The past year witnessed the loss of prominent Ethiopian visionaries, artists and athletes. They have left a significant impact on the country and its youth as a whole. Their works and contributions have inspired many in the past and will continue to inspire the future generations. The nation has been grieving the loss of artists such as Tesfaye Sahlu, Solomon Lulu and recently, visionaries like Wolday Amha. ABEL WABELLA, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER, takes a glance at their lives and achievements to commemorate them.
October 11, 2016
A public servant and notable political figure, Hailu Shawel (Eng.) was born in Kebena area of Addis Abeba in 1936. He attended his primary and secondary education at the Menelik II schools. After he graduated from Detroit based Wayne State University, he had served the nation in different responsibilities. He was a chief hydrologist in the Blue Nile Investigation Project and had played a managerial role in Ethiopian Roads Authority, Sugar Corporations and Farms later to be promoted as the Minister for State Farms Development. Shell International and Shawel Consult, the companies he had formed after he quit serving the public, were his involvements in the private sector.
He joined politics under the mentorship of Asrat Woldeyes (Prof.). After his guide was arrested and passed away, he took the leadership of United Amhara People’s Party. After his party changed its party name to All Ethiopian Unity Party (AEUO), he was successful in attracting millions to his party from all over the country. The Party became a significant member party when Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) Party, a.k.a Kinjit was formed, and Hailu took the chairmanship. The father of six, Hailu, has passed away on October 6 and was laid to rest on October 11.2016, at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Abeba.
December 6, 2016
A Politician, Tesfaye Dinka was born in 1939, in Ambo town of Oromia Regional State. After his elementary education in Ambo, he attended the General Wingate Secondary School. He earned his Master’s degree from Syracuse University and a bachelor’s degree from the American University in Beirut.
Tesfaye was one of the most highly educated officials of the military government. He served in different ministerial position including the Foreign Minister and Prime Minister. His speech in support of United Nation’s resolution in the first Gulf War put much impression in the eyes of international community. He represented Ethiopian government in London Conference which was planned to end the civil war. But He did not take part in the conference because the government lost control of army units and the Mediator US Assistant Secretary, Assistant Herman J. Cohen urged Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) forces to monitor the capital and establish control.
In his exile, he worked for the World Bank and other agencies. He lived for years in the U.S. and was a Senior Advisor to the Global Coalition for Africa, an organisation dedicated to the economic development of Africa. He wrote a book entitled ‘ETHIOPIA: During the Derg Years’ before he died on December 6, 2016, in Fairfax, Virginia, aged 77, and is survived by his wife, four children, and four grandchildren.
December 21, 2016
A corporate lawyer, Teshome Gebremariam was born in Adama (Nazareth) of Oromia Regional State, in 1930. He was a Graduate of McGill University in Canada, where he received a Master’s degree in Comparative Law; he had worked as the principal legal advisor of the Ethiopian Airlines, and the Executive Assistant to its General Manager. He was the first native Ethiopian Attorney General and Minister of State at the Ministry of Mines & Energy. In collaboration with Ketema Yifru and Kifle Wodajo, they drafted the charter of Organization of African Unity (OAU) at the time of its formation.
He was arrested for nine years under military government, although neither charged nor convicted of any crime. He was the first witness for the prosecution during the trial of members of the Dergue who stood trial in 1996. He testified that he and many others were imprisoned in the cellar of the Grand Palace.
Immediately after his release from jail, he served Ministry of Labour & Social Affairs as a legal consultant, then he established a private law firm. He was a member of international law societies such as the International Barrister’s Association, and the Ethiopian Lawyers’ Association. He had been working with international companies who have an investment in Ethiopia and United nation’s project to support the mining sector in Africa. Teshome passed away during a business trip to Namibia, on his birthday. His wife, a daughter and a granddaughter survive him.
February 16, 2017
A Renowned Scholar of Ethiopian Studies, Richard Pankhurst was born in England on December 3, 1927. Pankhurst (PhD) studied at Bancroft’s School in Woodford, then at the London School of Economics, from where he received a doctorate in Economic History. Richard has got his passion for Ethiopia from his mother, Sylvia Pankhurst, a champion of women’s right movement in Britain and campaigned against Italian fascist aggression on Ethiopia by writing several publications. When his mother moved to Ethiopia, she brought him with his wife.
His time spent writing about and studying Ethiopian culture, politics and history eventually sparked in him a passion for activism. Much of his time until the end of his life was dedicated to campaigning for the return of artefacts looted from Ethiopia during various invasions, or being sold in market stalls to tourists. He was successful in bringing back the obelisk of Axum from Italy but failed to do the same to Ethiopian treasures looted after the battle of Meqdela.
He was the founding director of Ethiopian studies. He was a co-founder of the Journal of Ethiopian Studies and co-edited it for many years. He wrote and edited more than 40 books exclusively on Ethiopian related issue. He died of Parkinson’s disease on February 16, 2017. He was given a state funeral on February 21, 2017, at the Holy Trinity Cathedral church in Addis Ababa, next to his mother. His wife, his two children, and grandchildren survive him.
April 23, 2017
A politician and writer, Assefa Chabo was born in Chencha, in the Gamo Gofa Zone of the Southern Nations Nationalities & Peoples’ Regional State. A graduate of Law from Haile Selassie I University, his appearance before the 1972 Phillip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition was one of the milestones in his academic career. With his team members, Goshu Wolde (later Colonel and now living in the US) and Abdul Wasie Yusuf, he won the Best Memorial title, even though they were runners up in the Jessup World Cup Championship.
He was a figure to reckon with in the nation’s two missed opportunities; 1974 and 1991. He has maintaineda brief friendship with the former state leaders Mengistu Hailemariam (Col) and Meles Zenawi. Unfortunately, He had served eight years of imprisonment during Dergue and exiled in the time of transition government after EPRDF came to power.
Even though his book titled “Yetizita Feleg”, literally translated ‘threads of nostalgia’ and his social media visibility introduced him to the new generation his writing talent, as a wordsmith he is unarguably prolific. After two decades of exile life in the US, he died on April 23, 2017. Three children and nine grandchildren survive Assefa.
April 7, 2017
A war-hero and Patriot, Jagama Kello was born in the Ginchi area of Shewa, 81km from Addis Abeba. Just before the Second World War had fully surfaced and the Italian fascist forces invaded Ethiopia, Jagama was a fifteen year old boy. His youth did not fool him to trade his liberty for nothing. He went to the bush with his peers without having guns; the only armed man in the group was Jagama’s elder brother. They became experts in ambushing Italian troops, and their fame became widespread not only among Patriots at that time but also among the invaders. In a single surprise attack, they had managed to kill 72 Italian soldiers and captured 3,000 rifles.
After Italy was defeated, Jagama started his long and successful military career. He was very loyal to the Emperor, and had played a key role in reversing a coup d’état conspired by Neway brothers. Wounded many times, surviving a helicopter crash and many other wartime patriotic acts were his adventures in Ethiopia-Somalia war. He led the mission to crush Bale rebellion successfully and made stability without much bloodshed. He retired from the military with a rank of Lieutenant General. His wife Aster, his five daughters, five grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren survive him.
December 22, 2016
An Olympic medalist Athlete, Miruts Yifter was born in Adigrat, in the Tigray Regional State of Ethiopia. In the earlier part of his adolescence Miruts worked in different factories and as a carriage driver. His running ability was exposed when he joined Ethiopian Air Force.
He showed off his talented legs to the world in 1971 when he ran in the first United States-Pan Africa Meet, in North Carolina, US. Then, he appeared in Munich 1972 and won a bronze medal in 10,000m long distance race, though he failed to appear in the 5,000m race. He was arrested for months because the authorities at the time took it as a sign of malingering. Fortunately, he had the privilege to continue his training in prison.
When he was preparing for Montreal Olympics 1976, he learnt that Ethiopia had boycotted the game because of International Olympic Committee’s failure to ban pro-apartheid New Zealand, the Olympic team at that time.
During Moscow Olympics, he won double gold medals in a style the world had never seen before. His tactic of accelerating in the final laps of the race was the reason behind his widely known name, Yifter the Shifter. He was part of the gold-medal-winning team at the 1982 and 1983 International Cross-Country Championships.
Later in the 1990s, He was removed from national team coaching job, fled to Canada and claimed security forces physically abused him. He engaged in athletic coaching in his exile life. Miruts died at the age of 72 due to respiratory ailments. Miruts had seven children, most of whom live outside Ethiopia.
April 27, 2017
Renowned Astrophysicist, Legesse Wetro (PhD) was born in Arsi Negele, in the Oromia Regional State. He started his primary education in Asella. After he studied physics at Bedemariam Elite School at Addis Ababa University (AAU), he taught in Nifas Silk Secondary School for two years. After earning two Masters at AAU and University of Sheffield, England, Legesse did his PhD from the University of California in Astrophysics.
His outstanding academic performance attracted many scientific journals to publish his researches. He was the Founder of Ethiopian Space Science Society (ESSS) and founding member of the Ethiopian Academy of Sciences, African Astronomical Society, African and Ethiopian Physical Societies.
One of his notable achievements as an Astrophysicist was solving the problem of geomagnetic field reversals that had been lingering for more than four centuries in the academic circle. After returning home, he taught at Addis Ababa University and started producing a radio program on the nation’s first FM station. This program has introduced him to the wider public. The lead scientist in theoretical pulsar astrophysics died on April 27, 2017, and his funeral was held at Peter and Paul Church, Addis Ababa. His wife and three children survive him.
July 17, 2017
A Journalist and Author, Negash Gebre-Mariam was born in Wollo, Amhara Regional state. He had grown up in Harar, went to school in Chiro, a.k.a Asebe Teferi.
He started working at a mission school in Jimma. Later, while working for the US Information Service, he got a chance to study journalism at Montana University, in the US. Henceforward, after working in The Ethiopian Herald for a year, he transferred to Addis Zemen. Negash grabbed the credit of coining the Amharic equivalent for the word ‘editorial’ after consulting with well-known Geez scholar, Leke Seyouman Aklilu.
After that he was enrolled in many offices until he was forced to retire at the age of 52. Negash was also happy with decision. General Manager of the Ethiopian News Agency (ENA), Acting Head of the state radio and television are some of posts he had assumed.
On his taking away, he wrote the widely known, satirical play ‘Ye Azawintoch Kebeb’ taking his jobless, educated gang circle as an inspiration. Negash enjoyed living with his family in the final chapter of his life. At last, cancer won over the formidable journalist at the age 90. His wife and his two children survived him.
June 05, 2017
National team striker, Assged Tesfaye was born in Dire Dawa, in 1970. He was educated in his hometown. He started his football career in th Dire Dawa City Coca cola team. Henceforth, he played for the nation’s bigger football clubs; Ethiopia Insurance FC, St. George FC Ethiopian, and Ethiopian Coffee FC for 16 years.
He was one of the most successful strikers the country had ever seen. Some of his fans did not blink their eyes refering to him as Ethiopia’s Romario. Even though Ethiopia did not register significant favourable outcomes at his peak time, he got a chance to show his talent to the continent, Africa. He was the highest goal scorer in the 23rd CECAFA Cup championship; He holds a record of scoring five goals in a single game in CAF Champions League. After he quit playing football in the major tournaments, Asseged focused on youth training and advising the national team’s technical committee. He was laid to rest in Sealite Mihret St. Mary Church on June 05, 2017. His wife and his son survive Assged.
Tekalign Mamo (Prof.)
Septemeber 08, 2017
Soil Scientist, Tekalign Mamo (Prof.) was born in Neqemte, Oromia Regional State, 318Km from Addis Abeba, in 1956. First, he attended Haramaya University to study Plant Science. He did his MSc & PhD in Soil Chemistry and Soil Fertility at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.
He played a managerial role when Ethiopia rehabilitated more than 15 million hectares of degraded land through a successful community-based participatory watershed development strategy. Professor Tekalign was also responsible for conceiving and recommending a countrywide digital soil fertility survey of agricultural land, the Ethiopian Soil Information System (EthioSIS), which is the most advanced soil fertility mapping on the African continent.
He has published over 75 scientific papers and book chapters in peer-reviewed journals locally and abroad. He has received several awards for his outstanding contribution to improving soil health and natural resource bases in Ethiopia, benefiting over 11 million smallholder farmers. He went to England to get medical treatment. Unfortunately, he could not make it. His funeral was held at Holy Trinity Cathedral on this Saturday, September 9, 2017. His wife and his two daughters survive him.
Tesfaye Sahlu a.k.a Ababa Tesfaye
July 31, 2017
A Singer, actor, choreographer, storyteller, musician, lyricist, children’s book writer and magician, Tesfaye Sahilu was born in Bale in Oromia Regional State in 1924. Tesfaye Sahlu, now better known by the name of his famous TV character Ababa Tesfaye, was educated in Genir Bale, Harer and Kokebe Tsibah School, Addis Abeba.
He had started his professional artistic career employed in City Hall Theatre & Cultural Centre in Addis Abeba as an actor. He passionately played characters of every kind in plays like “Ha Hu Be Sidist Wor” and “Oedipus.” Since that time he has played in more than 70 theatres, in some, as an actress to cover the scarcity of female artists at that point.
Tesfaye who had served in United Nations forces in the Korean War, a.k.a Kagnew Battalion was a Jack-of-all-trades. He was awarded three golden watches from the last king of the nation. The children’s TV show he had been presenting in the state media, has served as a source of entertainment and moral values for more than a generation. On his retirement, he wrote four children’s books. Ababa Tesfaye died at the age of 96, and his funeral was conducted at the Holy Trinity Cathedral on August 2, 2017.
Aug 08, 2017
The Father of Ethiopian Tourism, Habte-Selassie Taffesse was born in Addis Abeba in 1927. He had grown up with two other families in addition to his biological parents. He began his primary education and studied the Greek language in Greece. After studying English, Spanish and French in Alexandria, egypt he went to Carlton College in Northfield, Minnesota and graduated in Government & International Relations.
He served in Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a while, and with a direct order of the Emperor Haile Selassie, he established the Ethiopian Tourism out of the blue with limited resources. He introduced duty-free shops, and the capital he generated from it helped him expand the activities of the tourism commission. He is also the creator of national tourism brand ‘Thirteen months of Sunshine’ which served the nation well in the promotion. The tour package crafted by him gave chance to visitors to see the sources of the Nile, Lake Tana, Gonder, Lalibela and Axum in a single trip. After all these extraordinary contributions to the nation, Habte-Selassie spent more than eight years in prison under the Derg regime.
The pioneer of tourism in Ethiopia was buried at the Holy Trinity Cathedral Church, on Sunday at 11:00 am. Two sons and a daughter survive Habte-Selassie Taffesse.
August 29, 2017
A professional musician, Solomon Lulu began his musical life in school bands and became one of the first three graduates of Yared School of Music (YSM). He did his masters in Bulgaria & Russia. When he returned home from Russia, he worked as a composer, performer, and a teacher. He served YSM in different responsibilities including Director and Dean of the school several times. The symphonies he composed got a wider publicity at home and abroad.
After Ethiopia has passed through radical regime change, Ethiopian athletes were ready to go Barcelona Olympics in 1992. It seemed the national anthem was unfit for the current stature of the country. The transitional government decided to recompose the national anthem as soon as possible. This huge responsibility fell on the shoulders of two Ethiopians. While Dereje Melaku wrote, the lyrics, Solomon Lulu composed and arranged the music. Starting from the Olympic medal athletes, more than one generation has grown up chanting this composition. He was buried on August 29, 2017, at Holy Trinity Cathedral.
Gebru Mersha (PhD)
February 11, 2017
Defiant Marxist Scholar, Gebru Mersha (PhD) was born in Guraghe Zone, Ezja Wereda, in the Southern Nations, Nationalities & Peoples’ Regional State. He had his primary education in Bishoftu and Ambo. He studied Political Science and International Relations at Addis Ababa University (AAU) along with the leaders of Ethiopian student movement.
Gebru was recruited for Ethiopian Roads Authority (ERA), formerly known as Highway Authority. Later, when the Cabinet of Endalkachew Mekonnen made some reforms to please the public, it had assigned Gebru as a Governor of Haykochina Butajira District. Then, he fled to Assimba, rural parts of Tigray Regional State and became the commander of the guerrilla fighters of his party, Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP). When the army was dispersed due to several attacks, Gebru exiled to Holland, studied his masters and later completed his PhD at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. He returned home and became a lecturer after the regime change.
Gebru has proved that his conviction on Marxism is unshakable in all walks of life. His comrades and students agree to call him an advocate for Women’s right, the staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause, a critique of the World Bank, IMF, NGOs, Liberalism and Neoliberalism. Capitalism did not break Gebru, but Alzheimer’s did, on February 11, 2017. His funeral was held on February 12, 2017, at the Entoto Kidane Mihret Church. Two daughters and a grandchild survive Gebru.
April 18, 2017
Renowned detective stories author, Yilma Habteyes, was born in Addis Abeba, in 1938. After attending traditional church school, he went to Lycée Guébré-Mariam School. He studied Laboratory Science. He was able to strengthen his training at home and abroad in Sweden. He started his professional career in Ras Desta Hospital. He then worked at Ethio- Swedish Pediatric Clinic until he retired.
In his five decades of authorship, Yilma has managed to write 16 highly celebrated novels and seven TV dramas. The generation who has grown up consuming his detective stories called him “Ethiopia’s Agatha Christie” by considering his contribution to Ethiopian Literature. Yilma has gone away leaving his stories in the minds of his readers, at the age of 79. The funeral was held on April 19, 2017, at Asko Saint Gabriel Church. A daughter and wife survive Yilma.
Wolday Amha (PhD)
September 07, 2017
A renowned economist, Wolday Amha (PhD) was born in Hawzen, Tigray Regional State. He had received M.Sc in Economics Development & Planning from Addis Ababa University and PhD in Agricultural Economics (agricultural marketing) at the Technical University of Berlin.
University Lecturer, Advisor at Ministry of Agriculture, Board of Directors at the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE), President of Tigray Development Association (TDA) were some of the responsibilities he had accomplished in the past. He has served Ethiopian Economic Association as a President for four years. He was Member of the National Advisory Committee to promote the export of agricultural products in Ethiopia. He was Editor of Microfinance Development Review.
Wolday has published and edited many academic journal articles, books in areas of finance, economics, poverty reduction and agriculture in Ethiopia. Before a car accident took his life, he was serving as an executive director of the Association of Ethiopian Microfinance Institutions. The funeral of Wolday was held at the Holy Trinity Cathedral Church on September 9, 2017. His three children survived Wolday.