Ethiopia’s Singular Role in Uniting Africa

Ethiopia helped midwife the Organization of African Unity when it was born on May 25, 1963, and has ever since helped shepherd the organization as it transformed into the African Union and took on issues such as economic integration and peace and security.

Before delving into the relationships between AU and Ethiopia, it is worth highlighting preliminary issues of both the African Union and Ethiopia. The AU is a continental organization consisting of 54 nations in Africa with the exception of Morocco (which has a pending membership application to rejoin after it left over the dispute about Western Sahara.) The new AU was established in 2001 in Addis Abeba and launched in 2002 in South Africa, with the aim of replacing the OAU.

The AU has various structures and organs tasked with wide range of activities. A significant number of OAU structures were carried forward into the new entity. Similarly, many of the OAU’s core commitments, decisions and strategy frameworks continue to frame AU policies. However, while the footprint of the OAU is still strong, the AU Constitutive Act and protocols established a significant number of new structures, both at the level of major organs and through a range of new technical and subsidiary committees. Many of these have evolved since 2002 and some are still under development.

Ethiopia was one of the founding members United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement, and the Organization of African Unity (now AU). In addition to being the headquarters of the AU, Addis Abeba is also the home of the Pan African Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the United Nation Economic Commission for Africa, the African Aviation HQ, African Standby Force and many other global NGOs focused on Africa.

It has made major contributions before and after the advent of OAU/AU. Ethiopia was a beacon of hope millions for Africans and people of African descent around the world. It sparked the Ethiopianism movement which was the front runner of Pan Africanism which in turn resulted in African independence. (MamoMuchie:2015:1)

Ethiopia’s leading role in Africa became pronounced after it’s victory of Italy in the Battle of Adowa in 1896. In doing so, Emperor Menelik II guaranteed Ethiopian independence and united the disparate country. Since then Ethiopia has derived its prestige with its uniquely successful military resistance during the late 19thcentury Scramble for Africa, as it became the only African country that successfully defeated a European colonial power and retained its sovereignty. Subsequently, many African nations adopted the colours of Ethiopia’s flag when they gained independence.

It is also notable that Ethiopia and Liberia were the two free African countries that brought a case against South Africa’s UN-approved protectorate over Southwest Africa (Namibia.)

Furthermore, Ethiopia’s unreserved efforts were also explicitly shown in various anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggles in Africa, including military training, material and diplomatic support to liberation movements, including for South Africa, going as far as inviting Nelson Mandela to Addis Abeba for military training.

The other remarkable history in relation to Ethiopia’s foreign affairs was the fact that Ethiopia is the only African country that participated in two UN-led wars. The Emperor had unflinching support to the United Nations. Emperor Haile Selassie sent troops named “battalion/Kagnew Shaleqa” in the Korean War in the 1950s and the Congo crisis in 1960s.

On top of that, Ethiopia also granted scholarships to 200 African students in 1958 at Haile Selassie I University (now Addis Ababa University). Since then Ethiopia was taken as not only symbol of freedom but also center of excellence. By similar vein, OAU/AU Ethiopia relationships are vividly expressed in foreign policy document of Ethiopia i.e.the Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy and Strategy (FANSPS). It stipulates:
“Ever since their achievement of independence, the relations that other African countries have had with Ethiopia could be described as very healthy. As a founding member of the Organization of African Unity, Ethiopia has struggled faithfully and prominently for the realization of the objectives of the organization. It has done its level best overtly and covertly to assist those countries under colonialism to gain their independence. It is worth mentioning that the policy and practice pursued by past Ethiopian governments in this regard must be seen in a positive light because their polices enabled our country to discharge its African responsibilities and to gain the respect of our African brothers and sisters.”

Ethiopia, through its foreign policy and the relentless diplomatic works of the then Ministry of Foreign Affairs Minister Ketema Yifru backed by Emperor Haile Selassie, played a vital role in the formation of the first continental organization – OAU. Finally, in 1963, the OAU was officially founded with its headquarters in Addis Abeba. The Emperor mediated different conflicts in Africa and was seen as “father of Africa,” becoming an icon of the continent.
When in 2014, West Africa was terrorized by the Ebola Virus, Ethiopia deployed 200 volunteer health professionals to West Africa and also donated 500,000 dollars to Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Ethiopia has also taken millions of refugees from neighboring countries.

Ethiopia has also worked for the economic integration of Africa, resulting in the founding of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). Its permanent secretariat was established in Addis Abeba.

Ethiopia has supported regional economic communities (RECs) while awaiting actual integration. To these end, it has signed power interconnection agreements with neighbors Djibouti, Sudan and Kenya. Pursuant to the agreement, the regional intergovernmental body also called Eastern Africa Power Pool is also set up with a mission of pooling of electrical energy resources in a coordinated and optimized manner to provide electricity to seven African countries.

In addition, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development(IGAD) which was primarily established to fight drought, has branched out to tackle a plethora of issues dealing with Economic integration and cooperation.

Moreover, Ethiopia was the founding member of Common Market for Eastern and Southern African States (COMESA) The Ethiopian economy has changed significantly over the past years. The traditionally dominant agricultural sector is increasingly losing ground to a rapidly growing services sector.
Ethiopia has successfully participated in ten peacekeeping missions at continental and global level. Places where Ethiopia’s peacekeepers have served include Korea, Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Liberia, Darfur, Abiey, Sudan, Somalia and South Sudan. Ethiopia has also been a staunchest supporter of diplomatic negotiations and participated in peaceful dealings of different countries political problems.

The relationship between African Union and Ethiopia are important. Ethiopia still remains a beacon of hope and symbol of independence and triumph in the historical milestones of the continent.

Yohannes Eyenew Ayalew is a lecturer of law at the School of Law, Samara University. He can be reached at

Published on Jan 17,2017 [ Vol 17 ,No 872]



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