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Biography of Dr. Berhanou Abebe Gedle (1932-2008)

Dr. Berhanou Abebe
Berhanou Abebe

Dr Berhanou Abebe, a polyglot and the most distinguished Ethiopian French scholar, passed away on July 1, 2008, while on assignment to monitor the elections in Zimbabwe as a representative of the African Union. The following is a brief biography about him and a condolence letter from the President of France Nicolas Sarkozy.

Letter from President Sarkozy [pdf]

Biography of Dr. Berhanou Abebe Gedle (1932-2008)

Birth: Dr. Berhanou Abebe Gedel was born on October 14, 1932 in Addis Ababa from his father Ato Abebe Gedel and his mother, Wzo. Yeshiemebet Wolde-Aregay.

Education: When he came of age, Dr. Berhanou was introduced into the nascent realm of modern education in Ethiopia. He was subsequently educated in the some of the best schools found in and outside of the country, and in the process reached the pinnacle of scholarship. His life in the world of scholarship was very impressive as can be seen from the following list:

Dr. Berhanou Abebe attended the Teferi Mekonnen and Alliance Française schools from 1939 to 1946, completing his elementary education with “Great Distinction.” Subsequently he joined the Lycée Guebre Mariam School for his secondary education and he obtained the Baccalauréat in 1953 with “Great Distinction.”

After the Baccalauréat, he left for France for further studies where he stayed from 1953 to 1967. During his fourteen years stay in France he was educated in a number of higher learning institutions and graduated in different disciplines.

1954 – 1957 Law Faculty at the Institute of Comparative Law and obtained an L.L.B. Besides, he worked with Professor Tubiana on various research projects and as instructor.

1957 to 1960 he joined the Institute of Law Studies in Paris and worked on various research projects and he attended the first international conference on Ethiopian. He also attended under the auspices of the United Nations, a special training in International Service.

1961 to 1963: Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in Sorbonne and studied the Historical Ethnology of East Africa and the Science of Administration. He successfully completed the study with “Very Great Distinction” and awarded a Licence és Lettres.

1962 to 1964 Dr. Berhanou pursued his studies at the internationally well-known university of Sorbonne and obtained his Doctorate Degree on the evolution of land ownership in Shoa covering the period from the 19th to the 20th century.

1965-1967 He obtained le Doctorat d’Etat es Lettres (the Highest level of Academic distinction in France from the University of Sorbonne on the social history of 19th and 20th century Ethiopia with a special emphasis on the reign of Emperor Menelik II. While conducting his research in Paris for two years the French Government made available all the relevant documents located in various French institutions.

1967 he returned to his beloved country Ethiopia.

An Ethiopian Polyglot: Dr. Berhanou was a veritable polyglot who had a mastery of the following Ethiopian and foreign languages: Amharic, Geez, Tigrigna, Oromifa, French, English, Italian, Latin, Classic Greek, and Arabic.

Research and Publications: Dr. Berhanou Abebe Gedel has published a number of very valuable research based works in the course of his long period of dedicated service, such as on the Annales d’Ethiopie. Furthermore, he has made presentations at national and international historical, linguistic, and cultural symposia on Ethiopia and Africa. Also, he has served as the Secretary of the All African Pre-history Council. For his contributions, Dr. Berhanou has received innumerable letters of appreciation as well as awards of merit.

To name but a few of his published works:
The Rise of Land Tenure in Ethiopia (1971)
The History of Monasticism in Ancient Ethiopia (1981)
History of Ethiopia (2002)

In addition, on the occasion of the 200th Anniversary of the French Revolution, he has translated and published the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 in Amharic. Together with his colleagues, he has prepared a French-Amharic and an Amharic-French Dictionaries in 2004 and 2005 respectively.

Professional Membership
The French Society of Natural History (Member)
Association of African Railways (Founding member and Acting General Secretary)

Commandeur de l’Ordre de Hailesellassie (Ethiopie)
Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur (France)
Chevealier de l’Ordre du Merite (France)
Commandeur des Arts et lettres (France)
Officer des Palmes Academiques (France)

Professional Contributions
Dr. Berhanou Abebe is one of the few Ethiopians who made unique professional contributions in the fields of history, international relations, social studies, administration, and science and technology. He displayed utmost competence and leadership quality in executing a number of activities, including research and public services. Some of Dr. Berhanou Abebe’s contributions are summarized below.

· From 1958 to 1965, he taught Ethiopian languages, history, and culture in the Department of Eastern Languages at Paris University.

· Upon his return to his home land he join the Institute of Ethiopian Studies, in the former Haile Seleasie I University, and served as a researcher and instructor.

· In 1968, with a letter written by the Ministry of Pen and the Emperor’s kind permission, he was appointed to serve as a General Manager of the Haile Selassie I Prize Trust. He served the Trust for close to six years.

· With the kind permission of His Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie I, he served as a member of the National Education Commission beginning in 1968.

· In 1961, he served as a member of the Amharic Language Academy.

· He was assigned by the Ministry of Pen to serve as a Deputy Manager of the Franco-Ethiopian Railway Company from 1972 to 1974.

· In 1974/5, he was an official of the Ministry of Communication and Posts.

· From 1975 to 1980, he served as the Head of the Department of Heritage Conservation in the Ministry of Culture and Youth Affairs. In 1976, the same Ministry assigned him to serve as a member of the Council of Science and Technology.

· From 1980 until his retirement in 1997, he taught in the Department of History and Heritage Management at Addis Ababa University.

· Starting 1981, he served as an External Relations Officer of Addis Ababa University

After retiring from Addis Ababa University, Dr Berhanou Abebe continued to serve his nation and the continent with his usual dedication, upright character, and good repute and thus put to work the rich experience he had acquired over the years.

To mention a few of his latest engagements, he served as: He contributed to the study commissioned by the African Union on the Rwandese Genocide along with Mrs Johnson Sirleaf who is the current President of the Republic of Liberia.

AU observer in the negotiations meant to mediate the various conflicting factions in the DRC
Representative of the Global NGOs Forum for the Central African Republic formed in Geneva
Board member and Vice President-Nominee of the upcoming St Thomas Aquinas Catholic University which is soon to be inaugurated by the Ethiopian Catholic Church
AU observer of the recent elections in Zimbabwe.

Dr Berhanou passed away on July 1, 2008 due to a sudden natural cause while on line of duty in Zimbabwe. His death is a great loss not only to his family members, relatives, close friends and colleagues but also to the country and continent he loved. We have lost a man of great stature and impeccable character! But his remarkable deeds, character and memories shall remain with us forever!

Dr. Berhanu was married to Wzo. Fikirte Seyoum and is survived by three children. We extend our condolences to his family and friends and pray to our Heavenly Father that he may favor His son to inherit the Kingdom of God.

29 thoughts on “Biography of Dr. Berhanou Abebe Gedle (1932-2008)

  1. I am so deeply touched, so sad I am that I don’t have words to express my feelings about this man. He was my teacher of the Hist 101 course and I rate him as the best teacher of all I had in my stay in the University. May his soul rest in peace!

  2. Dr. Berhanu Abebe was visible to many Ethiopians but had never been known as nuch as he should by Ethiopians. And his case is true with regard to many, many Ethiopians as well. There is a contradiction here, a contradiction endemic to Ethiopia and Ethiopians. One of thiese reasons is our failure, either because of our cultural background, or the fear that Emperor or any other keader might be overshadowed.
    There had been and there are great Ethiopians, but, outside their close family members and very close friends, such people have not been known by Ethiopia. Take the case of Aklilu Habtewolde–he was a great patriot, diplomat with serious of services to his people and country. We started to know him after his execution. Or take the case of his brother Mekonen Habte wolde, a humble and dedicated Ethiopian. We did not know any thing about his past struggle and services until his death, execution. Or take Abebe Aregay, giant patriot and we did not know about him either. The only thing we knew about these people and others of their type until their were massacred.
    Take the case of a white man. If he does a small thing he keeps harping on it till the whole world is made aware of that small deed. I rememeber Marshal Montegomery travelling from one country to another collecting comments about his contribution during the LL World War. Ethiopians would never think of doing such a thing either because of our cultural background , or because we are afraid that the person would be overshadowed. I remember Meles Zanawi’s wife complaining because the Mayor of Addis Abeba, Ato Ukubay was popular at one time- ended up pulling down his photos from the streets of Addis Abeba.
    There is another reason and that is the belief that no Ethiopian can be great. We adore and worship heros of the West, and we are made to do that through a system. We grudging admire some long past leaders,but recent leaders are all “evil and corrupt” Every thing Ethiopian is despised, and every Ethiopian too. The mantra is No Ethiopian can be great and admired. I recently heard that Ethiopians come on time when there is a white speaker or gust, but not for any Ethiopia, no matter how admirable the person may be.
    We are sick, really sick.

  3. Dr. Berhanou’s sudden death is a great loss not only to Ethiopia and Africa but to all freedom and justice loving people around the world.

    His excellent academic and intellectual achievements have earned him great respect both locally and internationally.

    He was not only a handsome man but also had a beautiful soul.

    May the Good Lord rest his soul in perfect peace.

    Thank you Ato Elias for sharing the Biodata of this great son of Ethiopia. God Bless

  4. I want to pass my deepest condolences to Dr. Berhanou family members, relatives and friends. Ethiopia has lost a crucial person. I hope Dr. Berhanuou had left many of his determinations that were surrounded by a huge skill and patriotism to many of the students and others who had passed through his elegance. I wonder why such kind of natural sudden cause would not kill the weyane officials. I hope the members of the weyaene officials get killed either by the help of the Ethiopian people unity or just by any kind of natural cause at some point.

    May God blesses the soul of Dr. Berhanou and gives the Ethiopians all the energies to defeat the weyane gangs.

  5. “Dr Berhanou passed away on July 1, 2008 due to a sudden natural cause while on line of duty in Zimbabwe.”

    Is it a shame spell out the exact cause of the death? This is one of the many ethiopian tabous that annoy me.

  6. I am very saddened by his death. Dr Berhanu (sometimes called Aba Gashe) was my instructor of Ethiopian Hisrory course at AAU. He was a very charming and educating man. May God bless his soul.

  7. Dr. Berhanu Abebe was my HIST 101 teacher too. He has first hand experience in the annals of history. For example, I remember he told us in class that he had briefly talked to the British Medical Doctor who injected poison to Queen Zewditu’s death, following the order of HIM. In other words, he has first hand confirmed that Queen Z was poisoned to death by HIM, regardless of some lies published by other historians in reference to the official government claim of the time. The above is just one example of such rare evidence in modern Ethiopian history that one could easily extract from the scholar.

    Those of you who did not have a chance to take his classes had also a chance to watch him on TV and Radio. For example, during the famous brag “One Country Ethiopia, One Leader Mengistu” of the SieraLeon leader at an OAU meeting in Addid Ababa, Dr. Berhanu Abebe was the interpreter of the speech from French to Amharic and was broadcasted via Radio and TV throughout Ethiopia.

    May his soul rest in peace.

  8. I am honored to be one of Dr. Berhanu’s students in the History Department of Addis Ababa University. I am very saddened by his death. May God rest his soul in peace.

  9. I’m honored to have known Dr. Berhanu Kebede in USSR(1982) in Moscow, Leningrad, Armenia at the 5th Ethiopian Conference. He was a very honorable and respected person among the scientists. My condolences go out to his family, friends, and the Ethiopian scholars.

  10. First of all Thank you Mister Elias posting this great man’s Passing. I am so sad by the death of doctor Berhanu I was taught 1 semister history class at AAU and he was admired and respected by everyone with his teaching skill. He was a kind human being. I was also empressed in his deep knoledge about the topics he was teaching, he was not a reader during lecture the notes he prepared on the subject he was teaching in class he use to sit and pour nonstop until you got confused what to leave and what to write because everything he talked was interesting during his teaching. He was also a neat person.

  11. It is with a heavy heart and a profound sense of sadness that I write this.Once in a life time we get a chance to spend time with someone who can make a lasting impact on our future career.Dr Berhanou Abebe was one of such person for me.
    My first intellectual encounter with the rich and complex history of Ethiopia and the Horn was through a class with Dr Berhanou during my freshmen year of university.So impactful was the class,so lively and inspiring was the professor,it changed the course of my academic career.During my years as a postgraduate student Dr Berhanou went on tirelessly and selflessly supporting my inquiries,from long talks over academia,social and political issues to offering advice on personal decisions.His dedication,determination and sense of humor was truely influential in the course of my life in various ways and for this I am eternally greateful.
    Unmindful of time,unsparing in effort,untiring in spirit,Dr Berhanou contributed a lot for the slim body of Ethiopian historiography!His work and contribution will forever be a beacon of light for countless generations.
    My deepest sympathy to Dr Berhanou’s family and all those whose life he touched!

  12. Berhanu was a unique individual. He was a very charming & interesting person; the kind you meet once in a lifetime if you are lucky.
    Outside of his work, he loved his family, fishing & a good conversation (in this order if I remember well). He had a genuine pride of being Ethiopian that was contagious.
    He will be missed greatly.

  13. from his biography he appears to be a fine gentleman of great qualities. his contribution in social sciences are too many nad his knowlege of languages really great.may his soul resty in peace,

  14. we really lost such a great man in ethiopia.I heared he is one of the person concenened about boundery of Ethio – sudan border that is a big issiu right now, since the derg government with professer Mesfin .

  15. Dr. Berhanu was a true scholar and one of those few Ethiopians, who lived for his conscience. With his background and finesse this French scholar and a multilingual professor should have been nominated to the post of United Nations Secretary General or a president of a renowned university anywhere in the world.

    May The Almight rest his sould in eternal peace.

  16. I was one of the few people he had invited to a ceremony in the French Embassy in Addis in the ’80s when he received a French government award. At the end of his acceptance speech, the French ambassador wept profusely. I was told the emotional outburst was triggered by the nobility and beauty of the language he deployed to communicate his serious message: he was undeterred by the racism he faced in France from achieving his goal. Thereafter, we used to meet in connection with his travels to France regarding an inheritance case involving one Zelele who had left for France in the 19th century. Ever since I left Ethiopia 18 years ago, I have been wondering about the outcome of the case, as a result of which Dr. Berhanu was always in my mind. I was hoping to meet him one day for a briefing. Destiny has ruled that we will hold the meeting UPSAIRS. See you there Dr. Berhanu! [email protected]

  17. Dr Berehanu Abebe sudden death is a great loss to Ethiopia.I know him since 1969 while he was the general manager of Haileselassie I prize trust.I worked for him.He was very intelegent and humbele person.He was a quick solution finder and try to resolve all problems to end to the posetive side.He was dinamic and fast solution finder.He was a great diplomat,polite and he respected all fellow citizens equaly with out descrimenation or the material well-beingof a person or his acadamic back ground.
    May God bless his soul and strength to his families.

  18. A great intellectual-simultanious translater,seniour researcher,acadamician,author,executive officer,laison between Ethiopia and France,Africas’ election observer.A man of great distinction. He is immortalized by his family and the translation works that he left behind.May God rest his soul.

  19. In the 1980s, Dr. Berhanou Abebe brought dignity to an institution besieged by the opportunists of the day. I will always be proud of knowing and working with this magnificent member of the AAU.

  20. we are aboundantly proud of this great scholar and beloved son of Ethiopia and of course, we are deeply saddened by the loss of this true son of Ethiopia for which we can not easly get a replacement.

    May God,our lord rest the soul of this true and brilliant son of Ethiopia in eternal peace. Amen

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