Dr. Tewoldebirhan Gebre-egziabiher dies at 83

Dr Tewoldebirhan Gebre-egziabiher, a well-known environmentalist and biodiversity conservation and restoration scientist, passed away on Monday 20th March 2023, at the age of 83 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. According to family sources, Dr Tewoldebirhan had been seriously ill for some time before his passing.

Dr Tewoldebirhan Gebre-egziabiher is known to have been a dedicated and influential environmentalist who made significant contributions to conservation and sustainable development in Ethiopia and beyond.

Dr Tewoldebirhan returned home with his PhD from the School of Plant Biology at the University of North Wales in 1969 and became Ethiopia’s first qualified plant ecologist. After that, he served the University of Addis Ababa (then Hailesilassie-I) at different capacities in the Faculty of Sciences until 1983.

From 1983 to 1991, he served as the President of Asmara University, now in Eritrea. He was also appointed as a Minister of Culture weeks before the downfall of the Derge regime while he was sick in the hospital. However, he never served in that position as the new government, EPRDF, took over power.

Since 1992, Dr Tewoldebirhan Gebre-egziabiher has worked as Director for the Ethiopian National Conservation Strategy Secretariat for four years and later as General Manager of the Environmental Protection Authority.

Dr Tewoldebirhan led efforts to protect Ethiopia’s natural resources and promote sustainable development during his tenure as the authority’s general manager. He also played a key role in creating several national parks, including the Simien Mountains National Park and the Bale Mountains National Park, now recognized as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Dr Tewoldebirhan has received numerous awards and recognition for his work, including the Right Livelihood Award in 2000, the Champion of the Earth Award in 2006, and the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2019 among others.

The scientist was born in Adwa, a town in the Tigray Regional State of Ethiopia, on February 19, 1940. He attended Nigiste Saba (Queen of Sheba) Elementary School in Adwa from October 1951 to June 1955.

Dr Tewoldebirhan was accepted to General Wingate Secondary School in Addis Ababa and studied there from September 1955 to July 1959. He was then accepted to Addis Ababa University (then Haile Selassie I University), where he studied from September 1959 to July 1963 and won the Chancellor’s gold medal for the best graduate in the Faculty of Science, where he also taught courses as a faculty member.

Dr Tewoldebirhan was married to a British woman, Dr Sue Edwards, who used to teach at the science faculty of the then Hailesilassie-I University at the time they met. He is survived by three daughters: Sara, a lecturer at a university; Roman, a poet; and Lemlem, a medical doctor. He was also the brother of the renowned author of many fiction books, Sebhat Gebre-Egziabher.