Ato Amde Akalework, 74, has been immersed in the leather industry since his youth. He is often described as a smart and detail-oriented manager who knew every inch of the business. We are sitting in his office in a residential area close to St. Bisrate Gebriel Church in Addis Ababa for this interview.
A man of deeply ingrained honour and integrity, he treated others with deference and respect. His physical presence— robust, elegant, sparkling eyes, – makes you relax under the force of his affability.
When I met Ato Amde, it was shortly after his return from France, where he goes for an annual visit. “The first time I went there, I must have been nine. It was for a medical check-up. My heart was beating and pounding so hard and loud and when I had a check-up, the physicians suspected that it was a cardiovascular disease. My uncle, Teshafi Tizaz Aklilu and his wife, Madame Colette brought me to Paris. It turns out there was no problem and my heart was perfectly healthy. The doctortold us that thin people were blessed with feeling our heartbeats more easily than people of average weight.” Yet this occasion became the first introduction to country that Ato Amde Akalework would grow to love.
In his office hangs a collection of historic black and white family photographs, including that of his father and uncle who were executed on November 1974 along with 62 former ministers, generals and dignitaries by the military regime. Amde is the son of the prominent official in the imperial government, Akalework Habtwold, who rose from humble background to eminent government positions.
Ato Akalework served as Ethiopian ambassador to France (1958-62), Minister of Justice (1969-74), Minister of Agriculture (1962-66), Minister of Education (1947-55, 1967-69) and the first African President of the UNESCO General Assembly (1960-62). Amde’s uncle, the Sorbonne-educated Aklilu Habtwold assumed a more prominent role, from Vice-Minister in the Ministry of Pen to Vice Minister and full Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1943 to 1957 and Prime Minister from 1961 to 1974.
Amde had generally enjoyed a privileged upbringing, attending the French school, Lycée Guebre-Mariam, following the family tradition. When he was14 years old, he followed his father to Paris where he had been appointed ambassador. There he would spend three and half years.