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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 at the age of 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 II and started teaching at Addis Ababa University, going on to write more than 20 books and thousands of articles.
He was also Capital’s columnist for almost 10 years contributing hundreds of articles on Ethiopian history.
The British Embassy said Pankhurst had died on Thursday, Ministry of Foreign Affairs 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.
Ambassador Taye A Selassie in a tweet said ‘An end of an era in #Ethiopia’s literary studies. Saddened by the death Prof. Pankhurst. He was a proud Ethiopian with wisdom, valour & audacity.’
Pankhurst led the campaign for the return of the Obelisk of Axum to Ethiopia. It was re-erected in Axum in 2008. For his efforts in this, he was given the honorary title “Dejazmach Benkirew” by the Union of Tigraians of North America. He was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Diplomatic Service and Overseas section of the 2004 Queen’s Birthday Honours “for services to Ethiopian studies”.
Richard Keir Pethick Pankhurst OBE was born on 3 December 1927, and was a British academic, a founding member of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies, and a former professor at the University of Addis Ababa. His books have been reviewed in scholarly journals, with Edward Ullendorff calling his The Ethiopians as another testimony to his “remarkable diligence and industry in the service of Ethiopian studies”. He is known for his research on economic history and socio-cultural studies on Ethiopia.
Pankhurst is married and has a daughter, Helen Pankhurst, and a son, Alula Pankhurst, with whom he has collaborated on at least one book.