Celebrating Ethiopian Women: Ambassador Sahle-work Zewde

As we continue to celebrate women, we present to you the story of the applauding achievement of one of Ethiopia’s big names in the UN, Ambassador Sahle-work Zewde, who is an example of hard work and effective management.

Born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Ambassador Sahle-work Zewde went to Lycee G/Mariam where she finished her elementary and high school education. After successfully completing her baccalaureate, she received a scholarship and went to France at the age of seventeen to study natural science in the University of Montpellier. As the first born of four girls in her family, her father, who was a senior officer in the imperial army, had bestowed her all the responsibility of succeeding in her education as he strongly believed in educating his children.

After nine years of stay in France, Ambassador Sahle-work came back to Ethiopia with a need to serve and work in her country. She then started working at the Ministry of Education in the Public Relations Department as a Public Relations Officer, where she later on headed the Department. After her service in the Ministry of Education, she decided to embark on a new challenge and joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Secretary-general Ban Ki Moon presides over the swearing in ceremony for Mrs, Sahle-Work Zewde, newly appointed Director General of United Nations Office in Nairobi, Nairobi, Kenya 1 April, 2011

At the Ministry, Ambassador Sahle-work served on different positions. She is the second woman in the history of the Ministry to hold an ambassadorial position following Ambassador Yodit Emiru. Her first assignment was to Dakar, Senegal where she served there from 1989 to 1993 with an accreditation to Mali, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Gambia and Guinea. From 1993 to 2002, she served as Ambassador to Djibouti and Permanent Representative to IGAD. Later on in 2002, she was again assigned to France as an ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UNESCO while accredited to Tunisia and Morocco until 2006. From 2006 to 2009, she was the Permanent Representative of Ethiopia to the AU and UNECA and Director General for African affairs in the Ministry.

Strolling down memory lane of twenty five years as she was appointed as an ambassador to Djibouti, she recalled “when the government appointed me to Djibouti, I was very reluctant to accept it. I thought being a woman in a Muslim country might not be conducive to getting the two countries closer. I thank the then Foreign Minister who insisted for me to take the position. I am grateful for his encouragement. Looking back, my best years in my diplomatic life were in Djibouti where I can see the impact of my work. She continues,I try to do the same for others. In mission trips and delegates meetings, I take others with me and give them the opportunity to interact with others, answer questions and allow them to experience diplomacy both by observing as well as acting. I allow them to fail and rise. Delegation is my way of enabling people.

Ambassador Sahle-work’s robust experience in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has opened doors to work at the international levels. She has more than two decades of progressively responsible experience at the national, regional and international ranks. Following her service in the Ministry, she joined the UN in 2009 to serve as a Special Representative and head of the UN Integrated Peace building Office in the Central African Republic (BINUCA) along her way to the zenith of her achievement.

The triumph of her journey was realized in March 2011 when she became the first person to assume the newly created position as Director General of the UN office in Nairobi (UNON), appointed by the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon.

Talking about passion in life, Ambassador Sahle-work said, “Service is my passion, especially serving a country and serving a cause.  I have been a civil servant all my life and public service has been the core of my life. I started working at the Ministry of Education and grew up to its fullness internationally…being at service is indeed my passion.

Ambassador Sahle-Work is married and a mother of two sons.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs salutes Ambassador Sahle-work for her unprecedented contribution both in the national and international level and for showing great courage and commitment throughout her diplomatic career.

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