Rita Pankhurst, life-long friend of Ethiopia, laid to rest

11 Jun 2019

The academic and activist Rita Pankhurst passed away on 30th May at her home in Addis Ababa, aged 92.

Her funeral was held on 4th June in Kiddist Selassie Menbere Tsebaot Church cemetery, Trinity Cathedral, where Rita’s late husband Richard Pankhurst OBE (1927-2017), and her mother-in-law Sylvia Pankhurst (1882-1960), are also buried.

In recognition of their life-long support for Ethiopia, Richard, Rita and Sylvia were awarded honorary citizenship of Ethiopia and are buried at the Cathedral site as it is reserved for prominent Ethiopian patriots and important figures who have contributed greatly to Ethiopia.

Rita Eldon came to Ethiopia in 1956 and married historian Richard Pankhurst a year later. Richard was a notable historian who for 70 years helped shape Ethiopian historiography with publications and articles on almost every aspect of Ethiopia’s past.

A formidable scholar and activist in her own right, Rita worked as a librarian in the National Library of Ethiopia from 1956 to 1962 before becoming Director of the University Library of the then Haile Selassie I University, from 1964 to 1975. As librarian she was largely responsible for providing the basis for the education of the students of what was then the country’s only University for many years. Most of those now in government, business and academia owe much to her efforts as a librarian and to her support for numerous voluntary and non-government organizations, including her notable advocacy for women’s rights. She published a number of articles on the role of women in Ethiopia.

Richard and Rita Pankhurst. © V. Irene Cockroft

Richard and Rita were ardent campaigners for justice concerning cultural artefacts taken from Ethiopia. During summer visits to London they both attended demonstrations, most notably outside the Italian embassy where, on several occasions, they called for the return of the Axum obelisk, taken by Mussolini’s troops during the Italian occupation in the 1930s. The obelisk was finally returned to Axum in 2005.

Living in England in 1976, Rita was director of the Library Services of the City of London Polytechnic, until she returned to Ethiopia in 1987. Rita was instrumental in acquiring the Fawcett Library which contained women’s suffrage campaign records. The Fawcett collection served as the nucleus for the internationally renowned Women’s Library, now in the custodianship of the London School of Economics.

After her return to Ethiopia in 1987, Rita edited academic books and university theses and was active in the civic life of Addis Ababa as well as devoting much energy to her advocacy for women’s rights, and to voluntary work, including the United World Colleges–Ethiopia, the Society of Friends of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies, the Ethiopian Gemini Trust and other bodies.

Rita leaves daughter Helen, son Alula, and grandchildren.

May Her Soul Rest in Eternal Peace.

Latest News

Browse all
Ethiopia’s Green Legacy Intiative, which resulted in over 4 billion trees being planted in 2019, has been shortlisted for The Climate Coalition's Green Heart Hero Award, which recognises the incredible work that is being done to tackle climate change. Ethiopia is nominated under the “Overseas Inspiration” category.
25 Feb 2020
Ethiopia’s tree-planting drive shortlisted for national climate change award
Brighton Festival, the largest annual, curated multi-arts festival in England, is set to get a little taste of Ethiopia thanks to the acclaimed Ethio-British poet, playwright, broadcaster and speaker, Lemn Sissay MBE, who has been selected as this year's Guest Director. The Festival is scheduled to take place from 2 - 24 May and will feature some Ethiopian artists.
19 Feb 2020
Brighton Festival 2020 launches with Lemn Sissay as Guest Director
13 Feb 2020
Joint Statement of Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan, the United States and the World Bank
Ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan and their delegations met with the Secretary of the Treasury and the President of the World Bank, participating as observers, to continue negotiations on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, in Washington, D.C. on February 12-13, 2020. 
Ethiopia has been included in National Geographic Traveller (UK)’s ‘Cool List’ of 20 must-see destinations for the year ahead. At number 12, Ethiopia is noted for its ‘new tours, improved safety, and a tourism trade that’s growing faster than anywhere else in Africa’.
11 Feb 2020
Ethiopia makes National Geographic Traveller’s ‘Cool List’
Ethiopia has been embarking an ambitious reform process to ensure the sustainability of its economic growth and development. Among these reforms, education has been a foremost priority. As a starting point for the reforms, the Government accepted that previous attempts at educational reform had yielded mixed results.
4 Feb 2020
Ethiopia’s New Education Development Roadmap: Charting a Course to a Brighter Future
31 Jan 2020
Joint Statement of Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan, the United States And the World Bank
The Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Water Resources of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, and their delegations met with the Secretary of the Treasury and the President of the World Bank, participating as observers in negotiations, on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, in Washington, D.C.
Ahead of the official publication date, the Embassy hosted the UK launch of acclaimed Ethio-American author, Maaza Mengiste’s second novel, The Shadow King, in the presence of Ambassador Fesseha and guests. Set in 1935 in Ethiopia, the novel explores female power and casts light on the women soldiers.
30 Jan 2020
Embassy hosts Maaza Mengiste’s UK launch of The Shadow King
At the first-ever UK-Africa Investment Summit, Deputy Prime Minister Demeke invited UK businesses to invest in Ethiopia. Hosted by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the Summit brought together leaders from 21 African countries, business leaders, institutional investors, international organisations and civil society.
21 Jan 2020
Ethiopia at the UK-Africa Summit in London
Team Ethiopia are set to return to London streets for the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon on Sunday 26th April. Leading the pack will be long-distance legend, Kenenisa Bekele, who will go head to head with Kenya’s Eluid Kipchoge, in what will be one of the most eagerly anticipated races in marathon history.
20 Jan 2020
London are you ready? The Ethiopians are coming!
Speech by H.E. Mr Demeke Mekonnen, Deputy Prime Minister of Ethiopia at the inaugural UK-Africa Investment Summit in London.
20 Jan 2020
Speech by H.E. Mr Demeke Mekonnen at the UK-Africa Investment Summit
Ethiopia’s remarkable record of economic growth and home-grown development path has inspired the whole continent of Africa. In this insight for the Overseas Development Institute, Arkebe Oqubay looks at the growing impact of foreign investment across Africa and considers the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for the continent.
16 Jan 2020
Will the 2020s be the decade of Africa’s economic transformation?