Ethiopia Approves First Female President Sahle-Work Zewde

She is Africa's only female head of state.

Ethiopia's national flag, featuring three horizontal stripes of green, yellow and red and a blue circle with a yellow star, flys on a flagpole against a blue sky with clouds.
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She is Africa's only female head of state.

Members of the Ethiopian parliament have elected Ms. Sahle-Work Zewde to be the country’s new president, BBC News reported.

Not only is Sahle-Work the country’s first female president, but she is currently Africa’s only female head of state, the last being Mauritian President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, who resigned in March.

Zewde, 69, was the United Nations representative at the African Union before her appointment to president on Thursday. She has held other positions within the U.N., including head of peace-building in the Central African Republic, and has served as an ambassador for Ethiopia in Senegal and Djibouti.

She replaces Mulatu Teshome Wirtu, who unexpectedly tendered his resignation on Wednesday one year before his term was to end. According to Reuters, his resignation was due to him wanting to be part of “change and reforms.”

Though the presidential position is considered ceremonial, as the prime minister holds most of the country’s political power, it is still seen as a huge win for gender equality in the country and has been welcomed by many Ethiopians on social media, who are calling her appointment “historic.”

“In a historic move, the two Houses has elected Ambassador Shalework Zewde as the President of #Ethiopia,” the prime minister’s chief of staff Fitsum Arega tweeted.

After being sworn in, BBC News said President Sahle-Work promised to “work hard to make gender equality a reality in Ethiopia” and pledged to promote peace.

“I urge you all, to uphold our peace, in the name of a mother, who is the first to suffer from the absence of peace,” she said to parliament after she was approved for the position.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed reshuffled his cabinet prior to Sahle-Work’s presidency, cutting the number of ministerial jobs from 28 to 20 and appointing women to 10 of those positions, BBC News reported last week. Among the appointments were Aisha Mohammad, who was named Ethiopia’s first female defense minister, and Muferiat Kamil, who became the country’s first Minister of Peace that will oversee the country’s intelligence and security apparatus. The moves made Ethiopia the third African country, along with Rwanda and Seychelles, to achieve gender parity in its cabinet.

In a speech to Parliament, he explained women were “less correct than men” and would help restore peace and stability.

Abiy became prime minister in April after the resignation of Hailemariam Desalegn and has introduced reforms that BBC News has called “unthinkable not so long ago.”

Since his appointment to the position, Mr. Abiy has lifted the state of emergency, ordered thousands of prisoners to be released, allowed dissidents to return home and unblocked numerous websites and TV channels. He has also ended the state war with the bordering country of Eritrea by agreeing to give up disputed territory, “normalizing” the relationship with the country that was once Ethiopia’s enemy.