Sahle-Work Zewde – Ethiopia’s first female president

In late October 2018, Sahle-Work Zewde was elected as the first female president in Ethiopia. After previous president Mulatu Teshome resigned unexpectedly, she was elected by members of the Federal Parliamentary Assembly. Her election makes her the first female Ethiopian head of state since 1930, which was held by Empress Zewditu. Ms Sahle-Work is expected to serve a six-year-long term and may be re-elected for another term at maximum. She is also currently Africa’s only female head of state.

The Ethiopian presidency is a largely ceremonial role, while the prime minister holds most of the political power. The president has control over the Reserves. Reserves are assets like money or gold that is owned by the government or central bank. These assets can be used to meet expected future payments or emergency spending. Beyond this responsibility, having a female president is still monumental for Ethiopia because the position holds symbolic value.


Ms Sahle-Work is the fourth and current President of Ethiopia. She had been a diplomat for all her career, which has spanned more than three decades. She has served as the Ethiopian ambassador in Senegal, Djibouti and France. She was the second woman in Ethiopian history to be appointed as ambassador. Ms Sahle-Work also contributed to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which is an East African trade bloc. She has held high-level positions within the public service, such as being the Director-General for African Affairs in the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

President Sahle-Work has also previously worked in the United Nations (UN) as a top official at the African Union. She has held many different positions throughout her career. She was the head of peace-building in the Central African Republic, and the permanent representative to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

On top of this, Ms Sahle-Work is fluent in English, French and Amharic (Ethiopia’s official working language). She therefore has potential to be a competent spokesperson for the country on a international level. Evidently, she is also experienced in the foreign service and is very familiar with the Ethiopian system.

After her swearing-in ceremony where she officially became the President, Ms Sahle-Work pledged to work hard. She hopes to improve gender equality and female empowerment in Ethiopia. She also promised to contribute to efforts promoting peace in the country.


Women have always been equally capable in contributing to society. Having a female head of state is important because it normalises women being in important public jobs. There are currently 20 female ministers in Ethiopia. Women have a large role to play in contributing to society, both in the government and business, in many ways.

At a speech in Parliament, President Sahle-Work said, “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.” Even though President Sahle-Work’s appointment is a great first step, there are still many improvements that can and will be made to improve gender equality in future.



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