Personal Profile

  • Opens in a new tab
  • Opens in a new tab
  • Opens in a new tab
  • Opens in a new tab
  • Opens in a new tab

Mar 2024 – May 2024

Melkamu Ogo

Melkamu Ogo

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

An Ethiopian national, Melkamu was born and raised in Gecha, a small town in Sheka Zone which is one of the greenest areas in South Western Ethiopia. He has four sisters and a brother.

Melkamu is a lawyer by profession; obtaining a
Bachelor’s of Law degree (LLB) from Haramya University and subsequently his Master’s (LLM) in Public and Constitutional Law from Addis Ababa University.

He also holds a Bachelor’s of Theology/Bth obtained from the University of Theology, Addis Ababa.

AGN; What was your upbringing like?

MO; The lifestyle of the people – environment in which I grew up was highly traditional and mostly based on natural virtues. The life of everyone is directly, sometimes indirectly, connected with others. Also, everyone, especially elderly people, feel responsible and act accordingly for the upbringing of children and overall social interactions within the community.

When I was a child, there was no electricity, telephone, television and other technology-based utilities and entertainment in our locality. Because of this children had no other option but to socialize and focus on nature based entertainment under the guidance of senior and elderly people.

Unlike current generations modern upbringing, I think we enjoyed a relatively enriched freedom to play and entertain ourselves using natural fields, forests and landscapes without the intervention of others from afar.

In the normal course of things, no specific time was allocated for us to enjoy ourselves during our childhood; but through work activities e.g. collecting firewood from the forest, washing clothes in the river, looking after cattle and other domestic animals etc, we were able to have fun.

AGN; Who from your upbringing had a pivotal impact on the person you are today in terms of your values and outlook on life and how did they impact you?

MO; My mother and father are my greatest inspiration. As a public-spirited professional who is trying to defend the public interest using the legal instruments and system, available, I have learned that there are issues which need to be changed in a way that enhances people’s rights and I am trying to contribute to this process in my private capacity.

My nature and determination to help fill the justice gap is directly drawn from the influence of my parents. I seek to follow in their footsteps. They are known in the community for their visible contribution towards helping others.

AGN; What did you mother and father do for a living?

MO; My family, mother and father were engaged in the hotel business in Gecha, the small town where I was born and raised. Currently, my father has been focusing on agricultural work while my mother is still engaged in the business to support the livelihood of the family.

AGN; Why did you decide to study law?

MO; I have aspired to study law since I was a young boy. In the rural society I grew up the grace and positive influence of local elders who settled disputes among conflicted parties was very commendable.

My father was one of the respected elders who served as an arbitrator in our locality. The fact that the value given to arbitration and social order was deeply rooted in the social fabric hugely influenced me to have a positive predisposition towards the law and the judicial system.

When I was a youngster and moved to urban areas, the esteem with which I held the judicial system in general and the police, lawyers, and judges in particular grew strongly; so when I decided to go to college I knew studying law was my first and most important mission.

AGN; Which aspect of law do you specialize in and where do you currently work?

MO; My area of specialty is Public and Constitutional Law, which encompasses various areas of law, including Constitutional law, Criminal Law, Administrative Law, Human Rights Law, and Public International Law.

For over seven years, I worked as a legal advisor, legal department head, and litigator for governmental offices and renowned private business corporations. Afterward, in 2016 I founded a private law firm – Melkamu Ogo Law Office (MOLO).

Since 2016 I have been practising law from my firm where I deliver fully-fledged legal services covering media, business and investment, human rights, civic society organizations, criminal defence, and civil cases.

AGN; While you studying law, you started suing companies at your own expense for their alleged contribution to pollution. What motivated you to do so?

MO; I believe that I have a social responsibility to address the interests of the public, especially to safeguard the interests of the marginalized and needy within society. Thus, I have been advocating for the public interest in various ways that relate to the law during my graduate studies and after graduating.

While I was a graduate student I used to represent vulnerable people, including political prisoners and victims of human rights violations. In doing so, I was upholding the public interest and discharging my duty as a self-directed volunteer.

However, all my voluntary legal intervention efforts were not formally structured. The biggest turning point I took was to collaborate with my colleagues in order to establish an organization to safeguard public interests.

I co-founded various civic society organizations (CSOs) and finally found a local civic society organization called “Defend the Environment.

The desire to undertake public interest litigation in a more structured way gave rise to the founding of Defend the Environment (DTE) with other fellow volunteers. It is in DTE that I have been robustly engaged as a voluntary public interest litigant to bring suits against entities that allegedly infringe on human rights and violate environmental laws by causing pollution.

AGN; It is indeed commendable that you turned words into action while still a student. Is there a particular success from your interventions that you are able to highlight?

MO; Using the instruments of public interest litigation as enshrined under Article 11 of the Environmental Pollution Control Proclamation No. 300/2002, we have brought court suits against companies that cause serious environmental pollution in Addis Ababa and Hawasa cities.

We have succeeded in stopping pollutants from their polluting activities using the legal intervention mechanism of public interest litigation in Hawasa town (the Hawasa Qoshe Case), in Addis Ababa (the Yeka Abado Case) and (the Shegole Live Cattle Market Case).

The success of these interventions via public interest litigation has had immediate achievements and long-term positive impact.

The immediate achievement of success is that our organization can provide immediate solutions and relief for millions of people who have been victims of environmental pollution and violation of the human right to live in a clean and healthy environment.

The long-term impact is that we influenced the legal and administrative measures taken against pollutants and other actors who contribute to environmental pollution; we raised public awareness and consciousness towards the protection of the environment and natural resources; and our influence also contributes to prompting lawmakers and policymakers to be conscious of environmental public interest litigation in the decision-making process.

AGN: Now that you have experience of legal practice, is there anything about doing so that contrasts with the expectations and assumptions you had prior to qualifying?

MO; All my expectations and assumptions were very positive and sometimes made me an idealist. However, all of my expectations were not aligned with the real world. My prior expectations and assumptions are now moderated by different factors including the political, economic, social and cultural affairs of the country.

Prior expectations now appear misguided to some extent having been clouded by the best legal theories, arguments, principles and other related issues we learned in Law School.

AGN; Other lawyers have since joined you in your determination to hold polluting companies to task and this has given rise to the organisation ‘Defend the Environment (DTE)’. What can you tell us about its scope?

MO; Defend the Environment (DTE) where I am currently serving as the Board Chairman, was founded in 2021. At DTE we defend and advocate to realize a clean, healthy, safe, and secure environment for all in Ethiopia.

We promote the protection of the environment, biodiversity, natural resources, climate, and fundamental rights and freedoms. We use the instruments of environmental public interest litigation, environmental advocacy, environmental legal monitoring and assist legal enforcement, capacity building, and facilitation of public participation.

AGN: How would you rate the legal system in your country from 1 to 10 and which key things would you like to see changed in order to improve it?

MO; From 1 to 10, I would rate the legal system of my country to be 6 for the quality of the judiciary.

I see positive measures being taken for legal and institutional reforms, and I am optimistic to see such measures fully implemented on the ground in a manner which facilitates people’s right to justice.

Though Ethiopian courts are subject to various sound criticisms, we have witnessed some positive reforms in some federal and regional courts where we have been involved in cases.

AGN; Do you enjoy any hobbies and activities in your spare time and if so what do you like to do?

MO; I love hiking, doing my morning workout, meeting new people, sharing ideas/experiences and travelling.

AGN; How would you describe your personality?

MO; I think what describes me the best is the expression “creative mind“. Because I always enjoy coming up with new ideas, thinking outside the box and challenging the status quo.

Now, it doesn’t mean that I find it hard to abide by the rules. I do that. But I do not hesitate to share my feedback and suggest improvements. Most of the time, I try to balance issues and see the brighter side of events that happen around me and the people I meet.

I would also describe my personality as outgoing, friendly, and talkative. I thrive when surrounded by other people, and find it easy to connect with anyone I meet.

AGN; Which characteristic in people do you most value?

The characteristics I value the most in people are kindness and due diligence. If people are kind and diligent in whatever they engage in, they can achieve whatever they wish for as long as they have the readiness and openness to learn.

If they are kind, positive, and ready to learn new things, nothing will stop them as they will get the chance to learn from other people and make positive progress. Being clever and smart may not always get people where they want to be unless they are kind and diligent.

People who are kind and diligent with a drive and openness to learn new things will eventually get the competence and qualification needed to get them to what they aspire for.

AGN; Is there anything you would like to add?

MO; In closing, I would love to underline that everyone is responsible and capable of defending the environment through different mechanisms, including but not limited to advising victims, contributing ideas, knowledge sharing, funding, and the like.

Defending the environment is defending oneself. No one should be negligent in defending oneself.

There is a broad need for the promotion of the public interest in the environmental sector and there is a lot to be done since there is growing environmental pollution and natural resource degradation.

Everyone has a lot to offer so that the environment can be free of pollution, biodiversity can be conserved, and natural resources can be managed prudently. Thus, everyone is open to joining us and engaging in our effort to defend the environment in every possible way they are willing and able to support.

Previous ‘Personal Profile’ interviews are available here; archive

Ri Iyovwaye


© 2023 All rights reserved

on behalf of African Global Networks (AGN) - Mar 2024