Ethiopian PM praises Blair as "friend of Africa"

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi speaks during an interview with Reuters inside his palace in Addis Ababa May 16, 2007. Zenawi praised Tony Blair on Wednesday for his commitment to Africa. REUTERS/Andrew Heavens

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi praised Tony Blair on Wednesday for his commitment to Africa.

“He has been a great friend for Africa,” said Meles, a close ally of Blair who sat on his Africa Commission, created to diagnose the continent’s problems.

“I doubt whether Africa has had a more sincere friend at 10 Downing Street than Tony Blair,” Meles added. “I am happy that he is leaving on his own terms ... I wish him all the best.”

Increasingly unpopular at home because of the Iraq war, Blair, who steps down next month after 10 years in office, is generally warmly regarded in Africa for pushing the continent’s problems up the global political agenda and increasing UK aid.

Meles, in an interview with Reuters, said Blair’s likely successor, finance minister Gordon Brown, had displayed similar commitment to the world’s poorest continent on aid, trade and debt issues.

“He has been very committed to Tony Blair’s agenda on Africa,” the Ethiopian leader said.

“Under his watch as chancellor, UK development assistance to Africa has shot up dramatically. His money was where his mouth was. And therefore it would be reasonable to assume that this would not change when he moves next door.”

After being hailed as a model progressive African leader in the 1990s, Meles’ good ties with London soured when violence followed elections in 2005, and security forces shot scores of people on the streets of Addis Ababa.

But Meles said the relationship with Britain had now recovered to its previously healthy state.