Sahle-Work Zewde is an Ethiopian politician and the current President of Ethiopia, being the first woman to hold the office. She was elected president unanimously by members of the Federal Parliamentary Assembly on 25 October 2018.
Sahle-Work Zewde was previously Special Representative of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres to the African Union and Head of the United Nations Office to the African Union as “Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations.”
American business magazine Forbes, on its annual edition of the Forbes list of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women, listed Sahle-Work as the 96th most powerful woman in the world, and the highest-ranking African woman on the list.
SAHLE-WORK ZEWDE: BACKGROUND
Sahlw-Work Zewde was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on the 21st of February, 1950. She attended elementary and secondary school at Lycée Guebre-Mariam in Addis Ababa, after which she studied natural science at the University of Montpellier, France. She speaks fluently in Amharic, French, and the English language.
Sahle-Work was only the second woman to be appointed an ambassador in Ethiopia’s history (Ambassador Yodit Emiru was the first woman to hold an ambassadorship status in Ethiopia).
Sahle-Work Zewde is a veteran in the Ethiopian foreign service, having served as Ambassador to Senegal, with accreditation to Mali, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Gambia and Guinea, all between 1989 and 1993.
From 1993 to 2002, Sahle-Work Zewde was Ambassador to Djibouti as well as Permanent Representative to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
She later served as Ambassador to France, Permanent Representative to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and she was accredited to Tunisia and Morocco from 2002 to 2006.
Sahle-Work Zewde subsequently held other high level positions including Permanent Representative of Ethiopia to the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and Director-General for African Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia.
Until 2011, Sahle-Work served as Special Representative of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Head of the United Nations Integrated Peace-building Office in the Central African Republic (BINUCA).
In 2011, Ban Ki-Moon appointed Sahle-Work Zewde as Director-General of the United Nations Office at Nairobi (UNON). Under her administration, the Nairobi office became a more important UN hub for East and Central Africa, according to the 2012 Africa Yearbook.
In June 2018, Secretary-General António Guterres appointed Sahle-Work Zewde as his Special Representative to the African Union and Head of the United Nations Office to the African Union (UNOAU) at the level of Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations. This made her the first woman to ever hold the post.
APPOINTMENT AS PRESIDENT
On 25 October 2018, Sahle-Work Zewde was appointed President of Ethiopia, thereby becoming the first woman to serve in the role and the fourth president since the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition was elected in the newly established Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia in 1995.
Sahle-Work Zewde’s presidency, though largely ceremonial (with most executive power lying with the Prime Minister), made her Ethiopia’s first female head of state since Empress Zewditu. As of 2021, she is one of two serving female heads of state in Africa.
On 25 March 2020, Sahle-Work announced through her official Twitter account that she had pardoned more than 4,000 prisoners in a move to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ethiopia. She also pardoned more than 1,500 prisoners on 2 April 2020.
On 19 December, 2020, Sahle-Work Zewde commuted the death sentences of former Derg officials Berhanu Bayeh and Adis Tedla to life imprisonment. They had been granted safe haven in the Italian embassy soon after the Derg regime’s collapse in 1991 and had been living there ever since.
Italy refused to give them up because of its long-standing opposition to capital punishment. Berhanu and Adis had been sentenced in absentia to death in 2008, but were subsequently granted parole on 24 December.
Sahle-Work Zewde by virtue of her qualifications, and her portfolio of diplomatic and political experience, can be said to be one of the most influential and powerful women in Ethiopia, and Africa at large. Her current position as Ethiopia’s president definitely sets her as the most important woman in Ethiopia.
By Oluwamayowa Akinyemi
Oluwamayowa Akinyemi is a digital and web content developer with experience in web content development and management as well as research and writing. He is an avid reader of random subject matters and a sucker for movies and video games. He is also passionate about youth empowerment and is a global affairs analyst and enthusiast.