About African Author and Scholar Nega Mezlekia

Nega Mezlekia was born in the town of Jijiga, Ethiopia, in 1958. He grew up in a time when his country was undergoing major transformations. In 1974, the army toppled the monarchy. An attempt by the military dictators to restructure the age-old feudal system went awry, and the nation slid into a bloody civil war. Nega lost a number of his close friends in the conflict.

As the civil war was raging, neighbouring Somalia invaded his country. The conflict, one of the bloodiest the continent had seen, affected him even more personally. In 1978, when the victorious Somali army occupied his hometown, Nega and his family became internal refugees. Although Jijiga would soon change hands and once again become part of Ethiopia, he was destined never to see it again.

Nega completed his primary and secondary education in Jijiga. (He had just written the university entrance examination when his family was displaced.) In 1979, he enrolled at Addis Ababa University and barely three years later he earned his bachelor degree in agricultural engineering, finishing second in his class. Recognizing his academic excellence, the university offered him a teaching position. Nega accepted the offer, and for the next two and half years he served as a lecturer at what was then known as the Alemaya College of Agriculture, part of Addis Ababa University.

In August 1983, having won a full scholarship from Wageningen University, in the Netherlands, Nega left for Europe, to pursue higher education. Two years later, he earned a master’s degree in water management. But because of the deteriorating political situation in his native Ethiopia, he was unable to return home and decided to emigrate to Canada as a political refugee.

Shortly after arriving in Canada, Nega went back to school, and in 1989, he earned a master’s degree in civil/structural engineering from the University of Waterloo. His new training opened up new and exciting opportunities. He joined the workforce as a structural engineer in the private sector, and for the next two years took part in the design of heavy industrial structures.

In 1992, Nega went back to school for the last time, and less than three years later he earned his doctorate (Ph.D.) in civil/structural engineering from McGill University in Montreal. Returning to industry once more, he participated in the design of many more exciting structures.

Nega considers engineering his calling, but literature is his all-time love. “Storytelling is my heritage,” he says. “In Africa, we grow up on a steady diet of fables and anecdotes. And there they are mostly a means of passing wisdom, rather than a bedtime diversion.”

Nega has authored three books. His latest work, The Unfortunate Marriage of Azeb Yitades, a novel, was shortlisted as the Best Book for the prestigious Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, 2007. His first book, Notes from the Hyena’s Belly, a memoir, won Canada’s highest literary prize, the Governor General’s Award.

Nega’s books can be ordered online, and they are also available in bookstores in the United States and Canada.