In the forthcoming edition of African Affairs, Alex de Waal writes of the late Ethiopian president and his vision for the state he governed for seventeen years. Below is an excerpt, the full essay is available here.
In the months following his death on 20 August, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has been eulogized and demonized in equal measure. But his policies, and the transformational paradigm on which they were based, have rarely been elucidated. While alive, Meles was equally indifferent to praise and blame. To those who acclaimed Ethiopia’s remarkable economic growth, he would ask, do they understand that his policies completely contradicted the neo-liberal Washington Consensus? To those who condemned his measures against the political opposition and civil society organizations, he demanded to know how they would define democracy and seek a feasible path to it, in a political economy dominated by patronage and rent seeking?
Meles did not hide his views, but neither did he ever fully present his theory of the ‘democratic developmental state’ to an international audience. Over nearly 25 years, I was fortunate to be able to discuss political economy with him regularly, including critiquing his incomplete and unpublished master’s dissertation. During this time, his thinking evolved, but his basic principles and sensibilities remained constant.
World leaders have lauded Meles’ economic achievements without acknowledging their theoretical basis. Human rights organizations have decried his political record as though he were a routine despot with no agenda other than hanging on to power. Reviewing his writings on the developmental state, this essay shows the unity of his theory and practice.
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