Mulu Meja was born in 1934 in the sub-district of Wanche, Wolaitta, some 350 km. south of Addis Ababa. His father, Meja Madaro, was a prominent figure in his community and a respected land owner, and because of his bravery in killing a local bandit, he was awarded the title of danya (judge). Through SIM missionaries, the gospel was planted in Wolaitta from 1928 to 1937. Mulu’s father and his older brother, Markina, came to faith in 1937 followed eventually by the entire Meja family of fourteen children.
Mulu Meja attended primary and junior high at the SIM centre at Soddo from 1948 to 1954. Subsequent to that he joined the Soddo Dresser Training Programme, directed by Dr. Nathan Barlow, and graduated in 1956 with the advanced diploma in preventive medicine. He was hired by the Ministry of Education and served in the Ligaba Beyene School in Wolaitta as a health assistant. Later he was transferred to the Yirga Alem Ras Desta school as coordinator for health services among the schools in Sidamo Province until 1965.
Mulu Meja married Shitaye Galore in 1958 and together they had seven sons and three daughters – all presently residing in Canada except for one who is in the USA. All ten children are active members of Ethiopian Diaspora churches.
The Haile Sellassie government initiated the all-Ethiopia Parliament soon after the Emperor returned from his self-imposed exile in England in 1941. Mulu Meja was elected to the Ethiopian Parliament in 1966. As a parliamentarian, he successfully fought for freedom of worship for the growing number of non-Orthodox evangelicals who were persecuted and harassed by Ethiopian officialdom in Southern Ethiopia. During his years in Parliament, he attended the Law School of the Addis Ababa University and graduated in 1972.
A new opportunity for Mulu Meja came in 1973 when he was appointed to serve in the Ethiopian High Court. He held this position throughout the Marxist regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam and was even promoted in 1979 as Supreme Court Judge. He served on the Judicial Bench until 1991. This was a fitting tribute to the integrity of Mulu Meja’s Christian character as many former judges were imprisoned on charges of corruption.
In 1991, when the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) government came to power, Mulu Meja was one of the founders of the Southern Nations and Nationalities Democratic Union, the official party in opposition to the EPRDF government. In this position as the vice-president, he believed this was a strategic opportunity to assist the country in its journey into democracy. He fearlessly challenged the Meles Zenawi Government on several issues regarding the constitution, rule of law, and the democratic transition of the country. His voice was often heard on public radio and television and was regularly quoted in the Addis Ababa press. Because of his broad previous experience in law and in parliamentary procedures in two former regimes, his advice was sought after by a new generation of politicians. Highly respected for his Christian character and uncompromising stand on human rights, he was a firm believer that Christians must involve themselves in the political life of their respective nations. And Mulu Meja affirmed that because Christians are the salt and the light of the earth they must have a presence in the political realm.
Throughout his life he was an active member of Kale Heywet local churches in Soddo, Arba Minch, Jimma, and Addis Ababa. While he was posted in Yirga Alem from 1958 to 1965, he regularly attended the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus. During regular visits to his children residing in North America (mainly Toronto), he attended the Ethiopian Evangelical Church. Mulu Meja is lauded by his family as being an upright follower of Jesus, kind, gracious, generous, wise and an able provider for their educational and spiritual well-being.
During his lengthy government service for his country during three different regimes, and under varying political philosophies, he served with integrity and respect for those of different views. In his retirement he continued to offer legal advice freely to those who were unable to defend themselves for various reasons including financial constraints. And until his death he relentlessly championed the rule of law, justice, and freedom for his beloved country of Ethiopia.
E. Paul Balisky
1) Teshome Amare, son-in-law of Judge Mulu Meja, facilitated the collecting of biographical information including a detailed response by Shitaye Galore, wife of Judge Mulu Meja.
2) Girum Molla. “Believer and Politician: The Life and Testimony of Mulu Meja,” a term paper presented to the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology for the course, “Church and State,” 2008.
This article received in 2013, was written by Dr. Paul Balisky, a former lecturer at the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology, a DACB Participating Member. Paul and his wife Lila now reside in Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada.