Print | Download

Sophie Yilma Deressa


 
Key Achievements:  

One of the early women journalists and the first at the Ethiopian Herald; she started and ran the Women’s Page at the Ethiopian Herald; after enduring 7 months in prison, the assassination of her husband and death of her father, worked in public relations and then customer service at the Ethiopian Telecommunications office; then as Public Relations Officer for IHA-UDP founded by Sister Jember Teferra; in the early 2000’s, became involved in opposition politics, joined Ethiopian Democratic Party as Vice President, contesting the 2005 elections; ran for office unsuccessfully in 2010 but continues to support and build the party

Current Position: Vice President, Ethiopian Democratic Party
Birth Place: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Birth Date: 1942
Current Home: Near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
 
       
  Primary School  
  Sandford School, Addis Ababa; Georgetown Day School, Washington DC, USA
 
  Secondary School  
  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
 
   
  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. 

 
 
 
  Key Sources  
  Interview with Sophia Yilma Deressa, February 7 2012
 
  Other Sources  
      
  Researcher  
  Mary-Jane Wagle  
       
Print

 

Next Last
No.
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 ...
Next Last