Good morning. Reverend Butts, Mr. Secretary General, Ambassador Tekeda, friends, ladies and gentlemen--
Last month, I was privileged to travel to Addis Ababa to join tens of thousands of fellow mourners as we paid our respects to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and his family and laid him to rest in the sacred soil of his beloved Ethiopia. Our shock has faded, but our sorrow endures. Today, I come again both as a representative of the U.S. government and as a friend of a man I truly miss.
First and foremost, the Meles I knew was profoundly human and down to earth. He was a devoted father and husband, a faithful friend, and proud leader of an ever proud people. He worked tirelessly, always inclined to assume the bulk of any burden himself. He could argue circles around almost anyone and make you feel wiser for the experience. He didn’t shade his views -- what you heard was what he thought. His passions were undisguised, and his criticisms unvarnished. He could negotiate even the smallest issue to death, but his raucous laugh could leaven any difficult discussion. Meles was a self-taught scholar and a voracious learner. He probably often figured he was the smartest person in the room, and most of the time Meles was right – at least about that. In truth, on any number of issues, Meles and I differed and sometimes argued strenuously, whether on human rights, democracy or our respective foreign policies. But, Meles was respectful of his partners, disarming in his dedication, and thoroughly committed to his work on behalf of Ethiopia.
Meles was born in a land torn by strife and hobbled by poverty. To remake his nation, he had to remake himself. So he grew -- from student to guerrilla to head of government. His legacy is one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies. He laid the foundations for Ethiopia’s sustainable development. He gave new momentum to Africa’s struggle to address climate change. He spurred his nation to double its food production and redouble its commitment to forestall another famine that could snuff out so many innocent lives. He played mid-wife to the birth of South Sudan and worked energetically to help South Sudan and Sudan resolve their differences peacefully. Last month’s accords, though fragile, are a monument to his unyielding efforts. Meles helped build the African Union. He sent peacekeepers to the world’s hottest spots and countered terrorists such as al-Shabab who target the innocent.
Above all, Meles believed in Ethiopia and the potential of its people. So too does the United States of America. As I said in Addis, “…while Meles’ loss is profound, Ethiopia’s greatness is undiminished. Our admiration for your accomplishments is enduring. Your moving outpouring of grief and dramatic displays of national unity in the face of this tragedy have inspired us all. Your talents and strengths are those of a remarkable people, far larger and deeper than any single remarkable man. Ethiopia’s future can and must be brighter. And, I am confident it will be.”
Indeed, the U.S. is deeply committed to working with the people and government of Ethiopia in a partnership based on mutual interest and mutual respect. We will support Ethiopia through this transition as it builds accountable, democratic institutions, deepens its development gains, bolsters regional peace and security, and expands liberty and prosperity. As everywhere, the U.S. will continue to encourage peaceful politics. We will promote unfettered debate and respect for universal human rights, including the freedom to say what you think, publish what you like, and associate with whomever you choose. Undoubtedly, the U.S. and Ethiopia will not always agree. But we will always engage openly and respectfully, in a spirit of friendship—as we did with our late friend.
May the spirit of Meles Zenawi spur us all to work ever harder, together, for a better Ethiopia, a better Africa, and a better world.
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