By Girma Feyissa
In the long history of people to people relations between Ethiopia and Germany, the celebrated Austrian-born film actor, Karlheinz Böhm, famous for his German films, comes to the fore. He established Menschen für Menschen, one of the first NGO’s to be engaged, among other things, in helping the poor to improve their lives in Ethiopia.
The NGO mainly focused on rural development projects, including the provision of humanitarian services, like training on healthcare, mother-child care and so forth. Mr Böhm himself was married to an Ethiopian lady, W/o Almaz, who he trained to manage some of the branch offices of the organisation and its subsidiaries.
Menschen für Menschen (People for People) is noted well for its rural development approaches, covering areas where it could help more than any government has done before out in the field.
The German Chancellor’s visit to three African countries last week came against the back drop of this long established relationship. Her visit, which was planned to focus on migration issues, took place just two days after the Ethiopian government declared a six month state of emergency. That timing was taken by many as a precautionary measure to keep away the massive protesters from the streets of the capital.
There is nothing much more telling than the need of the state of emergency itself at this point in time. The dwellers of the capital were aloof, not only because they were terrified, but also because the mainstream media is busy painting rosy pictures, making the best out of the disconnected mobile data and jammed foreign radio transmissions.
Assuming that facts could be hidden from the eyes and ears of the world in general, and the German Embassy to Ethiopia in particular, is not only a miscalculation of political realities, but also a self-exposure to even more distrust.
But the German leader knew better. She gave an audience to some of the leaders of the opposition parties in Ethiopia and heard facts from the horse’s mouth, as they would say. According to some political reporters, her face was frim and not smiling even at the time she was giving a joint press release with the Ethiopian Prime Minister.
That body language tells a lot by itself. In any case, the 27 million euro edifice built with German funding to serve as the African Peace and Security Council in the premises of the African Union Commission, inaugurated by the chancellor, is perhaps a significant monumental donation all freedom loving Africans owe much to. That, of course, is provided they use it within the spirit of the international human rights conventions.
The other contribution of Germany in Ethiopia is “Voice of Germany” and its significant role in our lives. Teachers and elite civil servants working in the rural areas have been beneficiaries from both its entertainment programmes and educational services. It has been a real eye opener for many of us.
From the times of Getachew Desta and his popular “Listeners Choice” programme to the signature tune some of us still remember today, as well as the present-day radio journalists, like Negash Mohammed, and the professional correspondents serving the station, the influence of the service cannot be easily scrapped from our memories. A young lady who gives us a lot information on sports, Haimanot, with her ability to hit the nail on its head in identifying what we miss most needs also to be mentioned.
Like I said earlier about the Ethio-German relations, particularly at this moment in time when our youngsters are risking their lives in efforts to flee their country in search of better pastures, could perhaps be much better and stronger.
Angela Merkel and Hailemariam Desalegn’s press conference, body language apart, was straight forward. She made it unequivocally clear, when she hit the right chord by allowing neutral members of the UN to play the fact-finding role for the lives lost during the public protests over the past few months.
The sooner the better, if the adverse impacts the country is currently suffering from in socio-economic and cultural aspects are to be avoided, we must see concerted efforts being made to address the problem of migration in collaboration with African and European governments. Sustainable development approaches are required in developing countries to stem the flow of migrants to developed countries.
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