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Rift Valley Institute

Making local knowledge work

Winds of change in the Horn of Africa

By Sally Healy

On 20 August the Ethiopian authorities announced the sudden death of the Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, who had been at the helm of Ethiopian politics for twenty-one years. At the age of 57, Meles still seemed to be at the height of his powers but had announced his intention to step down from the leadership in 2015. … His undoubted success in making Ethiopia a top development partner has been tempered by a record of intolerance and increasing political repression at home. …

Just three weeks later in neighbouring Somalia, another 57 year-old man, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, came to sudden prominence. Against all expectations, Hassan Sheikh emerged successfully from a parliamentary election process to become the President of Somalia. He faced twenty-two opponents in the contest. … The political fortunes of Ethiopia and Somalia have coincided once before: in 1991 both countries saw off military dictatorships and started a new chapter. Their political trajectory since then could hardly be more different. Ethiopia has shaken off its humiliating 1980s image of famine, starvation and extreme poverty. …

The outside world will miss Meles, a pro-Western regional ally in a dangerous neighbourhood. But there is room to hope that the momentous changes in the Horn this summer will include a positive transformation for Somalia.

Sally Healy is a fellow of the Rift Valley Institute.

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