Meles Zenawi, who ruled Ethiopia since 1991, has died suddenly at the age of 57. Few details have emerged, other than he was being treated in a hospital overseas when he succumbed to an infection.
Bill Clinton once hailed Zenawi as one of a "new breed of African democrats"; Tony Blair called him a "visionary leader". Yet few who champion democracy and human rights will mourn the former guerrilla fighter who claimed a farcical 99% of the vote in his country's last "elections".
During his 21-year rule, his security forces cracked down brutally on dissent, killing hundreds and jailing thousands of demonstrators. Life in Ethiopia under Zenawi took on an Orwellian dimension: merely using Skype can now land a citizen in jail for 15 years. The regime received billions in aid from the United States and its allies in return for acting as a willing partner in the "war on terror" (read: compliance in rendition, torture and launching drone attacks into neighbouring Somalia).
Yet without him, the future of Ethiopia looks perilous. His deputy, Hailemariam Desalegn, will take over temporarily. But there is no obvious successor, and there's fear of a north-south power struggle turning violent, perhaps even splitting the country, and triggering further upheaval in fragile neighbouring Somalia.
Learn more: Zenawi may have been a brutal dictator, but he played allies and enemies expertly. Watch this excellent, succinct account from Al Jazeera:
Sources: Daily Telegraph, BBC, Al Jazeera