In the Who's Who of international aviation, there are only a few African managers who have made a lasting name for themselves beyond the borders of the continent. The most illustrious, best known, and certainly most respected among them is Ato Girma Wake. For most of his professional career, he worked for Ethiopian Airlines (ET). Now he has resigned from the post of Chairman of Ethiopian Airlines Group. The reasons are the subject of intense speculation.
It was about 20 years ago, when an Etihad freighter (at that time, the cargo division was still called Etihad Crystal Cargo), landed in Addis Ababa (ADD) to load flowers and carry them to the
airline’s hub in Abu Dhabi. It was the carrier’s inaugural flight to ADD. After arrival at Bole International Airport, the crew and high-ranking managers of the Arab airline were welcomed by
Girma Wake, CEO of Ethiopian Airlines. Addressing the delegation, he praised the great opportunities offered by the Ethiopian market to international airlines and forwarders, for the
transportation of flowers and other agricultural products grown and harvested there. He mentioned plans to add freighter aircraft to Ethiopian’s fleet and outlined plans to upgrade and expand
cargo facilities at ADD Airport, in accordance with high international standards. And that is how it all came to be.
Now, visionary Girma Wake has stepped down as Chairman of the Ethiopian Airlines Group. Why? He did not say.
Mr. Wake is a highly respected figure in the African and international aviation industry and boasts an impressive career spanning several decades. He served as the CEO of Ethiopian Airlines from 2004 to 2011, during which he successfully transformed the airline into Africa’s most successful passenger and cargo carrier. From 2012 to 2017, he served as Chairman of RwandAir, before returning to ET in 2018. Thanks to his immense contributions and expertise, the 79-year-old veteran became the voice of Africa in international aviation organizations.
During his tenure at Ethiopian, he played a pivotal role in the airline’s growth and development, overseeing significant achievements and successfully navigating numerous challenges over the years, including the fallout from the B737 MAX 8 crash on 10MAR19, and the effects of the Covid pandemic.
ET - a political shunting yard?
So, why did this highly esteemed executive resign? The most plausible reason for this is a power struggle between Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed’s government and parts of the management group of Ethiopian Airlines. According to local publication, Anchor Media, there had been a severe quarrel between the Ethiopian government and Mr. Wake. The report indicates that the head of government had ultimately demanded from Wake to dismiss ET CEO, Mesfin Tasew, and replace him with current Head of Sales, Lemma Yadecha. The paper indicates that ethnic reasons also played a major role in the conflict. Wake had refused to consent the castling.
There is no official statement on this issue.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant General, Yilma Merdassa has been appointed as Wake's successor as the Head of Ethiopian Airlines’ Supervisory Council. According to local media, he is a renowned fighter pilot, who bombed enemy positions in the Tigray conflict. This war was initiated in 2021, by a military offensive ordered by President Ahmed against rebels in Tigray. Various Ethiopian tribes took part in the armed conflict, which deepened the country's ethnic divisions.
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