Saturday, January 22, 2011

Deeds told in Tranquillity

Historical recollections from a prison cell Aklilu Habtewold,Prime Minister of Ethiopia,1961-1974

Translated by: Getachew Tedla
Addis Ababa University Press, 215 pp., 42 birr, 2010

The passage of time helps to consolidate achievement and fix reputation of public figures. Thirty Seven years after a Prime minister’s death would seem like ample time for this posthumous process to be completed. The report of the Prime Minister Tsehafe T’ezaz Aklilu Habtewold, on the request of the Inquiry Commission was written on September 17, 1974 while the Prime Minister was in the Militant prison, without access to reference document making views to be relied on memories and factual events.

Aklilu narrates his recollection while being in a deplorable condition of imprisonment. The subjects that are broadly mention and described, in a formal and chronologically well maintained writing, in the report are some of the most prominent achievements of his reign. The captivating and moreover factual experiences from his youth to the ending days in office keeps a reader absorbed and apprehensively engaged besides making the memoir admirable.

Raised to be judicious for the national responsibilities that laid on to him starting from his early age, the historical and political auto biography shows that he never let an opportunity go by if it meant useful for Ethiopia and fellow citizens. Aklilu was critical about mistreatments and its consequence on affiliations and interaction. During his schooling in French Lycee in Alexandria, he asserted to Ministry of foreign affairs -“We the current students are going to be the future leaders of Ethiopia and would not forget any such calamity” - demanding  proper care and accommodation for Ethiopian students that were residing in a school in Cairo. Even later, as student of Sorbonne University and a proficient French speaker and outspoken individual he was known, by the French media, as an Ethiopian elite and a representative of a nation that is a victim of aggression.

The stories that comprise Aklilu Remembers take us through Aklilu’s political life and outlines Aklilu’s professional and political role in Ethiopia’s foremost affairs to be recorded as national succession to great achievements in the history of the nation. Yet some of the memories are private, such as the time when he was a student and Ethiopian delegate of the League of Nation, Aklilu’s love life with his wife Mademoiselle Colette who had been a provider of Parisian aura and financial reliability had been a major support and meant a lot to Aklilu as personal experience and success.

This book stands above most memoirs both in its authenticity and its importance as it was an effort to get everything onto the page before dying. Most of the Aklilu’s memoir instills referring to official documents for further details. For instance, in the chapter about Paris peace conference (1946) with Italy, the full speech was referred right before Aklilu proceeded on narrating the dramatic incident that occurred following ; Italy made the allegation that peace agreement was not required since the war that started in 1935 has already ended in 1936.On another part Aklilu refers to the 1944 agreement that was signed by the Emperor that gave British a provincial consent over Ethiopia which according to the Aklilu’s argument was invalidated according to the 1930’s First Constitution rather the succeeding Constitution which seems to create perplexity for a reader yet could have been compensated if book have some citations for such allusions.

Most readers will have an opinion on and a passing familiarity with the facts of the unification of Eritrea with Ethiopia and inquiry of port, for instance. They can look up Aklilu on these topics and evaluate his intelligence, his life-risking effort and participation, and his judgment to make this happen. On all three indicators he consistently scores very highly. He made a number of dangerous and risky travels but yet had remarkably astonishing successful mission. In 1948 before the United Nation Conference he made a dangerous trip in the small plane (Dakota) routing from Ethiopia through France and then Britain to Brazil. He explained the rationales of Ethiopia’s claims to most Latin American countries that at the time were members of the United Nations. He was hospitalized, in Washington, DC on his way back to London, after exhaustion and dehydration.

Prime Minister Aklilu Habtewold political role and influence is not easily restricted as Bahru Zewde opinionates but had a advisory and reactionary influence on the Emperor, that cohesion is frequently observed in the memoir as Aklilu repeatedly points out the loyalty, in action, he had towards the Emperor. This commitment made him invincible. After the 1973 uprising against the government the Prime Minister Aklilu resigned yet this is not mentioned in the memoir as this is a report which might be delicately requesting recognition of positive efforts and successes that the minister has achieved.

 Aklilu ended his eloquently written report by stating about the dialogue with the United States in regards to military assistance requisition for which he was assigned to finalize the agreement but was removed from Menelik Palace and taken to Akaki Central Prison before he could commence the mission. 


  1. Dear Eminiye,
    You have summarized the personal memoir of the great Ethiopian diplomat Aklilu Habte Wold in an interesting manner. He is one of the pioneer Ethiopians I always admire. I will give my take after I read the book. Thanx to my friend Alula, who dropped the book to my shelf on time. I really recommended any concerned citizen to read "Ye Eritrea Guday" and really appreciate Aklilu, the Man.
    Ephrem E

  2. Ababaye,

    Yes indeed he is a great man

  3. I thank you for your article and summary. I wonder if we can access his book internationally. I am one of his great admirers and would llike to have a copy of this book.

    He is the only Ethiopian who has written his memoires in Prison. From my little research he is perhaps the most competent Prime Minister both intellectually and experientially and Ethiopia will not see a man of his caliber for many generations to come.

    The saddest part of our history is that the most competent man was replaced by a series of incompetent people who did not give him credit but killed him in shame and in a criminal way to deprive Ethiopia for such great leaders.

    Please let me know how I can access this book.

    Thank you.

    Belai Habte-Jesus, MD, MPH