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Celebrating the Legacy of a pioneer: Yusuf Omer Abdi (PhD)

The Ethiopian Counseling Association recently convened to honor the remarkable career and contributions of Yusuf Omer (PhD). On January 13, 2024, at the Institute of Ethiopian Studies Hall in Addis Ababa, leaders highlighted Yusuf’s influential 40-year tenure at the Addis Ababa University. As one of the founders of the counseling profession in Ethiopia, Yusuf played a pivotal role in developing the School of Psychology and advancing its academic programs from undergraduate to PhD levels.

For four decades, Yusuf dedicated himself to educating generations of aspiring psychologists as a professor at the University. Widely known as the father of the psychology field in Ethiopia, he shared his vast knowledge and experience with students. Beyond academia, the Professor supported financially struggling students, allocating a part of his salary. Described as a principled individual who championed truth and confronted social issues like gossip, Yusuf has undoubtedly left an enduring impact.

The event was attended by Darge Wole (Prof.), who emphasized Yusuf’s transformative contributions including, the School of Psychology blossoming into a leading institution offering comprehensive PhD programs. Darge stressed the importance of continuing Yusuf’s legacy by perpetuating his teachings of moral education and dedication.

A close colleague and friend of Yusuf, Professor Habtamu Wondimu (PhD), shared fond memories of their enduring friendship and collaborative research published in respected journals and books. One of Yusuf’s former students, Abdinasir Ahmed (PhD), former president of Jigjiga University, offered a heartfelt tribute, stating the Professor lived for people and not for himself.

The former university president emphasized Yusuf’s encouragement, support of students’ academic progress and his extraordinary generosity in sharing his modest salary to support financially challenged peers.

Under the leadership of Tigist Wuhib Tsega (Dr.), president of the Association, the event celebrated Yusuf’s instrumental role in advancing the Ethiopian Institute of Behavioral Sciences and facilitating counseling services nationwide.

The gathering also saw Ahmed Zakaria (Ass. Prof.), Wube Kasaye (PhD), and Abera Getachew (Ass. Prof.) offer their insights into Yusuf’s profound contributions to the University.

Hajj Isa Sheikh Omar, on his part, expressed his profound joy to the Association’s initiative to convene this gathering. He applauded the emergence of groundbreaking ideas during the meeting, underscoring its paramount importance in celebrating and preserving the legacy of an extraordinary individual.

Several speakers offered testified to the Professor’s rare qualities of humility, commitment to self-improvement, and profound impact on the fields of counseling and psychology in Ethiopia and beyond. The gathering served as a fitting tribute to preserve the legacy of Yusuf and his life’s work inspiring future generations.

Yusuf was born in 1940 in the village of Dheebaa near Jigjiga in Ethiopia’s Somali Region. He began his educational journey in a local Quranic school before enrolling at the prestigious Haile Selassie I Boarding School in Harar under the guidance of his brother. After completing elementary school, Yusuf continued at the Harar Teacher Training School. In 1959, he embarked on his career as a teacher in Tigray Region for three years. 

Driven by a thirst for knowledge, Yusuf pursued higher education at Haile Selassie I University (then UCAA), where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in History in 1966. Seeking further academic excellence, he traveled to the United States and earned a Master of Science in Psychology from the University of Utah in 1968.

Fueled by his passion for psychology, he returned to HSIU, becoming a full-time instructor and Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Addis Ababa University (AAU).

Yusuf furthered his studies, completing a PhD in Psychology from the University of Southern Illinois in 1974. Over his remarkable four-decade tenure at AAU, he served in pivotal roles such as the first Director of the Institute of Educational Research for 12 years and Director of the Ethiopian Science and Technology Commission’s Department of Education and Manpower.

Yusuf laid the foundation for Counseling Psychology in Ethiopia, earning recognition as Ethiopia’s first professional counselor. His numerous publications became integral teaching materials. Beyond academia, he has served as chairman of political organizations such as the Ethiopian Somali Democratic Movement (ESDM) from 1992 to 1994 and played a crucial role as a founding member of the Ethiopian Somali Democrat League (ESDL). He has also provided expertise as a consultant for organizations such as UNDP, Ethiopian Airlines, and Commercial Bank of Ethiopia.

The Professors work encompasses a diverse range of topics and contexts, providing valuable insights into various psychological phenomena.

One of his seminal works, titled “The Problems and Prospects of Psychology in Africa,” was published in the International Journal of Psychology in 1975. The research sheds light on the diverse psychological landscape of the continent, offering valuable perspectives to scholars and practitioners.

In 1983, Yusuf delved into the dynamics of guidance and counseling within the unique socio-political framework of Socialist Ethiopia with his article “Guidance and Counseling in Socialist Ethiopia,” published in The Personnel and Guidance Journal.

Another noteworthy article is “Educational Research in Socialist Ethiopia,” published in Admas-Hatata Timihirt in 1971. Focused on educational research, it provides a critical perspective on the educational landscape of the time, offering valuable insights for educators and policymakers.

In 1986, he published a textbook titled “Basic Social Psychology” in Amharic.

Dr. Yusuf’s research also extends to specific communities and their unique challenges. His in-depth research project on “The Plight of Somali Asylum Seekers in Finland” sheds light on the experiences of Somali asylum seekers in Finland. By exploring the complexities and difficulties faced by this community, his research provides valuable insights into the asylum-seeking process and the challenges faced by individuals adapting to a new country.

In addition to his published works, Yusuf has left behind several unpublished monographs.

One such monograph, titled “Mental Illness: The Least Known Problems in Ethiopia” (1977), explores the often overlooked challenges associated with mental illness in Ethiopia.

Another focuses on understanding the unique requirements and challenges faced by handicapped children in Ethiopia. Titled “The Nature and the Need of Handicapped Children in Ethiopia,” this research project provides insights that can inform supportive policies and interventions, ensuring a better quality of life for these children.

“The Problems and Prospects of Disabled Persons in Ethiopia,” “Evaluation of Academic Performance of Students: How the ‘Grading Game’ is Played at Addis Ababa University” (1985),” “The Secret of Academic Success” (1981),” “Guidance and Counseling in Institutions of Higher Learning – Focus on the Role of Teachers,”  are also among his works.

Lastly, his research on “The Psychology of the Handicapped” investigates the problems and prospects of disabled persons in Ethiopia, examining the psychological aspects of disabled individuals.

In conclusion, Yusuf’s extensive body of work, including his published articles, textbooks, and research projects, has made significant contributions to the field of psychology, providing valuable insights that contribute to the understanding and improvement of various psychological aspects.

On a personal level, he was a devoted family man, married with four children.

His journey on this earth concluded in 2008, leaving behind a lasting legacy that continues to inspire generations, not only in the academic realm but also in the broader context of community and leadership.

As Tigist highlighted, Yusuf’s 40 years of service reflect a deep passion for enhancing psychological well-being.

Contributed by Teshome Berhanu Kemal

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