Homepage
Home Read stories Africa maps The Project Resources Our Writers News

Haile-Giorgis Warkneh
1929 to 2004
Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church
Ethiopia

 

Haile-Giorgis was born in 1929 in Bulga Awraja, Central Shewa.  His father, a patriot fighter, was killed by the Italian usurpers around 1936.  After the liberation of Ethiopia in 1941 Haile-Giorgis was enrolled for his elementary education at the Teferi Mekonen School and completed his secondary education at Haile Sellassie First Secondary School.  Because there were limited post-secondary educational opportunities in Ethiopia, high achievers were sent abroad for further studies.  Haile-Giorgis initially enrolled in the Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas, but after one year he transferred to the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, PA where he earned his BSc, MSc and eventually his PhD in 1963.  His thesis, “The Transportation of Solids by Means of Pipelines” was an original concept in the civil engineering field.  He remained in the USA for two additional years apprenticed to the Tippets / Abbot / McCarthy / Stratton International engineering firm which honed his expertise in hydraulics.

Haile-Giorgis returned to Ethiopia in 1966 and joined the Ethiopian engineer corps, drawing up plans for the Awash hydroelectric project as well as the Awash Valley Agricultural project.   From 1969 to 1972, under the able supervision of Haile-Giorgis, working with a corps of engineers from the USSR, the sophisticated Assab Petroleum Refinery was successfully constructed and put into production.

A new engineering challenge arose for Haile-Giorgis in 1972.  As the General Manager of the Ethiopian Roads authority, with assistance from the American Highway Organization, he oversaw the construction of thousands of kilometers of roads, linking together urban and rural communities.  For his work on the country’s road systems, the International Road Federation nominated Haile-Giorgis “Man of the Year” for his significant contribution to the Ethiopian transportation system.

In 1972 he was married to Sister Jember Tefera.  They had two sons and two daughters.  Early in 1973, Haile-Giorgis was appointed Mayor of Addis Ababa.  His first significant project was the erection of the new edifice, the Addis Ababa City Hall.  He was also instrumental in having the stolen Ethiopian relic, the “Lion of Judah” returned to Ethiopia from Rome.  This obelisk now stands in a proud position in front of the Addis Ababa City Hall.

Haile-Giorgis, together with 60 prominent Ethiopian Government Ministers, was imprisoned by the Dergue regime in April, 1974. Nearly all of the 60 were killed without trial.  Haile-Giorgis remained in prison until September, 1983. During that time his wife, Sister Jember (DMiss) was also incarcerated for five years, bereft of her four small children. 

Throughout Haile-Giorgis’s life he made many significant contributions, not only to the physical aspects of his country as mentioned above but also to the cause of Christianity. He was instrumental in building several Orthodox Churches.  He encouraged the reading and teaching of God’s word every afternoon under a shelter he had constructed in the compound of the Addis Ababa St. George Church. He generously provided a prominent space in the City Hall for the Christian agency, “Operation Mobilization” to display and sell their books. While in detention for eight years, he organized Bible studies among the prisoners. This gave hope and peace to many. And not least, after his release from prison he assisted his wife, Sister Jember (now DMiss) in her compassionate ministry of urban slum renewal in the area next to the Addis Ababa Mercato. Hundreds of the poor were given new dwellings as well as trained in trades by which they could make a living.  

At the funeral of Haile-Giorgis in 2004 the Scripture reading was from 2 Timothy 4:7-8 that begins, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished my race I have kept my faith ....”  The Orthodox priest showed that this text was applicable to the life of Haile-Giorgis in his fight against the injustices the landlords perpetrated against the peasant farmers.  The priest concluded his sermon by saying, “As a Christian gentleman, Dr. Haile-Giorgis did well in serving both his church and his country in a faithful manner.”


E. Paul Balisky


Bibliography

Solomon Haile. “Biography of Dr. Haile-Giorgis Warkineh, the First Ethiopian Civil Engineer,” a term paper presented to the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology for the course, “Church and State,” 2008.

Personal information shared with Solomon Haile, March 31, 2008.



This article, received in 2014, was written by Dr. E. Paul Balisky, a former lecturer at the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology, A DACB participating member.  Paul and his wife Lila now reside in Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada.