‘Ethiopia needs no political reform’ – Ambassador to Turkey

(Source: Today’s Zaman) The Ethiopian Woyanne ambassador to Turkey says Ethiopia is lucky to have a society rich in diversity and that members of all the country’s different ethnicities consider themselves Ethiopian.

Mulatu Teshome
Woyanne Ambassador to Turkey
Malatu Teshome says every thing
is going great in Ethiopia.
Starving children in Ethiopia
This picture tells a different story.
Street children in Ethiopia
It is estimated that there are over
100,000 street children in Ethiopia

The people of Ethiopia brought in the new Ethiopian millennium on Sep. 12, 2007. Ethiopians do not attach any particular religious meaning to the new millennium like some countries in the West; for them the millennium is all about looking to the future.

Ethiopians regard the new millennium as a period in which they will take their place among the emerging countries of the world. They see it as a time for growth for their ancient country. That is why Today’s Zaman chose to speak to Ethiopian Ambassador to Turkey Mulatu Teshome.

Mr. Ambassador, why does the Ethiopian millennium fall at a different time than the one celebrated by much of the world?

The Ethiopian calendar is a slightly revised version of the Julian calendar. The Western world uses the Gregorian calendar, which was actually a later invention. Ethiopians stuck to their old tradition and continued with the Orthodox calendar, which is seven or eight years behind the Gregorian one. This is also about the firm belief in the Orthodox Church as it is the original, the authentic one. The Roman Catholics and other religious groups all came in later periods.

Do the Ethiopian people attach any special religious meaning to the millennium, like a second coming of Jesus?

Some of the clergy hold such expectations, but the country as a whole sees this as a time to look to the future while also preserving the ancient culture of Ethiopia.

What do you mean by ancient?

Ethiopia is a very ancient country, a country that has a history of more than 3,000 years. It is referred to as the “cradle of mankind.” It is where Lucy, the world’s oldest-known almost complete hominid skeleton — more than 3.3 million years old — was discovered by an archaeology team. Recently, archeologists also found the skeleton of a 3-year-old girl, “Selam,” who died 3.45 million years ago, in the Afar region of eastern Ethiopia.

When you said future, were you referring to the people’s political and economic expectations for the new millennium?

Yes, indeed. Ethiopia is a very ancient country, but its economy does not reflect its history and tradition. Ethiopia is still a very backward country. So the aspiration of the Ethiopian people is to make Ethiopia, within the next two decades, rank near the middle among all countries for per capita income. That calls for very rapid economic development, of course. The new millennium for Ethiopia is regarded as a new chapter in our history.

Do you see any political reforms coming in the future?

Frankly speaking, Ethiopia does not need any political reform. We previously were ruled by a monarchy. It was banned in 1975 with the Ethiopian Revolution. From 1975 to 1991 Ethiopia was ruled by a military dictatorship and was regarded a socialist country. Of course, neither one brought modernity to Ethiopia. During that period Ethiopia did not even approach democracy. In 1991 a new era started; the military dictatorship was overthrown, and we started drawing up a new constitution. This is a constitution based on the modern thinking of democratic governance that recognizes private ownership. But what really makes the Ethiopian Constitution new and democratic is the fact that it was drafted through popular participation in a process that lasted from 1991 to 1995.

By 1995 the constitution was adopted, and in compliance with this new constitution we held elections. The elections take place every five years. What we need is to practice what is contained within the constitution, not more political reform. We have a very good constitutional framework; what is expected from the government is to realize what is written there.

Every country has its problems. What do you see as the main ones Ethiopia faces?

Ethiopia is lucky to have a very diverse society. All of these different ethnicities say they belong to their tribes, but when it comes to their country they are all Ethiopian. They have only one roof over them, and that roof is Ethiopia. Having said that, we of course had problems in the past and we still have some. These come mainly in the form of terrorist groups which are manipulated mainly from abroad.

Are these separatist groups or otherwise?

Well, these groups don’t have civilian demands. Sometimes they use the slogans of a given regime or ethnic group and demand more freedom and more economic development. We have no problem with that. What we are against is taking up arms and sabotaging the security of the population. Unfortunately most of these terrorist groups are linked to Eritrea. You know, Eritrea was a province of Ethiopia in the past, and today it is cultivating these elements within Ethiopia.

What is the reason for this enmity?

Eritrea was once a province of Ethiopia. It received independence through a referendum in 1991. Before that there was not a clear boundary, because Eritrea was a part of Ethiopia. The division between Eritrea and Ethiopia is not ethnic or national. That part of Ethiopia was occupied by the Italians for 63 years and during the occupation they developed a separate identity. Today the two identities are clashing.

When we speak of Ethiopia, we use the term “Gateway of Africa.” Does this label seem accurate to you?

I think it is quite accurate. Geographically its location in the northeastern part of Africa makes Ethiopia best placed strategically in its region. You can fly easily from there to the Middle East, to Asia and to Europe. Of course, this is facilitated by Ethiopian Airlines. It flies to almost all countries in Africa. In addition, the headquarters of the African Union is in Ethiopia; the headquarters of the UN’s Economic Commission for Africa is also in Addis Ababa. And many international regional headquarters are there. So basically Ethiopia is the capital of Africa.

When were diplomatic relations between Ethiopia and Turkey established?

Our relations reach back to the Ottoman period, to the 1560s. But real diplomatic relations started just before World War I. Ethiopia had very close contacts with the sultan of the Ottomans at that time, and in 1912 a Turkish Consulate was opened in Ethiopia. Ethiopia was the only independent country in Africa then and it was the only country recognized as a state. In 1925 Turkey opened its embassy in Addis Ababa. Turkey was the sixth country to open an embassy in Ethiopia. Ethiopia also had an embassy in Ankara. Our emperor, Haile Selassie, visited Turkey two times. But in 1975, after the socialist revolution, Ethiopia closed down its embassy. For a long time we didn’t have a presence in Ankara; we reopened our embassy only in 2006. Today the relations between Turkey and Ethiopia are excellent, both politically and economically. We have no conflicts of interest and we support each other on international platforms. We are enjoying strong economic relations and witnessing a growing number of Turkish investors coming to Ethiopia. Our mutual trade has grown from nothing to approximately $200 million annually, and our target is $500 million.

When we speak about Ethiopians in Turkey, the Queen of Sheba comes to mind. Is this a myth or a historical reality?

The Queen of Sheba is not a myth. If you go to the northern part of Ethiopia, to Aksu, you can see the ruins of her palace. She was the empress of Ethiopia and having heard of a powerful emperor in the north, she visited Solomon. They fell in love and on her way back to Ethiopia she became pregnant. After she returned she gave birth to a boy and named him Menelik. Menelik I was the emperor, the son of Solomon. That line actually ruled Ethiopia until 1975.

So the family of the emperor is the family of Solomon. Does the family still have social and religious importance in Ethiopia?

From the first emperor to the last, they were highly respected and were considered gods among people. The emperor was called King of Kings, Elect of God, Lion of Judah, Emperor of Emperors. After 1975 that respect faded; the members of the royal family left the country, some were imprisoned and even after their release they left for England and the US. Some, of course, returned after the change in political regime, but as only common citizens. They are no longer a threat to the democracy. They know that the Lion of Judah is not going to return to power.

The Ark of the Covenant is in Ethiopia also?

It is in Ethiopia, again in Aksu. Every year on Nov. 28 or 29 Ethiopians organize a very big celebration around the temple where the ark is kept. Not only the ark, but also the true cross, as people call it, is in Ethiopia. So there is potential for religious tourism. I invite Turks to come and invest in Ethiopia, but also to visit Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile, and our national parks. Ethiopia’s natural beauty, in my opinion, is not comparable to that of any other country in the world.