopia have always been incredibly violent and chaotic, mainly because they have had strong men in charge who don't have succession plans because they consider themselves as the only extremists in the country. And taking from the constitutional procedure of the transitional Ethiopia that allows the country to continue with the deputy prime minister acting as prime minister means that the elections cannot take place. This

thus creates a political vacuum that would see armed groups agitating for self rule reignite their war by regrouping and try to win support from the low earners who are rampant and have stagnant wages and this clearly defines a gaping hole in the country and a distress indicator for the fate of not only his leadership but those he strongly supported and perpetrated for.

Mbatia Maurice Chege. (0787 046 575) Freelance journalist East Africa.