His Excellency Dr. Mulatu Teshome, the President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, was born on 21 January 1949 EC in the then Arjo Province of Wollega, Oromia State. This great figure has passed through many challenges to reach where he is at this point in time. He obtained his first degree from Beijing University in Political Economy and Philosophy. He also earned his master’s degree from the same university in International Law. The President then moved to the USA and earned master’s of art in Law and Diplomacy (MALD) from Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. In due course, he obtained his Ph.D. from Chinese Peking University in International Law. Above and beyond, the President has worked as Ethiopian Ambassador in different countries.
After his return to Ethiopia, he worked in the then Ministry of Economic Development and Cooperation in charge of international economic cooperation for bilateral affairs. Furthermore, he served in the Ministries of Agriculture and Foreign Affairs. He also served as Speaker of the House of Federation. While he was serving as an Ethiopian Ambassador to Turkey the Ethiopian joint session of the House of Federation and the House of Peoples’ Representatives selected Ambassador Mulatu Teshome (Ph.D.) as the President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia in 2005 EC. Hereunder follows the translation of his exclusive interview with the Daily Addis Zemen. Excerpts:
What are some of your childhood memories?
As chance would have it, I was born on St. Mary’s Day which was popularly celebrated in my birthplace as Asterio Mariam in different way. When the day comes particularly after I began living on my own, something that I cannot easily put in plain words comes in and out of my mind. As of the time I played a part in celebrating my birthday in a modern way, my past memories were in the habit of coming to my mind. I do have indelible memory of early time schooling. I began school in 1955 EC at Betiwoded Mekonnen Demissew Primary and Secondary School. As the school was far away from our residential house, we used to take our lunch with us. Our parents’ closest friends nearby the school prepare lunch for us every so often. As a child I took part in a range of sports activities such as horse-riding, running and the rest. I regret nothing in life as I had played a part in most childhood games.
Previously most parents used to engage their children in agricultural activities rather than sending them to school. Have you ever been in such influence?
In fact, my parents were farmers. But their stand on education was entirely beyond anybody’s understanding. Even, for their time they were constantly worrying for not being well-educated, they were well aware of education merit. Their attention was completely sending us to school in addition to making our bread buttered well. For this reason, the bread of all my siblings has been buttered well. I have got three sisters and six brothers. If my parents had not sent us to school our dream would not have become a reality. When I was fourteen years old, I was transferred to Nekempte Secondary School following my unwavering effort and the pressure of my parents. In spite of the fact that I missed my parents, I fully concentrated on my studies. More to the point, I was able to learn how to stand on my feet amid challenges whatever the cost may be.
By the same token, when we were to take the Ethiopian School Leaving Certificate Examination (ESLCE), a violent uprising exploded across the country. The circumstance poured cold water on our efforts. All things considered, we returned home. I did not expect we would sit for the exam in consequence of the uprising. My mind was fully filled with extreme anxiety. Luckily, after a couple of days, we were informed through the radio to sit for the exam. I couldn’t believe my ears. Most of my classmates did not get the information as there were merely finger-counted radios in our contiguous. Thus, we headed straight to Nekempte informing the news to our friends. We sat for the exam.
Before you joined university, did you take part in the campaign called ‘Development Through Cooperation Campaign?’
Right you are! After we had taken the ESLCE, we joined the movement called ‘Development Through Cooperation Campaign’. I was assigned in the eastern part of Wollega at a small district called ‘Sibu Sire.’ As most of us did not have a wee-drop of idea about the campaign, we were able to return home in next to no time. Most of us had joined the camping without understanding the intended target. At that point in time, the situation in every corner of the country was falling from the frying pan into the fire. Everybody was suspicious about everything. Everyone from nowhere was labelled as anti-people element. In a few words, the whole lot was entirely easier said than done.
As most parents were not interested to be in bad terms with the government, they urged us to rejoin the campaign at any price. When we came back, we were assigned in ‘Sasiga Galo’ as a penalty. It was difficult to elucidate the situation in words of one syllable. At some point, our leader said, “those of you who have taken the ESLCE and completed first or so year university courses can get registered for scholarship.” Some of us get registered hesitantly. We took the exam in Addis Ababa and returned to our campaign site in a little while. After a short time, I gave up thinking about the exam losing my hope to win the scholarship.
Would you please share our readers your unforgettable memory, if any?
To begin with, once upon a time, it was raining cats and dogs. My friends and I were going to sub-station to organize and teach farmers. We were close to ten. We had almost a four hour walk. As it happened, I overheard somebody calling me some distance away. A certain boy was calling my name non-stop. We thought a bandit had come. He was dog tired. Finally, we were able to identify him when he came closer. He was a poor boy who made a living by helping us in various activities in the campaign centre. He said, “Gash Mulatu your name is called on the radio. And all of you ordered to come back without delay.” The instant we reached there, Ato Fetene, who was responsible for the campaign gave me a hug and kissed me. He told me that I won the scholarship to study abroad. In this way, I headed to China. Regrettably, I was not able to find the poor boy and Ato Fetene until now. The kindness of these people has made me reach where I am today. I will never fail to remember their kindness. I would be very glad, if I could meet them in person.
What did you study in China?
I studied in Beijing University from 1969 EC to 1974 EC and earned a BA degree in Political Economy and Philosophy. I returned home without delay.
After you returned to Ethiopia, did you get engaged in a job?
In the past regime, for any person who earned first degree in and out of the country was compulsory to serve in Ethiopia for two years. This being the case, I worked in Deber Zeit Agricultural College and Veterinary Institute for two years as an assistant lecturer. Even though my intention was to go abroad for further education, I was made to stay there on the pretext of scarcity of lecturer who would replace me. As chance would have it, the Education Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of the time convinced them that I had to go and thus they changed their mind. Then, I went to China and earned master’s degree in International Law. For further education, I moved to the USA and obtained another master’s degree in International Relations from Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. While there, I was able to serve as an assistant researcher and lecturer. In due course, I obtained my Ph.D. from the Chinese Beijing University in International Law and came back to my country.
How and when did you come back to Ethiopia? Was it the call of the government? What did you encounter then?
Well, I decided by myself to return to my country in 1984 EC. What is more, it was a long time since I saw my parents for real. Subsequent to the downfall of the Derg, everybody who used to live abroad felt like visiting their parents following the tranquillity of the country. People who were considered as Ethiopian enemies were able to return to their country. In this fashion, I was able to return to Ethiopia in a little while. Above and beyond, as long as I am an Ethiopian, I could not get mental contentment despite I made a great deal of money. At that specific juncture, the right to live, work and move freely was guaranteed.
The instant I returned to Ethiopia, I visited my relatives living in the countryside. When I found my friends who were working in Ethiopian embassies based in China and America, they urged me to apply for a job. In view of that, I applied for a job in the Central Planning after a short time. Nobody was sure where I would be assigned. As it happened, I was assigned in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I was made to work as a counsellor in the Department of Policy and Planning. A meeting was held every week. At that point in time, journalist Maregu Bezabih and I were minute takers. This helped me acquaint myself with the organization and make a number of friends. I have the courage to say, the experience on the ground has made me harvest the fruit of success within the shortest time possible.
Did you get engaged in diplomacy work then?
Of course, I was then appointed as Ethiopian Ambassador to Japan at a young age. There were intractable challenges in the position in view of the fact that it was not a place where a little mistake is just a mistake. Above and beyond, I was able to serve as a non-resident Ambassador to Australia, Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia. After two years and a half, I was transferred to China.
When you went to China as a diplomat you may not encounter a challenge for the reason that you were familiar with the country. Is that sound?
Certainly! If truth be told, most people considered that I would spend the rest of my life in China for I was accustomed to its people, language and culture. But it did not happen. After I served a year and a half, I was appointed as Vice Minister at the then Ministry of Economic Development and Cooperation. This was the time I turned away for quite some time from hot diplomacy work.
How long and in which sector did you serve in the ministry?
I served for six solid years in charge of International Economic Cooperation for Bilateral Affairs. What is more, I worked in the Ministry of Agriculture as deputy minister for a year and half. Then I served as Speaker of the House of Federation for three years. All in all, I have served in Ethiopia for ten years in different positions.
Did you then turn out to be Ethiopian Ambassador to Turkey?
Of course! I worked as Ethiopian Ambassador to Turkey for eight years. I dare to say, I have played a part in opening a new chapter to the relationship between Ethiopia and Turkey that enjoys the economic ties in areas of trade, investment and others. The first embassy was opened there during my appointment as Ethiopian Ambassador to Turkey. Before that, Ethiopia had no relations with Turkey. My stay was wonderful and successful.
How do you remember the time you get appointed as the president of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia while you were in Turkey?
I did not have the faintest idea about the presidential appointment as everything was held in secret. At the time I was in Turkey. The parliament elected president three or so days ahead of the final announcement day. I came to Addis Ababa on Saturday night. After two days, on Monday, the joint session of the House of Federation and the House of Peoples’ Representatives elected me as the President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.
Being a president was not among your childhood wishes. Your dream was to be a war general. Is it true?
That is right ! When I was a child, my dream was to be a war general. At that point in time, there was my cousin who grew up with me under the same roof. He is in Norway now. I was in the habit of beating him unless he called me ‘General Officer.” To my surprise, when I was a child, I was passionate about army general officer uniforms.
Did you pass through many ups and downs to reach where you are at this moment in time?
Challenges are common in life. To me, challenges have not ever dragged me back from my move. In a few words, I have never surrendered. Rather, I overcome challenges without much effort with patience and skill. I don’t remember a moment where I lost my hope to date. This being the case, there is nothing I regret for in life.
What about the moment which left an extraordinary pleasure in your life?
As I have mentioned so far, the happiest moment in my life was the coincidence of that poor boy. At that point, the situation we came across was heart-rending and unpromising for the reason that all our hope was shuttered. At that moment, there was nothing which exposed us to drugs and other addictions. Regretfully, most of the campaigners were constantly recruited for warfare. We were not even informed that we would start classes after the campaign. To tell the truth, getting the chance of learning being amid that distressing situation was great. For me, this is the happiest moment in my life. If I had not gotten that chance, I would not have reached where I am now.
What is your stay in presidential authority to this point like? How are you carrying out your duties and responsibilities?
The way how I carry out my duties and responsibilities are almost embraced in the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. It is clearly stipulated. For this reason, discharging my responsibilities is undemanding. As a president, you cannot think about your private life except your country and its people. When something which has the capacity of harming your country occurs, you cannot sleep a wink. You turned out to be very busy thinking a possible way out. We devised solutions to problems along the lines of the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. I have never refrained from doing what is expected of me.
How many children do you have? What is your family and social life like?
I have a very happy family. We have got a son. I always give him a piece of advice to focus on his attention exclusive of taking my presidency into account like any Ethiopian family child. I also give him advice to struggle to make his future bread buttered and lead a good life. He is a first year university student at the moment. He is always on the right track. As a president you cannot go anywhere as you wish due to protocol. My social life is fully restricted after I turned out to be a president. Sometimes, I give a call to my relatives. For me, be it a member of my family or any other Ethiopian is one and the same. As a matter of fact, my siblings understand me very well as they know my stance. None of them have ever troubled me to get special privilege through me.
What do you do during your leisure time?
Reading is my leisure pursuit. To the best of my knowledge, interrupting reading is bordering on breathing one’s last. I go through world’s economic and political information by and large. I feel my pleasure in reading a range of books revolving around world politics and recent information. I also read good books in the form of review. Scores of books are bought for me. There are also magazines that I read. In spite of the fact that I cannot go on my own to library to hunt for a book that I could do with, I read at least interesting ones. What is more, I play a part in various sports activities. I play tennis on Sundays and Saturdays. I always go swimming. I also take a walk.
How do you describe yourself, hot-tempered or sympathetic?
I do not want others to know when I fly into a rage. Furthermore, there is no any problem which can be solved through annoyance. Whenever something irritating happens, I prefer to cool myself down as it is possible to do with no trouble. I love to pass the moment through patience. When I was a child, once I made up my mind to get or do something, I made a great effort. I did not give up hope. I fight to the last minute.
Needless to say, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is the hope of all Ethiopians. What is your feeling to the Grand dam?
I do believe the general public seems to have clearly understood the capacity the Renaissance Dam will create. Completing the Grand Renaissance Dam assures Ethiopian Renaissance. For this reason, Ethiopians living here and abroad have been throwing in their share for the realization of the project. This unquestionably demonstrates how much we can transform our country through collaboration. The project also signals the county’s transformation and growth pole would be. Our people’s common understanding and wishes are grounded on the Great Renaissance Dam.
As a diplomat you have been exposed to many languages. How many languages do you speak?
I speak fluently Oromigna, Amharic, English and Chinese. I also do speak French and Japanese despite I am forgetting them.
What do you think your life goal after the presidency will be like as the next steps are retirement and old age time?
As goals are moving targets, it is difficult to set plans. After the presidency, it is possible to have a break till the natural death visits me. I have not ever thought like that. I will think about the other thing later. I do believe I leave from my presidential position at a young age. I do not feel old even though my age would go up. Furthermore, I can actively work. As long as it is possible to work for your country being wherever, numerous work has been awaiting for me. I have an ambition to fight till the last. I do not feel like taking a rest.
Before we wind up this interesting conversation, is there anything you would like to convey to the general public?
The economic growth being registered in our country should further be continued. Most importantly, the general public should work hand in glove to build democratic system, accelerate development and ensure peace. What is more, good governance occurs when we treat everybody equally in line with the law. To the best of my knowledge, a self-centred administration and work harms the country. As a final point I would like to say, we should give priority to our country’s interest than personal gains at any price.
Thank you very much President Dr. Mulatu!
WRITTEN BY ADDISALEM MULAT