Ketma Yefru: The architect Behind OAU

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A country is best represented by its people or leadership and leaders are the ones who are of the people by the people and for the people. As a result, leadership shapes the character, behavior and culture of its people and the country. A country’s good or bad image is determined by the good or bad image of its leader. In this regard, it is the right time for Ethiopia to talk about the demonstration of the above facts.

Ethiopia is hosting one of the biggest continental events. As a seat of the continent’s grandest institution, Addis Ababa is colorfully celebrating the Golden Jubilee of Organization of African Unity/African Union (OAU/AU). Because of this all eyes are focused here. Fifty-four African countries are represented and have convened here to celebrate the union. This historical advantage has lifted the country’s image to the highest stage. So who to be praised? No doubt, its brightest leaders. Certainly, Emperor Haile-Selassie I. He is considered by many to be the Father of Africa. In the last half of the 20th century, Haile-Selassie’s name has never been omitted whenever the OAU is mentioned. It seems that His Majesty had amassed all the credit for the country’s success in the formation of OAU.

However, little attention is given to those who were doing the work behind the scenes. Sometimes, the success of these individuals goes unnoticed. Obviously, one Ethiopian has been overshadowed by Emperor Haile-Selassie’s grace and reputation regarding the OAU. The man who looks to be left under the surface is the architect and the master whose role was instrumental. Also he is the person who was able to make Addis Ababa the home of the OAU.

He is the late Ketema Yifru, Haile-Selassie’s Foreign Minister  He is rarely heard of and that is why some call him the “unsung hero” while others describe him as the “Amed Afash” (a person who is negatively rewarded). After serving as a foreign minister for ten years from (1961 to 1971) he spent eight years in prison when the Derg was in power.

Ketema Yifru was also recognized by the media as having played a prominent role in the creation of Africa’s regional organization. In a recently published article on his personal blog, Ketema Yifru’s son, Mekonnen Ketema quoted that his father as saying:

“Based on the discussions I had with my father as well as his taped and written interviews, I now clearly understand what he meant when he said, ‘Only a few are aware of the hard work and all the effort that brought about the creation of the OAU.’ Most of the public is not aware of the shuttle diplomacy, the closed door negotiations, and all the tireless effort, in general, that paved the way towards creating the OAU. In addition, the majority of the public are not aware of the fierce diplomatic battle that was fought by a number of states to have the OAU headquartered in their respective capital cities.

Legacy in  vain?

Ketma Yifru’s widow, Rahel Sinegiorgis, was approached by The Reporter yesterday at her home located around Enderase, Casanchis. She said that she is unhappy about neglecting Ketema’s contribution towards  the formation of OAU. “His legacy is really ignored,” she says.

Asked whether she was invited by the for the AU celebration she said, “No one remembers me and he was considered as if he was an ordinary person who has no contribution towards the existence of the organization.” She remembers what the feeling was among the family when Ketema was about to propose the possibility of Ethiopian success to achieve the formation of OAU and making the seat of the OAU in Addis Ababa.

“It was really in an overwhelming moment when he first intended to propose his idea to His Majesty. Our concern was if his idea would become unsuccessful that will eventually  bring shame and humiliation for the Emperor as he was a  respected and graceful leader throughout the world” In his will, he wrote from  prison to his wife and children he describe himself as a person who came from a humble family, who did not do any crime but has done an outstanding job to help his country be the seat of OAU.

Documents reveal that the former Foreign Minister was the man responsible for the staging of the 1963 Addis Ababa Summit Conference, which paved the way to the creation of the OAU. After being promoted to the rank of Foreign Minister in 1961— a period in which the rift between the Monrovia and Casablanca Groups seemed to have caused a permanent division in the continent— Ketema was an active participant in all the meetings and negotiations that led to the creation of the OAU.

Among others, he also played a leading role in the August 1963 Dakar Foreign Ministers Conference, where the question regarding the location of the OAU’s headquarters was once and for all resolved. Even after the 1963 conference,  Ketema had traveled throughout all 32 independent nations to convince every country that Addis Ababa would be the right place to be the home of OAU.

In his article Mekonnen, describes it by quoting his father as saying, “His next step was to convince both the Monrovia and the Casablanca blocks to attend the proposed Summit Conference in Addis Ababa. It was decided that the Ethiopian government, in the person of Ketema Yifru, would lobby both groups, while the Guinean government, in the person of  Diallo Telli, who became the first Secretary General of the OAU, would lobby the Casablanca Group members. It is important to note that by now the Ethiopian Foreign Minister was given full autonomy on this matter. The Emperor, who had envisioned himself as being the key player of such a diplomatic event, would give free reign to his young Foreign Minister.”

His wife’s remembers Ketema’s tour and said that he even had faced an accident but survived narrowly.

“…while he was on flight to Congo, the wing of his plane collided with a tree in the dense forest of the Congo jungle. But he was lucky and survived.” she said. The widow also shared her feeling with The Reporter saying, “I feel sad wherever AU’s meeting is held every year because it reminds me of my husband.” Especially, the very picture that comes to her mind is associating the African Hall and Ketema alongside His Majesty. He was happy and considered himself as a luckiest person as he has seen OAU keep going for long years constantly and without interruption.

Verbatim from Ketema

This was the letter written by Ketema Yifru, former foreign minister and instrumental person in the formation of the Organization of Africa Unity (OAU), to his family from prison. Ketema was among the sixty ministers, generals and high-ranking officials of the Imperial era who were thrown into jail after Derg came to power.

“…..As far as I am concerned, I am confident that apart from serving my country with all my capacity and good intentions, I have done nothing wrong; hence my conscience will always be clear. If I have at all committed any crime, it would be that I, coming from a humble farmer, family rose to claim the top government position in Ethiopia which stayed under the the monopoly of a few individuals for so long. Indeed my crime is to seize the opportunity that my country has offered me and achieve great things in way that is exemplary to my fellow Ethiopians with humble begins. I always cherish the time I had and my contribution to the country while I was working in the foreign ministry. Especially, my contributions towards the formation of Organization for African Unity (OAU) and securing the permanent seat of this organization to be in Addis Ababa will always shine upon me like a morning sun, and will always be a source of pride for my wife and children....""

Ketema Yifru

From the palace prison, .. July 14, 1979”    

Source ( Ethiopian Reporter)