The Strongman Who May Be Missed: Meles Zenawi, 1955-2012

August 28, 2012

The Ethiopian Prime Minister of 21 years leaves behind a mixed legacy of economic gain and repression — and a giant hole in African politics.

Meles Zenawi always said he didn’t intend to die in office. Speaking to TIME as long ago as 2007, the Ethiopian Prime Minister was talking about moving on: “I have been around for quite a long time,” he said. “Time to start thinking about doing new things.” In the event, Meles did not do anything else but stayed through another election in 2010 – rigged, said the U.S., E.U and human rights groups – in which his Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and its allies won 545 of the 547 seats in parliament and 1,903 of the 1,904 on nine regional councils. The result was not surprising but was at least less bloody than the previous poll in 2005 when Ethiopian security services shot dead 200 protesters – more like 1,000, said the opposition – who were demonstrating against the ERPDF’s victory in the streets of the capital Addis Ababa. Meles’s version of events was that the opposition, having lost a free and fair vote, were trying to win power by other means. “We felt we had to clamp down,” he said. “In the process, many people died. Many of our friends feel we overreacted. We feel we did not.”

Read more: Time