Ras Mangasha Seyum
Leul Ras Mengesha Seyoum was born in 1927 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He attended Church School, where he learned how to read and write in Ge’ez. After the liberation of Ethiopia from Fascist occupation in 1941, Leul Ras Mengesha was sent to Lebanon to pursue his educational studies at the American University of Beirut. Upon his return from Lebanon, Ras Mengesha married the late Princess Aida Desta, the grand daughter of His Majesty Haile Selassie.
Leul Ras Mengesha has made significant contributions to the advancement and development of Ethiopia during his extensive career in public service. Dates in Ethiopian Calendar:-1933-1935 District Governor Tembien, Tigray, 1941-1945 District Governor Ambo Awraja, Shoa, 1945-1948 Governor General Arusi Province, 1948-1950 Governor General Sidamo Province, 1950-1953 Minister of Public Works & Communication (included Road & Air Transport) & 1953-1967 Governor General Tigray Province
As District Governor of Hager Selam, now known as Ambo, Ras Mengesha developed the city’s electricity supply, built the first secondary school, health clinics, bridges and roads connecting Hager Selam’s sub districts. Along with Negadras Tessema Eshete and Mesey Minas, Leul Ras Mengesha also built a road to Wenchi Lake, developing public recreational space by modernizing the natural hot spring water baths in Ambo. The lake and recreational area was inaugurated by His Majesty Haile Selassie.
As Governor of Arusi, Leul Ras Mengesha also initiated the provision of potable water to the city of Assela; modernized the area around the natural hot springs to increase tourism; built the Dowa River (connecting Bale and Arusi provinces); organized distribution of “Marion sheep” to local sheep breeders to improve the stock and breed of cattle; and introduced modern wool weaving equipment helping improve the economy and increase female participation in commerce.
As Governor of Sidamo, Leul Ras Mengesha educated coffee farmers on best practices in coffee, enabling farmers to increase their harvest two-fold. He also facilitated coffee merchants from Addis Ababa to set up processing plants in Sidamo, increasing Sidamo’s economic vitality and Ethiopia’s GDP through increased coffee exports. As Sidamo’s Governor, Leul Ras Mengesha also resolved the Borena border conflict with Kenya by working jointly with the Kenyan administration, and overseeing the proper re-alignment and demarcation of the boundary between Ethiopian and Kenya. As a result of his efforts, there have not been any border disputes and related conflict to date.
Leul Ras Mengesha also surveyed and identified a flat land jungle next to a lake called Awassa, which he is credited with developing into a well planned urban city after his appointment as Minister of Public Works & Communication in 1958. As Minister of Public Works & Communication, which included oversight of Road and Air Transport Authority, Leul Ras Mengesha built Bole road, Bole International Airport, and the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) which housed Africa Hall, the conference hall that became a historical place on may 25th, 1963 when under the visionary leadership of His Majesty Haile Selassie, Heads of States from 32 Independent African Countries gathered to sign the Charter of the Organization of African Unity (now African Union).
Leul Ras Mengesha shouldered the responsibility of responding to UN’s request for Ethiopia to build, at its own expense, the office of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, within one year. At the time, ECA was housed in one wing of Ethiopia’s Defense Ministry. Leul Ras Mengesha and his team projected construction time of 3 years, but promised to complete it within 9 months.
Leul Ras Mengesha also played major roles in the establishment of the Ethiopian Tourism Organization (ETO), renegotiated the Franco-Ethiopian rail contract ensuring management would be under Ethiopian nationals, negotiated civil air transport agreements on behalf of Ethiopian Airlines with the German Government, Liberia, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria and Guinea.
As Minister of Public Works & Communication in his early thirties, Leul Ras Mengesha also served as Chairman of Ethiopian Airlines in which he played a key role in securing a $40 Million USD loan to purchase two Boeing jets, and an additional $5 Million USD, to train two senior Ethiopian pilots and six mechanics. He also made it possible by working with TWA to have Ethiopian co-pilots become full pilots on jet aircrafts. Leul Ras Mengesha’s accomplishments subsequently led to the first jet maintenance facility to be opened in Africa as well as the launch of the first civilian Pilot Training School and Hostess Training Institute for women.
As Minister, Leul Ras Mengesha also developed a detailed plan to build an oil refinery in Asseb. After winning His Majesty Haile Selassie’s and the full Cabinet’s approval, the plan became Ethiopia’s key project seeking foreign aid. The project was accepted by the Soviet delegation that visited Ethiopia, and the oil refinery was built in Asseb with a capital expenditure of $100 Million USD.
Leul Ras Mengesha also undertook a geodetic survey of Abay Sheleko or Abay Gorge catchment with assistance from an American aid organization. He oversaw the development of Master Plans for Bahir Dar after securing the German Government’s support to develop the Master plan drawn by Darmstadt University including the first hospital in Bahir Dar as well. Leul Ras Mengesha also built a bridge connecting Begemedir and Gojam at the Blue Nile River close to Lake Tana as well as a 74 kilometer road, and bridges connecting Debre Markos to Dejen.
In Harrar Province, Ras Mengesha also built a road from Chercher, which passes via Kulebe Gebriel. He built a road from Agaro to Jimma, and also oversaw the development of the city of Mekelle.
As Governor General of Tigray province, Leul Ras Mengesha formed the Tigray Development Organization (TIDAL) to coordinate self -supported projects to develop Tigray. He established the first News Paper printed in Tigray to inform the people of development programs and progress. Leul Ras Mengesha also renovated the ruins of Dejazmach Abraha’s Castle in Mekelle, turning it into a four star hotel. He developed Axum as a tourist destination, built an airport, built the Governor’s residence, preserved Emperor Yohannes’ and Ras Mengesha Yohannes’ palaces in Mekelle and established a Center for Recording Manuscripts housed at the lower level of Emperor Yohannes’ Palace where old historical Manuscripts from all the churches were brought and examined by scholars and Microfilmed the given time frame by running a three-shift schedule. The building was completed in 11 months, and on-time for the first meeting and assembly of the Organization of African Unity.
Leul Ras Mengesha established different cottage industries, most notably, incense and cotton weaving creating employment opportunities for women and developing the local economy. He oversaw the study of geothermal power and the potential of Potash mining to supply electrical power and built roads connecting all 8 Weredas to their Awrajas.
Collectively, Ras Mengesha built over 3,500 km of feeder roads throughout Ethiopia including the first ever 150 km road from Mekele to the salt deposit in Dallol. Numerous reforestation, terracing (erosion control) programs were undertaken under his watch as well. Ras Mengesha established contacts at Alemaya College and created internship opportunities for students to work in Tigray’s development. He built and enhanced airports in Axum and Mekelle and built a gravity driven aqueduct for Adwa from Mai Shana, with 4’’ pipes approximately 10 kilometers from the city.
Ras Mengesha also expanded the Mai Shum water reservoir in Axum to provide potable water to the people. After playing an instrumental role in securing $37 Million USD from the World Bank to revitalize and develop lands in Agame, Hulet, Awlalo, Inderta, Tembien, Raya and Azebo, due to the revolutionary uprising in 1974, the project was disbanded and Leul Ras Mengesha was forced into exile. Despite being in exile for over nearly two decades, Leul Ras Mengesha was involved in a leadership role in the resistance movement and continued humanitarian efforts by helping the cause of Ethiopian refugees with UNHCR and other allied countries prior to the Socialist uprising and takeover in Ethiopia.
Leul Ras Mengesha’s leadership in the development of roads, bridges and cities had tangential benefits such as increasing tourism, improving malaria control, eradication programs and other locust control efforts. The roads constructed under his leadership also made it possible to save hundreds of thousands of lives during the famine of 1973/74 since the roads were used as a means to access and transport food aid to hunger-stricken people affected by the famine.
In recognition of his long life service to his people and exemplary leadership qualities, Ras Mengesha has received several Quardons and awards: Menelik’s Quardon from Emperor Haile Selassie I, Grand Cross of the Royal Victoria Order from Queen Elizabeth II, Legion d’Honor Order from the French Government and similar awards from the Government of Japan and Yugoslavia. He has also received a fellowship and honorary Master’s Degree from Oxford University in the U.K.
SEED congratulates and awards Leul Ras Mengesha Seyoum for his contributions to the development, peace and prosperity in Ethiopia and for all of his positive attributes and public service commitment and dedication to Ethiopia and to the Ethiopian people.