For more than two decades Meles Zenawi served as the prime minister of Ethiopia, standing at the forefront of African politics. On Sunday, thousands gathered in Addis Ababa to mourn his passing, as his casket was carried from the Grand National Palace to a public ceremony in Meskel Square.
At least 20 African presidents as well as dozens of international leaders were in attendance for the proceedings, which ended with Zenawi being laid to rest at the Holy Trinity Cathedral. Zenawi, 57, passed away on August 20 in Brussels, after succumbing to an infection.
Heavy rains washed over the funeral, the first held for a state official in over 80 years. Still, crowds stood in observance for hours until Zenawi’s coffin was lowered into its grave. Zenawi’s widow, Azeb Mesfin, was seen being comforted by state officials at the scene.
South African President Jacob Zuma, and Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Darfur, were among the diplomats present for the ceremony. President Boni Yayi of Benin, who currently leads the African Union, was one of many to speak on behalf of Zenawi.
“With his energy, vision and fight for the achievement of a free and prosperous Africa, the late Meles Zenawi… was a force… on which the African Union depended in these last 10 years.” Yayi said.
“His ideas were framed around the need to achieve social justice,” Zuma said during his own address. “We are proud of Meles Zenawi, and the leadership he provided on issues affecting the continent and around the globe.”
Zenawi was responsible for the downfall of Dictator Mengitsu Hailemariam in 1991, which led to him taking power within the country. He was inspired by Marxist principals, and took on a large leadership role not only in Ethiopia, but much of East Africa as well. He mediated conflicts between Sudan and South Sudan, and sent troops to battle al-Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia. Zenawi will be succeeded by his deputy Hailemariam Desalegn, who will remain in the role of prime minister until 2015 elections.