Facing an uncertain future, my father in his prison diaries, wrote, "I was willing to put my country above my family. I could have taken a job elsewhere, which paid more than what I got paid while I was working for the government. I would not stoop low, like some officials, and take money away from my poor country and its people. I believe that I was honest and worked to the best of my abilities to help build my country. Since I have not left my children any wealth, I hope one day that they will be proud of their father's accomplishments and his good name." As you can imagine, this is the very reason that I have decided to launch this website.
When I began to write my father's short biography, I was determined to cover all aspects of his work, including those parts that might make a few people uneasy. My point has always been that if I was to, some day, attempt to present his life, it would not be fair to my father nor my conscious, if I was to leave out certain information, some of which is public knowledge, for the sole purpose of not offending others. It should be understood that even though my father has passed on, I am committed to keeping his work alive. Therefore, my loyalty to him will not permit me to present an incomplete picture. I apologize if I have offended anyone, even though every thing that is written here is based on facts.
Crown Prince Asefawossen, Ketema Yifru, Diallo Telli, and Emperor Haile Selassie
I hope that this short biography of Ketema Yifru will complement the article that is written about the creation of the OAU. I have managed to compile this short biography of Ketema Yifru knowing that there might be questions regarding his life and work once one reads the article of the Creation of the OAU. I had started to collect material about my father years before he actually passed away. Through the years, I have managed to collect some of his memoirs, verbatim of the OAU meetings, taped and written interviews, books written about the government of Emperor Haile Selassie, old and recent newspaper articles, some of his speeches and many other documents. Most importantly, in addition to all these materials, I had the privilege of hearing a detailed version of Ketema Yifru's life story from my father himself. All I had to do was to put every thing together in order to, some how, attempt to present a short biography of Ketema Yifru.
Even though Ketema Yifru was faced with numerous obstacles in his childhood and in his career as a government official, he was able to beat back the forces that were determined to pull him back from succeeding in life. Hard work coupled with the good deeds of various individuals, including Emperor Haile Selassie, would make Ketema a success story. As successful as he may be, Ketema never forgot where he came from. Even though he was elevated to the point where he would rub shoulders with the worlds leading policy makers, Ketema understood that he was no different than the rest of the Ethiopian people. He would, thus, associate himself with all sectors of the Ethiopian society, no matter what their backgrounds were. His association with the poor, made it possible for him to never forget his own upbringing. As a result, he was able to easily comprehend the problems that the majority of Ethiopians were facing.
Emperor Haile Selassie, Pope Paul 1V, and Ketema Yifru
The sixties, according to many historians, was a period in which Ethiopia ended its isolation and became the spokesman for African affairs in the international forum. I am proud that my father played a great role in bringing about this great diplomatic achievement. Ketema Yifru, who became the Foreign Minister (1961-1971) at the age of thirty-two, brought about a new and fresh approach to Ethiopia's foreign policy. The Emperor, whom Ketema Yifru believed was open to new ideas, especially in the field of International politics, allowed his Foreign Minister to turn around what was then an isolationist policy to a much more engaging foreign policy.
Tsehafi Tizaz Aklilu Habtewold and the Prime Minister of the Sudan, Mr. Mohammed Ahmed Mahjib, signing a new treaty
Ketema's prior role as the Emperor's Private Secretary and a high-ranking official in the Ministry of Pen had brought him into close contact with the Emperor. As a result, according to both Ketema Yifru and Ato Teshome Gebremariam, "a mutual trust developed between the two." Thus, when he was promoted to head the Foreign Ministry, Ketema, unlike most of the other officials, was able to convince the Emperor to make certain decisions, which at the time were considered, by many, to be radical. Ketema's successful effort in helping to create the Organization of African Unity, created a new role for the Ethiopian government in the field of world politics. The government of Ethiopia would go on to becoming the spokesman for Africa, in terms of the United Nations and the continents diplomatic exchanges with Western Nations.
Ketema Yifru receiving the Italian Foreign Minister, Aldo Moro, at the Bole International Airport
Unfortunately, men who worked hard to build their country in those days were either killed or imprisoned for many years by the military regime that toppled the Emperor's government. I consider myself lucky, because, unlike many whose fathers were faced with a different fate, my family and I were reunited with my father after his release from prison in 1982. It is at this point in time where I really got to know my father -- for I was only a child when he was first imprisoned. One of his personality traits that I had great affection for was his ability to listen to everyone's opinion. There I was, a young kid giving him my personal views on Mengistu's government. My father, who had so much experience in the field of government, would eagerly listen to what I had to say as if my account was his only source of information.
I was reminded of my father's good deeds and his accommodating personality, when I listened to the Amharic version of the Voice of America presentation of the life and work of Ketema Yifru on the somber occasion of his death. All who were interviewed, including his uncle Ato Teklu Dejene, former Ambassador to the USA, Ato Ayalew Mandefro and former Vice Minister of Industry, Commerce, and Tourism, Ato Bekele Indashaw, talked about Ketema Yifru's willingness to listen to everyone's opinion and his disregard for personal protocol.
Tsehafi Tizaz Aklilu Habtewold and Ketema Yifru having lunch with President Tito of Yugoslavia and other members of his government
Many, whose paths crossed with Ketema during his role as a government official, informed me that his personality had not changed over the years. They say that he was always eager to accommodate those who asked him for help. In fact, as I went through his belongings, I found letters that were written to him, during the time that he was a government official, by those who had problems with the government. Many of the letters which people wrote asking him for help began by saying, "I heard that you are known to help out the poor..." I also found copies of letters that he wrote to various ministries, organizations, and departments on behalf of those who were being left out from the process. As I read the letters, it dawned on me that Ketema Yifru had not forgotten his humble beginnings, because, even though his actions were bound to bring about hatred from some groups, he had tried his best to stand by the poor in whichever way he could.
Surprisingly, those qualities that people mention to describe Ketema Yifru and many other officials, past and present, are factors that could easily be mastered by anyone. As long as civil servants understand that they are there to serve the people and not vice versa, they will not only make life easier and better for their people, but they will also be remembered affectionately by those whom they have served over the years.
I believe that it would be appropriate to discuss a few people, whom my father used to mention frequently and who had an impact on his career as a high-ranking official in the government of Emperor Haile Selassie. I have to start by mentioning the name of the man my father defended until the day that he died; Emperor Haile Selassie. Even though some, who were themselves a product of the royal family's goodwill had advised against it, Emperor Haile Selassie believed that it was necessary for everyone to have an education. My father used to say that he was a direct result of the Emperor's educational campaign. In addition, the Emperor, who noticed the talents of people like Ketema Yifru, was willing to place them in high positions regardless of their social upbringing. Ketema Yifru strongly believed that Emperor Haile Selassie was indeed one who judged people by their merits. If Emperor Haile Sellasie was one who believed in keeping the status quo, it would not have been possible for the likes of Aklilu Habtewold, Yilma Deressa, Kebede Gebre, Mammo Taddesse, Tesfaye Gebre-Ezgy, Mulatu Debebe, Ketema Yifru and many other officials, who also came from humble backgrounds and different ethnic groups, to serve Ethiopia in the most influential posts in his government.
My father used to talk about Prime Minister Aklilu Habtewold. He strongly believed that if Tsehafi Tizaz Aklilu Habtewold was given the freedom he would have made the necessary changes that could have avoided that unfortunate incident, which occurred in 1974. Unfortunately, Prime Minister Aklilu's power was diminished to the point where his Ministers were required to report directly to the Emperor. In passing, I believe that the newly released book of Ato Zewde Reta titled, "Emperor Haile Selassie and the Eritrean Issue," which is written in Amharic, serves as testimony to the great service that Prime Minister Aklilu Habtewold has done for his country. In addition to Ato Zewde Retta's book, Ketema Yifru's thesis titled, "The Disposition of the Former Italian Colonies; 1945-1949", which is available at the Boston University Library, also gives a detailed account on Tsehafie Tizaz Aklilu's commitment to his country, as well as presenting an interesting view on the dynamics of international politics in relation to Eritrea, Somaliland, and Libya.
After carefully listening to what my father had to say, I believe that General Merid Mengesha was at the top of the list of people whom he had the utmost respect for. Simply put, if it was not for General Merid Mengesha, Ketema Yifru would not have survived those early years in government, which were full of trials and tribulations. Most importantly, Ketema Yifru was impressed by the General's willingness to bring about a much-needed progressive change.
Ato Yilma Deressa and Ketema Yifru
Last but not least, my father always said that he had tremendous respect for his former boss, Ato Yilma Deressa. What impressed Ketema Yifru the most about Ato Yilma Deressa, is the fact that he was one of those people who never once acted like the typical boss. In fact, my father used say that Ato Yilma was more like a father figure, who took it upon himself to give guidance and much needed advise to a young man, who was new to the system.
Dr. Tesfaye Gebre-Ezgy
There are two of my fathers close and personal friends who should be mentioned in his biography; for Ketema Yifru never forgot two of his closest friends, who were brutally murdered by Colonel Mengistu and his people. The first is the Eritrean born Dr. Tesfaye Gebre-Ezgy, who according to my father was one who diligently served his country's interest while he was in the Foreign Ministry, either as the Minister of State or the Permanent Representative to the UN, and later when he served the government as Minister of Information. Ketema Yifru and Dr. Tesfaye were inseparable. In fact, one of the people who convinced Ketema not to resign, when he was removed from the Foreign Ministry, was his close friend, Dr. Tesfaye Gebre-Ezgy.
Ato Mulattu Debebe was another close friend and colleague of Ketema Yifru. Like his friends Dr. Tesfaye and Ketema, Ato Mulatu Debebe was known for his humble and accommodating personality. It seems that he was another official who never forgot his humble beginnings and one who never cared for personal protocol. Sadly, no one talks about government officials like Ato Mulatu; men who embodied the true meaning of the word Civil Servant. Since they were like-minded individuals, Ketema, Ato Mulatu and Dr. Tesfaye developed a close and a long lasting friendship, which helped them through some difficult times.
If the public was aware of the the lives and works of the Tsehafi Tizaz Aklilu Habtewolds, the General Merid Mengeshas, the Ato Yilma Deressas, the Dr. Tesfayes Gebre-Ezgys, the Mulatu Debebes and many others, I am sure that it would help in clearing the distorted picture that is presented about Emperor Haile Selassie's government.
Ato Mulattu Debebe
After looking through the OAU article and the biography, I hope that the reader will understand that the government of Emperor Haile Selassie was much different than how it is presented by the likes of the Kupuscinskis or the Spencers. While the former tried to make us believe that Ministers had to sneak out from behind trees to talk with the Emperor, the latter would lead us to believe that those strong nationalists were in fact socialists. Even though there might be a need to spice up the contents of their books for marketing purposes, I am confident that publishers do not expect their authors to present material that is based on pure fabrication. Africa can do without the negative stories that are based on falsehood. Rather, at this point in time, Africa needs to hear those positive and uplifting true stories of its people that could perhaps help to motivate and inspire its children.
I understand that this website will not begin to do justice to the service that my father has done for both his country and his beloved continent. Even so, until I put my mind, my thoughts, and all my resources together to come up with something much worthy of him, I will dedicate this site to the memory of my father, the late Ketema Yifru. Ketema Yifru was a man who had so much love for his country and his continent. He was also a man who strongly believed that every one should be treated equally regardless of race, ethnicity, wealth, religion, and all those other superficial boundaries that have been successful in dividing our people for centuries.
In closing we invite you to visit us again, because this website will be regularly updated. The new pages will consist of articles about other stories that have never been presented to the public and we will also publish your comments. For now, however, I will conclude by leaving you with the thoughts and memories that various people, from all walks of life, had about Ketema Yifru.
With Algerian Foreign Minister Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who is now the current President of Algeria
Ato Ayalew Mandefro in his tribute to Ketema titled "Farewell! Ketema Yifru", writes, "Ketema's death may evoke many different memories in people around the world. Those of us who closely followed the path of his career and worked with him remember him most for the brilliant achievements he garnered both for himself and for Ethiopia when serving his country as Foreign Minister for more than a decade."
With Indonesian Foreign Minister Adam Malik, who later served as Vice President under President Suharto
Former Attorney General Teshome Gebremariam Bokan would write, "Remember the personal letter that he wrote to HIM regarding the future of Ethiopia? I had the letter published, as you know after he died. I thought that this was indicative of his courage and the love that he had for his country. No one in the whole of Ethiopia has dared to deliver such a note to HIM."
Ketema Yifru and Prime Minister Eric Williams of Trinidad
"Over the years I have asked every Ethiopian I met for news of your late father after greeting them with the only Amharic I know, "Tenastalignye." Most of them were to young to help me, but about a year ago one of them said he heard about the death of your father. He was an admired friend and colleague from our first meeting at the inaugural meeting in Addis of the Organization of African Unity and when we met at the UN each year until I lost my portfolio as Minister of External Affairs of Sierra Leone on the death of Sir Milton Margai. We all continue to miss him especially as we have been overtaken all over Africa by a wave of military assaults on our countries." Former Minister of External Affairs of Sierra Leone, Dr. Karefa Smart.
Ketema Yifru with US Secretary of State William Rogers at the State Department
"I was privileged to have been his friend since the early 1950s when we were students together at Boston University, where he received his Masters degree after completing his undergraduate education at Hope College in Michigan. Through all the years I have known him, his love and loyalty to his country remained unchanged. It was so much of who he was. He considered his educational opportunities a gift to be reciprocated through service. Despite the consequences of that service, he never became cynical and lost his faith in the potential for good in people. Ketema was a very special person who helped make this earth a better place." Edith Zimmerman
With Israeli Foreign Minister, Aba Eban (far left)
"He was a great Foreign Minister. When I last saw him we talked about the good old days and we discussed current matters concerning the African continent in general." Current President of the breakaway region of Somalia, Mohammed Egal, who was also the former Prime Minister of Somalia during the late sixties.
"He was really a gifted negotiator. He became a friend to so many heads of state in the process." Mr. Tekle Tomlinson a close and personal friend of Ketema Yifru.
"It is impossible to talk about the creation of the Organization of African Unity without mentioning the name, Ketema Yifru." Ambassador Zewde Retta in a speech that he made during the introduction of his book titled, "The government of Emperor Haile Selassie and the Eritrean Issue."
In regards to international affairs, in the struggle to have Ethiopia become a leading voice in the international arena, starting from the year 1961, H. E. Ketema Yifru, the great Ethiopian, was the man who was largely responsible for this achievement. In the years when the continent was divided into two camps known as the Monrovia and the Casablanca Groups, Ethiopia's diplomatic effort in bringing the two groups together to finally bring about the creation of the OAU, was done through the leadership of H. E. Ketema Yifru, who brought likeminded African Foreign Ministers together. H. E. Ketema Yifru spearheaded Ethiopia's leading role in the creation of the OAU. He was a wise Ethiopian, who will forever be remembered in the annals of African History. In his private life, Ato Ketema's philosophy was based on equality, respect, and trust. What will forever shine above him, whether it was at work or his private life, is that he was a great Ethiopian who had the ability to listen to everyone's opinion regardless of one's age. Former Vice Minister of Industry, Commerce, and Tourism, Ato Bekele Indshaw (VOA in Amharic).
"Mr. Ketema was a heavy weight in the arena of world politics at a time when some of his contemporaries were not even considered featherweights. Besides interviewing him on various occasions, for both Ethiopian Radio and Television, I was privileged to observe Mr. Ketema, also affectionately known as Kete, at close range at home and abroad. He was equally at home with the pomps of the Imperial Court as much as in his association with the common person. I now remember occasions when I pleaded with him to write his autobiography. If such a writing exists, it would have been a great inspiration to many young people, for Mr. Ketema was: an indefatigable loyal servant to his continent and an illustrious pan-Africanist." Samuel Ferengi (Ethiopian Examiner March/April 1994).
Prime Minister Aklilu Habtewold and Foreign Minister Ketema Yifru with President Jomo Kenyatta
"You are one of that most precious and dangerous species, a man of talent and ideas. It is a bitter irony of the state of the world that ideas and talent are considered most dangerous in places that need them the most. Thus, you were jailed for eight years as a political prisoner in Ethiopia, where you had served at the right hand of the self-proclaimed Lion of Judah, Emperor Haile Selassie. You were a key player in the African political stage for many years. In the early 1960's you conducted your own brand of shuttle diplomacy to bridge the gap between the Monrovia and Casablanca Groups, paving the way for the African Summit that led to the creation of the Organization of African Unity. There is a wonderful category on your curriculum vitae: "Settlement of International Conflicts." For you, just another job skill. You have come a long way, from the Refugee School in what was then British Somaliland where your formal education began." Citation presented at Boston University, May 11, 1991.
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
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