In Search of A Headquarters
Now that the charter was signed, finding a headquarters for this newly created organization was next on the list. Many of the participants of the Addis Ababa summit, as we will find out later, had their own beliefs at to which capital should house the headquarters of the OAU. Among them, the Ethiopian Foreign Minister, who had worked ever so hard to bridge the gap between the Monrovia and the Casablanca blocks, strongly believed that his capital should be crowned to seat the OAU headquarters.
In a meeting with Emperor Haile Selassie and Prime Minister Aklilu Habtewold, the Foreign Minister was able to disclose his thoughts regarding the OAU headquarters. Ketema Yifru explained that their struggle would be in vain if the OAU headquarters did not end up being in the Ethiopian capital. Both the Emperor and the Prime Minister would find out that the young Foreign Minister had already come up with a plan. He explained that three delegations should be created for the purpose of traveling around the continent to thank the various governments for graciously accepting the May invitation and for being instrumental in making the Summit a success. Most importantly, the delegations would lobby to have as many African nations support the idea of having the OAU headquarters in Addis Ababa.
Ketema Yifru had a reason as to why he chose to have three delegations. After closely working in the system for some time, the Foreign Minister understood that it would have been seen in a different light if he had suggested to have one delegation, which would be led by him alone. Some could perceive this as an opportunity for the Foreign Minister to seek personal fame. Thus, in order not to jeopardize his work, Ketema Yifru included the names of two other high-ranking officials for the purpose of leading the other two delegations. Regardless of his efforts, both the Emperor and the Prime Minister turned down his proposal.
Dakar, Senegal: The Choice Of Francophone Africa
President Leopold Sedar Senghor of Senegal
The Emperor's decision would ultimately jeopardize any hopes of having the OAU headquarters in Addis Ababa. A week before the Dakar Foreign Ministers Conference (August 1963), fifteen Francophone States, which met in Benin, would voice their desire to have the OAU headquarters in Dakar, Senegal. The decision of the Francophone countries dealt a blow to any plans of having the OAU headquarters in Addis Ababa or any other capital city for that matter. With the odds stacked against it, will the Ethiopian government pursue any plans of having the OAU headquarters in Addis Ababa?
Ketema Yifru, Diallo Telli, and Emperor Haile Selassie
Once the news of the Francophone countries reached Addis Ababa, a distressed Emperor summoned his Foreign Minister to his office. When asked what he thought of the news, the Foreign Minister informed the Emperor and Prime Minister Aklilu Habtewold that it would be very difficult to find a solution to the problem. Ketema Yifru, who was known to be one of the few outspoken members of the government, reminded the Emperor of his earlier suggestion to act fast before the euphoria of the Addis Ababa Summit became a thing of the past. A persistent Emperor, however, inquired as to what steps should be taken to remedy the problem. The Foreign Minister offered to go to the Dakar Conference and then, depending on the atmosphere, would play it by ear.
At this point in time, it is important to note that the Foreign Minister was the only one in the government who was present in all the meetings and the negotiations that led to the creation of the OAU. The Foreign Minister had also established important connections with the continent's leading policy makers, including all of the Foreign Ministers. As a result, both the Emperor and the Prime Minister were willing to give him back the free rein that he had in the beginning.
The Dakar Foreign Ministers Conference
The Foreign Minister of Senegal, Mr. Doudou Thiam, meets with Ketema Yifru
Foreign Minister Ketema Yifru arrived in Senegal with his eight member delegation. The task at hand was to convince as many members as possible to favor Addis Ababa over the proposed capital cities. Ketema Yifru started off by assigning four countries to each member of his delegation. Delegation members were to approach representatives of the countries that he/she were assigned to in hopes of convincing them to support Addis Ababa. Unfortunately for the Minister, as the head of the delegation, he was left with the burden of lobbying all the conference participants.
As soon as the conference was underway, the delegates of Senegal and Nigeria argued that the question concerning the OAU headquarters should be settled immediately. The unexpected move of the delegates from Senegal and Nigeria created a dilemma for the Ethiopian Foreign Minister, who at this point in time had not gained enough support for his country. If the motion set by Senegal and Nigeria was permitted to pass, his country's hopes for being a possible site for the OAU headquarters will definitely be put in jeopardy. On the other hand, if Ketema Yifru argued against the motion, it would seem as if he was not prepared for this particular issue. After carefully weighing both sides of the issue, the Ethiopian Foreign Minister decided to go ahead with the proposal that was made by Senegal and Nigeria.
At this moment in time, the Foreign Ministers Conference was divided into two sections. One section was the political committee, which would deal with the questions of the headquarters and a Permanent Secretariat. The second, being the economic and social committee. So far no rules were drawn to govern the conduct of the committees.
Ketema Yifru, Emile Zinsou and Diallo Telli
The political committee started out by electing Benin's Foreign Minister, Emile Zinsou, as its chairman. The Ethiopian Foreign Minister described Mr. Zinsou as being an honest and fair person. As soon as the chairman brought up the matter concerning the headquarters, the Foreign Minister of Senegal, Mr. Doudou Thiam, began by offering his capital, Dakar. The Nigerians and Zaire followed by offering their capital cities for possible sites for the OAU headquarters. Ethiopia, who at this time had struck a deal with the Guinean delegation, had the Guinean delegation in the person of Ishmael Toure, nominate Addis Ababa for the site of the OAU headquarters.
The Ethiopian Foreign Minister had approached the Guineans with an offer that they could not refuse. The plan was that if Guinea supported Addis Ababa, then Foreign Minister Ketema Yifru will not only nominate Mr. Diallo Telli, Guinea's Permanent Representative to the UN, for the post of the OAU Secretary General, but he would also fight to get him elected to that post. Later on, Mr. Diallo Telli was elected to head the Organization of African Unity.
Ketema Yifru and Diallo Telli
Ishmael Toure, the brother of President Seku Toure, gave a lengthy speech where he reminded the delegates that Ethiopia had been the beacon of hope for those African nations that were struggling under colonialism. Mr. Toure finished his speech by urging the delegates to have the OAU headquarters in the historical capital of Addis Ababa. In addition to Mr. Toure, the close friendship that Ketema Yifru had developed over the years, with various members of the conference, would ultimately pay off. Speaker after speaker, a list that included the Tanzanian Minister of Justice, the Sudanese Foreign Minister, Foreign Minister Dr. Karefa Smart of Sierra Leon, and the Algerian Foreign Minister, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, would all support the idea of having the OAU headquarters in Addis Ababa.
The then Foreign Minister of Algeria, Abdelaziz Bouteflika (who is the current President of Algeria), and Ketema Yifru
After hearing the various arguments that were presented to it, the conference asked the delegates of Senegal, Nigeria, Zaire, and Ethiopia to further discuss the matter among themselves in hopes that the four nations could agree on a capital city. However, since all of the four nations were determined to have the OAU headquarters in their respective capitals, an agreement could not be reached regarding this matter.
The ever so determined representatives of Nigeria and Senegal, Mr. Jaja Wachuku and Mr. Doudou Thiam, came up with another proposal. The proposal included a fact-finding mission that would determine which capital was better equipped to house the OAU headquarters. Obviously, this was a last minute attempt by both Senegal and Nigeria, who were now startled by the growing numbers of Ketema Yifru's supporters, to gain more support for their respective capital cities.
The External Minister of Nigeria, Jaja Wachuku, and Ketema Yifru
The Ethiopian Foreign Minister, with the help of his supporters, was successful in defeating the proposal that was advanced by Senegal and Nigeria. Foreign Minister Ketema Yifru was against the plan that was advanced by the two nations, because he believed that such a move would prolong the panafricanist dream from being realized. Further more, he believed that the African nations should show the world that they were indeed serious. For outside onlookers, Ketema Yifru believed that it would indeed seem callous to form an organization and yet purposefully prolong the matter concerning its headquarters.
Liberian Secretary of State, Henry Rudolph Grimes, and Ketema Yifru
At the strong urging of the Ethiopian Foreign Minister and his supporters, the committee agreed on having the matter resolved immediately. It was decided that there would be a secret ballot. The city that gets the most votes would be recommended to the plenary meeting, which was composed of both the political and the economic and social committees. At the conclusion of the votes, Ketema Yifru, who was carefully analyzing the facial expression of Acting Secretary General Tesfaye Gebre-Ezgy, who happened to be a close and personal friend of the Foreign Minister, understood that his city had won. Foreign Minister Ketema Yifru then turned to his delegation and informed them that they had made it.
Ketema Yifru and Dr. Tesfaye Gebre-Ezgy
As soon as the chairman announced the winner, Ketema Yifru became curious to find out the breakdown of the votes. When he approached his friend Dr. Tesfaye Gebre-Ezgy, the Foreign Minister found out that his country had defeated Senegal with a very slim margin. While Ethiopia had managed to gain sixteen votes, Senegal had managed to lock in thirteen votes. Nigeria and Zaire would follow with one vote each.
Ketema Yifru Meets With The Francophone Ministers
Now that Foreign Minister Ketema Yifru was aware that he had won with the slimmest margin possible, he devised a plan that would insure a lasting victory for his country. The Ethiopian Foreign Minister invited the Ministers of the Francophone states, who had openly supported Senegal a week earlier, to a meeting that would take place later on that day. This critical meeting would take place before the plenary session, which was to determine, once and for all, the question surrounding the headquarters of the OAU.
As scheduled, the Francophone Ministers met with the Ethiopian Foreign Minister at 10:00 pm in the evening. In the meeting, Ketema Yifru reminded the group that Ethiopians had, on various occasions, sided with them on a number of issues. For instance, he reminded them that his country had come to the Monrovia meeting to support their conference. Ketema Yifru also pointed out that it was indeed the Ethiopians who had bridged the gap between their block and the Casablanca group. The Ethiopian Foreign Minister went to stress the fact that Ethiopians had struggled with their fellow Africans to make this possible. The Minister informed them that he strongly believed that Addis Ababa would ultimately be chosen over the other four cities. Therefore, he suggested that it would be in the panafricanist spirit to make this a unanimous vote. After some more convincing, from those gathered there that night, eight decided to vote for Addis Ababa. The Foreign Minister remembered Cameroon as being one of the key supporters that he got that day.
The May 1963 Addis Ababa Summit Conference
Once he got the support of some of the Francophone states, the Foreign Minister mapped out his strategy. It would be paramount for all his supporters to be present at the plenary meeting. In order to win, Ketema Yifru acknowledged that he had to get at least seventeen votes out of the thirty-two. As it was stated earlier, Ketema Yifru had sixteen votes coming out of the political committee.
In the plenary meeting, the political committee, as expected, recommended Addis Ababa for the site of the OAU headquarters. At this point in time, it was suggested that a final vote should be taken in order to settle the question regarding the OAU headquarters. Foreign Minister Ketema Yifru argued that they should have a roll call rather than having a secret ballot. By having a roll call, not only would the Ethiopian Foreign Minister apply pressure on those who promised him their support, but he would also have the benefit of knowing whom he could count on in the future.
An Unlikely Ally
Prior to the vote in the plenary session, a delegate, whom Ketema Yifru least expected, informed him that he would support Addis Ababa. The Ethiopian Foreign Minister would never forget the conversation that he had with the Foreign Minister of Somalia, Abdillahi Issa. Foreign Minister Issa had asked his Ethiopian counterpart if they could have lunch together that day to discuss an important issue.
Mr. Issa, who was described by Ketema Yifru as being a gentleman, had received a telegram from his government. It was in the restaurant that Mr. Issa disclosed the contents of the telegram to his Ethiopian counterpart. The telegram stated that under no circumstances should Mr. Issa support Addis Ababa in the plenary session. The Somali Foreign Minister surprised Ketema Yifru by informing him that he would vote for Addis Ababa regardless of the order that he had just received. Although the two had known each other in the early 1950s, when Ketema Yifru interviewed Mr. Issa, who was then the chairman of the Somalia Youth League, for his thesis, the Ethiopian Foreign Minister was both moved and surprised by the Foreign Minister's gesture. The Foreign Minister of Somalia had opted to publicly support Addis Ababa. When Ketema Yifru argued to have a roll call, it would be known that people like Mr. Issa had supported Addis Ababa.
Algeria began the vote with a simple yes. The delegate of Burundi, who had now determined that the votes for Kinshasa had dwindled, opted to support Addis Ababa. Next on the list was Cameroon, whom the Minister was eagerly awaiting for. Cameroon's decisive vote would go for Addis Ababa. In addition to these votes, all the eight Francophone countries kept their promise and voted for Addis Ababa. The Ethiopians had now managed to master twenty-eight out of the thirty-two available votes. The African Ministers had unanimously elected Addis Ababa for the site of their newly formed organization. As for the rest of the votes, while Nigeria and Senegal refused to participate, one would abstain, and Madagascar would mistakenly vote against Addis Ababa. Regardless, Addis Ababa had won with a huge majority of the votes. As soon as the voting was over, Foreign Minister Ketema Yifru sent a telex to the Emperor, informing him of this promising news.
The Significance Of the Addis Ababa Summit for Ethiopia
A meeting of Leaders from East and Central Africa
Gwendolyn Carter in her book titled, "National Unity and Regionalism in Eight African States," which was published in 1966, reflecting on the Ethiopian contribution to the creation of the OAU wrote, "What Nasser or Nkrumah or the Casablanca or Monrovia or Brazzaville grouping could not do, Haile Selassie accomplished with little difficulty." Gwendolyn Carter referring to the significance of the conference in relations to Ethiopia adds, "Ethiopia committed itself to Africa, thus completing the termination of its traditional isolation; contacts with Africa had come only after increased contact with the Middle East, Europe, the United States, and Asia." Most importantly, the author brought to light the most significant impact that the creation of the OAU had on Ethiopian affairs during that period; "The Ethiopian government has become an important spokesman for Africa not only in the United Nations, but also in diplomatic exchanges with the United States and other countries."