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Ambaye Wolde Mariam
[Ambaye Wolde Mariam]

Ambaye (also styled as Embaye or Ambai) Wolde Mariam (October 15, 1906 – May 16, 1954), best known as Dr. Ambaye, was an important politician under Emperor Haile Selassie.[1] He was the political and legal advisor to the Duke of Harar in 1935, Vice Minister of Justice in 1942, Vice Foreign Minister in 1946, Minister of Justice in 1947 and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office (without a portfolio) in 1952. He was Foreign Minister (acting) in 1953 until shortly before his death.[2]

Ambaye was born in Keren in 1906.

At an early age, he joined the Catholic seminary where his grandfather had taken shelter when he moved to Keren. Due to his outstanding academic achievement at seminary, he was selected to attend the Vatican College. He later studied law at the University of Paris, France.[3]

In the late 1920s and early 1930s Crown Prince Haile Selassie toured Europe and made diplomatic contacts with European governments. While touring he also wisely expanded his network by meeting educated Eritreans and Ethiopians. During one of these trips, Crown Prince Haile Selassie had a prudent meeting at the Vatican with Ambaye, who was ready to be ordained as a Catholic priest. At a crucial moment in Ethiopia's history, the Crown Prince noticed Ambaye’s potential and recruited him to help build a modern government. Realizing the opportunity to struggle for the liberation of Eritrea from Italian colonialism, Ambaye joined the Imperial Government of Ethiopia. The Emperor awarded him a scholarship for further higher education at the University of Paris Law School.

In 1935, during the Italian occupation of Ethiopia, Dr. Ambaye joined the Emperor into exile, first to Djibouti and then to Cairo via Khartoum. On behalf of the exiled Ethiopian government, he participated in anti-fascist political activities. He represented the Emperor, acting as both a decision maker and political activist in the Middle East. His expertise spanned across contacts in Tokyo, Japan; in 1936, he served for one year as the emperor's unofficial diplomatic emissary to the Imperial Government of Japan.[4]

After the defeat of the fascists, he returned to Ethiopia. He participated in modernizing the judicial system of Ethiopia. He worked closely with Blatengeta Lorenzo Taezaz (his schoolmate and mentor from the days at the Catholic seminary, in Keren) in international judicial matters. He was a signatory for the establishment of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Holland. In 1946, he was assigned to present Ethiopia's claim to try fascist war criminals (Badoglio, Graziani etc..), to the UN War Crimes Commission.[5] He was a member of the Anglo-Ethiopian Boundary Commission in 1947.

In 1945 Dr. Ambaye Wolde Mariam, Ato Aklilu Habte-Wold and Blatta Ephrem Tewoldemedihin represented Ethiopia as delegates and signatories on various committees for the establishment of the United Nations.[6]

Dr. Ambaye had many disagreements with the powerful Imperial Palace Authorities, of the time. One of the major disagreements was over the prospect of the division of Eritrea (Bevin-Sforza Plan).[7] The British and the Palace Authorities entertained to divide Eritrea between Sudan (the lowlands) and Ethiopia (the highlands). Dr. Ambaye, whose family origin embraces the highlands (mother side: Meraguz, Serae,) and the lowlands (father side: Hamelmalo, Anseba) of Eritrea, was adamantly opposed to the idea of splitting the nation of Eritrea. He was very proud of his cultural patrimony. He attempted to resign from the government several times over this issue. It was his friend and next door neighbor, Ato Aklilu Habte-Wolde that persuaded him to stay the course

In the early fifties, Dr. Ambaye started getting ill. In 1953 when he was an Acting Foreign Minister, he suddenly became gravely ill. He died at the age of 46.[8] The Imperial government had earlier sent him to Sweden for medical treatment.


Spenser, John (1984). Ethiopia at Bay. Algonac. p. 162.
"UK Treaty Series 46" (PDF). Notes Between Gov OF UK, NI & Ethiopia. March 11, 1953.
Dr. Zewde, Gebresellassie (2014). Eritrea & Ethiopia conflict resolution, in Amharic. Addis Ababa University Press. p. 208.
Clarke III, Joseph Calvitt (2011). Alliance of the Colored Peoples: Ethiopia and Japan Before World War II. Rochester NY: Boydell & Brewer Ltd. pp. 159, 189.
Pankhurst, Richard (1999). "Italian Facists War Crimes in Ethiopia". North East African Studies. 6.1-2 (1999) 83-140: 138–139.
"San Francisco Conference Delegates, 1945". United Nations Photo Album, /conf. in SF 1945.
Yohannes, Okbazghi (1991). Eritre - A Pawn in World Politics. University of Florida Press / Gainesville. p. 121.
"The Ethiopian Herald, weekly". Ministry of Information. May 16, 1953.




Facts about Dr. Ambaye Wolde Mariam                               

1906 Born in Keren Eritrea.
1914 through 1930's education: in Keren, Eritrea, The Vatican and Paris, France.
1942 and 1943 Vice Minister of Justice
1946 Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs
1947 Minister of Justice
1952 Minister in the Prime Minister office without a portfolio. 
1953 Foreign Minister (Acting).
1954 Died in Addis Ababa.

The Sources:

This is a collection of facts, gathered from testimonies of relatives, childhood friends, books, and newspapers, on the life of Dr. Ambaye Wolde Mariam.
The Family Background:

Dr. Ambaye was born in Keren, Eritrea in 1906. 

Dr. Ambaye's great grandfather, Humed, was part of the entourage of the Eritrean hero of Hazega, Ras Woldemichael. He was originally from Hamelmalo (today's Zoba Anseba region). He fled, with his son, from Hamelmalo in 1880's because of a blood feud.  For a time, they hid in the Mogolo/Hagaz area, under the protection of Sheikh Arey Agaba. When Humed died, his son Ali became afraid for his life, so he discreetly moved to Keren and took shelter at the new Catholic missionary. To conceal his identity, he converted from Islam to Christianity (Catholic) and changed his name from Ali to Woldeyohannes. 

Dr. Ambaye’s father, uncle, cousins, and siblings were born and raised in Keren. Dr. Ambaye's mother, Mezengue Fantabel was from Meraguz, Serae (today’s Zoba Debub region of Eritrea).  Her grandfather, Eyesab Dimtsu was a follower of Ras Woldemichael of Hazega.  Additionally, Humed's grandson married Eyesab Dimtsu’s granddaughter. She settled in Keren, and gave birth to their children. Dr. Ambaye was the eldest.

Dr. Ambaye's wife, Woizero Ruth Araya (from Tseazega, Hamasien, today's Zoba Maekel, Eritrea), gave birth to his four children.  link: Image


Dr. Ambaye was humble, well respected and loved by his family and community both in Eritrea and Ethiopia. Dr. Ambaye was very proud of his Eritrean heritage. His father’s side from the Lowlands (Metahit), and his mother's side from the Highlands(Kebesa) .

Dr. Ambaye was a religious, principled person. His charity extended beyond his family and community organizations such as the Saint Michael Catholic Church in Keren. For example, Dr. Ambaye occasionally donated money to help his visiting relatives from the lowland region of Eritrea.

In Keren, he visited his hometown and relatives whenever it was viable. He remodeled his parents’ houses on his grandfather's land.

In Serae, he maintained his grandparents' farmlands.  His mother's great grand parents owned several farming lots in Serae.  In keeping with tradition, his mother inherited the farm lands, providing agricultural work to his extended family.  They utilized the sharecropping system to organize agricultural work.  Specifically, Dr. Ambaye and his siblings owned the land, and some of his relatives and others worked the land.  The fruits of their labor were shared by all.  In keeping with his fair and moral nature, Dr. Ambaye believed in sharing the production equitably among his relatives.


At an early age, he joined the Catholic Seminary, where his grandfather had taken shelter when he moved to Keren.  His outstanding academic achievement at the Seminary earned him the respect to be selected by the Vatican for higher education. He later received a scholarship to study law at the University of Paris, France.

International Context

In the mid 1920's Emperor Haile Selassie, approached Dr. Ambaye, at the Vatican, to join and help modernize his government.  Recognizing the opportunity to struggle for the liberation of Eritrea from Fascism, Dr. Ambaye joined the Imperial government.  The Emperor offered him a scholarship for higher education, at the University of Paris, France.

Domestic Context

Upon his return from Paris, his first priority was to visit and take care of his family, in Eritrea.

later on, he moved to Ethiopia to work in the Ethiopian government in various posts.

The posts included:

1. Justice Minister, Minister in the Prime Minister office and Foreign Minister.
2. Political and Legal advisor to the Duke of Harar.     link: Image
3. Member of the Legislative Commission.
4. Adviser to the High Court.
5. President of Appeals for the Bureau Board of Directors
6. Director of the State Bank Board of Directors.


In 1935, during the Italian occupation of Ethiopia, he joined the Emperor into exile. First to Djibouti and then to Cairo via Khartoum.  On behalf of the exiled Ethiopian government, he participated in Anti-Fascist activities. (link: Image #1, Image #2) He represented the Emperor, acting as both a decision maker and political activist, in both the Middle East and the Far East. His expertise spanned across contacts in Tokyo, Japan; In 1936, he served as the emperor's unofficial diplomatic emissary, to the Imperial government of Japan. link: pg# 159

Return from exile:

After the occupation, he worked in the imperial government of Ethiopia in different capacities. At that time, Dr. Ambaye Wolde Mariam, Ato Aklilu Habetewold (his next door neighbor) and Blantangeta Lorenzo Taezaz (his schoolmate friend and mentor, at the Catholic seminary in Keren) represented the small class of highly educated members of the Imperial government. 

In the 1940's Dr. Ambaye and Blantangeta Lorenzo participated in modernizing the Judicial system of  Ethiopia. They both worked closely in international judicial matters. They were signatories of the establishment of the International Court of Justice, in The Hague, Holland.  

Dr. Ambaye in 1946 presented Ethiopia's claim to try fascist war criminals (Badoglio, Graziani etc..), to the UN War Crime Commission. In 1947, he was a  leading member of the Anglo-Ethiopian Boundary Commission.  link: Image

In 1945 he and Ato Aklilu represented Ethiopia as leading delegates and signatories on various committees for the establishment of the United Nations. link: UN photo

The Geopolitics:

11. In the early 1940's both during and directly after World War II the British were very concerned about the Soviets gaining territories and strength around the globe. They saw the Soviets as the next threat to their colonies in particular and to Europe in general. 

22. In 1941 the British aggressively started to secure the red sea basin. The strategy of the British was to keep the Germans and the Soviets away and from around the Middle East.  Without the middle east oil fields and the passageway via the Red Sea, the British would have succumbed to the Germans. 

33. Therefore, the British before they even ejected the Italians from Eritrea, started courting the Ethiopian government. They wanted to make sure the soviets won't get a foothold, by any means, in the red sea basin. The British and American oil companies owned the oil fields of the middle east and also were very much interested in the strategic geographical location of Eritrea.

44. The British design was to incorporate the whole of Eritrea as part of its East Africa colonies,

55. if that was not possible then try to split Eritrea in half.  Keep the lowlands for itself by joining it to the Sudan which was its colony at the time and the combining the highlands with Ethiopia, which was allying with the USA. 

6   British Approach:

In the late 30's the British aggressively and clandestinely started communicating and negotiating with palace insiders of the Ethiopian Imperial government, on how to handle the future of Eritrea. 

     American Approach:

The American design was to incorporate the whole of Eritrea into the Ethiopian empire. The U.S. also had two major interests, to set up a sophisticated communication center, a secret listening post between Moscow and it's military. But, the main purpose was to keep the Soviets away from the Middle East and the Red Sea basin (the US had signed long term treaty with Saudi Arabia, which sat on top of an ocean of oil).

Internal Factors
  1. The British mistrust of the highly capable and educated Eritreans, like Blantangeta Lorenzo and Dr. Ambaye, within the Ethiopian government. 
  2. The fear that capable Eritreans could be influenced and be used by the Soviet's Design/agenda, to set a foothold in the Red Sea basin.
  3. They saw these same Eritreans to possibly be an obstacle to their general design in the red sea basin. 

Some of the Disagreements:

a) The Case of Eritrea

Dr. Ambaye and Blantangeta Lorenzo, were adamantly opposed to this machination by the British whose intent was to abolish (splitting Eritrea into two regions the Lowlands and the Highlands) Eritrea as a nation.

The British conjured the Ethiopian palace insiders in suspecting both of these Officials with Eritrean origin.  It was a fait accompli, both were removed from any discussions and involvement pertaining to any issues that have to do with the Eritrean question. These specifics were openly known to the various Eritrean and Ethiopian circles in Addis Ababa.

In the 1940's, it was a well-known fact, that besides the case of Eritrea, Dr. Ambaye and Blantangeta Lorenzo had many disagreements with powerful Palace insiders.  Dr. Ambaye,  several times attempted to resign. He used poor health as an excuse. Each time he tried to resign, he was transferred to different posts. As a matter of fact, it was his friend Ato Aklilu that kept on persuading him to not resign and encouraged him to stay the course.

There is no denying that a lot of officials with Eritrean origin in the Ethiopian government adopted Ethiopia as their country, accepted the Emperor as their leader and served it to their utmost ability before, during and after the war of liberation. Their only desire was for an equitable and fair relationship between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

In recent years, a so-called 'Ethiopian Expert on Eritrea', who was well aware of the predicaments of the Eritrean Officials in the Ethiopian government in the forties and fifties, has been making defamatory statements, maliciously dismissing them as irrelevant to their cultural patrimony. His deliberate manifestation implied that the Eritrean officials were unscrupulous, they opted for splitting and trashing their own sacred parental heritage. The so-called 'Expert' postulates that Eritreans at that time were incapable of governing.

The so-called 'Expert', should at least have the courage to state that a more logical and fair political action would have been, to utilize Officials with Eritrean heritage, the likes of Blantangeta Lorenzo and Dr. Ambaye, who at the time possessed more diplomatic and legal experiences, than most in the government, to play a role in presenting the Eritrean narrative objectively to the world.

Unfortunately, this approach was not taken; It was a grave mistake made by the Imperial Palace. The Palace Insiders conspiratorial machinations, the British consulted had a far-reaching political damage on the relationship between Eritrea and Ethiopia.  Instead, the 'Expert' tried to cover up these shortcomings of the responsible palace insiders.  His intention seemed to protect the palace authorities from their mistakes.  He unashamedly tried to manipulate the facts so as to wickedly define the character of Eritreans in general, at that junction of history. Realizing the various mistakes committed by the palace insiders, the Emperor tried belatedly to mitigate his administration's inefficient handling the case of Eritrea.

The so-called 'expert on Eritrea', who at that time was a personal secretary and a 'relative' of  Ato Aklilu who lived  in the neighborhood behind both Ato Aklilu's and Dr. Ambaye's residences, was well aware of Dr. Ambaye's predicament.  He deliberately chose to avoid implicating the blunder created  by the notorious palace insiders. His misguided judgment implies that the palace feudal aristocrats were more sympathetic to the Eritrean cause, than the native Eritrean officials in the Ethiopian government).

b) The Case of Etegue Menen    link: Image #1, Image #2

A court case regarding a loan transaction between Etegue Menen (the emperor's wife) and the owner of Mohamedeli (an Indian company), that left the country without paying off its debt. Etegue Menen's agent requested that the Ethiopian government should take the loss.

A committee of five  people was selected to decide the case. The five committee members were Dr. Ambaye Wolde Mariam (the head of the committee), Ato Aklilu Habetewold, Ato Mekonen Desta, Mr. John Spenser and Ato Minasie Lemma. 
Subsequently, Dr. Ambaye, Ato Mekonen and Ato Minasie argued that the case should be handled by Indian courts in India.  Ato Aklilu and Mr. Spenser argued in favor of Etegue Menen, that means the Ethiopian government should carry the loss and compensate Etegue Menen. The committee, could not reach consensus.
The palace insiders were very unhappy with the outcome.

c) The Case of Zerai Deres     Link:  Image #1Image #2Image #3

The brother of Eritrean hero Zerai Deres, Blatta Tesfatsion Deres, believed that his brother was well and alive in a prison in Italy. Blatta Tesfatsion and other concerned Eritreans approached Dr. Ambaye to present the case to the Imperial Palace. The brother wrote a personal letter to the Emperor stating that his sources tell him that Zerai Deres was shot and injured but not dead; He was put in an Italian jail, in Messina, Sicily.

Blatta Tesfatsion requested the emperor to provide him air transportation to Italy to bring his brother home. Evidently, the palace insiders did not want Dr. Ambaye to pursue the case.

d) The Political Party

Dr. Ambaye did not join the Unionist Party or any other political party of Eritrea. Due to this fact, some Unionist party members accused him of sympathizing with the Muslim League Political Party of Keren, These same individuals sarcastically referred to Dr. Ambaye as "Ambaye Rabita", implying that he stood for the ideals of the Muslim League political Party, of Keren.  Palace insiders aggressively pushed prominent Eritreans to join the Unionist Party.

e) The Case of Provincial Customary Law of Serae    Link: Image #1Image #2Image #3

In the 1940’s Dr. Ambaye, served in the Ministry of Justice of Ethiopia.  Around that time, he was approached by prominent elders of Serae.  They contacted Dr. Ambaye to intervene, advise, and guide them to reform and modernize their traditional laws.  Unfortunately, Dr. Ambaye could not proceed with the case because the Palace insiders blocked all contacts between him and the elders.

The Departure:

In the early fifties, Dr. Ambaye started getting ill.  In 1953 when he was an Acting  Foreign Minister, suddenly became gravely ill.  He died at the age of 46, due to a mysterious illness. The official cause of death stated was "heart problem".  He may have had some regular health issues, but, nothing grave that could have cut his life so short, so soon.  The Imperial government had earlier sent him to Sweden for medical treatment.  link: Image

The Logical Deduction:

The Eritrean question would have been better served by the participation of Blantangeta Lorenzo and Dr. Ambaye.  A more equitable and fair relationship, between the two nations, would have been achieved by now.  Unfortunately, the palace insiders were threatened by their strength, so they separated them, sending Blantangeta Lorenzo to Moscow and keeping Dr. Ambaye in Addis Ababa, under close watch.

In 1952 Dr. Ambaye was assigned as Minister in the Prime Minister office without a portfolio, a ministerial position with no specific responsibility.   link: Image #1Image #2

In 1953 he was assigned as an Acting Foreign Minister, a position of limited power and responsibility.  link: Image

Soon after the demise of Dr. Ambaye, representatives of the government, removed several documents, books and file folders from his residence, claiming that they were governmental properties. Items taken included personal correspondences, folders, and books etc.. 









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