Women in power
The ascension of Abiy Ahmed (PhD) to the top government job as Prime Minister of Ethiopia has opened many doors, paving the way for a raft of women to assume key posts in his cabinet.
The Premier’s decision to appoint 10 women to his 20-strong cabinet was lauded by the Western world and Africa. He emphasized the imperative to empower women at his inaugural speech two-and-half years ago and soon thereafter presented his ministerial nominees, half of whom were women, for confirmation to members of the House of Peoples’ Representatives (HoR). He went on with his surprising moves to nominate the first-ever woman to assume the role of Head of State. It was historic when President Sahle-Work Zewde, a long-serving and seasoned diplomat, was sworn in as President of the Republic.
Contrary to criticisms regarding their merit and competence, the women in power have proven themselves. In fact, some have exceeded expectations. Let us see some of the influential women who are playing vital political leadership roles.
President Sahle-Work Zewde
Born and raised in Addis Ababa, the 70-year old Sahle-Work went to Lycée Guebre-Mariam, French Community School, where she attended both elementary and high school. She studied Natural Science at the University of Montpellier, France. Sahle-Work is fluent in her native Amharic and equally rich in English and French.
Sahle-Work joined the diplomatic service at an early age. Some compare her to Yodit Emiru, the first female ambassador to represent Ethiopia during the Imperial time. Her earlier mission took her to the francophone region where she served in Senegal and was accredited to represent Ethiopia in Mali, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Gambia, and Guinea. The diplomatic mission she carried out from 1989 to 1993 in those countries was essential. She was the ambassador of Ethiopia to Djibouti as well as Permanent Representative of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) from 1993 to 2002. From 2002 to 2006 Sahle-Work went on to serve as Ethiopia’s Ambassador to France, Permanent Representative to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), with accreditation to represent Ethiopia in Tunisia and Morocco.
Sahle-Work further served as Special Representative of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Head of the UN Integrated Peace-Building Office in the Central African Republic until 2011 .
Sahle-Work scaled the heights of the diplomatic ladder when Ban Ki-moon appointed her Director-General of the UN Office in Nairobi (UNON) in 2011. Her leadership was granted recognized by the UN for turning UNON into an important UN hub for East and Central Africa.
A few months after Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, appointed Sahle-Work as his special representative to the African Union and Head of the UN Office to the African Union (UNOAU) Prime Minister Abiy tapped her to assume the role of head of state to Ethiopia in 2018. The UN chief had appointed Sahle-Work in June 2018, and in October that same year, she was nominated and sworn in as President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.
Her rise to the presidential role was well received by Ethiopians far and wide. She continues to be an inspiring figure for women in the political life of the country. For that and many of his efforts, Abiy is considered a reformer.
Lia Tadesse (MD)
A medical doctor by training, Lia Tadesse, was the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Vice Provost at St. Paul's Hospital Millennium Medical College. Later she was appointed as State Minister of Health. Born and raised in Addis Ababa, Lia used to believe she will become a medical doctor when she grew up. As a top-performing student, Lia joined a medical faculty at Jimma University. She and three other schoolmates were the only female students enrolled in the medical faculty. She served as a junior medical doctor at the Federal Police Hospital before she assumed a leadership role in 2007. This year marked a watershed chapter in Lia's meteoric rise. It was in that year Lia was spotted by the then leadership and groomed for greater things on the heels of a presentation she gave at the Ethiopian Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Lia was soon thereafter handed the position of CEO at St. Paul's Hospital. She effectively implemented previously proposed plans to transform the institution she helmed into a teaching hospital. She also introduced several innovative programs and services at the medical college and the hospital. Lia appears to be the most challenged minister with the growing number in Ethiopia of confirmed cases and deaths due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Her leadership capability is set to be tested even more during such demanding times.
A talented marketer, Frehiwot Tamru is among the handful of influential female leaders within PM Abiy’s administration. She turned Ethio Telecom around, the much-maligned state-run monopoly, right after she was appointed CEO almost two years ago. Once saddled with crippling debts, such as the USD 3.1 billion loan from China EX-IM Bank, Ethio Telecom is no longer blacklisted as a defaulter. In fact, the enterprise has paid off more than half a billion dollars in two years’ time.
Frehiwot used to be the deputy CEO and a member of the board of directors of Ethio Telecom during the previous administration until she was forced to leave her post and serve as ordinary board member. She launched her own company and was running it actively until the PM put her in charge of the company.
Within two years of her leadership, Ethio Telecom has undergone major changes. Chief among these is the introduction of steep tariff cuts. The reduction of the price of mobile voice and data services by up to 75 percent reduction was one of the remarkable moves she made last year. This year, as well, a further 35 percent cut in the prices of major mobile services enabled the company to expand its market access.
Currently, the government is finalizing the liberalization of the telecom sector and has invited two telecom service providers to join the Ethiopian market. For her role in making changes and influences, she has been recognized as this year’s “Bego Sew”, an annual award given to individuals recognized as being contributors of change and altruistic.
One of the youngest members in Prime Minister Abiy’s Cabinet, Dagmawit Moges, 37, is presently the Minister of Transport. Prior to that, she was the Deputy Mayor of Addis Ababa and head of the Communication Affairs Bureau. Born and raised in Addis Ababa, Dagmawit was a university teacher at Addis Ababa University before joining the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM) in 2005, which along with the coalition it was a member of, namely the EPRDF, was dissolved upon the establishment of the current ruling Prosperity Party.
These are some of the influential female leaders standing firm in the fragile political landscape and socioeconomic crisis facing the administration. Currently, Prime Minister Abiy is struggling to maintain the gender balance within his cabinet with due to the host of reshuffles he has made. He also remains actively challenged by growing tensions engendered by politically motivated conflicts that have been raging from the moment he assumed office.
Some refer to her as the iron lady on account of her committed stance against maladministration and ill practices as Mayor of Adama City. Adanech Abe’be is the newly minted Deputy Mayor of Addis Ababa. Her appointment to the hot seat follows a brief stint as Attorney General for five months. She was the first-ever female to hold that position. Her earlier stint in a leadership role in the federal government level was as Minister of Revenues, a role she remained in until March 2020.
Minister of Peace, Muferiat Kamil, has come to be one of the influential groups of women in the cabinet. Born in the town of Jimma, Oromia Regional State, to her parents from the Southern Region, Muferiat is among prominent female politicians in Ethiopia.
After graduating from Haromaya University in 2000, Muferiat served as a PR advisor to the president of the Southern Regional State until 2007. Following that she was appointed Minister of Women’s Affairs in 2008. She has served in several ministerial and other layers of the political leadership. Prior to assuming the speakership of the House of Peoples’ (HoR) in 2018, she played the role of government whip in the House. However, similar to Present Sahile-Work, Muferiat’s role as Speaker of the HoR was short-lived. She led the House from April to October 2018 before she was assigned as Minister of Peace, a portfolio that brought the security and intelligence agencies under her leadership. She also used to chair the Southern Ethiopia People Democratic Movement (SEPDM), a member party of the now defunct Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), the former ruling coalition.