African papers look beyond Ethiopian premier's death

Mourners wait for the body of Meles Zenawi to arrive in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa Meles Zenawi is widely mourned in Ethiopia, but his legacy is hotly contested

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African papers view the legacy of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in mixed terms days after his death, and consider with some anxiety what impact his succession will have on the region.

One paper describes him as one of the continent's most durable leaders, while others praise him for having put Ethiopia on the road to democracy and for providing Africa with moral guidance.

Some commentators express the hope that his succession will be smooth and that it will have a positive influence in a troubled region.

In South Africa, the Business Day website says that the South African government had "heaped praise" on Mr Meles, but "drew a veil over human rights abuses and curbs on media freedoms" during his 21-year rule.

The Times Live website runs an agency report describing Mr Meles as a "larger-than-life statesman" who was credited with steering Ethiopia towards economic growth and also helped mediate in several regional disputes.

'Let's demystify death'

Kenya's The Standard newspaper website carries an editorial headlined "Africa leaders are mortal, let's demystify death", focusing on the secrecy surrounding his illness and death.

"The world may disagree on whether Ethiopia's President Meles Zenawi improved Africa's leadership image or was just another despot clothed in democratic garb. But unanimity is expected on the question whether his death fits the African picture which starts with denials and ends in death," the paper says.

The editorial says that it is important for a country to understand the health status of its leaders, and that information is withheld because "the leaders and their handlers often prefer the mystique and deity status".

The Kenyan Daily Nation website runs an editorial headlined "Zenawi succession vital for stability of region." The paper discusses the impact of Mr Meles's death on the region and says Kenya will be "closely watching" developments.

"The death of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi robs Africa of one its most durable leaders. Of immediate import will be what his exit presages for security and stability in Ethiopia, whose capital Addis Ababa holds the seat of the African Union and is somewhat the de facto capital for the continent," the editorial says.

Somali rebels

The paper also raises the Somali crisis, saying Ethiopia has played a "critical role" in military efforts to pacify the rebel Al-Shabab militia.

Meles Zenawi One commentator blames Meles Zenawi for the "current stalemate" between Ethiopia and Eritrea

The Eritrean opposition Awate website carries a commentary headlined "Zenawi's mixed legacy", which says Meles put his country "on a road it has never travelled before - the road of democracy".

"The Ethiopian opposition has every right to push for more freedom, and it should do so, but, it has to first recognize that Meles was the first Ethiopian leader in over 100 years to usher in democratic governance... This is not to undermine the difficulties Ethiopian opposition are experiencing but to appreciate the little progress Ethiopia has made. Ethiopia has taken crucial democratic baby-steps and Meles deserves most of that credit," the commentary notes, drawing comparisons with the Eritrean government.

The writer also says Mr Meles "has become the intellectual and moral leader of the continent".

"Africa has lost its most articulate spokesperson," the writer says.

Stalemate

However, the commentary also says Meles was "mostly responsible for the current stalemate" between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

"Regardless of the testimonies of his personal character, Meles was an important figure and his early departure is cause for concern for all of us who care about the Horn of Africa. It is very unlikely that Ethiopia would produce, in the short-term, a leader who can fill the big void left by Meles. He was a rare leader who was comfortable with big ideas and the nitty-gritty of political practice," the writer concludes.

In the privately-owned Sudan Tribune website, a commentator wonders: "Will this be the time to talk peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea?"

"Now that Meles Zenawi has died there is an opportunity for the new leadership in Ethiopia to take this opportunity to bring peace and harmony to the whole region. Eritrea has never been the enemy of the Ethiopian people, and it would benefit the region to start a new chapter," the writer says.

The commentary says that peace between the two neighbours would have a "domino affect" and create lasting peace in the region.

BBC Monitoringselects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad. For more reports from BBC Monitoring, click here

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