The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Ethiopia Doesn’t Let You Go

Author - Hooky Walker

Recently I joined an Ethiopian reunion 20 years after the event - in Bratislava!

The event in question was in a sense a non-event. In 1986 Ethiopia suffered a severe drought. However, the international community, having learnt lessons from the famous drought and famine of 1984-85, managed in co-operation with the Ethiopian authorities to prevent the new drought from becoming another famine. This was done, at vast expense to the international tax-payer, by importing and distributing huge quantities of grain by truck, fixed-wing aircraft and helicopter.

After the event one of those who had been at the heart of the operation argued to the members of the donor community, that is to say representatives of the donor countries and of the United Nations and other international agencies, that they had played a role in a unique humanitarian mission going far beyond the norm of diplomatic work. So ten years after the event a self-selected bunch of UN and embassy types held a reunion; and now they have held a reunion 20 years after the event. Those who in June gathered for two days of reminiscence in Slovakia included the Papal Nuncio from 1986, the Australian, Austrian, Dutch, German, Mexican, Swedish, United Kingdom and United States Heads of Mission, the Head of the UN Development Programme and Special Representative of the Secretary-General, and the Head of the USAID Mission. Their wives came too. The two British representatives were myself, who had been British Ambassador in Addis Ababa in 1986, and Michael Priestley, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General.

Why Bratislava? Because the Czech Ambassador in Addis Ababa in 1986 was now the Slovak Foreign Minister. Dr Eduard Kukan and his wife Zdenka arranged a superb programme which included a reception in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a trip up the Danube to the old fortress of Devin, a visit to a rural ceramics factory, a walk round the old town of Bratislava, and at the theatre a remarkable representation of the history of Slovakia in dance and music. Two days of unalloyed pleasure in Slovakia - but what the party had in common was lasting affection for Ethiopia and the sense that 20 years before they had shared in a great life-saving operation there.

First Published in News File Winter 2006

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