PRESIDENT Jakaya Kikwete and other world leaders are mourning the death of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi with high praise.
Most of them said his death at age 57 leaves a major power gap in the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia has played a key role in the fortunes of many of its neighbours, as well as host to the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa.
President Kikwete yesterday sent a message of condolences to the President of Ethiopia, Girma Wolde-Giorgis, following the death of Prime Minister Zenawi, on Monday night.
"Tanzanians have received with shock, sadness and extreme grief reports on the death of Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi," read a statement issued by the State House.
"On behalf of the people of Tanzania, the government and my own, I am sending heartfelt condolences to the people of Ethiopia, the bereaved family, relatives and friends.
"We are together at this difficult time of deep sorrow and mourning. Ethiopia has in deed lost a good leader, committed revolutionary and visionary. Africa has also lost its great and eloquent spokesman at international forums.
"I will always remember prime minister Zenawi as a hero, great friend to me, Tanzanians and Africa in general," read the message. European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said Meles "demonstrated his strong personal commitment over many years to improving the lives of not just his own but all African peoples, through his work on African unity, climate change, development and in promoting peace and stability, particularly in the Horn of Africa."
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki called Meles a "pragmatic and visionary" leader who helped stabilise his country and placed it on the path of economic growth, adding that his death is a "devastating loss". "On behalf of the government and the people of Kenya, I convey our deepest sympathies," Kibaki said in a statement, adding that Meles' leadership and negotiation skills would "forever be missed across the region and Africa."
Meles played a key part in brokering peace efforts between newly independent South Sudan and its former civil war foe Sudan, a role praised by South Sudan's Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin. "He was one person who could say in black and white what the position of both countries was -- and was respected by both," Benjamin said.
"To South Sudan it is a sad story. He was great, not only in our strategic relations between South Sudan and Ethiopia, but also as chairperson of the African Union, tasked with finding peace between Sudan and the newly independent South," he said.
Uganda was "shocked and saddened" by the death of Meles, said Asuman Kiyingi, state minister for regional cooperation, adding it was a "big loss for the whole of Africa". "He has been so instrumental in finding solutions to African problems," Kiyingi told AFP, noting Meles' support for African Union forces battling Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab insurgents in Somalia.
Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia for a second time last year -- after a US-backed invasion in 2006 -- and Ethiopia is supporting an AU force's fight against the Shebab. British Prime Minister David Cameron hailed Meles "as an inspirational spokesman for Africa on global issues", who had "provided leadership and vision on Somalia and Sudan."
"His personal contribution to Ethiopia's development, in particular by lifting millions of Ethiopians out of poverty, has set an example for the region," he added. South African President Jacob Zuma praised Meles as "a strong leader, not only for his country but on the African continent."
"It is an absolute tragedy for Africa and the people of Ethiopia to mourn such an exceptional leader who contributed as an active role-player in various continental and global initiatives, especially in playing host to the African Union," Zuma said in a statement.
Meles, a former rebel fighter who came to power in 1991 after toppling the bloody dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam, died in hospital abroad, the government said. He had not been seen in public for two months, and was reportedly being treated in a hospital in Brussels.