Ambassador Teferi’s DIPLOMAT Magazine Interview
Ambassador Teferi is featured in the November/December 2020 issue of London’s DIPLOMAT Magazine.
In an interview with the editor, Venetia van Kuffeler, the Ambassador discussed his career in diplomacy and his thoughts on relations with the United Kingdom.
Teferi Melesse Desta reveals that the most memorable date of his career was the day he joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The second, he notes, was when he learnt he would be assigned to London as Ambassador. Although it’s his first trip to London, he says, “This is a great honour. I’m looking forward to being productive and closely working with my colleagues and stakeholders.” Mr. Desta arrived in the capital in September with his wife and two sons. He notes that “unlike so many Ethiopian athletes famous in the UK, I am not a runner!”
After a brief career as a teacher, Ambassador Teferi has now had close to 30 years of experience at Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He credits his success to his father, a principal official in the Department of Education. “He strongly believed in dialogue and teamwork, which has shaped my career so far.” The Ambassador has held numerous positions in Addis Ababa and abroad, most recently as Consul General in Guangzhou, China. Previously, he served as Chief Adviser to the Minister on Capacity Building, and Director-General in the Ethiopian Expatriate Affairs at the MFA. Ambassador Teferi’s other roles abroad included Consul General in Geneva, Chargé d’Affaires in Harare, as well as Minister Counsellor at the Embassy in Brussels.
When he assumed a role as Ethiopia’s Director General for Public Diplomacy and Communications, he recalls how the public diplomacy side was a completely new concept. “We developed a new strategy and system, focusing on building bridges with foreign countries through think tanks, universities, sister cities, and so on.” He also received journalists, facilitating and coordinating their visits with their embassies abroad. “As London is a centre for think tanks, advocacy groups, and the world’s media, this experience may be helpful. I look forward to connecting and learning from them.”
The Ambassador is clearly proud of the longstanding diplomatic relations between the UK and Ethiopia that span over four centuries. “Our embassy was the first African embassy in London!” he declares. “Relations are deep, cordial, and excellent.” One of his key mandates is “to encourage UK companies and businesspeople to invest in Ethiopia because Ethiopia can offer them an unmatched opportunity.” He explains that Addis Ababa is an important administrative centre for the whole of Africa. The headquarters of the UN Economic Commission for Africa was established here in 1958 (the largest UN body after New York and Geneva), and it is the seat of the African Union Commission, and there are close to 120 embassies. Furthermore, Ethiopian Airlines, the largest in Africa, flies to almost all African countries, “so Ethiopia is a bridge between Africa and different continents.” So, he plans to make UK investors and businesspeople aware of this, as well as promoting tourism. “I want the British people to visit Ethiopia. The country is fairly untouched in that regard, and we are environmentally very conscious.” People-to-people relations are also on the agenda, and digital technology can be used to our advantage in this regard. “These days, we diplomats are not the only actors in diplomacy. Everyone who has an internet connection can access their counterparts around the world. We want to create awareness of opportunities in Ethiopia and allow people to connect with their counterparts in Ethiopia.”
Likewise, “Brexit means the UK is keen to establish strong economic relationships with partner countries around the globe. There’s an opportunity for the two countries to build on our common interests. As the second-most populous country in Africa (over 110 million people), we achieved double-digit economic growth over the past two decades, and are working hard to sustain this, and achieve a middle-income economy.” He says that while the Cotonou Agreement between the EU and Africa has expired, he looks forward “to seeing a new mechanism created to deal with development cooperation between the UK and African countries.”
In terms of the Covid-19 crisis, he says, “Back home the government is doing a good job in the fight against the pandemic. We have made a lot of progress, and really appreciate the UK government’s support on this and for our diaspora.”
Back home, he explains, Ethiopia is undergoing economic and democratic reforms under the leadership of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali. “Lifting oppressive laws, actioning electoral and judicial reform and media freedom has naturally come with various challenges. But as our prime minister has said: ‘let there be no ambiguity.’ We remain deeply committed to a vision of building a multilateral, democratic, and prosperous Ethiopia. In fact, my Prime Minister has also played a significant role in the promotion of regional peace, security, and economic integration, and has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.”
Source: DIPLOMAT Magazine
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