Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Towards AU Highest Office

by daniel-abn| Originally Published February 2, 2021

Abyssinia Business Network /ABN@abn-team

History is chock-full of women who made incredible contributions to society, yet are not much-trumpeted and appreciated by the public. From pioneers and political dissidents to inventors and astrophysicists, the remarkable and magnificent deeds of these historical female figures deserve appreciation on must-read lists.

One of the veterans, observant, quick-witted and tenacious Ethiopian scholars is Professor Hirut Woldemariam, who has served the government and people of Ethiopia by assuming four Ministerial positions so far. She was also the first female Vice President of Addis Ababa University. Professor Hirut worked as an instructor and researcher in the same university for more than 25 years. A mother of three, Hirut now appears to be Ethiopia’s Candidate for AU Commissioner of Education, Science, Technology, and Innovation (ESTI). She tells her professional and political path to ABN.

We heard that you have broken a number of glass ceilings and achieved numerous “firsts” in your carrier development and leadership experiences so far. Tell us about that?

I was the first female Professor in the Colleges of Social Science and Humanities, and  in the academic leadership I got the opportunity to serve as the first female Department Chair of Linguistics and Philology, the first female Associate Vice President of the Academic Affairs, the first  female Vice President of Addis Ababa University. As you know our higher education institutions have been male dominated, and I was lucky enough to get exceptional chance to exercise leadership starting from the smallest academic unit, department, to a Vice President of Addis Ababa University.

How did you move into the high-level leadership at a ministerial level? You have also taken up four ministerial portfolios so far?

Served in four Ministerial positions:

I believe that serving in the academia at different levels and positions has uniquely prepared me for the positions.  [WG1] 

Why do you think you could fit into this post?

I think I am well qualified, I think I have rich experience in the portfolio, in academia, and high-level leadership positions both in the higher education institution, as well as at the ministerial level.   I believe that I have the collection of qualities that AU ESTI needs.

I was in the academics serving at Addis Ababa University for about 25 years. As a Scientist published about three dozens of peer reviewed articles in international journals, that enabled me to be a full professor and a duly inducted member of Ethiopian Science Academy. Also, I have been awarded the Alexander Humboldt Senior Scientist Award.

As a change maker, I have initiated and implemented important reform initiatives in the Ethiopia’s higher education to improve quality, relevance and inclusiveness in Higher Education and Science.

Besides, when I was at Addis Ababa University, I was an active member of the Ethiopian Public Diplomacy Group.

I have also a track record of being a quick learner, change maker, passionate and dedicated to my goal, and I am someone who can work under pressure.  [WG2] 

Can you tell us what motivated you to run for this position, Education, Science, Technology and Innovation Commission Commissioner position at the African Union?

I believe that, there is no greater calling than serving

the advancement of Africa in its aim to become peaceful,

prosperous, integrated, and globally influential continent.

I believe that the Africa we want can be realized only through

quality, relevant, and inclusive education. This in turn results in the advancement of Science, Technology and Innovation which are key ingredients for the realization of “the Africa We Want”.    Given my experience in those fields, I believe I can contribute my share.

Professor Hirut W/Mariam

What do you think about Africa’s opportunities and challenges, and what needs to be done to advance the continent from the perspective of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation?

Africa has the largest and youngest population on the planet. Africa is endowed with ample natural resources. Our continent holds strategic geopolitical positions in the world! However, our economic growth is unstable because it is not driven by technology. Our day to day lives are still manual in most cases. Our youth suffer from migration, conflict, violence, and joblessness. This is my regret. Because our Africa deserves a better place in the world, and we Africans deserve a much higher quality of life.  I believe that human capital development is the engine of economic development and prosperity.  Science, Technology and Innovation is essential to ensure sustainable growth.

How do you see the role of the AU ESTI which you are aspiring to lead?

It is a key center for transforming the continent into the global powerhouse of the future, as aspired in Africa’s Agenda 2063.This commission is the one that makes the way for our continent’s future. The Africa we want, I mean, the peaceful, integrated, prosperous, and globally influential Africa. This can only be achieved by working on the youth. We have to well educate our children and advance technology and innovation in order to improve the quality of lives of our society; solve African problems by Africans; ensure sustainable growth; and advance our economy. This requires working on the mind-set of the youth and empowering them with relevant skills and competency. Besides, they should be thought to build the identity of Pan-Africanism. We have to inculcate the values and ideals of Pan-Africanism in our education systems. 

What is your Vision?

My vision is to enable inclusive, relevant, high-quality education and foster Africa-centric science and a deep culture of innovation that will unleash the potential of Africa’s youth for the continent’s rightful and timely advancement as aspired in Agenda 2063. We have to make a paradigm shift to do things differently to unlock Africa’s indigenous knowledge of our ancestors; to make the best out of Africa’s talent, wisdoms, vibrant energy of the youth. We have to invest on the youth, on the next generation through Africa-relevant quality education, advancement of science, technology and innovation. Otherwise, we cannot ensure to have a prosperous and globally influential continent that we always aspire to see.

What were your legacy at the Ministry of Science and Higher Education that can make you the best candidate for the ESTI Commissioner post?

  • I was a founding minister of the Science and Higher Education Ministry who have established it from the ground up, and leading 46 public universities, 250 private higher education institutions, 1,300 TVETinstitutes, and nurturing Science and Research. 
  • Provided proactive and exemplary leadership in the development of a new curriculum for Higher Education with common courses on cutting-edge global concepts and skills such as critical thinking, emerging technologies, entrepreneurship, inclusiveness, and ethics, among others, to contribute to the advancement of students’ scientific outlook, critical thinking power, creativity, entrepreneurship, and leadership skills. The new curriculum is already implemented.
  • Beyond rhetoric, I have acted on gender equity in the sector that has resulted in increased female students and female leaders’ participation in Higher Education. This happened by amending the leadership recruitment directive, creating a network of women in academia, capacity building for women leaders, etc.
  • Organizing the Diaspora scholars as Advisory Council to support the various reform initiatives in the sector, and other major activates was also my legacy.
  • Initiated new regulation for Public-Private Partnership, university-industry linkages, and internationalization in the Ethiopian Higher Education and TVET sectors.
  • Introduced digital literacy program as a community service in the public universities was also my initiative.

All these achievements happened in two years and while we were challenged by student unrest in our universities and the COVID 19 Pandemic. I believe my journey gave me even more endurance and strength. 

What is your family like?

I am a proud mother of three vibrant children and a wife.

My husband, my brother, my sister and now my daughter who has just graduated with Medical Degree from AAU are all physicians.

My parents were my pillars of strength. My father who was a graduate of AAU and high school teacher of African Geography and History was telling me about the power of education in an individual’s life.

My mother was a spiritual, optimistic, and strong woman who always put a smile on her face no matter what the circumstances were. This has given me the strength and inspiration to be fearless to face any challenge in life and keep on going forward. 

What are your key priorities to embark on if you get elected?

  • Education, research, and innovation aligned with long-term socioeconomic objectives of the continent in line with the objectives of STISA-2024.
  • A Pan-African education and training accreditation and qualification system through harmonized guidelines and standards
  • Establishing specialized global centers of excellences in the comparative advantages Africa has.
  • Recognizing an eco-system framework of education that includes communities, private sector and industry.
  • Curriculum relevant for the 21st century job market- that includes critical thinking, creativity, innovation, cutting-edge technology, communication, and global citizenship values.
  • Ensuring Gender and Social Equity in Education, Science, Technology and Innovation

I will work towards inclusive, equitable and quality education; integration of Education, Research, and Innovation; Revitalizing African Universities, etc.

Have you participated in the regional, continental and Global INITIATIVES in the portfolio?

Yes, to mention a few, I was participating in the

  • 5th PASET FORUM, Partnerships with fellow African Ministers of Higher Education to prepare African youth for the future, the 4th Industrial Revolution and Digital Economy (Kigali, Rwanda, May 20-22, 2019)
  • East African Skills for Transformation and Regional Integration Project (EASTRIP) in Ethiopia, which is aimed at improving quality TVET programs and supporting regional integration
  • International Forum for Inclusive and Equity Education (Cali, Colombia, 11-13 September 2019)
  • World Education Forum (London January, 2019)
  • BIE (Balanced and Inclusive Education, Djibouti, 27-29 January 2020

 Those platforms gave me the opportunity to have fruitful discussions with fellow Africans on the various opportunities and challenges our continent has specially in the education, science, technology and innovation sectors.

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