Foreign Minister Ketema Yifru
One fateful day in the year 1961, General Merid Mengesha asked Ketema whether he had heard any news regarding a promotion. Ketema, who believed that he was chosen to head the Ministry of Education, informed the General that he would resign if that was the case. Since Ketema's position on certain issues was more in line with the students, he knew very well that he was bound to clash with other government policy makers if he was to head the Ministry of Education. The General, however, informed him that the Ministry of Education was not the intended position for Ketema.
Ketema Yifru with UN Secretary General, U Thant
Ketema was delighted at the news that he was not chosen to head the Ministry of Education. Maybe now he could return to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a Vice-Minister. When he asked the General if that was the case, he was told to wait until he heard the official news from the Emperor himself. That afternoon, Ketema would find out that the little kid from Gara Muleta would go on to becoming the next Foreign Minister of Ethiopia. It was quite an accomplishment for a thirty-two year old young man, who came from a humble background like Ketema Yifru.
Shortly afterwards, General Merid Mengesha informed Ketema of how he was selected to head the Foreign Ministry. Emperor Haile Selassie had convened a high level meeting of the most powerful forces in Ethiopia, for the sole purpose of selecting a Foreign Minister. In the meeting, which included Defense Minister Merid Mengesha and various others, some of the Emperor's closest advisors nominated a couple of their own people to head the Foreign Ministry. After carefully listening to the debate, Emperor Haile Selassie surprised everyone by declaring that he preferred Ketema Yifru. Even though some pleaded with the Emperor not to place a 'commoner' as Foreign Minister, when there were others whose backgrounds 'fit' the position, Emperor Haile Selassie declared that his decision was final. The Emperor's decision gave Ketema an opportunity to work with leading policy makers around the world. Unfortunately, the Emperor's decision would also gain Ketema some powerful enemies.
As Foreign Minister, Ketema would not only change an on again off again Ethio-African diplomatic relations, but he would also try as hard as he could to conduct business based on national and continental interests.
Ketema Yifru with President Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya
Ketema began his tenure as Foreign Minister by concentrating his efforts to bring Ethiopia in line with mainstream Africa. Besides from his contribution to the creation of the Organization of African Unity (which is presented in more detail in the Creation of The OAU Article), he has made many other numerous contributions for his country and the continent of Africa. His experience in the USA and most importantly the way in which his country was abandoned by the League of Nations, during its hour of need, had made Ketema an avowed Panafricanist. The newly appointed Foreign Minister strongly believed that his country's true allies were his fellow African brothers and sisters. They say that African freedom fighters, like Nkrumah, wept when they heard news of the 1935 invasion of Ethiopia, the country that was the beacon of hope for the rest of the continent.
Ketema and the first OAU Secretary General, Mr. Diallo Telli
In the words of Ato Ayalew Mandefro, who worked closely with Ketema in the Foreign Ministry and who also traveled widely with him around the world during the 1960s, "Taking arduous trips throughout Africa, it was Ketema's unending diplomatic initiative in Africa, not to mention his other efforts outside Africa, that helped Ethiopia achieve a most successful foreign policy during the eventful period of the sixties. His work schedules at headquarters attested to no lesser fact. A typical monthly activity might include meetings with Amilcar Cabral, Nyerere, Kaunda, Kenyatta, Mandela, and so as the retinue of distinguished African leaders visiting Ketema's office kept on coming."
Ato Ayalew adds, "For Ketema, these series of meetings where important as they served him well in shaping Ethiopia's foreign policy. It was the cumulative experience from such meetings that helped him most in playing a leading role in the African political landscape of the sixties during which Ethiopia was crowned to seat the Organization of African Unity. It was an inevitable prize with which Ketema was closely identified after competing with oil rich Nigeria, mineral wealthy Zaire, and French backed Senegal."
Ketema with Julius Nyerere, whom he had supported in the struggle for Tanzanian Independence
Ketema's foreign policy initiative towards his fellow African states consisted of the following:
- He will replace the previous ad hock foreign policy by a much more focused and hands on foreign policy:
- He would use all the resources available to him to aid those freedom fighters that were trying to rid themselves of colonialism:
- To find a solution to the ever so growing rift between the Casablanca and the Monrovia Blocks (available in more detail in the OAU article):
- To make it possible for Africans to find their own solutions for their own problems, and:
- To have good diplomatic relations with neighboring countries.
Emperor Haile Selassie, United Nations Secretary General U Thant, and Ketema Yifru
In his first speech addressed to the United Nations General Assembly, Ketema demanded, "The immediate, unconditional, and final abolishing of colonialism." He would, "Settle for no less and be satisfied with nothing else" (October 2 1961). He would also propose that Africans should solve their problems by themselves, without interference from outside forces. In order to make this a reality, he suggested that they form a regional organization for the promotion of peace and prosperity. Ketema reminded the delegates that such a move was encouraged by Article 52 of the UN Charter, which calls for local disputes to be referred to such regional groupings before they were brought to the Security Council.
Mr. Kaunda and Mr. Oliver Tambo at the PAFMECA Conference in Addis Ababa
A year later, Ketema would convince the Emperor to have the fourth conference of the Pan- African Freedom For East, Central and Southern Africa (PAFMECA) to be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (February 2 1962). The list of delegates who attended the PAFMECA Addis Ababa conference, where Ketema was elected chairman, included Mr. Oliver Tambo, Mr. Nelson Mandela, Mr. Robert Mugabe, Mr. Kenneth Kaunda, and many other prominent African Freedom Fighters. In the conference, both Emperor Haile Selassie and Ketema Yifru would reassure the delegates of their country's firm commitment to aid them in the struggle for independence. Ato Ayalew Mandefro, reflecting on Ketema's commitment to the independence of Africa wrote, "It was Ketema more than any other Ethiopian Foreign Minister in memory, who diligently supported African freedom movements during their trying period of political struggles en-route to independence."
Ketema Yifru and Kenneth Kaunda at the PAFMECA Conference
Ketema's commitment to the independence of Africa included formulating a policy to provide educational and military training for many African Freedom Fighters. In fact, it was Foreign Minister Ketema Yifru who arranged for Mr. Nelson Mandela's military training in Ethiopia. With the strong urging of Ketema, Mr. Mandela was issued an Ethiopian Diplomatic passport, which he used for travel. In his autobiography titled, "Long Walk To Freedom," Mr. Nelson Mandela remembers how the Foreign Minister would go out of his way to meet and greet him at the Addis Ababa airport in 1962. Ketema Yifru would then escort Mr. Mandela to the training facility. When Mr. Mandela was arrested by the apartheid regime, one of the documents that were seized from him was a passport that was signed by none other than Ketema Yifru. According to Ato Ayalew Mandefro, the other two articles that were confiscated from Mr. Mandela's pocket included "a memento from Emperor Haile Selassie and a small photo of Ketema Yifru, which Mandela kept from his days in Ethiopia."
Reunited with Nelson Mandela
As Foreign Minister, Ketema Yifru had actively pushed for Ethiopia's participation in the first Non-Aligned Nations Conference (1961), which was held in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Even though he was aware that a third world country like Ethiopia could not rid itself of superpower influence, Ketema tried his best to base his country's foreign policy in line with Ethiopia's national interest. Since he deemed it necessary to align his country with those who were trying to rid themselves of superpower influence, Ketema argued that the King should be a part of this movement. As a result of Ketema's persistence, Emperor Haile Selassie decided to disregard the advice that was given to him by some of his closest confidants and advisers. From then on, Emperor Haile Selassie and his Foreign Minister became regular participants of future Non-Aligned Nations conferences.
Ketema speaks before Emperor Haile Selassie and President Tito
During a ten-year span, Ketema played a major role in building and strengthening diplomatic relations with various nations around the world. Ketema's ability to develop personal friendships with officials like Prime Minister Ibrahim Egal of Somalia, whose country was at odds with Ethiopia, provided an opportunity for the Ethiopian government to create diplomatic relations that were based on respect and genuine friendship. Whether it was at home or in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, the former Soviet Union, Europe or the USA, Ketema, according to Ato Ayalew Mandefro, the former Ambassador to the USA, "Behaved in a humble and disarmingly simple manner with a special knack of imparting a relaxing gesture even to officials who are noted to personify stiff protocol."
Emperor Haile Selassie, Ketema Yifru, and the Emir of Kuwait
During his role as the Foreign Minister of Ethiopia, Ketema played a major role in solving conflicts around the continent of Africa. One was in the Congo (early 60s), where as Ketema put it, "There was a continuous presence of mercenaries and the influence of vested foreign companies, who encouraged and financed the secession of Katanga" (UN October 2 1962). Ketema, who strongly believed in the unity of the Congo, continued by saying, "The Republic of the Congo is and must remain one whole and indivisible. We are indeed duty bound to assist the Central Government to reintegrate the province of Katanga into the Republic and to expel all mercenaries from the province." Ketema, along with Emperor Haile Selassie and many other African leaders and their Foreign Ministers, fought hard in the international political arena, until the province of Katanga was finally reintegrated into the Republic of the Congo. In passing, it is important to note that the commander of the entire UN forces in the Congo was an Ethiopian General by the name of Kebede Gebre.
Defense Minister General Kebede Gebre and Ketema Yifru
The other conflict that Ketema had tackled successfully was the Algeria-Morocco conflict of the1960s. Ketema, who had good relations with both Foreign Minister Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria and Foreign Minister Ahmed Reda Guedira of Morocco, played his part in settling the Algeria-Moroccan conflict. He would shuttle between Algiers and Rabat and then to Addis Ababa, where he would inform the Emperor of his progress. President Kennedy, who was aware of Ketema's significant role in solving the conflict, wrote a letter to the Emperor informing him that, "He had asked Ambassador Handley to present informally to Foreign Minister Yifru some idea relating to the Bamako Conference" (Foreign Relations of the United States 1961-1963 Volume XX1 Africa, pp 31). Thanks to the efforts of all the African officials who were involved in the peace effort, the Algeria-Morocco conflict was successfully resolved through peaceful means.
Ketema Yifru with President John F Kennedy
Then Ketema would settle the Ethio-Somalia conflict of 1964 in negotiations with the Foreign Minister of Somalia. Neither the Ethiopians nor the Somalis required outside help to bring an end to their conflict. Instead, they turned to their brothers in the Sudan to help find a solution to their problem. President Ibrahim Abboud, addressing the opening of the peace session said, "We have to show the world that we Africans are able to solve our own problems by ourselves and accept no foreign interference in our internal affairs or foreign policies" (Reuters March 26 1964). Ketema Yifru would finally lead the first official delegation to Somalia in 1968.
Ketema Yifru, President Ibrahim Abboud of the Sudan, and Foreign Minister Abdillahi Issa of Somalia
Foreign Minister Ketema Yifru played a significant role in finding a solution to the Southern Sudan Conflict. He would work diligently behind closed doors with the warring factions to come up with a viable solution. His tireless efforts coupled with Emperor Haile Selassie's genuine efforts to bring about solutions to the continent's conflicts, would pave the way to the signing of a peace accord by the two warring factions in Addis Ababa.
The leaders of the Southern Sudan Factions shake hands with the help of Emperor Haile Selassie
In 1968 Ketema would lend his expertise to find a solution to the Nigerian Civil war. Since Emperor Haile Selassie was the chairman of the OAU's Consultative Committee on the Nigerian Civil war, he would call on his Foreign Minister to help solve this matter. Ketema, who had very close relations with both President Gowan and Biafran leader Colonel Ojuku, advised the Emperor to invite the leaders of Biafra and the Federal government of Nigeria to Addis Ababa for peace talks. Ketema would then take part in the conference that lasted four weeks (August 6-September 9). Here, progress was made to secure relief supplies for the victims of the war. In 1968-69 Colin Legum describing the efforts of the Ethiopian government wrote, "The Emperor's Herculean efforts to resolve the conflict served to reinforce the confidence and respect the OAU has for its principle peacemaker."
Ketema Yifru and President Yakubu Gowan of Nigeria
Ketema's role in the settlement of International conflicts was best summed up in a citation presented to him, on May 11 1991, by Boston University. It reads, "Yes you did play a major role in Settlement of International Conflicts: The Congo crises, the Algeria-Morocco conflict, the Ethio-Somalia conflict, the Nigerian Civil war, and the Southern Sudan Crises. You are a living East Africa history book." Reflecting back on the African leaders and Ketema's role in conflict resolution, one cannot help but observe the apparent lack of viable conflict resolution mechanisms in Africa today. There are many examples in today's Africa to highlight the lack of viable conflict resolution mechanisms. These examples include the former Zaire, Rwanda, Burundi, the civil wars in the Sudan, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and most recently the border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea. One wonders how the likes of Ketema Yifru would have resolved these ongoing violent conflicts that have plagued the continent for so long.
Ketema Yifru with Robert F Kennedy Ketema Yifru greeted by Chinese Premier Chu en Lai
In his role as the Foreign Minister of Ethiopia, Ketema accompanied the Emperor to the various capitals of the world. As Foreign Minister he sat in meetings with Heads of State, Foreign Ministers, and other high-level foreign government officials. Ketema had the opportunity to meet and work with high-ranking officials from some of the most powerful nations in the world. In England, for instance, Ketema was appointed by Queen Elizabeth to be, "An Honorary Member of the Second Class or Knights Commander of Our Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George." Yet, when asked what his greatest achievement was during his years as Ethiopia's Foreign Minister, he would always say, "From all my achievements what I treasure the most, is my contribution of giving a country that once kept to itself an African Identity."
Ketema Yifru with the Kennedys In a meeting with Emperor Haile Selassie and Soviet Leader Podgorny
E A Brief Summary of Ketema Yifru's Diplomatic Career