Late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi
By Wole Ajao (with agency reports)
President Goodluck Jonathan and other leaders will Sunday attend the state burial of the late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who passed away on August 20 at the age 57.
In a statement before leaving for Addis Ababa, the Ethiopia’s capital, Saturday, Jonathan described Zenawi’s death as “a major loss to Africa” and added that Zenawi “held strong convictions about establishing a just and prosperous society for his people, a cause to which he devoted his considerable energies, and which deservedly earned him respect and honour among a grateful Ethiopian nation.”
Saturday, Djibouti’s President Ismail Omar Guelleh, Somali leader Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and South Sudan’s Salva Kiir, joined ministers and diplomats in visiting the National Palace in the capital Addis Ababa to pay tribute to the powerful leader’s flag-draped coffin and to sign a book of condolence. Hundreds of Ethiopians, many of whom were in tears also gathered at the palace.
A regional heavyweight, who ruled Ethiopia for 21 years after toppling Mengistu Haile Mariam, Zenawi died in a Belgian hospital after battling an undisclosed ailment and his burial ceremony which holds in Addis Ababa’s vast Meskel Square, is the first state funeral in a horn of Africa state in eight decades.
While the East African country has hosted a series of state funerals in recent decades - including that of popular musician Tilahun Gessesse in 2009 - the last leader to be so honoured was Empress Zawditu in 1930.
His body was buried inside the Holy Trinity Church in Addis Ababa, where Zewani too will be laid to rest. It is located behind the National Palace.
Other global leaders billed to attend the ceremony are South African President Jacob Zuma, his predecessor Thabo Mbeki, Kenya’s Mwai Kibaki, Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni. China, the European Union and the United States are also expected to send senior officials. Jonathan is expected back in Nigeria after today’s funeral.