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Sahle-Work Zewde – Biography And Career Of Ethiopia’s First Female President

Sahle-Work Zewde

Sahle-Work Zewde is a diplomat and Ethiopia’s first female president. She was elected into office by members of Ethiopia’s Federal Parliamentary Assembly on October 25, 2018.

See Also: Wendy Luhabe – Biography Of A Successful South African Entrepreneur

Besides that, Sahle-Work has held several leadership positions in the UN. She was the second woman in Ethiopia’s history to serve as an ambassador after Yodit Emiru. In addition, Zewde is highly passionate about women’s empowerment and gender equality.

Start Your Business in 30 Days Even If You Don't Have An Idea
Start Your Business in 30 Days Even If You Don’t Have An Idea

Also, she has gained widespread recognition including being one of the most powerful women in Africa and the world.

See Also: Graça Machel – Biography Of An International Advocate Of Women’s And Child’s Right

Sahle-Work Zewde

Sahle-Work Zewde Background

Sahle-Work Zewde was born on February 21, 1950, in Addis Ababa as the firstborn. She attended primary and secondary school in Lycee Guebre-Mariam, Addis Ababa. Later on, she moved to the University of Montpellier, France, where she studied Natural Science.

She is fluent in languages; French, English and Ethiopian lingua-franca – Amharic.

Also, Sahle-Work is married with two children.

See Also: Aya Chebbi – Biography Of An Award-Winning Pan African Feminist And Activist

Sahle-Work Zewde Early Career

Firstly, after graduating, Zewde started in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She served as an Ethiopian ambassador to several countries for almost two decades. For instance, she was an ambassador to Senegal, Djibouti and France and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional trade bloc in East Africa.

Also, she was the Permanent Representative of Ethiopia to the African Unions and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), as well as the UN Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and was accredited to Tunisia and Morocco from 2002 to 2006.

Then, she joined the UN as Assistant Secretary-General and Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, and Head of the UN Integrated Peace-building Office in the Central African Republic (BINUCA) until 2011.

Eventually, she became the Director-General of the UN Office at Nairobi (UNON). Then, she worked with the UN in AU as the Special Representative of the SG to the EU.

See Also:  Clare Akamanzi – Biography And Life Of A Successful Leader


Sahle-Work presidency was approved unanimously by the Ethiopian parliament on October 25, 2018. As a result, she replaced Mulatu Teshome who resigned unexpectedly from office. Also, she became the first woman to serve in the role and the only serving female head of state in Africa, with the expectation to serve two six-year terms.

Go from idea to starting your business in 30 days
Go from idea to starting your business in 30 days

Although her role is largely ceremonial, it carries important symbolic weight and social influence such as opening the Parliament, appointing ambassadors, and many others. But executive power lies with the Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed Ali.

See Also: Jennifer Riria – Biography Of The CEO Of Kenya Women Holding Group

Sahle-Work Zewde Awards And Recognition

Some of her recognitions include;

  • Woman of the Year, ONE, 2018
  • 93rd most powerful woman in the world, Forbes 2019
  • One of the 50 Most Powerful Women In Africa, Forbes Africa, 2020

See Also: Angelique Kidjo – Biography And Albums Of A Grammy Award-Winning Singer-Songwriter

Sahle-Work Zewde Quotes

“The more you know about yourself, excel at the work you do and understand the world you live in, the more you realize how nothing worthwhile in life comes without a fight and a lot of patience.”

“…We are who we are through our connections and the people around us.”

“Trust women, that is the first step in making room for them.”

“Leadership is an attitude and starts with paying attention to your environment and having a sense of responsibility. You can nurture this wherever you are.”

“If the current change in Ethiopia is headed equally by both men and women, it can sustain its momentum and realise a prosperous Ethiopia free of religious, ethnic and gender discrimination.”

“When there is no peace in the country, mothers will be frustrated. Therefore, we need to work on peace for the sake of our mothers.”

“…If the history of Africa was written by Africans and by women Africans, I think we would find many unsung heroes. But that’s not enough.”

See Also: Judy Dlamini – Biography Of A Phenomenal Business Woman, Founder, Mbekani Group

Lessons From The Life Of Sahle-Work Zewde


Often times, life doesn’t get easier, we get stronger. The reasons for Sahle-Work’s success are resilience, determination, and strength borne out of several challenges she has faced. With every position she held, she made sure to learn new things with humility, confidence, and consciousness of self-worth. She said, “self-belief made me aspire for more while discharging my duties to the best of my abilities.”

Also, she believes the more you know yourself and the world you live in, the more you realize the need for proactiveness and toughness.

See Also: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – Biography Of The First Female President In Africa And Nobel Peace Laureate

Understand That People Are Your Greatest Asset

Zewde believes that we are who we are through our connections and the people around us. Over time, she has worked with people who recognised her effort and as a result, gave her chance and more opportunity to lead. “I am a product of people, who fought for equality and political freedom in this country. I will work hard to serve them,” says Zewde

Basically, we have to recognise the important role people who believe in our ability play in advancing our career growth. As you appreciate their role, they will trust you with more positions of power. Also, we should believe in other people and give them a chance.

See Also: 100 Profitable Business Ideas For Aspiring Entrepreneurs And Investors

Sahle-Work Zewde

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