ADDIS ABABA, Sept 1 – African leaders joined other foreign dignitaries in paying homage to Ethiopia’s longtime prime minister Meles Zenawi ahead of Sunday’s state funeral for a man hailed as an African “hero”.
“The prime minister was a beacon of hope in Africa and he should be remembered as a hero for all the outstanding work that he has achieved in his lifetime,” said Malawi’s Deputy Prime Minister Khumbo Kachali.
Djibouti’s President Ismail Omar Guelleh, Somali leader Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and South Sudan’s Salva Kiir joined ministers and diplomats in visiting the National Palace in the capital Addis Ababa Saturday to pay tribute to the powerful leader’s flag-draped coffin and to sign a book of condolence.
Hundreds of Ethiopians, many of whom were in tears, also gathered at the palace.
“Africa has just lost one of his most illustrious sons,” said Ivory Coast’s minister for integration Ally Coulibaly.
“Meles Zenawi is the advocate for Africa’s renaissance.”
Meles, a regional heavyweight who ruled Ethiopia for 21 years after toppling dictator Mengistu Hailemariam, died on August 20 in a Brussels hospital at the age of 57.
He will be given the first state funeral staged for a leader of the Horn of Africa nation in more than 80 years.
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni are also expected to attend the funeral, along with senior officials from China, the European Union and the United States.
The funeral will begin in Addis Ababa’s vast Meskel Square, before heading to the National Palace. The body of Meles, who was a Christian, will be laid to rest in the Holy Trinity Church behind the palace.