Sophie Yilma Deressa
|Sandford School, Addis Ababa; Georgetown Day School, Washington DC, USA
|Baldwin School for Girls, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, USA; Western High School, Washington DC, USA; Haile Selassie First Day School, Addis Ababa
|Haile Selassie I University, studied Arts, but didn’t graduate; Free University of Berlin, Diploma in Journalism
Sophie Yilma had such a passion to be a journalist that she abandoned her college studies at Haile Selassie I University (now Addis Ababa University) to join the Ethiopian Radio in the Office of Telecommunications. She had the extraordinary opportunity to work with other pioneering women – Ellene Mocria, Ellene Fetene – and with her idol Romanework Kassahun. Like many others, she had listened to Romanework’s powerful voice and admired the tiny woman who was so articulate and outspoken. She “nearly fell through the floor” when Romanework allowed her to do the women’s programs with her. But her real passion was writing and she persuaded the then Minister of Information – a colleague of her father Yilma Deressa – to allow her to transfer to the Ethiopian Herald, where she became the first (and only at the time) woman reporter at the age of 19. An anomaly at the time both because of her gender and her youth, she was able to scoop stories on the street and in the corridors of government where she said people received her as much out of curiosity as anything else.
A year later, she was made the Women’s Page editor and the section’s masthead carried her picture. When she walked the streets to find stories, ordinary people would recognize and greet the young Sophie. When the opportunity to go to Germany on a scholarship and study journalism for two years with exchange professors from the United States at the Free University of Berlin, she jumped at the chance. On her return, she married her former boss, the editor of the Ethiopian Herald, Tegegne Yeteshawork, a renowned journalist. As a result, she left the Herald and became Public Relations Officer at the Ethiopian Telecommunications Office, producing their in-house magazine and led both internal and external public relations.
Then in 1974, Sophie’s world fell apart. Her husband, the Vice Minister of Information by then, was one of the 60 imperial ministers arrested and executed en masse in the early days of the revolution in 1974. Her father, as a senior minister, had been arrested and imprisoned right away and died in prison five years later of stomach cancer. In 1976, after her husband’s execution, she was picked up and arrested from her Telecommunications Office. Her mother was also arrested at the prison while taking food to her husband. Both were in prison for seven months – at first separately and later, at Sophie’s request, together at the AA prison where the African Union now stands. Finally they were released along with many other ministers’ wives, (Sophie’s mother Elsabet Workeneh nearly at the point of death), and they were reunited with Sophie’s four year old son, who had been cared for by her sister and cousins during her imprisonment.
Needing to support her family, Sophie returned to Ethiopian Telecommunications, where she worked first in public relations and then in customer service, retiring in 1997. Customer service at Ethiopian Telecommunications, while the reach of the service was still relatively small, was considered a model – so much so that delegations came from Europe to see how they did their work.
Far from retiring, though, Sophie was recruited by her lifelong friend, Sister Jember Tefera, to serve as Public Relations Officer for Sister Jember’s nonprofit organization, Integrated Holistic Approach – Urban Development Project (IHA-UDP). She says that she kind of discovered her country for the first time in that role, realizing the difficult conditions that her fellow countrymen faced in the slums of Addis Ababa. Again, she became a recognized figure in the poor communities where she worked, writing stories about people’s lives and successes, contacting donors, and helping to publicize both the need for help and the success of Sister Jember’s programs. After eight years, as Sister Jember was preparing to expand into two new kebeles, Sophie left the organization, ready to pursue new activities..
At that point, she became involved for the first time in political work. She helped form a shortlived opposition party named EDAG along with 20 other professionals who were engineers, lawyers, doctors and so on. As the party prepared to disband, they were approached by a young man named Lidetu Ayalew, who had formed the growing Ethiopian Democratic Party, inviting some of the EDAG members to join his party to bring more experienced people into the fold. Sophie became the Vice-President of EDP. To contest the 2005 elections, EDP joined a four-party coalition called Kinijit which went on to win a significant proportion of the votes – especially in Addis Ababa where they won over 90% of the votes. Unfortunately, the four coalition parties split (with two of the parties attacking the EDP leader Lidetu as a government spy) and refused to take their seats in Parliament. Ultimately, Lidetu and several other members of the EDP did take their seats in Parliament, but most from the other opposition parties did not. Both he and the other members of his party lost their seats in the 2010 elections. After the disintegration of the Kinijit coalition, Sophie joined Lidetu and his colleagues, including the current president of the party, Mushe Semu, in rebuilding the party from scratch again.
Along with several other candidates from EDP, Sophie ran for parliament herself in Addis Ababa in 2010, but lost along with the other opposition candidates. Sophie has however been responsible for securing membership for the party in the African Liberal Network, a collective of liberal political parties in Africa, which now has 27 members, and has traveled on behalf of the party to South Africa, Kinshasa and Birmingham for African Liberal Network conferences and events. She expects EDU to be involved in every upcoming election opportunity, both municipal and federal.
Sophie credits her family with both her love of reading and writing and her unquenchable desire to serve her country. Her family was always in the service of the country. Her father, Yilma Deressa, was a diplomat, serving as ambassador to the United States in the 1950’s, and as a renowned economist involved in creating the modern economic foundations of the country in imperial times. Her father enjoyed her writing and encouraged her to read widely in order to write well. Both of her parents were great readers – especially her mother Elsabet Workeneh. Each of them had their own extensive collection of books.
Today she is encouraged by watching young people – like Lidetu Ayalew and Mushe Semu – who have such a passion to do something for their country and who astound people with their courage in national debates. As a young person, she feels that she was brave without knowing that she was brave – she just went into things with the energy and enthusiasm of youth. She has loved all the work that she has done – working for the newspaper, working for Sister Jember, and now working in politics. Her hope for herself is to make a small difference in her work.
For Ethiopia, she wants democracy to be the way of life in a meaningful way. She hopes for better opportunity and better education for our children. And she wants people to have faith in their country again – to be able to believe in the little things, without fear or anxiety about what is going to happen.
Her advice to young women: Participate in your country! No one will come from elsewhere to make things better. If you want things to be better, you have to work – and participate! It’s difficult to recruit women into politics – many are afraid…. for their families. But to make a difference, you have to participate.
|Interview with Sophia Yilma Deressa, February 7 2012
Primary Area of Work
|1||Abebech Wolde Tebeje||Journalism
||1969||Azezo, Gonder, Ethiopia||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||Contemporary||More ...|
|2||Abonesh Haile Mariam, BSc, MD||Reproductive Health; Maternal, Newborn and Child Health||1947||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||Contemporary||More ...|
|3||Achamyelesh Kifle (Colonel Dr.)||Medicine, Military Healthcare Administration
||1964||Gambella, Ethiopia||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||Contemporary||More ...|
|4||Aida Ashenafi Tessema||Filmmaking, Business Management||1971||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||Contemporary||More ...|
|5||Alfa Melesse Demmellash||Social Entrepreneur
||1979||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||New Jersey, USA||Contemporary||More ...|
|6||Almaz Dejene Gebremariam||Media – radio and television||1948||Harar, Ethiopia||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||Contemporary||More ...|
|7||Almaz Demese Tesema||Entrepreneur||1957||Selale, Ethiopia||Adama, Ethiopia||Contemporary||More ...|
|8||Almaz Haile-Selassie Woderyeleh||Gender Activist
||1947||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||Contemporary||More ...|
|9||Amsale Gualu Endegnanew, Captain||Airline Pilot||1977||Bahir Dar, Amhara Regional State, Ethiopia||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||Contemporary||More ...|
|10||Assegedech Yeberta Tsadique||Radio Broadcast Journalism
||1943||Debre Berhan, Ethiopia||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||Contemporary||More ...|
|11||Atsedeweine Tekle Riggio||Law||1952||Asmara, Eritrea||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||Contemporary||More ...|
|12||Azeb Worku Sibane||Theater, Film, Television||1975||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||Contemporary||More ...|
|13||Bedria Mohamed Ahmed||Social Activism
||1955||Harar, Ethiopia||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||Contemporary||More ...|
|14||Berhane Daba||Disability Activist
||1965||Holeta, Oromiya, Ethiopia||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||Contemporary||More ...|
|15||Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu||Global Business||1980||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||Contemporary||More ...|
|16||Bruktawit Tigabu Tadesse||Media: TV Producer Children’s Programming||1981||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||Contemporary||More ...|
|17||Brutawit Dawit Abdi||Banking||1947||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||Contemporary||More ...|
|18||Camille De Stoop||Environmentally Sound Development||1949||Kortrijk, Belgium||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||Contemporary||More ...|
|19||Catherine Hamlin (Dr.)||Obstetric Fistula Care and Prevention||1924||Sydney, Australia||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||Contemporary||More ...|
|20||Chachi Tadesse WoldeGiorgis||Music, modeling, entrepreneur, community service||-||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Atlanta, Georgia, USA||Contemporary||More ...|
|21||Derartu Tulu Gemechu, Colonel||World Champion Athlete||1972||Bekoji, Arsi Zone, Oromia Region, Ethiopia||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||Contemporary||More ...|
|22||Desta Gebru Desta||Social Welfare
||1921||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||Historical||More ...|
|23||Desta Hagos Tekle||Visual Arts||1951||Adwa, Tigray, Ethiopia||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||Contemporary||More ...|
|24||Elizabeth Wolde Giorgis Wolde Yohannes (Dr.)||Academic Executive
||1956||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||Contemporary||More ...|
|25||Emahoy Welete Mariam Gelaw||Environmental farming; community welfare; religious service||1968-1970 (Approx)||Quashiba Kirkos, Machakel, Gojjam||East Gojjam, Ethiopia||Contemporary||More ...|
|26||Emebet Mulugeta Tefera (Dr.)||Academic Teaching and Research||-||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||Contemporary||More ...|
|27||Enana Woubet||Businesswoman/restaurant owner||-||Enferanz, North Gondar, Ethiopia||Gondar, Ethiopia||Contemporary||More ...|
|28||Fana Hagos Berhane||Education
||-||Mekelle, Tigrai, Ethiopia||Mekelle, Tigrai, Ethiopia||Contemporary||More ...|
|29||Fatuma Hate Hafilo||Advocacy for the Empowerment of Women
||1982||Gewane, Afar, Ethiopia||Awash, Afar, Ethiopia||Contemporary||More ...|
|30||Fetenu Bekele Gebremeskel||Gender and Development, Women's Empowerment||1945||Gosh Wuha, Wello, Ethiopia||Contemporary||More ...|