State Visit - Between Heaven and Earth Photographic Exhibitions Launch

State Visit - Between Heaven and Earth Photographic Exhibitions Launch

Greg Dorey

YE Ato Ahmed Zekaria, Acting Director of the AAU Institute for Ethiopian Studies; my friend and colleague Tom Miscioscia, Country Director, British Council; Distinguished Guests and members of the Media,

May I thank the Addis Ababa University Institute of Ethiopian studies for very kindly hosting this event. I am delighted to be here to help launch these joint photographic exhibitions – firstly commemorating the 50th Anniversary of HM Queen Elizabeth II’s State Visit to Ethiopia and secondly featuring Nick Danziger’s wonderful ‘Between Heaven and Earth’ photographs. I shall mostly focus on the former today.

The long-standing relationship between Britain and Ethiopia also started with a Royal dimension, seven centuries ago back in 1400 when King Henry IV of England sent a message of greeting to the then-Ethiopian ruler Dawit III. There were many subsequent contacts, mostly very friendly - if I leave the imprisonment of our Consul by Emperor Tewedros on one side - right up to the regularisation of relations between the two countries when they entered a new phase with the opening of a formal British diplomatic mission in Addis Ababa on 1st March 1896.

Around this time, HM Emperor Menelik II treated the British and other foreign representatives in Ethiopia as he did his important nobles. And as was traditional, the Emperor allocated stretches of land for their tents, horses and personnel wherever the itinerant court stopped. As we know, the temporary stop in today’s Addis Ababa became permanent when eucalyptus was planted here, providing all the firewood and building material necessary. So the present by the Emperor of the compound where the Embassy is now located also became permanent. The current Residence was built in 1910 and must have been one of the first stone-built constructions in the city.

The relationship between both countries continued to strengthen from then on, with the exception of the period of the Derg regime much later. British businesses were very much involved in the early 20th Century Ethiopian economy. Shell was distributing petrol and petroleum products for many decades; a Briton established cotton plantations at Tendaho; and British firms were consulting on irrigation, hydro-electricity, construction and in other fields. Pittards were buying hides from here and De La Rue supplying currency over a hundred years ago. As is well-known, HM Emperor Haile Selassie was warmly received in exile in the UK in the 1930’s and we were close allies during the subsequent Second World War. The names of Wingate and Sandford are common currency here even today.

I am proud to say too that Britain has also made an important contribution to Ethiopian education over the years – particularly after Emperor Haile Selassie determined that the direction of travel would be in the English rather than the French language. The British Council has now been here for over 70 years. Many Ethiopians have studied in the UK, including two Prime Ministers (Lij Endalkachew Makonnen and Lij Mikael Imru) and a one-time Foreign Minister Dajazamach Zawde Gabre Silassie who all went to Oxford University. More recently many Ministers, including Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, studied at the Open University. Well-known artists - Menghistu Lemma ,Ethiopia’s first major dramatist; World Laureate Maitre Artist Afewerk Tekle; and a number of other cultural figures also studied at other British universities.

In 1954, HM the Emperor paid a State Visit to the UK, which included visits to Bath and Oxford, a debate in Parliament and lunch in No 10 Downing Street. At a banquet held in his honour by HM the Queen, she said: “We greet you as the sovereign of an ancient Christian state which has many links with our own church and…as the sovereign of the country which was the first to regain its freedom during the last war”. The Emperor responded “Your support and the loyalty of the British people…make today the preservation and the strengthening of that friendship and affection a sacred trust”.

On 1st February 1965, HM the Queen started her return 8-day state visit to Ethiopia, an extraordinarily long time for a State Visit these days. She was warmly welcomed by crowds of Ethiopians, as you will witness shortly when you see the photographic exhibition. I particularly like the video of the children’s parade at the welcoming ceremony in the Addis Ababa Stadium. And it’s wonderful to see the coverage of the visit in Addis Zemen newspapers from 50 years ago.

In Addis Ababa HM the Queen attended the opening ceremony of the current Municipality Building at the invitation of the then-Lord Mayor. HM also visited Addis Ababa University, General Wingate School, Princess Tsehai Hospital and the Tendaho Cotton plantations. HM then travelled to Bahir Dar and visited the Blue Nile Falls; Gondar; Asmara; and Axum. While in Axum, having visited the Obelisks, she inaugurated the new church of Axum Zion Mary. And at the end of her trip she returned a crown of Emperor Tewedros taken to Britain by the Napier expedition almost a century earlier – you’ll recall my mention of our poor Consul.

This extensive and well-received State Visit to Ethiopia was a key landmark in the history of our two countries and set the tone for the close relationship, based on mutual respect, that we have today. When I met HM before coming here as Ambassador, she told me how well she recalled the visit and what a privilege it had been to be in Ethiopia.

Today, the bilateral relationship is much more varied. Ethiopia is the UK’s biggest development partner in the world – and a large part of this assistance goes towards improving educational levels across the country. British investment in commercial enterprises is growing in leaps and bounds. We work closely on regional security issues, on climate change and on global sustainable development. And through Chevening, the UK Government’s flagship scholarship programme, we provide awards for young and talented Ethiopians who will be future leaders to pursue their graduate studies in the UK. HE Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen, Minister Arkebe Oqubay and Ato Lidetu Ayalew are among the successful candidates who have benefitted. Applications for scholarships in academic year 2016/2017 are open until 3rd November, so I encourage those of you who might be interested to visit the website before this deadline.

Today we also launch ‘Between Heaven and Earth’, a photographic project commissioned by the British Council from the world-famous British photographer Nick Danziger, documenting Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Christian communities. The project began in 2007 when Ethiopia was celebrating its Millennium. It has also exhibited in London, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Nablus, Bethelehem and Ethiopia.

To mark the British Council’s 70th anniversary in Ethiopia, Nick returned here to capture Orthodox Christian festivities in a new series of images. This exhibition, hosted in partnership with Addis Ababa University’s Institute of Ethiopian Studies, projects a selection of this final set of images on a loop – and is narrated by Nick himself as he recollects the story of his photographic journey. I’m sure you will agree with me that it is breath-taking work. This exhibition opens to the public for six months starting today. I hope and expect that you will enjoy it!

Published 16 October 2015