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An Eventful Year Tribute to public figures

The year, like any other, also saw the passing away of individuals including some high profiles and prominent personalities widely recognized for their respective engagements in political, economic and social life of Ethiopia. Few of those prominent figures include:-

Hailu Shawel: the prominent dissident voice

It was this year, earlier in October, that Hailu Shawel (Eng.), a well-known political figure in Ethiopia, former chairman of the then Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) and the All Ethiopia Unity Party (AEUP) –successor of the All Amhara People’s Organization (AAPO) – was announced that he has passed away at the age of 80 in Bangkok, Thailand after receiving treatment there.

Hailu, who was born in Ankober town of Northern Shoa, in Amhara Regional State, in1936, was the successor of the late Asrat Woldeyes (Prof.) and Kegn Azmach Nekatibebe Bekele, as the head of the AAPO.

As a one of the strongest opposition political party in May 2005 election in Ethiopia, members and leaders of CUD was arrested as a result of the protests that followed the general elections; however, Hailu was under house arrest for some time before his detention along with other CUD leaders.

Later on, Hailu Shawel along with other 23 other CUD leaders were arrested and imprisoned on charges of attempted treason.

On December 2007, all twenty-four were pardoned by the President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia after they pleaded guilty and made public apologies.

 

Habteselassie Tafesse:  ‘the father of tourism’

The man known as the father of Ethiopia’s tourism, Hapteselassie Tafesse, died on Wednesday, August 9th. Known to have coined the phrase “13 months of Sunshine”, he was instrumental in helping make Ethiopia a tourist destination, rather than the face of poverty to the world.

A gifted communicator, an orator, he was an advocate for the transformation of the country as a unique nation, one that can market its culture and bring resources to its coffers. The 90-year-old was born in 1927 in Addis Ababa to a career diplomat - Tafesse.

Legendary story teller: Ababa Tesfaye

Ababa Tesfaye is an icon in Ethiopian history, for he spent a good portion of his life nurturing Ethiopian children morally. He is a father figure to millions of children all over the country. The entertainer and educator, Tesfaye Sahelu, rather widely known as Ababa Tesfaye, was the most sought-after artist. It was eagerly parents and children await Yelejoch Gizé, Children’s Show.

During times when there was no alternative TV channel for children, Ababa Tesfaye was the only and the right choice for every family. His common word “lejoch yèzaré abèbawoch yènègè feréwoch dèhna nachu lejoch,” loosely translated as, “children, today’s seeds and tomorrow’s flowers!” is still engraved on the heart of every Ethiopian adult.

 

Negash Gebremariam : The veteran Journalist

Negash Gebremariam has been regarded as one of the few revered journalist and author, in Ethiopia. Unfortunately, it was this year that he had his last breath at the age of 92 after his battle with prostate cancer for over a decade.

Negash, a newspaperman at heart, worked at the Ethiopian Herald for a year and edited the Amharic daily Addis Zemen for four years, the paper that had been run by priest educated people for the previous 20 years. With his four years journalism training in the United States, Negash had to undertake the task of upgrading the layout, story placement, headlines and introducing the idea and coining the Amharic word for “editorial” consulting a renowned Geez scholar, Leke Seyouman Aklilu. After Addis Zemen, he would leave to serve as assistant manager of the radio and television department and later as general manager of the Ethiopian News Agency. During his decades of professional service, he was credited as the outstanding journalist who modernized the local journalism profession.

Pankhurst – a friend indeed

It was this year in February the other big figure Richard Pankhurst (PhD) passed away at 90.

He was one of Ethiopia’s greatest friends during his long and productive life, and his scholarship and understanding for Ethiopia will be sorely missed.

The son of Sylvia Pankhurst, a staunch supporter of Ethiopia’s struggle against Italy in the 1930s, Pankhurst came to Ethiopia in 1956 and devoted his life to Ethiopian studies, writing over 20 books and editing many more on aspects of Ethiopia’s history, culture and economics.

He was the founding Director of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies and a leading figure in the Friends of Ethiopia.

He was also instrumental in the successful campaign to get the Axum obelisk re-erected in 2008 in Ethiopia, back from Italy, for which he was given an award of recognition by President Dr. Mulatu Teshome.

He was also awarded Order of the British Empire (OBE) by the British government for his services to Ethiopian studies.

Gebru Mersha–a beloved and daring academic

A mentor and beloved figure for many political science and international relations students, Gebru Mersha (PhD), passed away this year in February. He was 76. Unapologetically vocal against any injustice, he served as the chair of Addis Ababa University’s Office of the Ombudsman. He was also a champion of women’s right without which he believed democracy in Ethiopia or elsewhere was unthinkable. 

Born in Gurage zone Ezja woreda, a.k.a. Girar kebele, Gebru attended primary school in Bishoftu (formerly Debre Zeit) and secondary school the Ambo Emperor Haileselassie I School. Before joining the political science department, he briefly worked in the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia and also did some teaching. One of the pioneers of the student movement, Gebru enrolled in the political science and international relations department of the AAU along with such renowned figures as Birhanemeskel Reda and Zeru Kehishen.