Professor Mesfin W/Mariam is an Ethiopian academic, author, politician and human rights activist. He is a founding member of Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRC). He later founded Rainbow Ethiopia Movements for Democracy and Social Justice.
Mesfin was born In Addis Ababa on April 23, 1930. He attended Teferi Meknonen School. He spent most of his child hood committed to a church as a student of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. He received ordination as a deacon in 1945.
Mesfin won a scholarship in 1951 to study abroad to complete his education. He went to London to receive his bachelor and master’s degree from Clarke University. Up on return he joined Addis Ababa University to become a lecturer of geography. Mesfin was also a senior Fulbright Scholar in 1971, 1986 and 1987. He returned to Addis Ababa University in 1991.
Political career and activism
Mesfin got his first political involvement in the 1950s and early 1960s political and social turbulence in Ethiopia. While the Emperor was on a visit to Brazil, his own military guard the Kebur Zebegna tried a coup. The university was swept by the political move and students were on the street supporting the Kebur Zebegna’s decision to remove the emperor. Mesfin joined his students on the street of Addis Ababa, mostly trying to protect them from the cross fire between the Kebur Zebegna and other military units that were loyal to the emperor.
The emperor returned to Ethiopia immediately, and with some logistic assistance from the United States government, managed to control the coup. Though the emperor was lucky this time, the movement in the military and students only got a boost from the failed coup. The emperor and his cabinet led by Prime Minister Aklilu Habtewoled, wanted to do something to get the support of students and their teachers at Addis Ababa University. In early 1970s, the cabinet announced that some lecturers are appointed in to some administrative positions outside of the university. Mesfin was appointed as the governor of Gimbi sub province in Wellega, Oromia. However, Mesfin strongly opposed the appointments, claiming that the imperial regime is trying to silence some outspoken academician by pushing them out of the hot political scene. His resistance to go to Gimbi and take on the governor’s post led to his arrest. Mesfin insisted that the only way he would accept the post is if he got a chance to hear it directly from the emperor. That is because he was convinced that the emperor has little or no idea about this appointments.
He was granted his day with emperor Hailesellasie, who explained to his that he approved the appointments. The intention was to give educated young Ethiopians an opportunity to improve the system and lead by example.
In 1973, Mesfin was heartbroken by the famine in Ethiopia. He went on a mission to figure the extent of the damage of the draught and the famine, and witnessed people travelling from Wollo to Addis Ababa, trying to get to the capital to appeal to the government to do something about the famine. Many has died on this trip, and the survivals were not allowed in to Addis Ababa. Instead the police has had stopped them in the outskirt of the capital. Mesfin organized a photograph and video exhibition to the University Teachers Association in the campus. The pictures and the video was visited by the students and the university community, and is considered as one of the pivotal monuments that accelerated the revolution and led to the end of imperial regime in Ethiopia.
During the military regime, Mesfin got his first appointment as the inquiry Commission to determine the criminal capability of former Imperial high officials in the Wello Famine. The commission had 15 members, composed of the military and civilians. However, without revealing the report of the commission, the military regime decided to execute all of the arrested Hailesellasie Officials. The 60 ministers, governors and members of the royal family, all were executed with no due process of law. As the chairman of the Commission, Mesfin took a lot of blame and criticism for his role.
Throughout the DERG regime, Mesfin played many active roles in the Ethiopian politics.
In 2004, Mesfin cofounded Rainbow Ethiopia Movement for Social Justice. On the eve of the forthcoming May 2005 election, Rainbow party merged with several others to form the Coalition Unity and Democracy CUD). Mesfin refused to stand as a candidate for the election, but fiercely debated the ruling party and served and represented the CUD in many stages. CUD won the Capital Addis Ababa and many other cities, but the ruling party EPRDF claims they have won the national election. CUD argued that the win is theirs. The conflict let to the arrest of many CUD top politicians, journalists and activists at the time. Mesfin was one of those arrested. He refused to defend himself in the court of law, claiming that justice system as a tool for political drama. He was charged with political treason, genocide and outrage the constitution. Because of his refusal to defend himself, he was found guilty as charged.
On July 20, 2007 Mesfin, along with 37 opposition party leaders and journalists, received a pardon and were freed.
Mesfin is an author of more than ten books. He is also a freelance contributor for many newspapers and publications.
- Recipient of the Heniz R. Pagles Award in 2006. The award is given annually by the New York Academy of Science in recognition of service on behalf of human rights of scientists
Professor Mesfin Woldemariam currently lives in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.