Yllma Deressa: A Political Biography (1907-1979)

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Addis Ababa University


This dissertation investigates the life of Yilllla Denissa(1907-1979), a prominent Minister of Finance, diplomat, author and slatesman in the Jmperial Government of Ethiopia.As this sludy allempts to examine a political biography of an individual, discussion on fimdamental issues related to biography becomes a significant academic endeavor. Therefore, the disserlation ./irst seeks 10 address essential disciplillGlY and hisloriographical issues in an attempl to inlegrale Ihis sludy wilh the relevanl body of knowledge and 10 give a filii piclure of Yilma Deressa in broader perspective. Born into an Oromo aristocratic family in Wiilliiga at Ihe beginning of Ihe twentieth cenILilJ', he was acquainted with modern education in his home village near Gimbi in 1910s. fllslrumentallo this was hisfalher, Bilatta De""ssa Amiinte who accuslomed himselfand his family more to Ihe lIew developmenls al Addis Ababa Ihan to the ways of his forefathers in Wiilliiga. Leaving Gimbi for good in early 1920s, Bi/alla Denissa enabled his son Yilma and olher .f{tmily members to pursue Iheir modern educalion in Addis Ababa, later on Alexandria (Egypl) and finally London (Englalld). YUma had begun his state service at the Millislly of Foreign Affairs in 1933. Except for Ihe short period of 1taliall in vasion Ihat forced him to spend Ihose years in wGljare, exile and col/aboralion, Yi/Illa spent a great pari of his public life in building core institution and introducing momentous bureaucratic practices in the Ethiopian governl11enl £111 til 1974. Assisted by the British finanCial advisor and his Ethiopian associates, Yill11a did establish the Ministly of Finance both bureaucratically and legislatively. fn the consecutive three decades since 1941, he engaged also in diverse economic, diplomatic and cultural activities of immense national importance. As his educational training, the public responsibilities he took on and his personal successes and .failures had defined Yilma's individuality, his social background as an Drama statesman also cOllstituted his identity. The source materials for this research are collected from different government archives, private document collections and knowledgeable informants. The whole process of s)'nlhesis and analysis of the sources has empirically as well as logically proven the thesis of the study. In this dissertatioll, 1 argue that Yilma Deressa, as all Ol'Omo individual of noble origin Fom a periphel)), adjlls/ed himself /0 the new historical developments at the center and, more importantly, reinforced the political system enthusiasticallv with the new skills acquired in the process essentially as state bureaucraticfullctiollary. 1n doing so, he follolVed the palh that his forefalhers had pursued earlier on. The value of this disserlalion il1 historical study lies il1 its invesfigafiol1 /0 uncover novel empirical data and fheir logical inferprelafioll, in ifS deliberation 011 the place oIindividllals in hiS/DIY, onc/finally in i/s at/elllpl fO illuminate important fhemes in Ethiopian his/OlY through a bioglliphical approach. These help to SlIpplCIIICllf fhe existing bo(~v body of knowledge.



Yllma Deressa: A Political Biography