Ethiopia appoints Sahle-Work Zewde as first female president

Oct 25, 2018 20:13 IST
Ethiopia appoints Sahle-Work Zewde as first female president

Ethiopia on October 25, 2018 appointed diplomat Sahle-Work Zewde as its first-ever female President. The position of the President is largely ceremonial in the nation.

Zewde was appointed by the Ethiopian lawmakers through a unanimous vote. She would be replacing Mulatu Teshome Wirtu who resigned on October 24. Prior to her appointment, she was serving as the UN's top official at the African Union.

She is now expected to serve two six-year terms as President.


Though the President’s role in Africa’s second-most populous country is mostly ceremonial, the appointment of Sahle-Work Zewde as the head of the nation is deeply symbolic, as it follows the latest cabinet reshuffle, in which women made up half the ministers.

Speaking on the same, Fitsum Arega, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff and de facto government spokesman stated through a tweet that in a patriarchal society such as theirs, 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.

About Sahle-Work Zewde

  Sahle-Work Zewde appointed as Ethiopia’s first female president

The 60-year-old has previously served as Ethiopia's ambassador to France, Djibouti, Senegal and the regional bloc, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

She began her diplomatic career as an ambassador to Senegal in 1989 with responsibilities in neighbouring African countries and later went to Djibouti before eventually serving as ambassador to France.

She is fluent in English and French as well as Amharic.

Till recently, she was serving as the special representative of the United Nations Secretary General to the African Union.

Prior to that, she headed the United Nation’s Nairobi office with the rank of undersecretary general.

Ethiopia: Executive’s Role and New Reforms

Executive Role

According to Ethiopia’s constitution, the President is the head of state but the powers are largely ceremonial, as the real executive power is vested in the office of the prime minister

The powers of the President mainly include opening parliament, appointing ambassadors and high military ranks following the prime minister’s recommendation and receiving credentials of ambassadors.

Hence, the political power is largely wielded by the prime minister, while the president's role is restricted to attending ceremonies and functions.

Ethiopia's reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in the latest cabinet reshuffle appointed a 20-person cabinet, in which half the posts are held by women ministers.

New Reforms

A number of new reforms have been brought on under Ethiopia’s new and young Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, including the release of political prisoners, inviting back exiles and making peace with the country’s chief opponent, Eritrea, after two decades of hostilities.

Abiy has also publicly declared the need to promote women in what has been a largely patriarchal conservative society.

Under his charge, in the latest cabinet reshuffle, a woman was given the responsibility of the most powerful ministries in the country, the Ministry of Peace, which controls the intelligence agency and security forces.

However, on the other hand, Abiy’s government has also come under criticism for not being able to contain the ethnic unrest in the countryside and also for a mass arrest campaign that saw thousands detained in Addis Ababa, some of whom then spent time in re-education camps.

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