Just a sneak peek of Tibebe Yemanebirhan (PhD) in one of his appearances on television speaks to his status. A dermatologist, research scientist, diplomat that has represented the country on the international stage and world laureate, according to the American Biographical Institute, he sometimes seemed to carry his credentials on his person.
Over half a decade ago, he appeared on the talk show Seifu on EBS to discuss his various accomplishments, including his recent medal of honor from Russian President Vladimir Putin. He was greeted onstage with the entire audience standing. Seifu Fantahun, the host of the show, announced his name, and Tibebe appeared in the spotlight on top of a stairway, walking first slowly and then with confidence and grace onto a red carpet. He was dressed in the traditional white attire and donning a kabba, a black cloak that used to imply noble status.
Before the interview could begin, there was one issue the host had to address – that of titles.
“First of all … which one of your titles should I use,” asked Seifu, more respectful than usual with his guests. “When I address you, should I say, ‘the Most Honourable World Laureate Dr. Tibebe Yemanebirhan?'”
“Yes,” the guest said with a straight face. “In the middle, you can use Dr. Tibebe,” he threw in as a compromise.
Titles are of high importance in some of the cultures of Ethiopia, but as Tibebe went on to explain, it is not about ego. These titles were given to him out of appreciation and achievement.
“And I have to enforce the titles I have been given,” he answered.
Enforce them he did. When he passed away of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) on February 20, 2021, and was laid to rest at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Abeba, the Carter Centre was putting out a statement on his death by referring to him in the manner Seifu had mentioned.
Born in Harar, Tibebe, who is survived by two daughters, did have reason to celebrate the titles he earned. He was educated in the Lviv State Medical Institute in the Soviet Union, kicking off his long career in the health sector. He was a dermatologist, social hygienist and public health expert. He has produced dozens of research papers and worked in health-related institutions such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), Lions-Carter Center SightFirst, and the Ethiopian Red Cross Society. He was a goodwill Ambassador for the Guinea Worm Eradication Programme in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Chad and Mali.
With the Carter Center, he worked to eradicate diseases such as trachoma, with over 715,000 surgeries performed during his leadership at SightFirst. By 2014, Ethiopia was no longer attempting to control the disease's spread but eliminate it entirely.
“Dr. Tibebe will be missed, not only for his work, but also for who he was and his advocacy for the control and elimination of neglected tropical diseases,” said Health Minister Lia Tadesse.
But he was also considered instrumental in more ways than just the health sector, also filling shoes in the field of public diplomacy. One of these duties was being a member of the Ethiopian delegation that went to Cairo, Egypt, in 2014, to foster cooperation between the two countries as their relations soured over the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
“We have to work hard and grow more to be respected and seen as equals during negotiations,” he told reporters after meeting his counterparts on the Egyptian side. “It's a power that is most crucial.”
His friends remember him as having as much verve, wealth of experience and knowledge as his public persona displayed. More than that, they considered him to be a person that others could count on.
“If there is one thing that he is known for, it's that he's dependable,” said Abiy Fesseha, a close friend. “He was willing to help anyone who asked for it.”
PUBLISHED ON Mar 13,2021 [ VOL 21 , NO 1089]
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