Dejazmach Zewde Gabre-Sellassie was born on October 14, 1927 to Dejazmach Gabre-Sellassie Barya and Weizero (later Princess) Wolete Israel Seyoum in the town of Geldu in the district of Mecha, Ethiopia. His father's death when he was just three years old was a turning point. After the marriage of his mother to Crown Prince Asfa Wossen in May 1932, he joined his mother and travelled to Desse, the capital city of Wollo. Although only five years old, according to the old custom befitting his status, he was required to keep his own household and act as a figure-head to the thirty of more men of his father's attendants and members of his household who had accompanied him to Desse. He recalls how he visited his mother and step-father every Sunday.
In May 1936, he joined his mother and the Imperial family and boarded a train on their way to exile. They arrived in Jerusalem and there, he resumed his studies. During this time, the Ethiopian community in Jerusalem had become large due to the war in Ethiopia. The young Zewde was to encouter many influential statesmen and historical figures at very close proximity. He recalls that he would regularly act as a messenger boy, and buy the Jerusalem Post and translate to them in Amharic. And that he would often sit and listen to hear their most interesting accounts of their past experiences since the days of Menelik. This experience if seems, would instill in him a deep appreciation for history and afford him the extraordinary opportunity to develop his mind. This unique experience, it can be argued, became the most defining aspect of his formative years. It is no wonder that Dejazmach Zewde would go on to become an esteemed Scholar of history and one of the most distinguished statesmen of his time.
He accompanied his mother to Cairo, Egypt for a brief time and after World War II broke out in 1945 they returned to Jerusalem. At the time of the liberation of Ethiopia in 1941, at the age of fourteen, Zewde was given the (hereditary) title and rank of Dejazmach. He was with his grandfather Ras Seyoum who had commanded an army against the Italians in Soqota, Korem and Amba Alagie in Tigre region. In 1945 - 53 he attended Oxford University and obtained his undergraduate degree from the deparment of Philosophy and Economics, and later 1963 - 71, he received his Doctoral degree in History.
He was married to Woezerit Alem Tsehay Araya on May 7, 1961. The timing of his wedding was overshadowed by events that had occured five month earlier. His grandfather, Ras Seyoum Mengesha was one of the vicims of the massacre that resulted from the abortive coup in December 1960. The newly weds soon left for England. During the eight years stay there, their children Ezana, Debritu and Elizabeth were born.
Dejazmach Zewde served numerous positions within the Imperial Government of Ethiopia beginning in 1953 until 1961 and from 1971 to 1974. At the time of the Military revolution in 1974, he was appointed as the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. He left Ethiopia on September 4, 1974 to attend the annual United Nations General Assembly, two months later the massacre of the sixty cabinet members of the Imperial government too place. Dejazmach Zewde made a public condemnation of this action and went into exile in the West. He remained in exile for the following seventeen years.
He returned to Ethiopia soon after the down-fall of the military dictatorship in 1991. Addis Ababa became his permanent residence and for the past eighteen years, he was engaged in research and writing. He is the author of numerous books among them, Yohannes IV, a political Biography. Dejazmach Zewde frequenty accepted speaking engagments at various venus and remained very active until the very end. This extraordinary Ethiopian signifies the ending of an era. He is survived by his wife, two daughters, a granddaughter, neices, nephews and countless family members whose life he has touched most profoundly.
Esther Sellassie Antohin
December 16, 2007