Ambassadors are by definition diplomatic agents of the highest rank accredited to a foreign government.
In the current Ethiopian climate, many have taken to social media and other formal gathering platforms across the globe to be ambassadors of peace in their way, to ensure that Ethiopia is not viewed in a negative light as portrayed by western media.
As the official global ambassadors met for their annual meeting, here in Ethiopia, Capital got a hold of the Ethiopian ambassador to France, Amb. Henok Teferra, for a candid insight on the current issues facing the country and the Ethio-France relations amidst all these. Excerpts;
Capital: As a diplomat stationed abroad, what brought you to Addis for this couple of days?
Amb. Henok Teferra: Well, I came along with my other colleagues for the annual ambassador’s meeting, to discuss what our diplomatic missions have done over the last Ethiopian year, and also to see and get an understanding of the plan going forward for the upcoming year.
During this meeting, we discuss the challenges the country is facing and the way forward. But this year’s is a special exception given the circumstances and we focused heavily on wartime diplomacy.
Capital: Could you tell us a little bit more about the challenges our country is facing today and how diplomacy is going to tackle that going forward?
Amb. Henok Teferra: Our country currently is on a war footing. Our Prime Minister who is the Commander in Chief of the armed forces is on the front of tackling this issue. Similarly, on a diplomatic front, we have to defend the interests of our country with Vis-à-vis interlocutors, bilateral or multilateral, to convey the interests of the people and interests of the country.
The government is fighting to uphold the integrity of this country and its continuation as a sovereign independent state. It is also fighting to uphold and ensure the continuation of the reform process that has been in implementation since 2018.
Moreover, diplomacy is also important in the liberalization of the economy to have a genuine balance that benefits all Ethiopians. A lot is at stake and for us as diplomatic missions, our task is to ensure that we get support from the international community including getting an understanding of the current matters of the country.
Capital: With regards to Ethiopia’s interest, there is a huge narrative that Ethiopia is waging a war with a fraction of the population. What’s your view on this, and as an ambassador of one of the influential countries like France, how would you best change this narrative?
Amb. Henok Teferra: You know, when the war started a year ago, it was triggered by the TPLF who launched a preemptive attack on the Ethiopian state with a view to either dismantle it or to retake power. The attack was calculated and planned, not only on the diplomatic front but also on the communication front as well. And so initially, the narrative that was driven by the international media was, by and large, what was being fed by the TPLF and that has changed I think, to a certain measure over the past year. There is now a greater understanding among the international community that the war was waged and planned by the TPLF.
For us to best change this narrative we have to continuously undertake activities at our diplomatic missions and as a country as a whole to ensure the narrative is understood. This war was not our choosing but one that was imposed on us and it is really important that the outside world vividly understands this.
Secondly, there were reports that the Ethiopian government and forces had committed gross violations of human rights citing that the Ethiopian government was the perpetrator of these violations. The recently published joint Human Rights Report by both the UN Human Rights Office and Ethiopian Human Rights Commission validates the government’s position. Yes, human rights violations were committed but it was the TPLF who started the war. The gross human rights violations were committed by the TPLF which forced the Ethiopian government to undertake a survival war to ensure continuity of the State.
For us, as ambassadors, we must convey these messages to the diplomatic missions we are stationed at. In my case, France already has the understanding that TPLF was the one that started the war. Moreover, that the group has no interest in the well-being of the Tigrayan people but only pursues its interest to regain its undue political and economic dominance. But again, the TPLF machinery is very strong in terms of its PR and lobbying machinery, so we have to redouble our efforts, to make sure we have effectively communicated the right information in the countries we have been stationed in.
Similarly, recently there has been a huge mobilization by the Ethiopian diaspora to make sure the right message is conveyed to the world. Although we do not have a huge diaspora in France, the diaspora here have mobilized and end to end gathering not only in Paris but across France which will be held, this Saturday.
Capital: The narrative of some of the international media which state that there has been an attack by the government on a small portion of the population, had gained huge traction and at a point, it looked like the UN and international organizations were by that. Why do you think this happened? Do you feel the Ethiopian government made clear of its position or on the understanding of the facts on the ground?
Amb. Henok Teferra: I think the position of the international community is not one. I would say that majority of the international community is with Ethiopia and they understand its position. For example, the Chinese, Russian, even countries in Europe including France and many other countries are in support of Ethiopia.
These countries clearly understand that TPLF was the one that started the conflict to impose its political view and regain its economic dominance.
On the other side, you have to understand that TPLF had been in power for more than two decades and over the years had cultivated with influential people both with media and governments, thus they were able to easily spread the disinformation of the facts on the ground.
The UN through its various organizations and in collaboration with other international NGOs has put forth correct reports which show TPLF as the ones responsible for the gross human rights violations and massacres which include those that tragically occurred in Mai Kadra.
Amongst all this, we have successfully held a credible general election which I believe is a testament to our willpower. So, I think, by and large, we have done a good deal in terms of conveying our narrative, our interest, but of course, we always need to do more.
Capital: During your ambassadorship in France, what would you say was the most challenging issue that you had to deal with?
Amb. Henok Teferra: We have faced many challenges since for the past year we have been on a wartime footing. As our state was attacked, we had to mobilize all of our resources, all of our know-how, and all of our people to convey our position and to uphold the interests of Ethiopia. And that has been, I would say, the main focus over the past year but we hope that going forward we can focus on other things beyond the conflict which now is to come to an end. As the dust settles, we hope to continue cultivating our ties more with the French government, the French entities whether it be in business, cultural, or education relations.
Capital: How do you assess the current relations between Ethiopia and France and as well as Ethiopia and the EU?
Amb. Henok Teferra: Ethio-France relations are historical and deep-rooted. We are celebrating the 125th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties in 2022 and many activities are planned in 2022 to further strengthen the political, economic, and cultural ties between the two countries with numerous events and numerous activities. I would say we enjoy good fruitful relations with France in this regard.
The EU of course is not one entity and is made of countries who have different positions on different matters. However, the union moves in consensus. To this end, the majority of the countries within the EU support Ethiopia, and we equally thank them for this.
Capital: Many European countries are getting their citizens out of the country due to the current situation. What is your view on this and how do you see the impact of the same on the country?
Amb. Henok Teferra: I think it was wrong for them to do it. They made their decisions based on wrong assumptions. Of course, it was very unfortunate. And I think that they will revise that decision fairly quickly because the situation on the ground as we know is different. I do not doubt this because, at the end of the day, the truth always comes out. With regards to its impact, I believe that may have some impact on our relations with these countries but hopefully, we can move beyond that and build stronger relations with mutual understanding and mutual respect going forward.
Capital: There have been narratives from the Western media that the US is on the ground from Djibouti ready to come in and take out the citizens. Is that something that you would see happening?
Amb. Henok Teferra: I have not heard of any such news or any such statements from the US government, since there has not been any official communication from them. But I do not think that such evacuation plans are necessary since even in Addis and other parts of the country are peaceful. Moreover, we have been witnessing successful operations in overcoming this conflict which will end soon.
Capital: What is your assessment of the success of the French businesses in Ethiopia? How do you think they will be impacted by the current climate?
Amb. Henok Teferra: I think the French businesses in Ethiopia recognize the current and future potential of business in the country which has a big market of 100 million people and a growing middle-class population.
We have seen recently French entities such as Canal+, which is a big media company coming in to support the Ethiopian film industry, the creative arts, and the entertainment industry in general. We’ve seen interest by other big companies including the Soufflet Group which invested over 50 million euros and started production in the agro sector.
We have a strong government that has laid a strong infrastructure that attracts outside investment be it from France, China, Russia, or Turkey. Thus, I believe the economic opportunities will continue to thrive and we will see positive results in economic development from foreign direct investments in the coming years.
Capital: During the last visit of the French president, President Macron in Ethiopia, there have been many agreements that were signed including general understandings with regards to defense and marine with Ethiopia. These activities however seemed to be put on hold for now. What can you tell us about the progress and development of those inked contracts?
Amb. Henok Teferra: The agreements that were signed will continue. As I said, we are celebrating the 125th anniversary of French to Ethiopian fruitful diplomatic relations. And so those celebrations will show the strong bonds we have, whether its political and economic and other areas. Thus, this strong bond as well as any agreements inked will continue though it may seem to be on hold. Furthermore, I believe that our relationship will deepen even further going forward.
Capital: The French government has also been supporting the preservation of UNESCO heritage sites such as Lalibela. Shall that continue given the current climate?
Amb. Henok Teferra: The French government through agreements had offered our country both technical and financial support for the preservation of the churches in Lalibela and this had gone on for two years. Unfortunately, this faced a setback due to the conflict triggered by the TPLF in the area but thanks to our national defense forces and our regional Amhara forces the area has been liberated and the work is set to resume and we look forward to the completion of this world heritage site which the world admires and that which ought to be seen for generations to come.
Capital: The French government is also assisting the Ethiopian government in setting up a naval base as well as renovations on the Grand Place. What’s the status on this?
Amb. Henok Teferra: From my understanding, we have not yet decided on the location of the base. However, training activities and enhancing the capacity of the human resources is already underway so is the provision of the materials required for the setting up of the base. Once everything is summed up and the political decision is made, I believe it will be made aware to the general public.
With regards to the Grand Palace, the French government has released financial support, and activities in preserving history are moving swiftly as per the plan.
Capital: What’s your view and dream for the future of Ethiopia?
Amb. Henok Teferra: Like every other Ethiopian, I want the restoration of peace in the country, and our defense forces are doing a great job and that seems to be attained soon. Similarly, we should all mobilize to support our compatriots that have been displaced due to the conflict triggered by the TPLF and help in the reconstruction phase.
Like all Ethiopians, I would like to see an Ethiopia at peace and economically transformed with its citizens enjoying the living standard and the amenities of an economically developed society.