Photo by Ragnar Singsaas – Wikimedia

5 Most Famous Ethiopian people


Ethiopia, a country in Eastern Africa, boasts of vibrant culture and rich traditions. This country is home to more than 100 million people. It is also the headquarters of the African Union.

Several famous personalities have hailed from such as long-distance runners, the queen of Sheba, Haile Selassie who stirred the Rastafari movement.

The prowess of Ethiopian long-distance runners on the track have made them unbeatable. The diverse music from Ethiopia is further enriched by the ethnic groups as well as traditional folk music. 

Famous Ethiopian musicians include Gigi, Zelal Mekuria, Ethio-jazz musician Mulatu Astatke and Alemayehu Eshete.

There is more that comes from his vast country; their rich coffee, undulating landscape and a fantastic gastronomic experience.

Visiting Ethiopia will make you fall in love with the people, the country and the diverse culture.

With that said, here is our pick of the 5 most famous Ethiopians you should know about.

1. Haile Selassie – Former Emperor

Photo sourced from Wikimedia

Haile Selassie was the last Emperor of Ethiopia. He served Ethiopia as its advisor from 1916 to 1930 and then an emperor from 1930 to 1974.

It is believed he traced his heritage to Menelik I, the son of King Solomon and Queen of Sheba. 

Selassie is credited to have introduced the first Ethiopian constitution, ended slavery, presided as the chair of the African Union. He also facilitated the entry of Ethiopia into the UN.

During the battle of Adwa, Haile Selassie was forced into exile. This happened during World War II; Selassie led the resistance to the Italian invasion.

He came back to Ethiopia in 1941 and worked in modernizing the country. This was achieved through introducing social, economic and educational reforms.

In 1974, Ethiopia was hit by famine that led to unemployment and ultimately Haile Selassie was ousted by the opposition.

Selassie inspired the Rastafari movement. He is viewed by Rastafarians as the God of the Black race.

2. Afewerk Tekle – Artist

Photo Sourced from Wikimedia

One of Ethiopia’s prolific artists, Afewerk was born in 1932. He was the most illustrious and colourful artistic figure in the country.

Afewerk studied at the Slade School of Art in London. While in Europe, he toured the region, studied mining engineering before returning home.

He worked with Haile Selassie I. His expertise was as a painter, sculptor and designer. Afewerk was talented in fencing, dancing and he was a toastmaster.

His work terms and conditions were if he did not like a buyer, he did sell his art. One of his best works, the Meskel Flower, was bid at $12 million but he turned it down.

Unlike most of his peers, Afewerk survived three regimes albeit without incident. During a friendly fencing match, his opponent turned against him and he was also challenged to a duel at dawn.

There was also an assassination attempt on his life by a poisoned cocktail.

3. Tirunesh Dibaba – Athlete

Photo by Ragnar Singsaas – Wikimedia

Tirunesh Dibaba, also known as the Baby Face Destroyer, is Ethiopia’s long-distance runner and holder of the 5000 metres world record.

She has 3 Olympic track gold medals, 5 World Championship track gold medals and 4 individual World Cross Country titles.

Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba was the youngest female world champion in the history of athletics in 2003. Tirunesh was only 18 then.

Dibaba was the first woman to attain the Olympic 5,000m/10,000m double as well as the first to efficaciously defend a long-distance title at the Games. This was during the 2005 IAAF World Championships in Helsinki Finland.

4. Haile Gebrselassie – Athlete

Photo by Erik van Leeuwen – Wikimedia

Gebrselassie grew up on a farm in Ethiopia. As a child, he would run 20 kilometres to school and back home. Since he carried his book bag in his hands, his left arm bent.

He is the two-time world record holder for the 10,000 metres as well as four world championship titles.

His four consecutive wins for the Berlin Marathon made him a force to reckon with on the track. Gebrselassie broke his own world record by 27 minutes, he was 35 years old.   

This record was broken 3 years later by his fellow countryman, Kenenisa Bekele who was 37 years old. 

However, Gebrselassie’s 10,000 metres world record has not been broken since 2008.  He was regarded as one of the Top 100 most influential Africans by New African magazine in 2011.

Now retired, Haile Gebrselassie is a coffee farmer. His coffee is distributed by Starbucks Reserve.

5. Sahle-Work Zewde – President

Photo by J.Marchand – Wikimedia

Another famous Ethiopian you should know about is Sahle-Work Zewde. She is a politician and diplomat who was voted unanimously as the 5th and current President of Ethiopia since 2018.

Zewde became the first Ethiopian woman to hold the office. As an experienced diplomat, she is currently the only female head of state in Africa.

During her inauguration speech, she promised to ensure gender equality became a reality in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Prime minister had appointed more women as part of his cabinet.     

Although her position is ceremonial according to the Ethiopian constitution, her election is seen as a positive move to including women in top leadership in a country.    

Part of Zewde’s diplomatic duties included a peacebuilding mission in the troubled Central African Republic (CAR).

Before becoming president, Zewde served as the UN’s top official at the AU. She is fluent in English, French and Amharic; the latter being Ethiopia’s official working language.