Hailu Shawel (Eng), a public servant, notable for his active political engagement was laid to rest on October 11.2016, at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Abeba. He passed away on October 6, 2016, after an undisclosed illness he was getting treatment for in Thailand.
Though his political engagement declined after the infamous handshake with Meles Zenawi, Former Prime Minister. He was among the top icons of politics – particularly in the opposition league.
Prior to his late engagement in the political space, he served in different public offices, all the way to the Ministerial level, during both the Imperial and the military rule.
Hailu, as an engineer, started his professional career back in the late 50’s, upon graduation from Detroit based Wayne State University.
His first encounter gave him the confidence to aspire to bridge the gap between the country’s potential and its failure to optimise its resources. He was assigned as a chief hydrologist on the Blue Nile Investigation project.
Later, navigating between the private sector, at Shell International, and public offices, he served as a founding general manager of the current Ethiopian Roads Authority since 1971. He was among the few that stayed behind in the country smashed by political killings, when most of his peers lost their lives or fled to the West.
Staying behind, he worked as managing officer of various sugar corporations and farms; later to be promoted to the Minister for State farms Development.
His 25 years of public service in the early 80’s ended when he established his own private company, dubbed, after his father, Shawel Consult.
His political journey started off in early 90’s under the mentorship of Asrat Woldeyes (Prof.) in the United Amhara People’s Party. He has served in different executive posts as a protégée of Asrat, until the former was arrested and passed away.
The peak of his political engagement, as a 69-year-old engineer, came with his chairmanship of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) Party,aka Kinjit.
It was Hailu, as chairperson of the CUD, who declared, on September 18, 2005, that his party will not join Parliament, calling for the EPRDF to let loose its grip on power once and for all. This was a critical decision that brought division within the inner circles of the CUD, with Lidetu Ayalew and Birhanu Nega (PhD) as the contending figures.
In June 2005, Hailu, along with other top leaders of the CUD, were put under house arrest over their alleged involvement in the planning of riots that followed the revelation of the election outcomes and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people. Charged and tried for treason, and sentenced to life imprisonment. He served two years where he often took part in hunger strikes,deteriorating his medical conditions.
After serving two years, Hailu, along with his comrades, were pardoned after signing documents admitting to their responsibility for the violence.
Following all these up and downs, the CUD could not continue as it was. Hailu reverted as a leader of the All Ethiopian Unity Party (AEUO). The fractured and dismantled CUD ended up in the hands of a new faction.
He was later a signatory of election code of conduct along with four political party leaders, announcing the successful completion of a first round of negotiations to seal a landmark agreement on a code of conduct for the elections- followed by the infamous handshake.
“We were there,” AEUO’s chair, Hailu Shawel, said in his speech, referring to others he sees as still consumed by the politics of cynicism, hatred and bitterness. “We moved on and now we all learn to respect and see each other as friends do. When the negotiations started, we were all indifferent to one another and now we are all friends.”
Following the 2010 election and this historic, controversial signing, his role in Ethiopian politics in general and particular in the party he led started to decline. He has been almost invisible in the political arena over the past five years until his death. He was seeking medical treatment in Thailand when he passed away on October 6th. His funeral service was attended by members of his family, friends and representatives of political parties. He is survived by his six children.
Hailu was born to his father, Shawel Gizaw, and Mother, Desta Robi, in the Kebena area of Addis Abeba in 1936. He got his primary and secondary education at the Menelik II schools and completed his studies with great distinction.
By Menna Asrat
FORTUNE STAFF WRITER