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UN Cheers Sahle-Work Zewde’s Election as First Female President of Ethiopia

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By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network

NEW YORK (IDN) – “Congratulations Madam President! Women do make a difference. We are proud of you!” That was the excited message from María Fernanda Espinosa Garces, President of the United Nations General Assembly, to UN Under-Secretary-General Sahle-Work Zewde on her election as the first female president of Ethiopia.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres received a phone call on October 24 from Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who informed him of the news, said Farhan Haq, Guerres’ deputy spokesman.

“The secretary-general congratulated the government and people of Ethiopia on that choice,” Haq told reporters on October 25. “We know her and her work very well,” he said, referring to the fact that Sahle-Work currently serves as Guterres’ special representative to the African Union and head of the UN Office to the African Union.

Bolivian Ambassador to the United Nations Sacha Llorenti, who was presiding over a Security Council meeting as president of the council for the month of October, broke protocol to congratulate Sahle-Work.

At the beginning of a high-level debate on women, peace and security, Llorenti said: “Allow me, please, to break protocol.”

“We all woke up this morning with very good news: today the first woman president was elected in Ethiopia – Madame Sahle-Work Zewde. I think it’s a very good (thing) to start this important debate,” said Llorenti to applause in the chamber.

Sahle-Work has been approved by Ethiopia’s parliament as president after the resignation of President Mulatu Teshome. The appointment of a female president has significant symbolic meaning although the position of president is ceremonial in Ethiopia.

Sahle-Work is an experienced diplomat. She was head of the UN Office at Nairobi before her current job at the United Nations.

Before that she was the special representative and head of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic and Ethiopia’s ambassador to the African Union and the UN Economic Commission for Africa, as well as director-general for African affairs in the Foreign Ministry of Ethiopia.

Educated in France, she also served as the Ethiopian ambassador to France and to the Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Sahle-Work had also served as ambassador to Djibouti and Senegal.

Ethiopian lawmakers approved Sahle-Work Zewde for the presidency in an unanimous vote, replacing Mulatu Teshome, who resigned unexpectedly a day earlier. Her appointment has raised hopes among advocates for gender equality in the conservative country.

While the position of president is largely ceremonial, it carries important symbolic weight and social influence. It also comes as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed just days before, approved a gender balanced cabinet and filled half of the slots with women.

A veteran technocrat, Sahle-Work Zewde has worked in diplomacy for more than three decades.

Born in the capital Addis Ababa, Zewde attended university in France. After graduating, she served as Ethiopia’s ambassador to France, Djibouti, Senegal and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional trade bloc in East Africa.

Prior to her appointment as president, she was the UN’s top official at the African Union. She is fluent in English and French as well as Amharic, Ethiopia’s official working language.

Abebe Aynete, a senior researcher at the Ethiopian Foreign Relations Strategic Studies think-tank, told Al Jazeera: “As a person who knows the Ethiopian system inside out, Zewde, as president, will offer more continuity in terms of policy but will have her own priorities, including female empowerment.”

“I consider it as a sort of a glass ceiling being broken down, showing females can also reach positions of high profile,” said Aynete.

The administration of reformer Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, which assumed office in April 2018, has appointed numerous women to influential positions that have been traditionally reserved for men, including Ethiopia’s first female Defense Minister Aisha Mohammed.

Madam Muferiat Kamil was appointed to lead the newly-created Ministry of Peace, responsible for the police and domestic intelligence agencies. [IDN-InDepthNews – 30 October 2018]

Photo: New Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde. Credit: The Star, Kenya.

 credit: Pixabay.com. Source: Eyewitness News.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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