Personal Profile

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Sept – Nov 2020

Tadele Derseh Girma

Tadele Derseh Girma

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Tadele is executive director of Vision Ethiopian Congress for Democracy (VECOD), an organisation he co-founded in 2003.

He was born and spent his early years in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, where he lived until he was 6 years old.  He spent the rest of his childhood in a place called Gojam which is in the north western part of the country.  He has 5 brothers and 1 sister.

On completing high school in 1982 he joined the national air force where he remained until 1991, rising to the rank of lieutenant commander.  Thereafter he worked for Ethiopian airlines for 2 years.

He began working in the charitable sector in 1993 and of course continues to do so at VECOD.  Prior to his current tenure he worked for a number of organisations in various capacities.

He has witnessed many changes during the time he has worked in this sector and he highlights the period between 2009 and 2017 as being particularly challenging for those involved in advocacy.  The political dispensation at the time enacted laws that either banned or severely curtailed the work of charitable organisations.

Since then, changes in the political landscape have led to a more enabling environment for charitable organisations, thus consigning the previous challenges to history.

A father of 1 daughter and 4 sons, he values education highly and believes it is key to improving the fortunes of the nation as well as delivering a better quality of life for those that acquire it.  He encourages his children to be the best they can be.

He himself has attained a Bachelor of Arts in Educational Planning and Management, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia, a Diploma in Law, St. Mary’s University, Ethiopia and a Bachelor of Arts in Management St. Mary’s University, Ethiopia.

As mentioned earlier, he spent his formative years in Gojam.  He characterises the Gojam of his youth as a place where people were kind, generous and hospitable.  He feels growing up there has imbued him with values that have helped shape his character and which in turn have led to him favouring the sector within which he works.

Till this day, Gojam is an area where most of its inhabitants are agriculturalists.  It is ethnically diverse to a degree and most of its inhabitants practice the Ethiopian orthodox religion.  One of the people celebrated in the region is a man called Beley Zeleke (1912 to 1945).  He is credited with defeating the Italians in many battles during their occupation of Ethiopia.

Reflecting on the Gojam of his youth Tadele says you could go anywhere and be welcomed into a person’s home.  A host would provide food and shelter, and would prioritise a guest’s comfort over their own, going as far as to offer guests their bed, even if it meant they in turn would sleep on a mat on the floor.

Sadly things are very different in Gojam these days.  Tadele cites the national political climate as having a bearing on how things have changed.  Ethnic political discord has impacted relationships between different ethnic groups and the accord that was once evident is no longer apparent.

Over 80 ethnic groups make up Ethiopia, however, the Oromo and Amhara ethnic groups have the largest populations and their size is reflected in their political and to some extent socio-economic fortunes in the country.

Tadele hails from the Amhara people, however, although he belongs to one of the largest ethnic groups in the country he is not a member of the political establishment.  He believes all Ethiopians should be treated equally irrespective of ethnic group.

He also believes the country needs a national consensus that will yield mechanisms which promote greater unity in order for the country to better coalesce, overcome ethnic strife and improve conditions for his compatriots as a whole.

He describes the current system as ethnic federalism and is not convinced it can lead to a more meritocratic/equitable nation.

Moving things on to a lighter footing, Tadele shares some general facts about his country.

Ethiopians know their own mind and the country is steeped in history.  Certain things exemplify this.

Ethiopian Calendar

For instance they don’t abide by the Gregorian calendar that many countries around the world use.  As a result a year in Ethiopia has 13 months instead of 12.  This works out to 12 months of 30 days and a 13th month comprising of 5 days or 6 days in each leap year.

It’s often remarked lightheartedly that a certain Mr. Habte Selassie Tafesse is credited as the person who coined the phrase “Thirteen Months of Sunshine”.  Resultantly, he is said to have single handedly established tourism in Ethiopia.

In real terms it means 2020 is still 2012 here.

Ethiopian Time

Ethiopians have their own way of setting out the hours of the day.  Their approach is based on the premise it is more straight forward to indicate the start of the day from 1 o’clock, hence sunrise is at 1 o’clock and sunset at 12 o’clock.

Never Colonised

A fact that many Ethiopians are always proud to tell anyone for the hundredth or even thousandth time is that their country is one of two in Africa that was never colonised during the period referred to as the scramble for Africa.  The Italians did occupy the country in part for six years but were unable to bring it totally under their control due to the spirited and unyielding efforts of Ethiopian resistance.  Excuse me, did you know that Ethiopia was never colonised?…

Tadele is obviously a man who values a sense of humour.  Nevertheless, we turn our attention back to more topical matters.

When quizzed on what he feels are Africa’s three biggest challenges he cites the following;

  1. Lack of good governance and democracy
  2. Peace and security
  3. Atitudinal poverty (economic, social, education and health)

He goes on to highlight the destructive role of the Berlin Conference of 1884 – 1885.  An event that led to the partitioning of Africa as well as eventually culminating in nation states comprising of populations with a myriad of ethnic groups that did not previously have political affiliations and/or other associations.  In fact many of these ethnic groups were strangers who suddenly found themselves contained within the same country.

He is scathing of those who participated in the Berlin Conference, and dismisses as absolute nonsense the basis on which those who colonized Africa justified the murderous, mendacious and plunderous systems they put in place i.e. justification based on spreading the 3c’s; christianity, commerce, civilization. 

As far as he is concerned, any systems/processes that do not safeguard or enhance the lives of the widest possible number of Africans and/or that leaves them subservient or disempowered should be vigorously resisted.  This he advocates, holds for so called old world powers and any new/ emerging entities that have their eyes set on enjoying Africa’s resource at the expense of Africans.  One form of colonialism was more than enough!

The above situation has left an extremely diverse range of Africans with the challenge of forming equitable nations that allow for all members of their populace to achieve their aspirations irrespective of ethnic, religious or any other form of difference associated with an individual’s background.

Tadele understands the magnitude of the issue and intends to continue playing his part in bringing about a more equitable society which he expects will not only allow for better outcomes for Ethiopians in general, but that will also allow the country to contribute more effectively to the region, continent and world as a whole.

Previous ‘Personal Profile’ interviews are available here; archive

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