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An editorial warrior for Ethiopia

Journalism pioneer Yacob Wolde-Mariam laid to rest at 94

On August 23, 2015, Yacob Wolde-Maryam, the first Ethiopian Editor-in-Chief of The Ethiopian Herald, an English-language newspaper, was laid to rest. As a journalist for almost four decades, he was given a dignified burial at Holy Trinity Cathedral.

Yacob was a distinguished member of the Ethiopian press, serving under three different governments. He worked as an editor for numerous publications including The Reporter, Voice of Ethiopia, Menen, and Yekatit magazine.

Throughout his career, Yacob made significant contributions through his editorial decisions and wrote numerous articles advocating for the establishment of a modern civil service and workforce organization in Ethiopia.

He skillfully translated speeches by the last Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie I, into excellent English in order to effectively communicate the messages to foreign audiences.

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Yacob authored a prominent editorial with the headline “Rotten at the Root” that sharply criticized king’s officials for their mistreatment of the Ethiopian people.

Yacob, renowned for his stance against colonialism and neocolonialism, received heavy criticism from embassies in Addis Ababa for his views, and was given warnings to cease writing about these topics.

However, he remained firm in his position, believing that if those criticizing him abandon their harmful actions and thoughts, he would do the same.

He has spent numerous years working in government and public newspapers, demonstrating his unwavering commitment to pluralism and ensuring accurate information reaches both the people and government.

After the December 1960 coup d’état attempt by brothers Mengestu and Gerermame Neway against Emperor Haileselassie I, members of the emperor’s inner circle attempted to blame one another. In response, Yacob forcefully argued in an editorial that a “lack of information is a fundamental issue” plaguing the country at that time.

He lauded the Russian revolutions of February and October, even authoring articles about them. These articles and his editorial stances may have contributed to his departure from the role of Editor-in-Chief.

There are claims journalist Yacob intentionally uses rough, difficult-to-understand English to prevent cadres from comprehending his work and disrupting his message. On one occasion, he admitted this style’s intent.

He admitted that by using a rough, difficult style in English, it helped prevent cadres from fully understanding his work and thus hindering any attempts to disrupt the message he aimed to convey, according to his remarks.

At journalist Yacob’s funeral, Million Terefe, a seasoned journalist, read from his biography.

Yacob had moved from the Ministry of Information to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, she reads.

He spent seven years in the Press and Information Service filling a skills gap identified by the ministry during the 1991 transitional government, Million continued.

Yacob, Editor and critic at The Reporter newspaper for over 15 years, is highly regarded for his critical pieces, particularly in his long-running column “The Spectator.”

During his previous career in journalism, he held the position of editor-in-chief at New Reporter magazine and gained recognition for his work on “The View from Finfine.”

After retiring from public service, he worked at various privately published English newspapers, including Addis Tribune and The Reporter, where he again served as editor-in-chief.

Yacob developed a passion for journalism during his higher education in England.

“He used to write for ‘New Times and Ethiopian News,’ a paper published by the late Sylvia Pankhurst,” his biography recounted. “It is believed he began developing a strong feeling for journalism at this time. He also followed the Mau Mau Rebellion movement while staying in Kenya and used to read dehumanizing pieces Westerners wrote about Africans. Thus, he worked to show the real pictures of Africans in his articles.”

Before becoming a journalist, Yacob had different careers, including teaching for two years, one year each at Nekemte Secondary School in Oromia and Amha Desta Secondary School in Addis Ababa. He also worked for one year at the former Ethiopian Electric Power and Water Department.

For his outstanding contribution to journalism, he received recognitions such as the Bego Sew Award in the media and journalism sector eight years ago. He also received an award from former Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I after working for 10 years at Voice of Ethiopia.

In 2003, he published a book titled “Yacob Wolde-Mariam: Brief Autobiography and Selected Articles” where he wrote his biography and included some of his previously published articles.

Yacob had 10 children, eight grandchildren, and a great-grandchild.

The 94-year-old Yacob Woldemariam passed away on August 22, 2023.

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