Capital, Ethiopia
Oct 31 2013

Thursday, 31 October 2013 11:33

Ethiopia and Portugal have had an old history of friendship. Their
history, which dates back to the late 15th century, has now flourished
into a successful diplomatic relationship. Although Portugal only
re-opened its Embassy in Ethiopia as recently as 2002, the Embassy has
been involved in several events aimed at bringing the two countries
together. Capital's Eskedar Kifle sat down with the Portugese
Ambassador to Ethiopia, Antonio Luiz Cotrim, to discuss the history,
diplomatic and cultural ties between the two countries.

Capital: Tell us about the historical ties between the two countries.

Antonio Luiz Cotrim: According to documents, the first Portuguese
presence in Ethiopia was through Pedro da Covilhã, who came to Ethiopia
in 1494, via Cairo, in the last days of Eskender's reign and then
died here later on. So our relationship started a long time ago.

Capital: When did formal diplomatic ties between Ethiopia and
Portugal begin?

Cotrim: Like I mentioned before, our relationship goes back a long
time. I can inform you that next year, we will begin the commemoration
of the 500th Anniversary of Ethio-Portuguese relations. In 2014,
500 years will have passed since the arrival of the first Ethiopian
diplomatic legation to Portugal. It also means, in global terms,
the first Northeastern Africa diplomatic mission to Europe.

The historical "Mission", was lead by Matthews, an Armenian born in
Egypt, and escorted by a young aristocrat related to the king, and the
legation was given an audience, by the Portuguese king D. Manuel I,
in Lisbon, on the 4th of March 1514.

This "Commemorative Cycle" - the arrival of the Ethiopian diplomatic
mission to Portugal in 1514, and the arrival to Ethiopia of the
Portuguese embassy in 1520 - aims at having an effective, positive and
lasting impact, and scoping out mutual understanding and knowledge,
including nowadays.

Within this context, we consider this "Commemoration" as a crucial
"tool" not only to remind and to make possible the "revival" of our
common old Historical Past, but also and very importantly to deepen
and strengthen our contemporary days!

We will be doing this Commemoration together through a number of
events that will last until 2020. There will be a lot of cultural
events, conferences, exhibitions, and so on.

Going back to your question, I would like to emphasize that, during
the Emperor Haile Selassie's era, in the sixties, when Ethiopia
was on its way to becoming the headquarters of the Organization for
African Unity (OAU), the Emperor said that it was not possible to have
relations with Portugal because we were a colonialist country. So,
we were requested to leave Addis. Our Embassy at that time was where
the Israeli embassy compound is now.

It was only in 2002 that Portugal reopened its embassy in Addis Ababa
and since then we have had a very good relationship.

Capital: 2002 is very recent. Why did it take that long to reopen
the embassy?

Cotrim: Well, there were several reasons and challenges. One of them
was that we had to deal with what happened during the colonial period,
go through the African independence era etc, etc. All that took a bit
of time, as you can imagine. Only, on the 25th of April 1974, after
the so called "Carnation's Revolution" Portugal became a democracy
and the Portuguese colonies became independent, within a long process
that ended in 1999.

Capital: How did relations evolved since then?

Cotrim: We have signed several agreements with Ethiopia, namely the
Agreement on Education, Science, Higher Education, Culture, Youth,
Sports, Tourism and Media Cooperation and, more recently, last May,
during the 50th anniversary of UA/OUA, we also signed a Memorandum of
Understanding (MoU) with the Ethiopian government on various issues,
including political ones. Despite the economic crisis in Portugal,
we are doing our best to bring the two countries closer. We have some
projects on the table, and we'll see how it will work.

Capital: What about in a more cultural way? How are relations in
that regard?

Cotrim: On the cultural field, I would like to tell you that we have
been able to edit a book called "History of Ethiopia", co-sponsored
by Spain, written in Portuguese by a Jesuit priest in the 17th Century.

It was a "critical" translation, critical in a sense that everything
needed to be explained in footnotes, because it was written such a
long time ago. The book is outstanding; it reveals a lot about old
Ethiopian History - at that time, your King has allowed the priest to
get access to the old archives of the Palace, with documents written in
"Geez". At the same time, the priest describes all daily life at that
time, in the XVII century, because he escorts your king on his trips
in Ethiopia. It's really a fabulous book, written in Portuguese and
now translated, 2 years ago, to English. If it were to be made into
a movie someday, it would be an amazing one.

We have also co-sponsored several cultural events such as film
festivals and concerts.

We also did an exhibition, at the National Museum in March, under the
title 'Bridges'. I decided to give the exhibition the title "Bridges"
because it is a wonderful word that conveys the sense of linking
people, countries, continents, cultures, religions and so on. At the
exhibition, we had the chance to show a private collection and we also
managed to mobilize young Ethiopian artists who participated in the
event, not only helping to set up the exhibition, all the pieces but
also to be guides for school students. The exhibition featured art
collections from around the world including paintings, photographs,
antique furniture and other pieces. And I would like also to emphasize
that we managed to get sponsoring from the private sector, namely
from Mr. Mohamed Geresu ("Mag International /Ling Long, plc"), who
paid for the internal/external repairing of the former Crown Prince
Palace, nowadays your National Museum., This experience was fantastic
and should be just the beginning.

Capital: What kind of reactions did you get after organizing a cultural
event like "Bridges"?

Cotrim: At the beginning, we saw that people were surprised and then
they became delighted. Most people cannot travel around the world
to see those kinds of works of art, so it was a unique opportunity
for people to "experience" the world of culture, right in their own
country. The Ethiopian people deserve to see these authentic pieces
and much, much more.

Capital: What are your thoughts on the development of Ethiopia,
and the way forward?

Cotrim: You know I am actually "African" - I was born in Mozambique.

So when I came here, it was like coming back to a familiar place.

Nothing felt strange.

All of us know and realize that your economy is booming and your
society is growing and developing a lot, although at the same time
a lot of contrasting things can be observed.

If you ask me personally though, I would like to see a more open
society, to see in concrete terms that Addis Ababa is really the
capital of Africa. When I went to Nairobi, Kenya, for example, I was
amazed to see such an open society. I was able to see for example,
art from all over Africa including Ethiopia, in Nairobi. I do not
see that here, and you are the Brussels of Africa - more than one
hundred Embassies, the Headquarters of the AU, plus other International
Organizations, it means thousands of diplomats and high ranking people,
experts, from all around the world. These kinds of things matter as
well as others, but I do believe that it will be changing, opening
your society more.

Capital: The Ethiopian government is paying a lot of attention to
attracting foreign investment to the country. What is your country's
plan regarding that? Are there any investments coming from Portugal
in the future?

Cotrim: There have not been any kind of investments made so far, till
today, but we certainly do have plans to change all that. One thing
I would like to underline again is that the society needs to be more
open, more modernized. Ethiopia is still a very "socialist country"
in terms of mentality and in practice, with impacts on the economy.

Ethiopia is such an old and great country with massive potential. I
have traveled all around the world and I am telling you that your
people are fantastic, even the poor living on the streets - they are
so "civilized" and humble. Ethiopians for me are so kind, so educated
and so polite, but the country has not yet triggered off in order to
utilize/mobilize its potentiality.

Look at the tourism sector, for example. You have a lot of potential
in this area - your very ancient history, outstanding monuments,
beautiful landscapes, the fantastic People and your cuisine is also
unique. Ethiopia could have an amazing and developed tourism sector,
but there are still some challenges that have to be overcome. I
remember when I first went to Lake Tana. It's such a beautiful place,
but then I noticed a skyscraper building on the edge of the lake
which was so ugly and out of place. Such things should not happen
at all...!!!

Capital: Like you said, there is huge potential regarding the tourism
sector. What are some of the experiences your country can share with
ours regarding the sector's growth?

Cotrim: Do you know how big the population of Portugal is? Ten
million. Do you know how many tourists visit us each year? 16 million
and above! As you can see, the number of tourists coming to visit us
annually is larger than the population and Portugal is such a small
country. You know how people love to travel when they get the chance
to do so, and there are many that make plans to do just that. They
usually do not say 'I will save this amount of money to buy this and
that', but they actually do save to be able to travel.

I remember going to Gondar once. I arrived at the hotel, looked around
and the weather outside was really nice; therefore, I explained my
preference and that of my family to have drinks outside, but the Hotel
personnel said that it was impossible for me to do that, even after
I told them that we would pay for the privilege, but still they told
me no. This kind of way of doing business does not work.

When you are told that you can charge whatever you want for something
to be done, then it should be done. The business of the tourism sector
is to cater to the needs of tourists. Most of the time, when people are
on holidays, they do not usually worry about how much things cost; they
are here to spend. But, of course, they want their needs to be met.

Capital: On a lighter note, you have traveled all over the world and
you have been the Portuguese Ambassador to Ethiopia for two years now.

What would you say is the best thing about this country?

Cotrim: For me personally, the People are the best thing about
this country. They are very nice and extremely polite. When I go to
other places for holidays, I really miss the people here. But there
are still challenges facing the country and many things need to be
improved. More investment in the education sector is required and it
should be done as soon as possible.

http://www.capitalethiopia.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3690: 2013-10-31-12-05-24&catid=37:interview&Itemid=61

From: A. Papazian