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The “Father of Geography of Ethiopia” passed away

RIP: The “Father of Geography of Ethiopia” passed away
Dr. Yohannes Aberra
October 1, 2020

Father of Geography of Ethiopia - Mesfin Woldemariam
Professor Mesfin Woldemariam

Last July I sent the manuscript of my book on the Geography of Ethiopia, written for the first time in Amharic, to Professor Mesfin Woldemariam to review it and give me his blessings. I did that after a prior exchange of email messages asking him for his willingness to do so. I know that at the age of 90 it is difficult for him to go through my manuscript and give me detailed comments. What I expected from him was just a blessing as the “Father of Geography of Ethiopia”. He did not manage to return my manuscript before he passed away.

I grieve the death of the great scholar not only because he is one of the few people in Ethiopia who are independent thinkers but also because he is my mentor who saw the potential in me and pulled me into the field of geography which became my life long profession. It happened in June 1973 when I consulted Professor Mesfin Woldemariam in his Department Chairman’s Office at the then Arts Building (now OCR) of HSIU (now AAU). In the first semester Prof. Mesfin (popularly known as “Gashe Mesfin” in the Department) taught me the Course Geog. 101 (Geography of Ethiopia). The first book on the geography of Ethiopia, which was published only a year ago, was the text book we used for the Course. The book was the result of field research  all over Ethiopia by Gashe Mesfin himself. While teaching the course he was telling us interesting stories of his experiences during the fieldwork. I was so interested in his Course and in his textbook that I spent more time on that than on other Courses.

The result I got for the Course was “A”. The result was a surprise because the widespread gossip in campus was Gashe Mesfin says: “A for God; B for Mesfin; and C for a bright student”. If Gashe Mesfin gives me A, which is Mesfin’s grade for God, I thought, then I am destined to be a geographer. My three Degrees (BA, MA, PhD) are all in Geography! Although my CGPA in the Freshman Programme was sufficient for others like law, business, etc fields I decided to join geography also motivated by my interest in the environment since childhood. Casting aside the business minded scholars who think that geography is a valueless field it has to be known to everyone that geography endows a broader and integrative mentality which is what the world needs now to solve its problems.

We don’t need to agree on political issues to celebrate Professor Mesfin’s contributions to the scholarly literature in the field of geography. His seminal work on Famine Vulnerability is a timeless reference for disaster risk management in Ethiopia. Other significant works in the field is ” Suffering under God’s Environment”. He was a religious man as he was a politician and a civil rights advocate. This was a unique and difficult brew that Professor Mesfin managed to balance in his own way. I pay my heart felt Condolences to his family, friends and admirers. As to us, his students, we will carry on his legacy. I propose a building in Sidist Kilo Campus to be named after him.

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