Ethiopia’s Parliament has approved its first female head of state in experienced Ambassador, Sahle-Work Zewde, after accepting the resignation of President Mulatu Teshome.
Although the position is largely ceremonial according to the constitution with the executive power securely vested in the office of the Prime Minister, the appointment is deeply symbolic, progressive and a testament to Ethiopia’s drastic reforms.
President Zewde joins the ranks of women recently placed in powerful cabinet positions in what is now a gender positive government. She will work closely with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and could go on to hold the title for a limited period of two six-year terms.
Addressing Parliament after her swearing in President Sahle-Work promised to work hard to make gender equality a reality and promote peace in Ethiopia. “I urge you all, to uphold our peace, in the name of a mother, who is the first to suffer from the absence of peace.”
In a patriarchal society such as ours, the appointment of a female head of state not only sets the standard for the future but also normalises women as decision-makers in public life. #Ethiopia (2) pic.twitter.com/3Z8UNd15E0
— Fitsum Arega (@fitsumaregaa) October 25, 2018
President Sahle-Work Zewde, 68, has been in Ethiopia’s Foreign Service for decades. According to her career background she served as Ambassador to Senegal, with accreditation to Mali, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Gambia and Guinea, from 1989 to 1993. Then as Ambassador to Djibouti and Permanent Representative to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) from 1993 to 2002. She later went on to serve as Ambassador to France, Permanent Representative to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and accredited to Tunisia and Morocco from 2002 to 2006.
President Zewde was also the Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Integrated Peace building Office in the Central African Republic (BINUCA) and held other high level positions such as Permanent Representative of Ethiopia to the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and Director-General for African Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia.
Notably she was the first person appointed as Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Nairobi Office (UNON) by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.