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Monday, 8 October, 2001, 21:55 GMT 22:55 UK
'Unknown' elected Ethiopian president
Lieutenant Girma Wolde Giorgis being sworn in as president
Wolde Giorgis has worked for three different regimes
By Nita Bhalla in Addis Ababa

Ethiopia's parliament has elected a surprise new president.

Lieutenant Girma Wolde Giorgis, who is unknown to much of Ethiopia's population, was unanimously elected by both houses of parliament.

Lieutenant Wolde Giorgis, a 76-year-old independent member of parliament and businessman, will replace Dr Negasso Gidada who has ended his six-year term.

Lieutenant Wolde Giorgis is from the majority Oromo ethnic group which make up more than 30% of Ethiopia's 63 million people.

Many believe this is an attempt by the ethnic Tigrayan-led government to appease the Oromo population.


In recent months, the private media has been speculating as to who would succeed Dr Negasso Gidada, listing various cabinet members and other senior officials.

But at no time could anyone have predicted Lieutenant Wolde Giorgis.

Lieutenant Girma Wolde Giorgis (Pic: Abey Workiye/The Reporter)
Some are concerned that Wolde Giorgis is too frail

The elderly businessman-turned-politician has survived three successive regimes.

Under Emperor Haile Selassie, he served as one of the first officers in the Ethiopian air force, later becoming director general of civil aviation authority.

Also under the emperor, he joined parliament and became president of the lower chamber.


In this role, he established the first international parliamentary committee and developed a flair for international relations.

When the military regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam overthrew the emperor in 1974, Lieutenant Wolde Giorgis worked with the "dergue" regime in many different roles including as president of the Red Cross in Eritrea, which was then a province of Ethiopia.

When the military dictatorship was overthrown in 1991 by the present day ruling EPRDF party, Lieutenant Wolde Giorgis embarked on several private business ventures.

He is now a stakeholder in several banks and is an independent MP in a constituency in the western Shoa region.


There has been a mixed reaction to the new president.

The few who knew who he was on the streets of Addis Ababa, said that they were surprised and concerned as he was very old and looked too frail to take up the position as head of state.

Political analysts today were also sceptical, some consider Lieutenant Wolde Giorgis an "opportunist" for surviving and working under three totally opposing regimes in Ethiopia.

Most however remain apathetic, saying that the president does not really matter as his powers are largely ceremonial and so he could never bring about real change in the country.

See also:

10 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Ethiopia
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