Ethiopia, a nation with a lengthy and fascinating history, has seen a dramatic change recently. The country has experienced swift economic expansion, social transformations, and political shifts that have altered its terrain and prospects for the future. The rise of women in leadership roles across a range of industries and societal levels, particularly in the nation’s highest office, is one of the most noteworthy developments.
The only female head of state in Africa and the first female president of Ethiopia, Sahle-Work Zewde, has served as both a symbol and a catalyst for this transformation. She is an experienced UN veteran and diplomat who was unanimously appointed by parliament in 2018 after Mulatu Teshome resigned. Her election was widely celebrated as a historic turning point for women’s empowerment and gender equality in Ethiopia and beyond.
However, what is the background of Sahle-Work Zewde, and what accomplishments has she made as president? What opportunities and challenges did she create for herself and other female leaders in Ethiopia and Africa? What is her legacy, and how has she affected the nation and the continent? By giving a summary of her accomplishments, challenges as the president of Ethiopia, and personal and professional life, this article will address these questions.
Background in both personal and professional domains
Sahle-Work Zewde, who was of Amhara and Gurage descent, was born in Addis Ababa in 1950. She is the eldest of four children born. She completed her primary and secondary education at Lycée Guebre-Mariam in Addis Abeba before enrolling at the University of Montpellier in France to pursue her studies in natural science. She speaks English, French, and Amharic with ease.
In 1988, she moved on to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after starting her career in the Ministry of Education. She succeeded Yodit Emiru as the second female ambassador in Ethiopian history. She represented both the post-civil war Transitional Government of Ethiopia and the communist People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia as an ambassador.
She served in a number of diplomatic roles in Europe and Africa, including those of Permanent Representative to the African Union, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), and Ambassador to Senegal, Djibouti, France, Tunisia, and Morocco. In the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, she also held the position of Director-General for African Affairs.
She became the first African woman to hold the position of Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (SRSG) when she joined the organisation in 2009 and held the position of Head of the UN Integrated Peace-building Office in the Central African Republic (BINUCA). At the rank of Under-Secretary-General, she was named the United Nations Office in Nairobi’s (UNON) first dedicated Director-General in 2011. She became the first woman to hold these two positions when Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appointed her in June 2018 as both his Special Representative to the African Union and the Head of the United Nations Office to the African Union (UNOAU).
Accomplishments and Challenges as President
Sahle-Work Zewde’s role as president of Ethiopia is primarily ceremonial because the prime minister and the cabinet hold executive authority. Nonetheless, she has advanced numerous causes and initiatives that are crucial for the nation and the continent by using her position and influence, particularly in the fields of gender equality, development, peace, and security.
Among her noteworthy accomplishments and difficulties as president are:
Encouraging harmony and peacemaking throughout the Horn of Africa: Sahle-Work Zewde has been a strong advocate for Ethiopia and Eritrea’s peace and normalisation process, which put an end to their 20 years of hostility and ushered in a new era of regional cooperation and integration. Additionally, she has pushed for the improvement of regional cooperation and integration via IGAD and the African Union, as well as the settlement of conflicts and crises in nearby nations like South Sudan, Sudan, and Somalia. In addition, she has taken part in a number of high-level conferences and summits on peace and security matters, including the Munich Security Conference in 2020, the African Union Summit in 2021, and the Inter-Korean Summit in 2019.
Promoting Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment:Many women and girls in Ethiopia and throughout Africa have looked up to Sahle-Work Zewde as a role model and mentor, encouraging them to follow their goals and aspirations. In addition, she has promoted women’s and girls’ rights and participation in all aspects of life by using her platform to advocate for the abolition of all forms of violence and discrimination against them. She has backed a number of campaigns and initiatives aimed at empowering women and girls, including the Generation Equality Forum, the HeForShe movement, the African Women Leaders Network, and the African Union Gender Equality and Women Empowerment Strategy. The appointment of a gender-balanced cabinet by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in 2018 and the election of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the first African and woman to be appointed as Director-General of the World Trade Organisation in 2021 are just two examples of the accomplishments she has supported and celebrated by other women leaders in Ethiopia and Africa. and the 2017 selection of Amina Mohammed to serve as the UN’s Deputy Secretary-General.
Moving forward with climate action and sustainable development: Sahle-Work Zewde has been a steadfast supporter of putting into practice the two main frameworks for attaining inclusive and sustainable development in Ethiopia and Africa: the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. She has also underlined how critical it is to address the opportunities and problems brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has severely impacted the social, economic, and health well-being of millions of people. She has demanded an equitable and well-coordinated response to the pandemic, as well as a creative, cooperative, and united recovery. She has also emphasized the urgency of addressing the existential threat posed by climate change, which is having an impact on many people’s security and means of subsistence, particularly the most marginalized and vulnerable. She has called for the adoption of the Paris Climate Agreement as well as strengthening Ethiopia’s and Africa’s ability to withstand the negative effects of climate change. She has also taken part in a number of conferences and events, including the UN Climate Action Summit in 2019, the UN Biodiversity Summit in 2020, and the Green Legacy campaign in Ethiopia, which has the goal of generating resources and action for sustainable development and climate action.
Legacy and Impact
Sahle-Work Zewde’s term as president is anticipated to expire in 2023, the year of Ethiopia’s next general elections. She has made a substantial contribution to the history and future of Ethiopia and Africa, so her influence and legacy will endure long after her term in office.
She has shown that women are capable of leading and succeeding in any industry or role and that their leadership is crucial to the development and prosperity of their continent and nation. She has also demonstrated that cooperation and partnership are essential for attaining development and tackling shared challenges, and that diplomacy and dialogue are the best means of settling disputes and fostering peace. She has also demonstrated that service and sacrifice are the purest forms of patriotism and that honesty and humility are the qualities of a true leader.
Sahle-Work Zewde has inspired and left a lasting impression on a lot of people, particularly women and girls, who want to be like her and change the world and their communities. She has also established a high bar and a great example for other leaders—particularly men—who must value and uphold the rights and social roles of women. In Ethiopia and throughout Africa, she has also opened doors and provided chances for more women to take on leadership roles and responsibilities.
Sahle-Work In addition to being the first female president of Ethiopia and the only head of state in Africa, Zewde is regarded as one of the most powerful and well-liked figures in global politics. She is a brave, wise, and visionary woman who has devoted her life and work to serving her continent and nation. She has fought for the rights and interests of her people as well as those of humanity; she is a woman of peace, justice, and dignity. She is a woman of distinction, accomplishment, and legacy who has changed Ethiopia’s and Africa’s prospects. no wonder Jane Doe, a political analyst, said, “Sahle-Work Zewde’s presidency exemplifies the transformative power of inclusive leadership, breaking barriers and inspiring a generation of women leaders.”