Hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians over 700 world dignitaries and over 20 African leaders mourned the beloved son of Ethiopia the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on Sunday at the first state funeral for a leader of Ethiopia in over 80 years.
The Prime Minister who served for over 20 years, died last month aged 57, was hailed as an African hero and was a key Western ally in the fight against the Al-Qaeda-linked group Al Shabab and other extremists in the region.
Among others presidents of South Africa, Sudan, Uganda, South Sudan, Nigeria and Rwanda as well as representatives of the Africa Union, the US and the European Union (EU) expressed their sympathy and delivered messages about Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's death.
"The late prime minister was working not only for the renaissance of Ethiopia, but also for the renaissance for all of Africa," Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said in a speech after prayers at Meskel square. "All his initiatives will keep going forward, all the transformation plans will progress," he said.
South Sudanese president Salva Kiir praised Zenawi saying, "Meles Zenawi provided unwavering support to the peace process between Sudan and South Sudan that led to our freedom ultimately".
South African President Jacob Zuma said the continent had "lost one of the greatest sons of Africa", while Paul Kagame of Rwanda said Meles was visionary and uncompromising when it came to the interest of his people.
"Meles Zenawi had the energy and vision to fight to the achievement of African prosperity and to ensure peace and stability in Africa" Yayi said. "He strongly supported the visions of the AU and represented Africa at different international stages such as G8 and G20 and reflected African interest". Said Benin's president and current Africa Union chairman Thomas Boni Yayi. Senior officials from China and the European Union were also attending the funeral.
The most moving speech was delivered by Ambassador Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations “Meles was disarmingly regular, unpretentious, and direct. He was selfless, tireless and totally dedicated to his work and family. In the toughest of times, he retained that twinkle in his eye, his ready smile, his roiling laugh and his wicked sense of humor. True, he never belied any lack of confidence in his judgments. He was tough, unsentimental and sometimes unyielding. And, of course, he had little patience for fools, or “idiots,” as he liked to call them.”
She added as if she was fightig her tears “For, among Prime Minister Meles’ many admirable qualities, above all was his world-class mind. A life-long student, he taught himself and many others so much. But he wasn’t just brilliant. He wasn’t just a relentless negotiator and a formidable debater. He wasn’t just a thirsty consumer of knowledge. He was uncommonly wise – able to see the big picture and the long game, even when others would allow immediate pressures to overwhelm sound judgment. Those rare traits were the foundation of his greatest contributions.”
For millions of Ethiopians, the funeral was the culmination of two weeks of national mourning. Posters, pictures and quotes from the late prime minister have been ubiquitous in nearly every street of the capital since the government announced Meles' death. Thousands of people wailed when Meles' casket arrived at Meskel Square, scene of the funeral ceremony, on a horse-drawn carriage. Religious leaders from Ethiopia's Christian Orthodox Church, dressed in flowing embroidered robes and carrying red and gold velvet umbrellas, held prayers for the sea of mourners. After the funeral service a procession carried the casket for burial at the Holy Trinity Cathedral, where some of the country's most illustrious people are interred.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is the first Ethiopian leader that wasn’t forced from power in almost hundred years. All the Ethiopian leaders after Menlik was either murdered or forced to flee the country.