Ethiopian parliamentarians unanimously appointed a woman, Sahle-Work Zewde, President of the country, for the first time on October 25, 2018, after the resignation of the former President of Ethiopia, who until now had held this essentially honorary position.
Mrs. Sahle-Work, born in Addis Ababa and a former student of the French-Ethiopian lycée Guébré-Mariam and studied in Montpellier, France, is currently the only female head of state in Africa. Prior to her, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the first elected president of Liberia and Africa in 2005 (before handing over power to George Weah in early 2018). Subsequently, there was also former Mauritian President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, who was swept away by a financial scandal a few months ago, and Joyce Banda in Malawi from 2012 to 2014.
Career diplomat Sahle-Work, 68, becomes the fourth head of state in Ethiopia since the adoption of the 1995 Constitution. This text provides that a president may be elected for a maximum of two six-year terms.
She was previously the Special Representative of UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres to the African Union (AU). Previously, she had been Ambassador to France, Djibouti, Senegal, and the Permanent Representative of Ethiopia to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the East African regional bloc.
In her inaugural speech, she welcomed the reforms carried out by the new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali, who took office in April, and in particular his recent decision to appoint a government in which half of the posts are held by women. In particular, the Ministries of Defense and the new Ministry of Peace have been assigned to women.
During her inauguration speech, she did not fail to welcome the openness in favor of women parliamentarians proposed by Abiy Ahmed. “If the changes currently taking place in Ethiopia are led by both men and women, their momentum will lead to an Ethiopia free of religious, ethnic or gender discrimination,” she said.
Sahle-Work Zewde has made women the priority of her six-year mandate. “Women are the first victims of the lack of peace,” she added. “During my term, I will focus on the role of women in ensuring peace, as well as the benefits of peace for women. I call on the government to eradicate poverty with the full participation of women, as it is a source of instability.”
The appointment of Sahle-Work Zewde was welcomed by the Security Council in New York, where the news received applause from diplomats gathered for a Council debate on “Women, Peace and Security”.