When he came back to Ethiopia, in 1952, Ketema began his career by joining the Italian Section of the foreign office. Once Ketema was settled in, he would visit those soldiers who helped him during his hour of need. He wanted to thank them for what they had done for him. He would also drop in to see General Merid Mengesha to thank him for helping him attain a high school education. Ketema's visit with the General resulted in a wonderful and long lasting friendship between a young man, who came from a very humble background, and a General, who was a close relative of the Emperor.
At the United Nations with a member of the Egyptian delegation
Then in 1953, Ketema was promoted to the post of Director-General in the American and Asian Department. In 1956, Ketema Yifru, Lij Michael Imiru, and Lij Endalcachew Makonnen were all promoted to Assistant Ministerial positions. A year later, with the exception of Ketema Yifru, the rest were promoted to Vice-Ministerial posts. Ketema strongly believed that it was his background that had held him back from being promoted to Vice-Minister. Thus, young Ketema would confront the then Foreign Minister, Tsehafi Tizaz Aklilu Habtewold, on why he was passed over for the promotion, when so far he and the rest had been promoted equally. In his conversation with Tsehafi Tizaz Aklilu Habtewold, Ketema reminded him that he, given their similar backgrounds, should have stood up for him. After hearing Ketema's plea, Tsehafi Tizaz Aklilu Habtewold suggested that Ketema should address his grievance to Emperor Haile Selassie.
Tsehafi Tizaz Aklilu Habtewold and Ketema Yifru
Ketema was able to see the Emperor in his office with the help of Tsehafi Tizaz Aklilu Habtewold. There, the Emperor would ask why the young man was so eager to talk to him. Ketema informed the Emperor that until now he had been equally promoted with the likes of Lij Michael Imiru, the son of the Emperor's cousin. Yet as the level of promotion became much more prestigious, Ketema explained to HIM that he was ultimately left out because of his humble background.
The Emperor was beside himself. Ketema, who had little if any experience in regards to how one should address his grievance to HIM, would learn a valuable lesson. An angry Emperor ordered Ketema to leave his office immediately. On his way out, Ketema was approached by Tsehafi Tizaz Aklilu Habtewold, who gave him a friendly lecture about the appropriate manner of addressing one's grievance to HIM. Minutes later, the Emperor called in Tsehafi Tizaz Aklilu Habtewold to his office. As a result of the conversation he had with Tsehafi Tizaz Aklilu, the Emperor decided to raise Ketema's salary to that of a Vice-Minister without giving him the title. The Emperor would not immediately promote Ketema to Vice-Minister, because if he had done so it would seem as if Ketema was right all along.
Ketema's courage and his sheer determination to get ahead in life must have impressed Emperor Haile Selassie, because a year later (1957) he would not only make Ketema his Private Secretary, but he also appointed him to the post of Assistant Minister of Pen. Ketema described the Ministry of Pen as being the effective Executive organ of the Government, as all orders of the Emperor originated from there. It is here where Ketema Yifru got a complete perspective of how the Ethiopian State machinery operated. The Former Attorney General, in Emperor Haile Selassie's government, Ato Teshome Gebremariam Bokan, who was a close and personal friend of Ketema, reflecting on Ketema's positions in the Ministry of Pen and the Foreign Ministry said, "Both positions gave him an incomparable vantage point from which to observe the day today workings of Ethiopian Politics. Essentially, this means observing closely how the Emperor, the absolute autocrat of Ethiopia, ruled the country."
Ras Mesfin Sileshie, General Mulugetta Buli, and Ketema Yifru (1960)
Ketema Yifru would serve in the Ministry of Pen for another two years, in which he became the Minister of State of Pen. As the Private Secretary to HIM and a high ranking official in the Ministry of Pen, Ketema had the opportunity to closely observe how the powerful and influential officials of the country presented their case to the Emperor. In addition, he was able to witness high-level meetings in which important decisions concerning the country were made. Ketema's position in the government also gave him access to closely observe HIM's private discussions with foreign dignitaries. The minutes Ketema took in these meetings bare witness to how his role as Private Secretary to HIM and a high level official in the Ministry of Pen must have given him numerous experience in the field of government. Ketema was learning an invaluable lesson, which prepared him for his future role as the Foreign Minister of Ethiopia.
Ketema Yifru and Tsehafi Tizaz Aklilu Habtewold
Ketema, who was very much aware of the importance of learning more about the domestic affairs of his country, turned down an offer, which might have been irresistible for some. One day Tsehafi Tizaz Aklilu Habtewold came with news informing Ketema of the government's decision to split the Ministry of Pen into two sections. One section, which was to be headed by the head of the Ministry, Ato Gebrewold Ingida, would deal with domestic matters, while the other, led by Ketema, would deal with foreign related matters. To Tsehafi Tizaz Aklilu's surprise, Ketema refused to take the position. When Tsehafi Tizaz Aklilu asked whether the young man had gone mad, Ketema explained that the Ministry should not be split apart. In fact, rather than taking over the foreign section, Ketema informed Tsehafi Tizaz Aklilu that he was more interested in learning about matters concerning the domestic affairs of his country.
Emperor Haile Selassie and Ketema Yifru
Ketema admitted that most of what he knew about the political dynamics of the Ethiopian government came from the time that he was in the Ministry of Pen. However, it seems that he too had contributed to the institution that had given him vast knowledge about Ethiopian politics. Before Ketema had joined the Ministry of Pen, it was known for its bureaucracy, which only gave access to the few and the privileged. Ketema, who was known to mix with every sector of the Ethiopian society, however, fought hard to give access to those who previously were denied access to the Ministry. According to Ketema he was able to give "a once closed institution a human face."
According to Former Attorney General Teshome Gebremariam, "He who had access to the Emperor had power. Ketema was one of those people who had that access but he made it appear as if he did not. He mixed with every sector of Ethiopian society both high and low. Originally, the Emperor objected to this but after a while he could not do any thing to stop it (imagine). As a result he let him do what ever he pleased."
For Ketema, the year 1960 was an eventful period in most ways than one. He would get married to his wife Rahel Sinegiorgis and then in the same year he was imprisoned for suspicion over alleged involvement in the 1960 failed coup attempt. Ketema, who had now become a well-known figure in the government of Ethiopia, was accused of having a hand in the coup attempt.
It was obvious that Ketema more than anyone, given his background, was a young man who would want to see change in the structure of the government. Yet, there was a fundamental difference between the Neway brothers and Ketema when it came to implementing change. While General Mengistu and Germame Neway believed in radical change, Ketema was more in tuned to a more gradual change. He believed a gradual change could avoid any unnecessary after shocks like those experienced by most nations around the world. Be it in Africa, Asia, Central America, the Middle East or South America those drastic coups have left the countries worse off than they were in the beginning.
Emperor Haile Selassie, Ketema Yifru, and Tsehafi Tizaz Aklilu Habtewold in the USSR
In fact, the stand that both Germame and Ketema had taken in regards to change, divided the meetings of the educated young men, which took place in the homes of Leul Ras Imiru Haile Selassie and General Mengistu Neway, into two camps; those who agreed with change subscribed by Germame Neway, and those who agreed with change subscribed by Ketema Yifru. As a result of the strong stand that both groups had, they were not able to reach consensus on how to implement change in Ethiopia. Thus, they were forced to abandon the political discussions they had regarding the future of their country.
In his diary, dated 1960, Ketema describes what really happened to him that day. He was at home when military personnel came to his house and took him by force to the Palace. He was left in a room for several minutes before Germame Neway came in and asked Ketema what he thought of their actions so far (Germame and Mengistu Neway's coup attempt).
Leul Ras Imiru Haile Selassie, Ketema Yifru, and Prime Minister Aklilu Habtewold
Germame and Ketema, both students of political science, had on previous occasions talked about the need for change. Both had strong beliefs as to how they would go about changing the government of Ethiopia. Germame believed in an overnight change that would bring an immediate end to the Emperor's regime. Ketema, on the other hand, believed in change that required a peaceful transfer of power from Emperor Haile Selassie to his progressive son, Crown Prince Asefawossen. Then, he thought that it was necessary to take the power from the monarchy and place it in the hands of elected officials. Ketema's ultimate goal was to have a system in which people of humble background, like himself, could have a say in the day-to-day affairs of their government. The marked difference that Ketema had with Germame, coupled with the close friendship he had forged with General Merid Mengesha, made him a target for the planners of the coup. If he could not join them, then, Ketema might become a thorn in the future.
Prime Minister Aklilu Habtewold, Crown Prince Asfawossen, and Foreign Minister Ketema Yifru
In the palace, Ketema was confined in a small room for hours. Some time later he was granted permission to go to his house so that he could bring back clean clothing. Luckily for Ketema, the man who was assigned to escort him to his home was none other than a distant relative. Once they reached his home, the guard informed him that he had no intentions of taking him back to the palace, where most of the Emperor's high-ranking officials had been rounded up.
In a sworn testimony that he gave in court, General Mengistu Neway, had cleared those who were suspected of being heavily involved in the coup attempt. The General explained that if there was any participation by some, including the Crown Prince, they were unwilling participants. In fact, the General openly stated that he had forced Ketema Yifru and some others to participate in drafting a document, while they were being held prisoners.
Ketema Yifru (far left), General Merid Mengesha (far right), and Prime Minister Aklilu Habtewold (next to the General)
Once General Merid Mengesha crushed the coup, Ketema became one of the people who were accused of having a hand in the coup attempt. Despite General Mengistu Neway's sworn testimony that exonerated Ketema from being involved in the coup attempt, powerful political forces, who had become uneasy of Ketema's close association with Emperor Haile Selassie, convinced the Emperor that Ketema was one of the masterminds behind the failed coup. Well-placed sources had informed Ketema that someone had ordered a thorough search of his personal files, including the files that were located in his former high school. The objective was to present a picture of a young man who was bound to create havoc for the feudal institution.
As a result, Ketema was thrown in jail for a period of two weeks. If it were not for General Merid Mengesha, a man who was both a friend and a mentor to the young man, Ketema would probably have ended up in jail for many years. General Merid Mengesha, who knew Ketema more than any one, had serious doubts that Ketema was part of the 1960 coup attempt. The General, who had discussed matters concerning change in Ethiopia with Ketema, was absolutely sure that Ketema was not part of the failed coup attempt, which was engineered by the Neway brothers.
General Merid Mengesha became the Defense Minister right after the 1960 failed coup
With the help of General Merid Mengesha, Ketema was granted audience to see Emperor Haile Selassie, so that he could explain his situation to the monarch. In the Emperor's office, the King would ask whether Ketema was part of the movement to oust him from power. A young Ketema explained that it was indeed some of his powerful enemies who where trying to get rid of him by spreading these unfounded rumors. Ketema informed the Emperor that if he should investigate, he would discover that most of his personal files, including those in his former high school, were now missing. A young and feisty Ketema, who by now was sure that his enemies had won, went on to suggest that he would take actions on his enemies before the courts would have their say. Again, a surprised and angry Emperor demanded that Ketema leave his office immediately. It seems that the Emperor had discovered that there was indeed a conspiracy to get rid of this young man, because, a few days later, Ketema was ordered to continue his work as the King's Private Secretary and the Minister of State of Pen.
In passing, Ketema always said that the Emperor appreciated the fact that he spoke his mind on issues that he believed in. Ketema used to say that he would not stay silent if he believed that the Emperor had made a wrong decision. In fact, some of the authors, who had noticed Ketema's candor, described him as being one of the few outspoken members of the Emperor's government.