My life in Diplomacy: Ahadou Sabouré

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Ahadou Sabouré is Ethiopia’s veteran journalist, public servant, and a diplomat who had served as ambassador in the neighbouring countries, the Somalia (1961-1967) and Djibouti (1967-1972). The following is the second installment of Ato Ahadou’s life in his words, compiled almost totally from an interview he gave 14 years ago to the defunct Amharic magazine, Lisane Hizib. (Find the first one here.)
At the end of my four-month exile, I was brought before the Emperor and I was told that I would be informed of my new position shortly. Hence, it became clear to me that my career in journalism was ended. Almost immediately, I was assigned as ambassador to Somalia in 1961, becoming the second Ambassador to Somalia, replacing Zewde Gebre Selassie. I was thrust into the complexities of diplomacy and of being an Ethiopian ambassador. I don’t know why I was chosen for the position but I think my command of Somalia, French and Italian languages as well as my knowledge of the region had helped. This was around when the Somali state was born out of the merger of former British and Italian Somaliland and the movement “Greater Somalia,” to unite all Somali in one state was initiated by the British. The Somalians started to wage war against Ethiopia on the question of the Ogaden territory. I had the delicate role of trying restore a new spirit of friendship and peace between the two countries, where the bilateral relationship was the trickiest. The Somalians insisted on severing the Djibouti territory controlled by the French as well as the northern frontier district of Kenya and the Ethiopian Ogaden region that had a population of one million Somalians. I contested saying that that there had never been any Somali nation before 1960 and that the Ogaden had been historically part and parcel of Ethiopia and the people living there also as much Ethiopians as people from Gondar and Gojam. My mission came to an end without seeing much fruit.
I was then transferred to Djibouti, where I served as consul-general with ambassadorial rank until 1974. When I arrived in Djibouti, I was alarmed by what I witnessed there. I knew the country seventeen years ago. I had an occasion to visit it afterwards on some mission briefly. The people have turned highly inimical towards Ethiopians. Doubtless, this is all to Somalia propaganda. There was a pro-Somalia movement working underground inside of Djibouti. Whereas Somali worked hard to win hearts and minds after gaining independence, we Ethiopians did little on this fronts. The Ethiopian legation was a lame duck, did nothing of substance. Having observed this lacuna, I talked with the French as well as the native officials and submitted my preliminary report to the Emperor. With regard to the issue of Djibouti’s independence, Charles de Gaulle was reported to have said, “Before we grant liberty, we have to know first if this is a genuine demand coming from the people or other interest group. If the people really want independence, we are ready to give them what they demand.” The French allowed people to decide their fate through referendum. As for Ethiopians, we had a stake on the land and the people really were part of part of us, Ethiopians. The people were closer to us culturally. Second there was border-cross railway stretching straight to Djibouti. There was an economic ties that bind us together.
Djibouti’s wish was to be integrated in some kind of arrangement with Ethiopia. What was the nature of the referendum the French was suggesting? Are they really interested to work with us? I was asked by my government to probe these questions and submit my findings. The French claimed that if people wanted their liberty, they were ready to pack and leave. However, they did not prepare somebody in place they could transfer the reigns to. You could not count people who could take the role of leadership in the event of independence. It was like a colony. There were officials to be sure. The rank and file were blue collar worker. So between us, we and the French made a deal to do our utmost respectively, to influence the outcome of the referendum in such a way that the people would somehow be favourable to the idea of continuing under the French in some form of improved protectorate. I submitted the proposal and it was approved. Ethiopia shares a 450km border with Djibouti. Considerable portion of the Djibouti people (the Afar or Isa) resided in Ethiopia. So these people were made to cross the border and vote in the referendum. The question posed to the people was phrased something like this. “Do you want to live under the French in some form of improved and better administration or independence?” We knew which one to support. What was wanted was a system of improved administration.
Ethiopia’s intent was to win over the Adals, Afars and Isas residing in Ethiopia with a view to integrating them more fully into the Empire. There was not much done for them previously. Even water wells were not dug. Our goal was to lay the groundwork for next vote after ten or fifteen years. Accordingly, we made the deal with the French and the referendum took place. Reporters from all over the world, UK, US, France, German, Egypt and the Middle East came flooding for the occasion. Somali was very much anxious for the outcome. On our part, we did all we can to mobilize the support of our sympathizers and influence those nations that not favourably disposed towards us. The outcome turned out to be what we desired it to. 62 percent of the people voted in favour an improved protectorate under the French. It soon became clear that the French were intending to leave. Somali had a firm stance that Djibouti had to be made part of the polity. We stood opposed to this. We made our position clear that not just Djibouti, but also Eritrea, Kenya, the Sudan, other neighbouring countries should come together and integrated under some form of confederation. But my plea fell on deaf ears, then followed the change of regime.

Arefayné Fantahun
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