The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Addis Ababa Reunion

Author - Hooky Walker

In the summer of 2006 I recorded in the News File that a self-selected group of UN and embassy people who had participated in the relief efforts in Ethiopia in the mid-1980s had held a reunion - in Bratislava, because the Czech Ambassador of the time, Dr Eduard Kukan, had become Foreign Minister of Slovakia and had been prepared to arrange a programme. The group, reduced in size by the ravages of advancing age, met again, this time in Addis Ababa, between 10 and 13 October 2010. The members included Michael Priestley (British), former head of UNDP in Ethiopia and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General.

Our American colleague, James Cheek, who before becoming Ambassador in Addis Ababa had been Ambassador to the Sudan, had known Prime Minister Meles Zenawi as a freedom fighter. Thanks to that connection we were able to pay a courtesy call on the Prime Minister. Speaking for our group, Jim Cheek recalled that we were united by our experiences of a massive humanitarian effort all those years ago and by our love for the Ethiopian people; on this account we were enjoying what would almost certainly be our last reunion. The Prime Minister responded that the first policy of his government was to avoid famine and the second to achieve food security: when that security was indeed achieved he hoped we would come again.

Our touristic programme included a visit to Holy Trinity Cathedral, which was not open to visitors during my time in Addis Ababa; it now of course houses the impressive stone vaults of the Emperor Haile Selassie and his wife. We also visited the Ethnological Museum, lunched in the new Kuriftu resort and dined in Castelli's - nostalgically familiar.

The USAID Director, Tom Staal, held a splendid reception for us at which we were able to meet many of the current leaders of the NGO and aid community. Driving to Debre Zeit (now called Bishoftu), we were given an inkling of two ambitious and impressive USAID programmes. One aims to promote the profitability of dairy farming, with interventions from increasing the yield of the cows through to the creation of marketing mechanisms. The other, at the regional hospital in Bishoftu, remarkably provides for the doctors to work on their own account as well as for the state, the aim being that they will then stay in Ethiopia instead of emigrating to greener pastures.

Perhaps the highlight of our visit was an Ethiopian dinner at the home of Berhane Deressa, in our day Deputy Commissioner of the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission. It was an emotional occasion, with all our minds going back to darker days. Now there are many signs of a booming national economy - albeit offset by a still growing population. This last season the rains were good, and during a tour that my wife and I paid after the reunion round the standard route Dessie-Lalibela-Gondar-Bahir Dar-Debre Markos it was encouraging to see the countryside as green as ever it can have been.

Nothing to do with the reunion, but for my wife the highlight of our visit was tracking the Walia Ibex, breathlessly, in the Simien Mountains National Park.

Hooky Walker (Sir Harold Walker) was Ambassador to Ethiopia 1986-89.

First Published in News File Spring 2011

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