In remembrance of an inspiring activist: Tilahun Abebe (1934 – November 2020)



Jemma Stovell

 _564_ joined our Age Demands Action (ADA) movement when it first began in 2007 and his work over the years embodied everything that activism should be. He was determined and passionate, acting on behalf of our cause, demanding change, and making sure that older people’s voices are heard.

Tilahun believed that strategic grassroot action was crucial for advocating for change and played a key role in establishing the Ethiopian Elderly and Pensioners National Association (EEPNA), a national umbrella organisation of older people associations. Today in Ethiopia, through the work of Tilahun and others like him, there are now more than 1,200 older people associations supporting older women and men in their communities.
EEPNA members now, thanks to Tilahun’s encouragement, attend regular meetings where they decide on which issues they want to focus on and which ministries to target.

 _67_ Tilahun became part of ADA, he was working in public health and believed that no matter how much money we have or whatever our age, we should all have access to free healthcare. Having heard about older people not being listened to by doctors when they visited health clinics, he knew he could use his knowledge of the public health system to make a difference. He was aware that there were many good doctors but not all of them took older people’s health issues seriously. So, he started accompanying friends to the doctor to make sure they received the treatment they needed, tackling ageism directly.

 _42_ and the fact that it was not considered an older person’s issue was one of the areas where Tilahun helped make lasting change. He campaigned to raise awareness about the impact of HIV on older people and how they could be infected like everyone else. He spoke at global HIV events, including the 2012 International AIDS Conference in Washington D.C. and HIV and Ageing in Africa, a pre-conference to the 2011 International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa. In Ethiopia Tilahun advocated for older men and women to be included in government programmes, helping secure a change in government policy on the inclusion of older people.

 _684_ also joined the action2015 campaign, calling for older people to be included in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). When world leaders met in Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa to discuss how the SDGs would be financed, the ADA delegation was refused a meeting with decision-makers. Never one to take no for answer, Tilahun decided to join forces with younger activists and when young and old came together, their request could no longer be denied. Tilahun met with the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, Special Advisor for the SDGs, Amina Mohammad, and the Ethiopian marathon runner, Haile Gebrselassie. Because of the activism of Tilahun and others, the SDGs committed to leaving no one behind and included older people.

We will remember Tilahun as a determined activist who achieved real change in the lives of older people in Ethiopia. He knocked on the doors of government officials and lobbied businesses and individuals to improve the lives of older women and men. As Tilahun once said, as he called on the government to take action on older people’s rights “We’re not demanding too much, or something that is impossible to be done. I want my government to give older people a stronger voice and acknowledge them as an important part of the family.”
We need smart, energetic, courageous activists who act with integrity and vision to continue to push politicians and galvanise others to take action on older people’s rights.  We need more activists like Tilahun and thank him for everything that he did. We are going to miss him.