H.E. Demeke Atnafu Ambulo, Ambassador of Ethiopia to India, responds to questions from Diplomatic and Business Editor Yogesh Sood on a range of bilateral issues. India and Ethiopia have historical ties dating back 2,000 years.

Ethiopia and India have had historical ties for the past 2,000 years. Full diplomatic ties were established in 1950 and they have been abiding. Please give us a sense of this history in our relations…

Historical linkages between India and Ethiopia go back more than two thousand years in history. Axumite traders in the 1st century AD via the ancient port of Adulis traded with Indians. They imported silk and spices from India and sold gold and ivory. The Hapshis were known to have arrived in India in the 13th century AD. In the 16th century AD, the Portuguese assisted the Christian King (Lebene Dingel) in Ethiopia to repel Muslim invaders from east Ethiopia which were supported by the Turkish, and the Portuguese brought many Indians from a part of India called Goa. Indian troops came to Ethiopia in 1868 as soldiers of Robert Napier, the British Commander-in-Chief in Bombay led a punitive expedition to obtain the release of European diplomats and missionaries who had been imprisoned by Emperor Tewodros II of Ethiopia in his bunker fort at Makdala. The 30,000 strong force had 13,000 soldiers from India, mostly Sikhs.

In the 19th century Jawaharlal Nerhu’s anti-fascism and anti-imperialism stand made him strongly condemn Italian invasion of Ethiopia and gave a call to his countrymen to observe Abyssinian day. Later when the British Army allied with Ethiopian patriots to end the Italian occupation of Ethiopia (1936-41) it had a sizable contingent of Indian soldiers. General William Plat, who led one of the three simultaneous attacks, commanded a force consisting of the 4th and 5th Indian Divisions.

On August 24, 2023, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Ethiopian Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed at Johannesburg, on the sidelines of BRICS. Please give us some insights into that meeting…

On August 24, 2023, Ethiopian Prime Minister H.E. Dr. Abiy Ahmed and Indian Prime Minister H.E. Narendra Modi held a significant bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Johannesburg. In a mutual expression of commitment to deepening relations, especially with Ethiopia’s entry into the BRICS group, the two leaders agreed to strengthen political cooperation as well as economic cooperation in the areas of agriculture, technology, trade and investments.

Ethiopian and India’s relations span seven decades while the historic ties between the countries date back to 2000 years of recorded history, Prime Minister Abiy indicated.

Kindly talk us through some of the high-level visits that have taken place between the two countries in recent times.

H.E. Mr. Demeke Mekonnen, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia, visited India from February 17 to 19, 2021. This was followed by a reciprocal visit when H.E. Dr. S. Jaishankar, India’s Minister of External Affairs, traveled to Ethiopia on June 22, 2022.

Also a series of significant diplomatic engagements between Ethiopia and India unfolded recently. H.E. Mr. Melaku Alebel, the distinguished Minister of Industry, graced India with his presence and actively participated in the 17th CII-Exim Bank Conclave on India-Africa Growth Partnership on July 19, 2022. Furthermore, H.E. Dr. Abraham Belay, another esteemed Ethiopian official, visited India, where he engaged in a pivotal meeting with H.E. Rajnath Singh, India’s Minister of Defence, on October 17, 2022. In addition to these high-level encounters, Ethiopia’s State Minister for Labour and Skills, State Minister for Innovation and Technology, and Minister of Water and Irrigation also embarked on visits to India during 2022.

These visits underscored the growing diplomatic ties and mutual interests in fostering cooperation across various sectors between the two nations.

How critical is the role of the media in promoting relations between the two countries?

The role of the media in promoting relations between Ethiopia and India, as in any international relationship, is indeed critical. Media serves as a powerful tool for shaping perceptions, disseminating information, fostering understanding, and building connections between countries. Here’s how the media plays a vital role in promoting relations between the two countries:

  • Information Exchange: Media serves as a bridge for exchanging information between the two countries. News articles, features, and reports enable people in both nations to stay informed about each other’s developments, policies, and cultural events.
  • Cultural Exchange: Media platforms facilitate the sharing of cultural content, such as movies, music, art exhibitions, and documentaries. This exposure helps people in both countries gain insights into each other’s cultural heritage, fostering mutual respect and appreciation.
  • Business and Trade Promotion: Economic news and business reports can inform both countries about investment opportunities, trade partnerships, and market trends. This information can facilitate trade relations and encourage collaboration in various sectors.
  • Diplomacy and Public Relations: Media acts as a bridge between governments and citizens. Positive coverage of diplomatic initiatives, visits of leaders, and cooperative agreements can enhance public perception and support for bilateral relations.
  • Tourism Promotion: Media coverage of tourist destinations, cultural attractions, and unique experiences in both countries can boost tourism. This can create opportunities for people to explore each other’s countries and cultures firsthand.

In general, the media acts as a catalyst for promoting relations between Ethiopia and India by disseminating information, fostering cultural exchange, shaping perceptions, and facilitating dialogue. A responsible and balanced media approach can contribute to building stronger ties, deeper understanding, and more meaningful cooperation between the two nations.

Please shed some light on the cultural exchanges between the two countries?

The cultural relation during that time was also very good. A sizable Indian community consisting of teachers, merchants and artisans, settled down in Ethiopia. One typical example would be the Gandhi Memorial hospital for gynecology and obstetrics set up by the Indian Community was presented to us on the 25th anniversary of the then King Haile Sellassie’s I coronation on December 5th 1963. The king in return dedicated the hospital to the memory of the greatness of Mahatma Gandhi, who is marveled at for his dedication and sacrifice the world over. This shows the strong people to people bondage between the two countries. The numbers of the Indian community fell very significantly during the Derg regime. Presently, the Indians in Ethiopia are over 10,000, the majority being the new investors and their employees, and professors in different Ethiopian Universities.

Regarding connectivity, on the basis of the Civil Aviation Agreement, Ethiopian Airlines operates 36-flights-a-week from Addis Ababa Bole International Airport to 4 Indian cities (New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai).

The historical ties between Ethiopia and India serve as a testament to the enduring connections that transcend time and geographical boundaries. These ties have laid the groundwork for the modern diplomatic relations that continue to thrive and evolve, with both countries working together to build a better future based on shared values and mutual cooperation.