Ahadou Sabouré is Ethiopia’s veteran journalist, public servant, and a diplomat who had served as ambassador in the neighbouring countries, the Somalia (1961-1967) and Djibouti (1967-1972). In the course of his eventful life, Ambassador Ahadou wrote a book chronicling the final days of Emperor Haile Selassie and the rise of the military regime, Derg. His recent appearance at an event in Los Angles to recognize his life and his accomplishment shows him fighting fit for a 92-year-old man, despite having spent eight year in the Derg’s prison.
His journalistic career spanned just a decade, yet it was at the early stage of the radio broadcasting when the Addis Ababa public would head to different squares of the city to catch broadcast of the latest news radiated over the microphones, which Ahadou said proved to be the most memorable in the history of radio in Ethiopia. Ahadou also used to edit the weekly newspaper, the Amharic edition of Yezaretu Ethiopia (Ethiopia Today) from 1950-61, making a reputation for his prolific writing ability and coverage of some notable events, including coverage of the abortive coup d’état of December 1960 that had seriously challenged the Haile Selassie regime and brought Ahadou’s journalistic career to an end.The following is the first installment of Ato Ahadou’s life in his words, compiled almost totally from an interview he gave 14 years ago to the defunct Amharic magazine, Lisane Hizib.
Childhood and formative years
I was born in Adigala, a small town on the railway line between Dire Dawa and Djibouti in 1925. My father was assigned there because he worked for the custom. I don’t recall his real name, as my mother told me later Sabure was the name of the French man he used to work for. My parents had children before they had me and they lost all of them. I grew up an only child. My mom told me that when I was three years old, she took me with her to Dire Dawa. I started school with Yeneta Mengistu, a priest in the Orthodox Church, and I studied Amharic alphabet and covered the Psalms of David with him. Later with my mother’s huge effort, I managed to enrol at Alliance Française. I attended the school, learning French for three years until Italians conquered the country in 1935. Then, the French education was interrupted and an Italian school for natives was established and I was enrolled there and studied there for two years. My father passed away when I was eight. I found employment as thirteen-year-old boy, working as translator and interpreter for the Italians. This was around 1938 in the town of Aisha, not far from my hometown, Adigala. I went there with my mom to settle land issue and an Italian official asked me to work for them after seeing my Italian mastery. I worked there for three years. Then my mom and I went back to Dire Dawa. When the Italians pulled out of Ethiopia, the Dire Dawa Municipality was being established and I started working there as fee collector in the tax department. Soon an inspection office in Hararghe province was established and I was assigned as assistant inspector, making tour of the whole provinces where I worked for year and half. In 1943, when the British troops occupied Djibouti after the fall of the Vichy government, I was sent to Djibouti to work in the Ethiopian consulate, first as deputy secretary and then I rose to the rank of first secretary. I worked there for six years.
Getting into journalism
I started contributing articles for newspapers when I was in Djibouti, something that whetted my appetite for a career in the press. In 1949 I was taken on by the Press and Information Bureau after answering an advert for a newspaper columnist. Having put a foot in the door, I soon pushed it open, graduating to the role of news reporter, covering the courts and council meetings, and the seat of government. I quickly rose through the ranks to become an assistant editor tasked with writing editorials and helping edit copy from national reporters and international news agencies. I eventually became an assistant to the press director, Wolde Giworgis Wolde Yohannes, and a member of the censorship board for print and broadcast media.
In 1952 I became the editor-in-chief of the Amharic edition of Yezaretu Ethiopia (Ethiopia Today). The paper became popular for its presentation of news in a broad and objective manner and appealed to an urban, educated readership. In Dire Dawa, newspaper vendors used to advertise it as “Ahadou’s paper.” The poet and musician Negadras Tesema Eshete dubbed me the Amharic couplet: (አሀዱ ሳቡሬ አጠገበኝ ወሬ። ) (Ahadu Saboure quenched my thirst for news).
Yezaretu Ethiopia was published in both Amharic and French, the French one entitled L’Ethiopie d’aujourd’hui. It was a continuation of another private newspaper called Nuro Bezede, a bi-weekly newspaper with Amharic and French sections (Le Progrès Economique). That paper was published by a company called the Ethiopian Commercial and Advertising Agency and its focus was commerce, business, and industry. Ato Makonnen Habte Wold decided that the private company incorporated into the state owned Press and Information Bureau that he was heading. And that was when Yezaretu was born. The team and I decided to keep the older contents and added politics and current affairs. Because of its fresh perspective, it became very successful.
The state of journalism then
We journalists were all employees of the state. All the newspapers then were government run. We practiced journalism according to the dictates of the government. We were not allowed to trespass the boundary set for us by officialdom. Putting forward our opinion on what course of action to be taken on some policy or other was out of question. We were supposed to strictly adhere to the guideline handed to us. When we sometimes dare to overstep the limit even a little, the consequence could be severe. A couple of stories that I wrote angered authorities, for that my salary curtailed twice. Then, when they could no longer stand me, they sent me into exile. One was the article I did on the proceedings of the trial of the leader of the 1960 abortive coup, in which I described Brigadier-General Mengistu Neway as an immaculate officer whose courage and intellectual qualities dominated the court trail. Immediately after publication, I was picked up by officers of the Presidential guard and secretly exiled to Asela, Arsi province where I was placed under house arrest. I was treated humanely, with privileges to go to church accompanied by a security guard and a weekly visit by my wife who brought me newspapers and other items I needed.
(photo: Ahadou Sabouré at an award hosted by Pagume Entertainment Center few weeks ago)