Fortune News | Oct 23,2018
Girma Zewdie (Col.) had never seen the need to be anything less than active, even in his mid-80s. He remained nimble into old age as best as he could. There was never a better demonstration than the fact that he insisted on driving himself wherever he needed to go. In fact, he took it a step further.
Does anybody he knows need a ride?
Leave it to Girma, who would give a ride to anyone that needs it, including his niece, Abaynesh Hailu. His loved ones had to insist that he stop, which he paid no heed to until his health began to fail, before he eventually passed away on February 28, 2022, and was laid to rest a couple of days later, on the 126th anniversary of the Victory of Adwa.
Perhaps none of this is surprising for a man that served in the security service his entire professional life and had the temperament to remain agile in mind and body. Even his spirits were not sapped. He foreswore help as much as possible, instead insisting on helping others himself. Despite being a retiree, he would insist on paying if he was having lunch with friends. Most of all, he remained jovial and sought to be a friend to the rich as much as the poor.
“From his funeral, you could tell what a diverse group of people connected with him,” says Abaynesh, whom he raised from age six.
Girma will be best remembered for his service in coordinating and organising security and intelligence at the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). But it was a long road before his legacy would be cemented.
Born in present-day Oromia Regional State, he joined the security services very early in life. At 16, he was accepted into the Ethiopian Police University College, then known as the Aba Dina Police College, whose main campus is located in the outskirts of Addis Abeba. The institution, which had Swedish instructors, was not even a decade old when Girma joined.
By the end of his studies, he became a deputy lieutenant. Still, he stayed put at the college and taught future police officers for seven years. A colleague of his, Mersha Wedajo (Col.), saw Girma grow from a fresh-faced teen to a professional officer.
“He was very young among his batch,” says Mersha. “He was like a little brother.”
Beyond his training at Aba Dina, he was sent to the United States to gain experience in security agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Throughout these years, he specialised in detective work, intelligence and security, and VIP protection.
He returned from his years abroad in time for the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), predecessor to the African Union. The first summit was held in 1963 in Addis Abeba, where 32 African states signed on seeking greater economic and political integration inside the compound of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA). The capital city was chosen as the headquarters of the pan-African institution, presenting Girma a chance to take on greater responsibility.
Together with other institutions, he supported the OAU’s security and intelligence structure development. After finishing up his duties, Diallo Telli, the second-ever secretary-general of the inter-governmental institution, personally interceded to have Girma remain at the OAU. He worked there until he finally retired 35 years later. No less notable was representing Ethiopia at the International Strategic Studies Association and serving as a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
For those close to Girma, though, he was a humanitarian who cared about others beyond ironclad commitment to the security and intelligence services.
“What I will never forget is that he loved to help,” Mersha says. “Not just friends and relatives, but anybody he could.”
PUBLISHED ON Mar 26,2022 [ VOL 22 , NO 1143]
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