Ethiopia Mourns as Suffragette’s Historian son Richard Pankhurst dies

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Richard Pankhurst, the son of the British women’s rights campaigner Sylvia Pankhurst who became one of the world’s leading experts on Ethiopian history and culture, has died aged 89.

He first came into contact with Ethiopia through his mother, a ‘suffragette’ who also campaigned against the invasion of the Horn of Africa nation by Benito Mussolini’s fascist Italian troops in 1935.

He moved to Addis Ababa with her after World War Two and started teaching at Addis Ababa University, going on to write more than 20 books and thousands of articles.

He also inherited an activist streak from his mother and his grandmother, Emmeline Pankhurst, founder of the suffragette movement, which helped secure the right for British women to vote.

Richard campaigned with his wife Rita for the return of piles of plunder taken from Ethiopia by invading British troops in 1868, and of a giant obelisk taken from the ancient city of Axum by Mussolini’s forces. Both were there in Axum to watch as Italy returned the obelisk in 2005.

The British Embassy said Pankhurst had died on Thursday,

Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry called him a “doyen of historians and scholars of Ethiopia”.

“Pankhurst was one of Ethiopia’s greatest friends during his long and productive life, and his scholarship and understanding for Ethiopia will be sorely missed,” it said in a statement.

Author and photographer Maaza Mengiste told BBC Africa: “I’ve discovered things about my country, just sometimes stumbling upon something that he’s written … a whole other window opens for me on how I understand my own history.”

One Ethiopian, Wondwosen Gelan, tweeted simply: “He was our history archive. We miss him so much.”

(Reporting by Andrew Heavens in London and Aaron Maasho Addis Ababa; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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Mareeg senior news editor since 2001 and he can be reached at news@mareeg.com