“If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader.”-Dolly Parton
Ethiopia’s new president, Sahle-Work Zewde has joined the ranks of African women that are leading history as pioneers and leaders in male-dominated spheres like politics. Her appointment on Thursday, comes shortly after Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed appointed a gender-parity cabinet that included 10 female ministers out of 20.
She joins the list of persons to have served as heads of state to Eastern Africa’s most industrialised country. The list which is an interesting mix of murderous tyrants and benevolent leaders has never before had a woman as a part of it. Ethiopia is a unique country because it is the oldest independent country in Africa, and among the oldest in the world, as its history can be traced to more than 2,000 years ago.
After Haile Sellasie was toppled the next president was strongman Mengistu Haile Miriam. He was installed to power in 1974 and was in power for 17 years. He attempted to introduce the communist rule but instead plunged the country into a reign of terror. He became known as the butcher of Addis Ababa, and it is estimated more than 150,000 died from his repression and torture. When finally the Soviet Union withdrew its support from him the already weakened Ethiopian economy was in ruins. In 1991 Mengistu resigned and fled to Zimbabwe. He was tried in his absence and found guilty and was sentenced to life incarceration and in 2008 was sentenced to death. Successive governments lobbied for his extradition but were not successful.
Meles Zenawi took over the office after Mengistu. Zenawi was the also the prime minister of Ethiopia from 1995 to 2012 when he passed on. He served as the president of the transitional government of Ethiopia from 1991 to 1995 when he became the prime minister. Zenawi dropped out of college in 1975 and joined Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in opposition of the Derg. After the coup that toppled the military regime, Zenawi was elected interim president and later as Prime Minister. Zenawi’s government is credited with reforms such as the introduction of the multiparty in the country and the introduction of the private press. During his regime, there was a significant decrease in child mortality rates. He became a close ally of the US particularly on the war on terror.
Negasso Gidada was elected president of Ethiopia on August 22, 1995, and left office on October 8, 2001 at the expiration of his term. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 2005 general election. In 2008 he was among the founders of the Forum for the Democratic Dialogue (FDD). Other presidents of Ethiopia have included Girma Wolde-Giorgis, who served from 2001 to 2013, and the current president Malatu Teshome, who was elected to office in 2013-2018
After Zewdes appointment, the African Union chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat commended Ethiopia and Rwanda for taking strides to demonstrate that men and women are equal in politics.
‘‘The momentum to recognise men and women as equal in politics is vital as we work towards the Africa we want,’‘Faki said. Zewde is currently the only female head of state in Africa, after Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who was the first democratically elected female president, handed over office in January, having served the constitutionally mandated two terms.
Serving as the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative to the African Union, Zewde is an exceptional diplomat who has served the global organisation and her country for several years. She has served in ambassadorial roles for Ethiopia to Senegal, Djibouti, France, the United Nations and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). Zewde will serve in her capacity as president of the federal republic of Ethiopia, for the next six years and while the position is largely ceremonial, she has already indicated that she will pursue an agenda to promote peace and women empowerment.
She now joins the rank of continent shaping women such as Rwanda’s Louise Mushikiwabo. Having served as Rwanda’s top diplomat since 2009, Louise Mushikiwabo, who previously worked at the African Development Bank, relinquished her position this month when she was elected secretary-general of the International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF). The 57-year old will for the next four years, oversee the activities of the global body that brings together 58 countries and regional governments, representing 274 million speakers of French around the world.
This is also in addition to Senegalese Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura who was appointed to the role in 2016, and has served with distinction, implementing FIFA’s reform agenda and organising the record breaking World Cup tournament in Russia. She is the highest ranking female official in the world’s football governing body, and the first ever woman to achieve the rank of FIFA secretary-general.