Sahle-Work Zewde is the fifth President of Ethiopia, having been sworn into office on October 24, 2018. She is the first woman to hold that position in the country’s history.
Born in Ethiopia’s capital city Addis Ababa on April 4, 1957, she earned her bachelor’s degree in Education from Jimma University in 1980 and a master’s degree in Education from Addis Ababa University in 1984. In 1995 she received a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin.
In 1983 Sahle-Work began serving as an elementary school principal and later became a high school principal. She also taught at Jimma University from 1989 to 1994 and served as an associate professor at Addis Ababa University from 1994 to 1997.
From 1998 until 2003 she was deputy headmistress at the Ethiopian Teachers College and then became headmistress of the college until 2005 when she was elected as president of Ethiopia’s Teachers Association (ETA).
American business magazine Forbes, on its annual edition of the Forbes list of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women, listed Sahle-Work as the 96th most powerful woman in the world, and the highest-ranking African woman on the list.[
Early life and education
Born in Addis Ababa, Sahle-Work is of Oromo origin. She attended elementary and secondary school at Lycée Guebre-Mariam in Addis Ababa, after which she studied natural science at the University of Montpellier, France. She is fluent in Amharic, French, and English.
Sahle-Work was only the second woman to be appointed an ambassador in Ethiopian history (ambassador Yodit Emiru was the first woman to hold an ambassadorship). She served as the ambassador of both the communist People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and post-civil war Transitional Government of Ethiopia.
A veteran in the Ethiopian foreign service, Sahle-Work served as Ambassador to Senegal, with accreditation to Mali, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Gambia and Guinea, from 1989 to 1993. From 1993 to 2002, she was Ambassador to Djibouti and Permanent Representative to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). She later served as Ambassador to France,Permanent Representative to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and was accredited to Tunisia and Morocco from 2002 to 2006.
Sahle-Work subsequently held other high level positions including 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.
Career with the United Nations
Until 2011, Sahle-Work served as Special Representative of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Head of the United Nations Integrated Peace-building Office in the Central African Republic.
In 2011, Ban appointed Sahle-Work as Director-General of the United Nations Office at Nairobi (UNON).Under Sahle-Work, the Nairobi office became a more important UN hub for East and Central Africa, according to the 2012 Africa Yearbook.
In June 2018, Secretary-General António Guterres appointed Sahle-Work as his Special Representative to the African Union and Head of the United Nations Office to the African Union (UNOAU) at the level of Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations. She was the first woman to hold the post.
President of Ethiopia
Sahle-Work was appointed as president of Ethiopia on 25 October 2018, the first woman to serve in the role and the fourth president since the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition was elected in the newly established Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia in 1995. She replaced Mulatu Teshome, who resigned in unclear circumstances[clarification needed], and Sahle-Work is expected to serve two six-year terms.
Although her role is largely ceremonial (with most executive power lying with the prime minister), Sahle-Work’s election made her Ethiopia’s first female head of state since Empress Zewditu. As of 2021, she is one of two serving female heads of state in Africa, alongside Samia Suluhu of Tanzania.
On 25 March 2020, Sahle-Work announced on Twitter that she has pardoned more than 4,000 prisoners in a move to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ethiopia. She also pardoned more than 1,500 prisoners on 2 April 2020.