Commemorating One Hundred Years of Relations Between Ethiopia
Taking the establishment of the formal diplomatic ties between
the United States and Ethiopia as a point of reference, a three
day program celebrated one hundred years of friendship between
the two nations. The event was held March 25-27, 2004, at Howard
University in Washington, DC.
Dr. Alem Hailu, one of the organizers
of the event stated that “the centennial
marks the first U.S. diplomatic relations
with an independent African country, and
the bonds of friendship, understanding and
partnership forged not only between the
respective governments but also thousands
of scholars, activists, educators, artists and missionaries.” Over 400 people came to the
opening ceremony, and the panels and
round table discussions were well-attended.
One of the highlights of the opening
program was the keynote address
delivered by Representative Elijah
Cummings, Chairman of the Congressional
Black Caucus. His eloquent
presentation pointed out the
ideological unity of the civil rights
movement of the 1930s through the
1960s and Ethiopia’s position as an
inspiration for the movement. The
Honorable Cumming’s statement on
the solidarity between African-
Americans and Ethiopians, “You are
us and we are you,” was received with
a standing ovation. He concluded by
promising to continue advocating
Ethiopia’s interests in the U.S. Congress.
of the enduring legacies of the bonds forged between the institutions
as well as individuals of the two countries has been the U.S.
Peace Corps program. A large number of Peace Corps returnees gave
personal testimonies and reflections on their cherished experiences
in Ethiopia. The volunteers combined insights with moving stories
and brought tears of joy and nostalgia to many members of the
audience. Marian Haley Beil shared the sense of pride they felt
in serving such an old historic nation. Clare Shea, calling herself
and two colleagues Gojame, recalled memorable days in Negus Teklehaimanot
School in Debre Marcos.
Ethiopian Entrepreneurship round table, moderated by Professor
Lemma Senbet of the University of Maryland, symbolized the success
story of Ethiopians who have excelled in their chosen fields in
America. Prominent businessmen and women of the round table included
Solomon Bekele, Eyob Eswaran, Fasil Gabre-Mariam, Kassa Maru,
Markos Mulugeta, Bisrat Negatu, Noah Samara, Bereket Woldu and
Zewditu Wondimu. Each shared personal business stories and what
they considered to be the key to succeeding in the United States.
entrepreneurs answered the audience’s questions candidly. They
also offered many pieces of advice, such as the importance of
working well with the local, state and federal government’s civil
servants/ programs, respecting regulations, and being prompt while
simultaneously dreaming big.
Wondimu shared the way she deals with a competitive business environment
and with often being the only minority, Black, Ethiopian, or woman
in many of her business dealings. She was the lone female at the
panel. Strongly and proudly, Mrs. Wondimu hollered her mantra:
the key is “to reject the rejection.”
discussions followed the presentations. A question about the lack
of business cooperation with other Africans created energetic
debate about the lack of unity even among Ethiopians. Dr. Samara,
President and CEO of World Space, said, “too often we curse ourselves
by believing the rhetoric that Ethiopians are never able to work
well together. But we must start to think positively about ourselves
and have fun with each other.” Mr. Bekele, President of Crown
Insurance and VFH Captive Insurance, suggested that the creation
of more professional associations (instead of the ethnic and political
groups) might establish an environment conducive to teamwork.
Mulegeta Lule, Vice President of Ethiopian Press Journalists’
Association, moderated the media panel. When asked about the positive
impact of their efforts or any unintended negative effect on the
Ethiopian community, the journalists defended their work and denied
any harm their roles might have caused. Demiss Belete, representing
Hager Fiker radio, stated that one of their many services to the
community is an organized fund raising to send a homeless person
back to Ethiopia.
Some of the audience members forcefully asserted their comments.
Even one of the community pillars, Professor Haile Gerima, fought
to communicate that it is crucial that the journalists provide
constructive information to the Ethiopian community. Professor
Dr. Belai Habte-Jesus, who not only attends public gatherings
concerning Ethiopia but also participates in the discussions by
contributing his articulate and positive remarks, expressed his
concern and stressed the need for the Ethiopian media to provide
programs that attract and educate the younger generations.
Ethiopian cuisine, donated by Dama, Meaza and Zed’s restaurants
and Zenebech Injera added to the atmosphere of festivity and fellowship.
A wide array of programs from poetry reading to traditional music
and dance as well as choir presentations made the occasion a truly
public officials, community leaders and concerned citizens carried
serious discourse in the wide array of organized panels. An official
relations panel looked at the political dimensions of the relationship;
a health care panel examined the challenges of emerging diseases
and health policies; and a sustainable development panel addressed
the issues of famine, deforestation and environmental degradation.
A wide range of themes spanning military relations, history, community
and society were covered over the three-day period. In addition,
Tsehai Publishers launched two books at the event: The 1903 Skinner
Mission to Ethiopia and A Century of American-Ethiopian Relations
and Letters from Abyssinia, 1916 and 1917.
institutions and organizations such as the Rastafarian Society
reminded participants of Ethiopia’s glorious traditions and promises
bequeathed to all who cherished American-Ethiopian people-topeople
event honored historical figures such as Frederick Douglass, W.
E. Du Bois, Martin Delaney, Melaku Beyan and William Leo Hansberry.
The contemporary personalities recognized at the program included
Getatchew Haile, William Scott, Joseph Harris, Mickey Leland,
Yohannes Giorges and Jane Kurtz. Many institutions such as the
Ethiopian World Federation and the U.S. Peace Corps were also
celebrated for their work and contributions.
program fulfilled its declared promises of celebrating mutual
achievements of advancing knowledge, expertise and understanding
of value to both nations. The program also assisted the Ethiopian
Diaspora in serving as a viable bridge between Ethiopia and the
United States. It will go down in history as a momentous event
for reflection, celebration and fellowship. The theme also perfectly
fits where the event took place. Howard University continues to
be home to many Ethiopian professors and students.
centennial was a great occasion for building social capital by
affirming the contributions of numerous individuals and institutions
towards strengthening the U.S.-Ethiopian relations. Dr Hailu underscored
this point by citing an Ethiopian proverb: When a person pleases
you with an act of kindness, either return the favor in like measure
or tell others about it.
the meaning of his name (the world at his power) and his determination
suggests, do not be surprised if Professor Alem Hailu organizes
yet another fantastic avenue where Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia
get together to learn from each other and address their differences.
Selamawit Legesse is a freelance writer
based in Washington, D.C. She can be
reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org