Sahle-Work Zewde Story
26th October 2018: A new leaf was written in Ethiopian political history, when Sahlework Zewde was appointed the African nation’s first female President by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. The 68-year-old Sahlework Zewde is a seasoned diplomat in the international stage. She has held multiple prestigious positions in the United Nations and worked extensively in peacekeeping operations in Africa.
The Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed is making immense efforts to change the scenario of his new cabinet. Half of his cabinet members are now women, which speaks high of his intention to change the radicalism by taking one more step towards gender parity. By appointing Sahlework Zewde as nation’s first female President, Abiy Ahmed has shown great courage for the world to acknowledge his noble intention to better lives of the nation.
Sahlework Zewde stated in her acceptance speech to the Parliament, “I am a product of people, who fought for equality and political freedom in this country. I will work hard to serve them. If you thought I spoke a lot about women already, know that I am just getting started.” She is leading the Defense Ministry and the Secret Intelligence Agency, a long-feared State-organ, which has been given a new face-lift. Now, it is called the Ministry of Peace, a first-of-its-kind in the world.
Fitsum Arega, the Prime Minister’s Chief of the Staff enthused, “In a patriarchal society such as ours, the appointment of a female Head of the State not only sets the standard for the future, but also normalizes women as decision makers in public life.” Even though the position of the President is considered largely ceremonial, involving opening Parliament and appointing ambassadors, the decision to place Sahlework Zewde in the role, carries significant symbolic weight.
Ethiopia is rapidly changing its past political ambience and the credit certainly goes to the new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. When he came to power in April 2018, Abiy Ahmed showed his clear intent to the African continent and the world, about a series of meteoric changes in Ethiopia. The country was being ruled like the Chinese communist leaders, who emphasized State-led economic growth and a suppression of political dissent. Things are rapidly changing in Ethiopia and the poor citizens have welcomed this new move.
The African nation was embroiled in a hostile environment in longtime rivalry with neighbouring country Eritrea. In the past six months, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed began loosening a tightly controlled State-run economy. He has opened up major industries to foreign investment, pledged multi-party elections, released thousands of political prisoners and allowed leaders of a previously outlawed opposition group to return to the country.
The Prime Minister has instilled faith and hope for the Ethiopian citizen by showcasing the reform mentality within the ruling party. He has pushed towards shaking up the bureaucracy. In spite of all the development in Ethiopia, the country has a conservative culture. Majority of women do not have equal opportunities as men in its rural backdrop. Ethnic tensions are high in various parts of the nation.
The Newly Elected President:
Sahlework Zewde was elected Ethiopia’s first female President by the members of the Parliament. An experienced diplomat, Sahlework became Africa's only female Head of the State. She was appointed a week after Abiy Ahmed appointed his new Cabinet staff comprising of 50% of women members. Sahlework was voted in, after the unexpected resignation of her predecessor Mulatu Teshome.
President Sahlework had served as an ambassador for Ethiopia in Senegal and Djibouti earlier. She had also held a number of UN positions, including the Head of the Peace-building in the Central African Republic. She was the UN representative at the African Union. The post of the President is ceremonial with the Prime Minister holding the political power in the Ethiopian Constitution.
The Journey of Success:
Sahlework Zewde was born on the 21st of February 1950 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She attended elementary and Secondary School at Lycée Guebre-Mariam in Addis Ababa. She graduated from University of Montpellier, France. She studied Natural Science. Sahlework is fluent in Amharic, French and English.
68-year-old Sahlework is a highly respected veteran in Ethiopian Foreign Service. From the year 1989 to 1993, she had served as the Ambassador to Senegal with accreditation to Mali, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Gambia and Guinea. Sahlework then became the Ambassador to Djibouti and Permanent Representative to the IGAD – Intergovernmental Authority on Development for nine long years till 2002. From 2002 to 2006, Sahlework served as the Ambassador to France, Permanent Representative to the UNESCO – United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and accredited to Tunisia and Morocco.
Sahlework Zewde had served as the Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic – BINUCA. She is a highly respected individual in the global arena for maintaining a strong stature with various ambassadors of the world. Sahlework had held a number of other high level positions, including Permanent Representative of Ethiopia to the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the Director-General for African Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia.
Sahlework Zewde’s country Ethiopia is Africa’s second most-populous country. Three decades ago, Ethiopia was a byword for famine. Now it has become more organized, ambitious and centrally-controlled than many other governments in the African continent. The present ruling coalition intends to transform it into a middle-income country by 2025.
In spite of suffering from large gender disparities, Ethiopia has made remarkable progress in recent times. In just a single generation, Ethiopia intends to increase the enrollment of girls in primary schools. Women are more prone to disease than men. Half of the country’s labour force is made up of women. Cases of female genital cutting and child marriages are still very prevalent in the nation, especially in the rural areas. Nearly 80 percent of the country’s population resides in the rural areas.
In the year 2011, Sahlework Zewde was appointed to the position of Director-General of the United Nations Office at Nairobi by the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. She was the first person to hold the post at the level of Under-Secretary-General. In June 2018, she was appointed by the United Nations Secretary General António Guterres as his special representative to the African Union and Head of the United Nations Office to the African Union as Under-Secretary-General. Previously, Sahlework was the Director General of the United Nations office in Nairobi, Kenya.
On the 25th of October 2018, Sahlework Zewde became Ethiopia's first woman President of the nation. It is indeed a great honour for her to achieve this high pedestal in her political career.