The 1963 Addis Ababa Summit Conference
The Provisionary Secretary General of the OAU, Dr. Tesfaye Gebre-Ezgy, and Ketema Yifru, at the 1963 Addis Ababa Foreign Ministers Conference
The Conference of Foreign Ministers of the African States opened, on May 15, 1963, with Ketema Yifru being elected chairman and Dr. Tesfaye Gebre-Ezgy, the Ethiopian Permanent Representative to the United Nations, elected as Provisionary Secretary General. The task of the African Ministers was to create a charter, which could become the cornerstone of a future organization.
Some of the governments that were represented in Addis Ababa had different views on what the charter should consist of. Among them, Ethiopia, Ghana, and Nigeria had drawn up charters, which could possibly become the basis for discussion. While the charter of Ghana represented the views of the Casablanca group and the Nigerian charter represented the position of the Monrovia block, the Ethiopian draft charter embodied the views of both groups. As a result, the Ethiopian draft charter was chosen to become the basis for discussion.
Ethiopia's draft agenda consisted of the following:
- The establishment of an Organization of African States, with a charter and a permanent secretariat.
- Cooperation in areas of economy and social welfare, education and culture, and collective defense.
- The final eradication of colonialism.
- Means of combating racial discrimination and apartheid.
- Possible establishment of regional economic groupings and,
Before a consensus could be reached on adapting a charter, the Heads of States Conference was convened on May 22, 1963. In the middle of their conference, the heads of states summoned Foreign Minister Ketema Yifru, who was the chairman of the Foreign Ministers conference, and ordered him to convene a Foreign Ministers conference for the purpose of creating a charter that could be signed by the heads of states before the Summit was adjourned. Armed with this mandate, Ketema Yifru convened a Foreign Ministers meeting once again. The African Ministers worked from 11:00 PM at night until 3:00 AM in the morning, to finally come up with a charter that could be signed by the African leaders.
Ketema Yifru presented the charter to the Heads of States by saying, "...I wish to repeat that all the documents before you were worked out by long discussions and compromise. All our meetings were conducted in a spirit of brotherhood and there was complete agreement on all decisions. If there were differences, these were limited to questions of procedure, approach of tactic, but never on substance or the destiny of our peoples. It is therefore my bounden duty to express my appreciation for the wisdom of the Foreign Ministers and to ask this august body, in the name of all our peoples, to adopt these measures formally and to sign your name in history. As his Imperial Majesty remarked at the outset of the conference, if we fail, surely history will never forgive us, for it shall not give us another occasion. Thank you very much."
After some discussion and deliberations, thirty-two African Heads of States (Algeria, Benin, Burundi, Burkina Faso (formerly known as Upper Volta), Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Congo-Leopoldville, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Nigeria, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, and Uganda) signed the OAU charter in Addis Ababa, on May 25, 1963. Foreign Minister Ketema Yifru, in recognition of all his efforts and personal commitment to the process, was presented with a document signed by all the thirty-two Heads of States. Part of the document, showing the pictures of the African leaders, is shown in the Home Page of this website.
Shown here is part of the autographed section of the document that was presented to Ketema Yifru by the African Heads of State
When asked about the atmosphere of the conference, Ketema Yifru remembered the euphoria of Pan-Africanism, which flourished in the hall that May. He also remembered the brilliant speeches that were made by some of the leaders, including Kwame Nkrumah, Gamal Abdel Nasser, and Seku Toure.
A Journey Filled With Obstacles
The journey that the young Foreign Minister had taken towards the creation of the OAU was one that was filled with internal political obstacles. During that time, those who had close ties to the monarchy, such as the aristocracy, dominated the Ethiopian political arena. Even though the Emperor gave people like Ketema Yifru, who came from humble backgrounds, the opportunity, there were those who opposed the idea of having a 'commoner' in a position to impact Ethiopia's foreign policy. As a result, there was a strong opposition to the new policy of Pan-Africanism, which was proposed by Ketema Yifru.
As stated earlier, the Emperor supported the new foreign policy that was championed by his Foreign Minister, and its progress so far. Therefore, those who were opposed to the policy did not have a lot of opportunity to voice their opposition. As a result, they decided to focus their attention on that famous speech which was delivered by Emperor Haile Selassie, in May 1963. In that speech, the Emperor had said, "This Conference cannot close without adopting a single charter. We cannot leave here without having created a single African organization possessed of the attributes We have described. If We fail in this, we will have shirked our responsibility to Africa and to the people we lead. If we succeed, then, and only then, will we have justified our presence here." It was, in fact, the Foreign Minister who had added this statement to the Emperor's speech.
Those who were against Ethiopia's involvement in the creation of the OAU had convinced the Emperor that he had made a blunder. The Emperor was convinced that he should not have delivered what was then a powerful speech. The Emperor was advised that his Foreign Minister had intentionally created a situation where the Emperor could perhaps loose credibility around the world if the conference failed to accomplish what he had envisioned. This would mean that Foreign Minister Ketema Yifru's plea to sign a charter and creating an organization would be seen as a mistake.
Once again the Foreign Minister was summoned to the Emperor's office. There, the Emperor asked whether his Foreign Minister was intentionally trying to make him look bad. A surprised Foreign Minister reminded the Emperor that His Majesty had thoroughly examined the contents of the speech. Most importantly, he explained that the statement in question could not bring about an adverse effect. In fact, Ketema Yifru explained that, quite to the contrary, the statement could bring about a favorable review of His Majesty, years from now, when historians look back on this date. Ketema Yifru continued by assuring the Emperor that those historians would say, "Emperor Haile Selassie, who was thinking ahead of his time, had tried to set up an African organization, but unfortunately his idea was turned down by his colleagues." The Minister explained that if the Summit did not succeed, it would not be Emperor Haile Selassie who would be blamed but the rest of the leaders who failed to take the initiative.