Late Ethiopian ruler to be mourned in Victoria

Zanawi brought dignity to impoverished country's residents

Victoria resident Selam Ayele

Victoria’s Ethiopian community is celebrating the life and mourning the death of a man seen as a champion for that African country’s basic human needs, at a gathering on Sunday.

Prime Minister Ato Meles Zanawi, who battled the country’s communist regime nearly 20 years before being named Ethiopian leader in 1991, died at 57 earlier this month after an illness.

“This was the saddest day for Ethiopia,” said Selam Ayele, a Victoria resident and co-organizer of the Sept. 2 event.

While she has been away from her native country for 13 years, she feels strongly about Zanawi’s effect on the health and welfare of her people.

“In 21 years he never took a vacation,” Ayele said. “He was the change that Ethiopia needed.”

His dreams, she said, were to see everyone fed three times a day and have ample clothing, “the basic things that we’ve been missing for so long.”

Mekonnen Tedla, who has lived in Victoria 17 years after emigrating to Canada from Ethiopia in 1990, called Zanawi’s death “a terrible loss for the country.”

“He was a visionary for all of Africa,” said Tedla, most of whose immediate family members remain in his native land. “Some people forget about poverty when they move here, but some of us, we feel the sorrow for our country at this time.”

Such changes as educational opportunities for residents – Ethiopia went from having two universities when Tedla left to 37 now – and the freedom to travel in and out of the country came about under Zanawi’s leadership, Tedla said.

While Zanawi was seen as a positive influence on economic development for the country – Ethiopia enjoys one of the fastest growing non-oil dependent economies in Africa – critics said the country’s human rights had begun to suffer under his rule.

The Victoria event gets underway at 6 p.m. at the Ukrainian Orthodox Church hall, 1112 Caledonia Ave. It is open to everyone.

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