Ethiopians have always been very passionate about the issues of Africa, at least since the beginnings of the movement against colonialism. As part of the celebrations of the Golden Jubilee of the founding of the Organization of African Unity (OAU)/African Union (AU), which officially started yesterday, the Ethiopian government has established a National Secretariat and been working diligently to make the preparations exceptional.
Mekonen Haddis (Prof.), Chairperson of the secretariat who is also Chief Adviser to the Minister for Foreign Affairs (MoFA), met with Capital’s Aderajew Asfaw to discuss what the secretariat has done so far, the relationship between Pan Africanism and Ethiopia, and the significance of continental integration, which Ethiopia has championed.
Capital: What has been done by the Secretariat so far?
Mekonen: Initially, the heads of states meeting held on 20th January 2011, passed a resolution whereby 2013 is to be celebrated as a year of Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance. As a result, the Ethiopian government formed a national committee and secretariat to organize and carry out different celebratory events throughout the year. The committee was divided into seven sub-committees which are in charge of different tasks. The issue and the focus was to make it all inclusive, so that everyone, not only the government, but also the independent media, people from culture, women and youth organizations, as well as private businesses, were asked to cooperate and work together on this agenda. Since then we have accomplished almost everything we set out to do. But again, it is a yearlong celebration, and we have a lot of tasks to accomplish. It has been challenging, but a lot of people have been supporting us. The government has also budgeted a significant amount of money. However, as it wasn’t enough, we have been asking for more funds from private channels including individuals and institutions. Their support actually has been forthcoming.
Capital: What are the events prepared as part of the celebrations?
Mekonen: Events like panel discussions have been taking place at the African Union headquarters. There was a very successful panel discussion held at the International Leadership Institute. We had a one daylong seminar and discussion with the media in Ambo, with the second one having been held in Adama on May 18.
Yesterday [May 25, 2013], among other events, musical performances by participants from all over Africa, as well as a soccer match at the Addis Ababa Stadium between the Ethiopian National team and its Sudanese counterpart, have taken place. Another event was hosted at the Millennium Hall. Capital: What do you think about the relationship between Pan-Africanism and Ethiopia? What has the country contributed to this freedom movement?
Mekonen: Pan-Africanism at its conceptual level is an understanding where by all black people, wherever they reside, have a common destiny. What happens to us here in the continent, affects the people in the diaspora and vice-versa. Therefore, the basic concept of Pan-Africanism is a unity of interest among the people in the diaspora and Africans here in the continent.
As a result, Pan-Africanism as a concept was started by certain intellectuals who had the view of uniting the diaspora with brothers and sisters in the continent, for freedom and democracy. So it started as a struggle.
Ethiopia is for me a leader in this Pan-African concept, because to all people of color throughout the world, not only black people, but to anyone who experienced oppression, the battle of Adwa was a flame illuminating the struggle for freedom and democracy. So the contribution of Ethiopia in terms of Pan-Africanism is very central and crucial. The contribution of Ethiopia towards the establishment of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), is again very critical and central. As you know, there was disagreement among African countries on how to go about forming a continental organization. They were divided into two – the Monrovia Group and the Casablanca Group. It was the Ethiopian government led by Emperor Haileselassie which brought the two sides together, and to finally come up with one continental organization. In this respect, the contribution of Ethiopia was very critical. On the other hand, the contribution of Ethiopia in terms of liberating the whole of Africa is paramount in history. Ethiopia has contributed diplomatically, financially and even militarily – by training forces of liberation here in Ethiopia. As you do know, His Excellency the great leader and freedom fighter Nelson Mandela, was not only trained here in Ethiopia, but also held an Ethiopian passport. That is a historical fact that not many know of.
Subsequently, throughout the last 50 years of not only the OAU but in the transformation to the African Union (AU) as well, Ethiopia’s role has again been very critical, because now the focus changed to economic and political integration of all of Africa. Again the vision is that the destiny of all of Africa has to be its unity. What Ethiopia has done in terms of building infrastructure so that it can easily do business with its neighbors – Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda – is a clear example of the interest of Ethiopia to economically integrate with its neighbors. What Ethiopia has in abundance is of course its electric power. By the time all the projects are completed, Ethiopia will be a major exporter of electricity to its brothers and sisters in other parts of the continent. Power at a fair price, is a way of accomplishing economic as well as political integration.
Capital: In what way do you think farmers in Ethiopia will benefit from Pan-Africanism and the integration of the continent? Why is there a need to preach about this movement down to the local level, and how effective do you think the effort will be?
Mekonen: First of all when our farmers produce in surplus, they need market. And the best market they have, instead of trying to export it to Europe or china or the US, is with their neighbors. Secondly, for example for coffee, instead of each and every country trying to export coffee by itself, it is better to have a common market so that the price of coffee will not be established in London, but in Africa. But in order to do that, you have to have the market established here in Africa. So the advantage we have in terms of economic integration would benefit each and every citizen of Ethiopia who is engaged in business. Furthermore, not only economic integration but in terms of for example Pan-Africanism, we must be proud of who we are, our history, our culture and our languages. Diversity is power. Diversity is strength. We must understand that. And whatever we do, we must do it as Africans.
The curricula of our educational system should be strengthened so that Ethiopian history as well as African history, is seriously taken and seriously taught. Moreover, the media must play its critical role in educating the African masses. We must be in a position to value what we have. Personally, I do not believe we are actually giving significant value to what we have. We as Africans should be proud enough to say “your language is as good as French or English”. A person’s value should not be valued in terms of whether you speak French or English. How literate are you in telling the history of Africa. More importantly, the young, who are the future of Africa, should be educated valuing their culture, languages, and tradition.
Capital: You say the infrastructure being built by Ethiopia for the use of the region is evidence of its commitment to the African integration. What’s your take on other countries’ commitment towards the integration?
Mekonen: I think the commitment is there. But it comes in stages. Integration takes place when the citizens themselves understand the benefits of trading with each other. This is something that starts with the people themselves and gathers strength as it goes on, and then everything comes automatically.
Capital: The OAU was always considered as a toothless lion. Many also say the same thing about the AU. What’s your take on that?
Mekonen: I truly believe sometimes we criticize organizations unfairly. Because, for example if an organization has a membership of 100 different countries, that organization is a reflection of those 100 countries. And of course logically, we shouldn’t expect all 100 countries to have the same vision and agenda. That is what happens in the United Nations (UN). I do not take the OAU to be anything different from any other organization, including the UN. So it is a reflection of the membership. It is like working in a committee, it is very difficult to come to one conclusion in a committee. Agreement takes longer because a lot of debate needs to take place. I think, historically, the OAU has accomplished much in spite of the many challenges it faced. It was established to get rid of colonialism and apartheid from the face of Africa. That was successfully done. In terms of the AU, the focus has been on democratization, and economic and political integration. So the agendas are totally different. As you know, Africa is a changed continent. Africa is a hopeful continent right now. And the people are demanding better things from governments. And when people speak, governments must listen. So what we have to focus on in the next 10 to 50 years is the economic empowerment of the African masses. If I am not mistaken, out of the 10 fastest growing countries in the world, 6 are from Africa. That is very important and historical. But this has to be integrated with visions of democracy, transparency, better governance, and so on. This should be the agenda of the future. In fact it is, and we are seeing improvements in these fields. Recently there were six or seven very democratic elections in Africa. That shows that the future of Africa is exceptionally bright.
Capital: Could you tell me about the interventions that the OAU/AU made to deal with Ethiopia’s conflicts with Somalia and Eritrea?
Mekonen: The OAU/AU has always pushed for the peaceful resolution of conflicts between states, but it is up to individual countries to accept peaceful mediations. If the state of Eritrea is not interested in resolving the conflict in a peaceful manner, there is not much that any organization, including the OAU/AU or the UN, could do. But in terms of philosophy, the OAU/AU has always pushed for the peaceful resolution of conflicts in Africa. And there are a number of diplomatic dialogues that go on daily that we do not see or hear about.
Capital: Do you think Eritrea will send a delegation to participate in the celebrations? What political help would it have if the country does send a delegation?
Mekonen: I have no information on whether a delegation or the leader of Eritrea would come to the event. But the position of Ethiopia has always been to have a peaceful resolution of all outstanding conflicts. If there is anything that will advance this process, Ethiopia will welcome it.
Capital: You mentioned the battle of Adwa. What has been done to commemorate this battle’s contribution towards the Pan African movement, and to acknowledge Emperor Haileselassie’s role in the establishment of the OAU?
Mekonen: I think the fact that the headquarters of the OAU/AU is in Addis Ababa is significant acknowledgment of the many contributions of Ethiopia towards the pan-African movement and the OAU/AU.