Aklilu Habte-Wold – A Lawyer, Political Scientist and Foreign Minister of Ethiopia (1912 – 1974)
“If by killing us you could redeem Ethiopia from poverty, we then accept your action as a blessing,” were the last words of the former Ethiopian Prime Minister T’sehafi T’ezaz (“Minister of Pen”) Aklilu Habtewold before being executed on November 24, 1974 with sixty other officials of the Haile Selassie I regime. His final words were recounted by the late former Trade and Industry Minister Ketema Yifru, who was Aklilu’s prison mate.
Aklilu Habte was born from a humble background on March 12, 1912, He completed the traditional religious studies at Saint Raguel Church. He then went to Menelik II School in Addis Ababa for three years and then was sent to Lycee (French Grammar School) in Alexandria, Egypt in 1925 for further studies. After studying from 1925 to 1931 he received his BA degree from Alexandria. He then joined Sorbonne University in France and he acquired advanced degrees in Law, Commercial studies and Political Science from 1931 to 1936.
When Ethiopia was at war with Italy, Aklilu Habte-Wold was in France with his brother Makonnen and he was made charge d’affairs, an Officer-in-Charge of the Ethiopian Embassy in France. Aklilu lived in Paris and married a French woman, Collette Habte-Wold which brought to him a lot of criticism at the time. With the fall of Paris in June 1940, Aklilu managed to escape on a forged passport, and with the help of the Portuguese Minister of Foreign Affairs he was able to reach Cairo.
Aklilu fought the Italians in all international forums condemning their aggression. He mobilize support and funds for the country while living in exile. He was one of the most brilliant diplomats Ethiopia ever had. When the country regained its independence after five years of occupation in May 1941 Aklilu was appointed Vice Minister of Pen and was transferred to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with a ministerial portfolio at the age of 29. He was foreign minister of Ethiopia from 1947 to 1958 and Prime Minister from 1961 until shortly before his death. He has represented Ethiopia in a number of international forums including UN and OAU.