Ethiopia gets first female president
Sahle-Work Zewde becomes Ethiopia’s first female president as Ethiopian members of parliament elected her as the country’s first female president.
Her election to the ceremonial position comes a week after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed appointed a cabinet with half the posts taken up by women.
In her acceptance speech, President Sahle-Work spoke about the importance of maintaining peace, local media say.
Sahle-Work Zewde was voted in after the unexpected resignation of her predecessor, Mulatu Teshome.
The position of president is ceremonial in Ethiopia, with executive power vested in the office of the prime minister, but the appointment is deeply symbolic and follows up on last week’s cabinet reshuffle in which made half the ministers are now women in Africa’s second-most populous country.
“In a patriarchal society such as ours, the appointment of a female head of state not only sets the standard for the future but also normalizes women as decision-makers in public life,” tweeted Fitsum Arega, the prime minister’s chief of staff and de facto government spokesman.
President Sahle-Work has served as an ambassador for Ethiopia in Senegal and Djibouti. She has also held a number of UN positions, including head of peace-building in the Central African Republic.
Immediately before becoming president, Ms Sahle-Work was the UN representative at the African Union.
In the Ethiopian constitution, the post of president is ceremonial with the prime minister holding the political power.
Sahle-Work would be modern Ethiopia’s first female head of state, though in the country’s history there have been empresses who wielded great power.
68 year old Sahle-Work Zewde was previously the special representative of the United Nations secretary general to the African Union and prior to that headed up the organization’s Nairobi office with a rank of undersecretary general.
She began her diplomatic career as ambassador to Senegal in 1989 with responsibilities in neighboring African countries and later went to Djibouti before eventually serving as ambassador to France, where she had previously studied.
Among her many roles with the U.N. was head of the peacebuilding office in the Central African Republic until 2011.
According to the constitution, the president is the head of state but the office’s powers are ceremonial and include opening parliament, appointing ambassadors and high military ranks following the prime minister’s recommendation and receiving credentials of ambassadors.