Former rebel leader who overthrew Marxist dictator

BY Paul Vallely
THE INDEPENDENT
When Ethiopian police opened fire on anti-government demonstrators after the last election, they not only killed 193 people, but also seriously damaged the reputation of the election winner, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
Protesters say they were complaining that the election had been fixed, but Mr Meles insists that those on the streets were trying to stage a coup.
Either way, the police response was disproportionate and created a human rights blot on the admirable record of a leader who was seen as one of the great hopes for change in Africa. Mr Zenawi entered Addis Ababa at the head of a rebel army in 1991 after two decades in the bush, to overthrow Ethiopia's blood-thirsty Marxist dictator, Col Mengistu Haile-Mariam.
Since then, he has made enormous progress, instituting democracy, devolving power to the federal regions, restoring independence to the judiciary, and pushing equal rights and opportunities for women.
He is also a pragmatist. He jettisoned his Albanian-style Marxism and embraced the pro-market reforms recommended by the World Bank, fulfilling the conditions to qualify for massive debt cancellation.
But the economic prescriptions of "the Washington consensus" have, over the past 20 years, failed to generate the economic growth promised in Africa. Seeing that, Mr Zenawi has resisted pressures for land reform and refused to privatise the airline or telecomms industries.
Instead, he has developed an imaginative compromise - "a strong developmental state" which will "not intervene in the market in a wanton fashion" but acts to address "market failures".
To that end, he has just secured from China $1.5bn of investment in telecoms. Mobile phones, he says, are proving "a licence to print money in Africa".

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