Fortune News | Aug 14,2021
"A hard-working man." That is the most common description people who knew him, whether friends, colleagues or family, use to describe the late Menwyelet Atnafu.
He was one of the founders of Star Business Group (SBG), a trading company he established in 1997 with his business partner Abebaw Desta, and Worku Merga joined them as a shareholder. It was perhaps his crowning achievement in a business career that had modest beginnings in Gojjam, Amhara Regional State, where he was born and raised.
SBG was one of the largest domestic companies and a major trading house involved in several sectors of the economy, and its shareholders were a major force behind the Bank of Abyssinia before Menwyelet and Abebaw were arrested due to alleged involvement in grand corruption. Subsequently, they were later acquitted from many of these allegations. He spent four and a half years in prison.
"Even when behind bars, all he thought about was his work," said Abyot Atnafu, his youngest sibling. "Jail didn't make him bitter, rather he became even more determined."
That was not the only setback Menwyelet experienced as he lost his wife, Lakech Mengeste, a year ago. They were married in 1972 and raised six children together.
He had to leave his young family behind when he moved to Addis Abeba in 1977 to further his business career. He started by bringing and selling yarn from Asmara. The workaholic never looked back from then on.
"Every time we met, he always lectured me about the importance of hard work," recalls Abyot, the youngest brother.
He recalls an incident when he had gone to Djibouti on business. He said the heat was too much for him, and he decided to take a nap and missed Menwyelet's phone call.
"When I later told him that I was tired, he was so irritated and just couldn't understand how one could be too tired to work." Abyot believes his brother's natural intelligence and mainly his hard work were behind his success, despite little formal education.
Addis Workneh has been close friends with Menwyelet for forty years. They talked on the phone daily and met all the time.
"He was an open and friendly person who was always ready to help others," he said.
He had no reason to suspect it would be the last time he would see his friend when they met on Thursday, September 19, 2019. He told him that he was going to Bahir Dar, because he was invited as a guest at a groundbreaking ceremony for a new road project. This was not unusual as Minweyelet was a very active participant in development projects in the Amhara Regional State. He was one of the founding shareholders of Abay Industrial Development S.C., an economic wing of the Amhara Regional State, that was formed for the express purpose of developing the region.
Tigist Menwyelet, 30, is the fifth of Menwyelet's six children. On Saturday morning, September 21, 2019, she was exercising at her gym around Sarbet when she got a call from her brother in law. It was shocking news. They had to rush to Betezata Hospital where her father had been taken a few minutes earlier from the Hilton Hotel, his favourite hangout. That is where he had gone early that morning to swim as he does most days. But the lifeguard on duty noticed that something was not right this morning, and they rushed him to the hospital. It was too late by the time Tigist arrived there. He had died of a stroke.
It was such a shock to her, because they had spent the previous evening together after she had picked him up from the airport on his return from Bahir Dar. Even though he had complained of some pain in his hand and leg, she had not suspected anything serious. She has booked an appointment for him with a physiotherapist for the next morning.
When she thinks about her father, she still remembers what he always used to say: “I will never lack one injera to feed myself, but I am working for my country and people."
Tigist, who worked with her father in the business, says she has been shaped by his principle of hard work and modesty. She says her father was a modest man who did not like to show off.
"Even though his company had offered him a new four-wheel drive, he chose to keep his 20-year-old car," she added.
She said hearing from people her father had helped generously has made her immensely proud of him.
The 67-year-old is survived by his six children who have all followed in his footsteps into business careers.
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