Ethiopian lawmakers on Thursday elected Sahle-Work Zewde as the country’s first female president, AFP reported. They unanimously voted for the 68-year-old senior diplomat to replace Mulatu Teshome, who had resigned earlier. The president’s post in Ethiopia is largely ceremonial.
Last week, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had appointed a 20-member cabinet, in which half the posts are held by women. These include Defence Minister Aisha Mohammed and Muferiat Kamil, who leads the newly-formed Ministry of Peace.
“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,” said Sahle-Work on Thursday.
Sahle-Work’s appointment makes her Africa’s only female head of state, reported the BBC. After the swearing-in ceremony, she promised to work hard toward make gender equality a reality in Africa’s second most populous country. In her address to the parliament, she also promised to promote peace.
Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Fitsum Arega said, “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 normalises women as decision-makers in public life.”
The cabinet reshuffle last week made Ethiopia only the third country in Africa, after Rwanda and Seychelles, to achieve gender equality in their cabinets, Reuters reported.
Sahle-Work has been Ethiopia’s ambassador to France, Djibouti, Senegal and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, an eight-country trade bloc in Africa. Before becoming president, she was the United Nations representative at the African Union.
Africa’s last female head of state was Mauritian President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, who resigned in March over allegations that she used a credit card given to her by a non-governmental organisation to make purchases worth thousands of dollars.