Obituary: Ethiopia's Meles Zenawi

Meles Zenawi, who died in hospital at the age of 57, was the cleverest politician to emerge from the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), one of the armed movements which spear-headed the struggle against Ethiopia's military regime in the 1970s and 1980s. Born into a middle-class family in Adawa, Tigray, in Ethiopia's northern highlands, he dropped out of university to join the insurrection. After the military council (Derg) led by Mengistu Haile Mariam was finally overthrown in 1991, Mr Meles first became president in a transitional government and then, in 1995, prime minister. He went on to dominate Ethiopian public life until his death. There were some challenges to his leadership, notably after the secession of Ethiopia's most northerly region, Eritrea, when he was blamed for letting it go too easily, and after the subsequent border war. Ethiopia won that war at a huge cost but the prime minister outmanoeuvred or sidelined his critics within the party, and emerged more powerful than before. Austere Mr Meles was marked forever by his years in a guerrilla movement, when sloppiness or lack of discipline could lead to the death of comrades and the failure of a mission. He himself was austere and hardworking, kept a very tight grip on even minor details of government and dealt ruthlessly with any signs of dissent within the leadership.