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CZECH-ETHIOPIA TIES

The Czechs and Ethiopians have long standing relations that interestingly date back to the 17th century. In the current modern world, the Czech Republic has remained an integral partner to Ethiopia. In light of these ties, Capital’s Metasebia Teshome reached out to the Czech Republic’s Ambassador to Ethiopia, Amb. Pavel Mikes, for insights on past and current blooming relations. Excerpts;

Capital: What prompted you to choose a profession in diplomacy?

Amb. Pavel Mikes: In my younger years, I had a deep interest in foreign countries and languages. Moreover, I’ve been interested in Africa since my childhood. I grew up in České Budějovice, and one quite famous Czech traveller, Ladislav Mikeš Pařízek, was born in our city and lived there for quite a long time.
I was inspired by him and also by two names known to every Czech ‘schoolboy’, no matter if he’s six or sixty, Jiří Hanzelka and Miroslav Zikmund.
They made a spectacular trip around Africa in 1947 and 1948 and wrote a book, Africa, the Dream and the Reality, which became kind of a holy scripture for everybody who was interested in the outside world during the Communist era.
Following that spark, years later, I was fortunate to study African History and Linguistics at Charles University in Prague in the 1980s. Despite not being allowed to travel to the continent under communism, I managed to learn fluent Swahili and Amharic, the dominant Ethiopian language, along with English and French. After a long career in academia, I joined the Czech Foreign Ministry in 1999, and have since served as head of mission or ambassador in several other African and Middle East countries including Yemen, DR Congo, Nigeria, Mauritania, Zimbabwe, Guinea and now Ethiopia.

Capital: How would you characterize the current state of relations between Ethiopia and the Czech Republic? How far does the Czech- Ethiopia tie stretch in the past?

Amb. Pavel Mikes: We have had long and fruitful relations over the years and we currently have great relations. Of course, as the ambassador, it is my wish and task to see our relations flourish to even greater heights.
Our business relations date several decades back, which consisted especially of importing leather, intestines to make sausage casings, and arabica coffee. In the 30s during the fascist invasion, Czechoslovakia supported Ethiopia both diplomatically in the League of Nations and delivered arms to the Ethiopian army. Czech even served alongside Ethiopia’s soldiers at the war front.
It’s something the Ethiopians were very grateful for because not many countries helped them at that time. And if you go to the ethnographic museum in Addis Ababa, you will find a nice example of a machine gun with ‘Made in Czechoslovakia’ written on it.
But our relations are older than that. The Czechs learned about Ethiopians in the middle ages through contacts between Czech and Ethiopian pilgrims in Jerusalem. In the 17th Century, Czech Franciscans, Catholic missionaries, went to the Imperial Court in Gondar, stayed with the emperor and wrote a book about their experiences in Latin, of which the description are in Prague in the archives of the Strahov Monastery.
Then, in the 19th Century, a few Czechs travelled to Ethiopia. The most prominent is Antonín Stecker, a medical doctor, who served as the doctor for different Ethiopian emperors in the 1880s. He wrote many articles published in the prominent Czech newspapers in that time.

Capital: What are the main projects, events, or activities that the Embassy is currently hosting and working on?

Amb. Pavel Mikes: The Czech Republic’s activity in Ethiopia is catalyzed by a strong bilateral development cooperation programme which is in line with the Ethiopia’s needs and development priorities. We are active in, agriculture and rural development, ensuring universal access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food at all times of the year. We do so by introducing sustainable soil and landscape management strategies.
We also focus on sustainable management of natural resources by ensuring universal and equal access to safe and affordable drinking water in addition to adequate sanitary and hygiene facilities, with special regard to the needs of women, girls and young children. We also build sustainable drinking water supply systems.
In addition to bilateral development activities, the Czech Republic is ready to provide humanitarian assistance to Ethiopia when need arise, primarily in the event of major disasters or increased influx of refugees from neighboring countries and also in response to comprehensive and long-term humanitarian needs. We are also keen in cooperation within the health sector.
We also offer scholarships, which are provided by our government within the framework of Foreign Development Assistance. Scholarships are earmarked for Ethiopian students as every year. They are offered to students who wish to study their Master’s or Post gradual degrees in the Czech Republic. The study programmes are available in the English language with recommended fields in Geology, Forestry, Agriculture, Environmental studies, Energy, Engineering, Mechanical engineering, IT, Mathematics, Statistics, Economics and Finance. Currently, the scholarships were opened as of July 30, and will be closed on the 30th of September.
We also have a reforestation program in line with the green legacy for peace initiative. Furthermore, stemming from our very intensive cultural relations, the Embassy often organizes an exhibition of Ethiopian painters and sculptors called Ethiopia in Czech Colors.
Currently, we are preparing an exhibition for our development activities which will take place at the Hyatt Hotel on the 27th-28th October, 2022.

Capital: What needs to be done to further bolster the political and economic ties between the two nations?

Amb. Pavel Mikes: Currently, the Czech Republic and Ethiopia have very close relations. Our links are wide and strong and cover all areas. We have good political relations and we fully support the Ethiopian government in its endeavor to secure peace for the whole of the country.
With regards to the economic exchange, we can strengthen our economic ties by creating conducive platforms for the exchanges of business ideas. We can also have an exchange of ideas in academia and art, which are economic drivers as well.

Capital: Over the past few years, Ethiopia has seen a lot of conflict in a variety of locations. What have you done to try and end this conflict?

Amb. Pavel Mikes: As I mentioned, we support the just cause of Ethiopia in many ways. We appreciate and support the Ethiopian Government´s will to negotiate a peaceful solution to the conflict in the north and bring peace to all Ethiopians amongst providing humanitarian assistance when need arise.

Capital: What is your nation’s position on the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and what is the best way to put an end to it?

Amb. Pavel Mikes: We stand on the position of international law and the respect of sovereignty and human rights.

Capital: The Czech Republic was singled out as one of the greatest economic accomplishments of post-communist Eastern Europe because of its ability to keep unemployment and inflation low while maintaining consistent development. What is the hidden meaning of these tales?

Amb. Pavel Mikes: The Czech Republic inherited a very strong industrial base. Through hard and bold economic and financial reforms we managed to change our economy from state owned to mostly private owned, and modernized our industry in the process. The opening of our economy to foreign investors, and at the same time a newly gained access to foreign markets helped our economic growth. Being a member of the EU also means that our market is a market of 500 million consumers, which helps a great deal to our success.

Capital: Please list the top priorities for the Czech Republic’s EU Council presidency. What function do catastrophes like the COVID-19 epidemic and the Ukraine conflict have?

Amb. Pavel Mikes: The top priority of our presidency is the war in Ukraine. Then energy prices – electricity and gas are other big priorities, especially because our winter is fast approaching. To solve this problem the Czech Republic is looking for European solutions.

Capital: Is there anything you would like to add?

Amb. Pavel Mikes: I wish all Ethiopians a happy new year; and let the New Year be a year of peace, prosperity and happiness for all Ethiopians.

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