Though a minor oil and gas player, Ethiopia is increasingly attracting the attention of international oil investors following oil and gas discoveries in neighbouring countries – Uganda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Kenya.
Meles died from an as-yet unexplained illness late on Monday night in a hospital believed to be either in Belgium or Germany.
He had not been seen in public for around two months. Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegu will now be sworn in as his successor.
Recently a number of foreign industry players have shown an interest in Ethiopian oil and gas acreage with Africa Oil already active and others like Tullow and Marathon looking to develop assets.
The region has proven to hold considerable oil and gas reserves especially with discoveries in neighbouring South Sudan and Uganda as well as significant recent successes in nearby Tanzania and Kenya.
Ethiopia hopes to play a role in a planned oil pipeline to link South Sudan’s crude oilfields to the Kenyan port of Lamu.
As a land-locked nation which has effectively been at war with neighbour Eritrea since 1998, Ethiopia is heavily reliant on Kenya and particularly Djibouti for imports and exports.
Meles came to power as president in 1991 after overthrowing the military junta of Mengistu Haile Mariam.
Four years later the hardline Marxist-Leninist was prime minister and ruled largely with an iron fist for 21 years.
Ethiopia has increased its level of education under Meles and the economy has grown on average by 7% a year over the past decade. However, 85% of employment is still derived from agriculture and allegations of widespread human rights abuses abounded during his reign.
International powers appeared to have tolerated the alleged sins of Meles’ ruling party as Ethiopia has played a key role in influencing stability in the region, not least in its fight against Islamic terrorist group Al-Shabaab in neigbhouring South-Central Somalia.