Bahir Dar, 20 April 2013

Today in Bahir Dar, the Tana High Level forum on Security in Africa began by paying tribute to the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Held in honor of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and chaired by former Nigeria President Olesegun Obasanjo, this first session began with keynote remarks from President Kagame.

Praising Meles Zenawi’s ability to defy convention and prioritize results, President Kagame described Meles Zenawi as a colleague, a panafrican, a friend and a source of inspiration for many: “Meles Zenawi was a modernizer who dedicated his life to advance socio economic transformation of his country and the continent. He challenged and rejected conventional development models where they were not suitable. For doing what was right and being to true to his vision, values and principles, he earned the wrath of some but more significantly the admiration of many. Only a man of unusual courage, strong conviction, uncompromising integrity and selflessness could put the widespread criticism in its proper place and focus on meeting the needs of his people.

Addressing what many have described as the contradiction between building a strong state and promoting democracy, President Kagame reminded all those present that there can be no democracy without development: “The question has been raised about whether the emphasis on development and the role of the state in it is not done at the expense of democracy and people’s rights. For those who share Meles’ approach to development, there cannot be any contradiction between the two. They are mutually reinforcing. Sustainable socio-economic development gives rise to greater democracy and political rights can best be exercised and enjoyed in a climate of growing prosperity and improved quality of life.”

Speaking out against those who insist on defining what democracy should be for others, President Kagame emphasized that what matters most are results: “Genuine democracy can never be equated to election cycles only. It has to do with the engagement of ordinary citizens in making and implementing the choices that affect their lives.”

Following his remarks, President Kagame joined a panel discussion alongside Deputy Director for Africa for the UN Millenium Campaign Charles Abugre, Professor Akbar Noman of Columbia University and former Chairperson of the African Union Dr. Jean Ping where Meles Zenawi. The panelists discussed various aspects of Meles Zenawi vision of governance, economic development and his dedication to a self reliant and self sufficient Africa.

Self reliance is a mindset. It doesn’t mean we don’t want to work with anybody. Talking about aid, in the manner that emphasizes the need to reduce dependency does not mean you don’t need it. It means you have an ambition, you have a goal and you want to work towards generating your own resources as much as you can. It is a legitimate goal and ambition by any nation and by any people,” President Kagame explained.

Concluding the session, former Nigeria President and Chairman of the Forum Olesegun Obasanjo pointed to Meles Zenawi far reaching legacy: “Ethiopia gave us history to be proud of. With Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia has given us leadership that is exemplary.”

The first day of the Tana High Level Forum ended with discussions on the role of African nations in combating various forms of organized crimes and two keynote speeches from former South Africa President Thabo Mbeki and Sudanese President Omar al Bashir.