BY GIRMACHEW GASHAW
Today’s guest of The Ethiopian is Iranian Ambassador to Ethiopia and Permanent Representative to the African Union –Samad Ali Lakizadeh. In the brief stay that we made with the Ambassador, he has touched up on the progressive level of bilateral cooperation between Ethiopia and Iran in a range of fields. Have a nice read!
Would you tell us about the historic bilateral relations between Ethiopia and Iran?
In fact, we established our new modern diplomatic relations since 1950, almost 73 years ago. However, from historical point of view, our bilateral relation enjoys a long standing relation which goes back to more than 2500 years ago from the very ancient time during the Persian and Axumite empires.
We are very proud in that. Our cultural, trade and commerce ties are very old and ancient and we kept in touch from the ancient times during modern contemporary relation during seven decades.
We manage to sign various agreements and memorandum of understanding in different fields to boost our bilateral relations, to use the capacities and opportunities which exist between the two sides. From ancient times, there was not only commerce and cultural cooperation but also we had even military cooperation as well as religious cooperation even before Islam.
In the Middle Ages, after Islam we also get Iranians much more familiar with Ethiopia in connection with Al-Negashi and Billal-ul Habeshi. In Iranian literature the word Habesha or Habeshi is repeatedly used and nowadays in every Iranian school, students learn about this great nation and its civilization because Iran and Ethiopia share too much and there are a lot of similarities or communalities between our two great nations. Both Iran and Ethiopia are among ancient civilization. In those days, Iran and Ethiopia are among those few civilized countries throughout the world.
We both have never been colonized and always been independent. Both Iran and Ethiopia are enjoying the colorful diversity in our society. Iran is also similar to Ethiopia as it composed of diverse ethnic groups, culture, religions and languages. We both are rich in diversity and located in strategic places, i.e. horn of Africa in case of Ethiopia and part of the Middle East in case of Iran.
There are a lot of communalities between Ethiopia and Iran. Our politicians or diplomats seven decades ago were wise enough to use the long standing bilateral relations between the two sides to establish new era of cooperation with in the modern diplomatic framework. Our first diplomatic contact was within the League of Nations during which Iran supported Ethiopia’s membership in the League of Nations.
After the Second World War we established our embassy here in Addis Ababa and are working nonstop more than all the seven decades. That is not the only field of cooperation but also we enjoyed a mutual support of each other in the international organization as well. For example we cooperate with the frame work of non-aligned movement in which we both are members within the frame work of South-South Cooperation as well as Group 77 within the international organizations.
We have a good cooperation and support each other’s candidacies and membership. One of the areas of cooperation, and where we have a common stance is the multilateralism issue in the international arena which is very important for both of us.
Ethiopia and Iran have signed more than 20 agreements. What are the agreements and how is their progress?
In the seven decades, we have signed more than 20 agreements in agriculture, culture, health, education and training, science and technology, industrial cooperation in many different fields. These agreements cover several fields which we (both sides) are interested to cooperating each other. I can say that the agreements and MOUs are not completely implemented unfortunately due to some reasons but as they are partly implemented from both sides we have reaped some fruits.
For more than a decade, the joint Economic Cooperation Commission had ceased functioning. We have a chance to organize to all this joint ministerial economic cooperation commission for six rounds but since decade it is stopped that is one of the reason which the level of trade volume between Iran and Ethiopia is not satisfactory at the moment.
My embassy or my government is trying to encourage the Ethiopian side to reestablish the joint ministerial economic commission which could help not only fully implement the agreement and the MOUs but also try to discover and find out the new era of cooperation which for sure would be interesting for both sides especially with the progress and achievement Iran has made in various new and sophisticated areas of science and technology.
How are Iranian businesses operating in Ethiopia? What is your reflection about the business environment here in Ethiopia?
The agreements and MOUs are used as legal bases of cooperation. Without this, there is no room or place for the cooperation. The legal basis already exists and the underground is also prepared. I can say that three or four decades after the Islamic revolution and regime change in Iran, we had a very tense and good cooperation in different fields, and many Iranian investors came to Ethiopia and invested in different areas such as agriculture and industry.
Iranian companies came and established their branches in Ethiopia. We engaged in building many power plants. Iranians were involved in manufacturing power plants, energy sector, many factories through involving in the agriculture, industry and energy as well as construction sectors.
These are areas which we have already invested in. We are familiar with it as we are involved in Ethiopia for several decades. But as I said before, at these stages we are not satisfied in the level of cooperation. One of the reasons could be many strict rules and regulations related to the business in Ethiopia.
And there is also bureaucracy in the Ethiopian business sector although there is a reform made by the Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed but still I believe despite all that effort which is valuable for boosting level of trade and commerce with Ethiopia but there are a lot of bureaucracy and restrictions. For example, one of the obstacles for the bilateral relations is lack of barter mechanism in Ethiopia. This is important mechanisms for the two independent countries suffering from restriction foreign intervention, political pressure, and economic sanctions.
Barter mechanism could be an important alternative to boost bilateral relations. Unfortunately barter mechanism is forbidden in Ethiopia due to the reason I don’t know. I am sure it could help.
The other reason could be the shortage of foreign currency and the country is suffering from the shortage of foreign currency. In this case the barter mechanism could help to redress the situation. Apart from that the absence of Ethiopian diplomatic representative in Iran is one of the main reasons because Iranian business operators traditionally and historically used to work mostly with Europeans. The Iranian businesses have no idea about the business in Ethiopia although our embassy also tries to advertise Ethiopian business opportunities to Iranian business community.
On the other hand, there are a number of opportunities. The distance between Iran and Ethiopia is not that far from Iranian South coast to Berbera or Djibouti Port takes only two days trip by ships. It reduces the cost of transportation for goods.
The other opportunity is, if we take the business to business relations with the other countries, western countries set certain preconditions or criteria to be fulfilled. However, the business relation between Ethiopia and Iran is free from political interest.
Recently Ethiopia decided to designate its ambassador from Qatar to cover Iran via Doha that could serve as a good move. We hope that we will witness the full reopening of Ethiopian embassy in Iran. For sure that could create much more atmosphere for business, commerce and economic cooperation between the two countries.
From Iranian side we are completely ready for the reestablishment of joint ministerial economic commission. This frame work will help a lot. The private sector always looks at the politicians and official levels.
Could you mention some areas of cooperation that could be bolstering the bilateral relations between Ethiopia and Iran?
The agreements signed between the two countries do not cover all the fields. There are many new fields or areas which are not yet discovered especially in the New and high-tech fields. Despite restrictions, pressure and sanctions Iran made a lots of progress and achievement in that regard such as Nano-technology, bio technology, agriculture sector, cyber science, spatial science as well as nuclear science.
Even in military science and equipment, Iran has made lots of progress and gained many achievement in all these new and sophisticated high tech areas in which we can cooperate further. Last year, we manage to sign MOU of cooperation between the space agencies of the two countries which is a new field or new area and Iranians have made many advancement in these fields. Even in chemical and medicine area, Iran was among a few countries which produce its own vaccine against COVID pandemic.
Iran is building new technologies rapidly especially the nuclear one. Are there any ways for the two countries to collaborate further? How these countries can collaborate in human resource development?
In fact, every type of cooperation between two countries requires some prerequisite. One of the important prerequisite for every type of cooperation is political will/ political decision or high level decision by authorities. We as Iran with such level of advanced technology are completely ready.
We express our willingness in political, trade and commerce and business levels to cooperate with every country in the world especially the friendly and independent countries such as Ethiopia with which we share a common story more than thousand years.
Political decision is already made by the Iranian authorities. Now, it is up to the Ethiopian authorities to use this readiness and opportunities for the benefit of their people and their country. Firstly, it depends on the will and decision of Ethiopian authorities. Secondly, the world order is shifting from unilateralism to multilateralism or from uni-polar to multi polar system. In this case every country has to diversify its foreign, trade and commerce relations to benefit more resources.
I encourage the Ethiopian authorities to use Iranian readiness and opportunity for further cooperation in every field. There is no limit in our side for cooperation with Ethiopia. We can cooperate easily despite the existing pressures and restrictions from outside. Ethiopia is a gateway for Iran to the African continent whereas Iran also could play a role of a gateway for Ethiopia’s good for the central Asia. So the bilateral cooperation is in the favor of both sides.
How do you explain Ethiopian and Iranian collaboration in culture?
That is also a good area of cooperation. At the moment, almost forty Ethiopian students have won scholarship opportunity and are studying in Iran. We have some MOU’s in culture and cooperation between the two countries. We already have cultural and scientific cooperation.
Both Iran and Ethiopia are rich in culture full of civilized background from both sides. There is a good opportunity for cultural cooperation as well. Education, science, technology and sport are some of the areas we can cooperate. Tourism and cultural exchange is also the other field of cooperation. We have an agreement in culture cooperation which is still valid. We try to organize some culture event and exhibition here in Ethiopia. Last year we had Iranian handicraft exhibition in Addis Ababa museum.
Before the outbreak of COVID, our cultural department together with its Ethiopian counterpart organized a huge workshop for the Ethiopian ladies in line with women empowerment. It was year-long workshops during which many Ethiopian ladies took part in the workshop and they learn how to make Iranian carpet which is famous in the world.
In our side, we are ready for cultural exchange. I have invited Ministry of Culture of Ethiopia and offered a free location in Iran museum to promote Ethiopian rich culture there. Through the culture people get familiar each other and getting familiar with each other among people creates a friendly atmosphere which finally could serve peace and security in the world because it results in mutual respect.
Mutual knowledge results in mutual respect. Mutual respect facilitates the ground for the peace and security which the whole world is in a real need of especially at this stage.
Tourism is also another field of cooperation in the cultural framework because it has two impacts. One is business and economy which creates job and improve business.
Secondly, get the people closer to each other and facilitate knowledge about culture, religion and customs of each other. Iran has more than 10 million outgoing tourists ever year. If Ethiopia could attract only one percent of this outgoing Iranian tourist it means 100,000 tourists per year from Iran to Ethiopia. It would create thousands of jobs and boost the tourism sector exporting Ethiopian handicrafts, coffee and other products. I send a draft document of a new cultural cooperation agreement between Iran and Ethiopia. Still I am waiting for response from the Ethiopian side.
As you know Ethiopia’s major economic activity relies on agricultural sector. How does Iran support Ethiopia’s endeavor to develop the agriculture sector?
First of all, we are a country which imports agricultural food items including meat. However, Ethiopia has no satisfactory role to export food item to Iran due to many reasons. Ethiopia did not promote its cultural opportunities or asset to Iranian business.
The other is, Iran is advanced in agricultural equipment. We export this equipment to Latin America to Southeast Asia. We are ready to offer not only our agricultural equipment but also our knowledge and technology to Ethiopia. Recently, Iran made lots of progress in the knowledge based companies. And Ethiopian delegation from Ministry of Innovation visited Iranian ICT parks and they are familiar with the achievement and endeavor of Iran in that regard. They are active in various fields and one of which is agriculture. In that case also we are ready for cooperation.
African countries especially Ethiopia is working strongly to develop the energy generation sector. How can Iran contribute for the development of energy especially in nuclear technology?
Iran is known as an oil and gas producer. We are also known not only in oil and gas but also in all types of energies such as geothermal, wind and the nuclear energy. We are working in nuclear energy for almost four decades even more before Islamic revolution. We started the establishment of our first nuclear power plant with the cooperation of German and France. But very soon after the Islamic revolution they withdrew the agreement. Then, we tried to stand in our feet.
Firstly, we started cooperation with Russia to finish completing nuclear power plant but now the whole world knows that how much progress we made in the nuclear energy. Our nuclear program is peaceful especially dedicated to the energy because nuclear science is a multipurpose science you can use it in agriculture, medicine and different type of industry and we are working on those issues.
We are now enriching 60% uranium with local capacity. Even if we can do more we can have the capacity to do more but we do not need. In this case also we can share our experiences in nuclear research field, in nuclear energy and we can also offer the education opportunities for the African countries.
Despite the minimum level of economic and technical cooperation, Iran and Ethiopia have very close cooperation with other African countries. We have cooperation with Senegal, Ghana, Tanzania and Kenya. In nuclear technology, we can support the African countries with our knowledge, experiences and especially in education.
If you want to add any more points please take a chance?
As the Iranian New Year is approaching, I want to say a few things about it. I mentioned earlier, there are lots of communalities between Ethiopia and Iran. One additional similarity between the two countries is, Iran like Ethiopia has its own calendar. Few countries in the world have their own calendar and New Year.
Ethiopia celebrate New Year on September 11, which is different from the rest of the world that celebrate New Year on January. Likewise, Iran also has its own calendar which is based on Solar Hijri calendar. We celebrate 21st of March as Iranian New Year.
We celebrate our new year here in Ethiopia on the coming Monday. Iranian New Year called Nowruz. Nowruz is a Persian word which means new day of the New Year.
Nowruz is famous not only in Iran but also in other parts of the world and more than 300 million people across the world especially from the central and west Asia, as well as the Middle East celebrate it. It is rooted in the Iranian ancient culture and civilization.
Nowruz is celebrated for more than 3000 years and now it is officially the Iranian calendar. It is also celebrated in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, India, Mongolia, west of China, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Albania, some Balkan countries. It is in fact because of this huge celebration not only in Iran but also in big parts of the world that, in 2010 United Nations general assembly passed resolution and designated 21st of March as international Nowruz day. It is now part of the UNESCO intangible heritage.
I use the opportunity to congratulate international Nowruz day not only for the Iranian community in Ethiopia but also to all Ethiopians as well because nowadays it is not only the Iranian new year but Nowruz is international day recognized officially by the United Nations as a world heritage. I use the opportunity to express my congratulation to all the human kind across the world especially to all Ethiopian citizens.
Thank you Ambassador
It is my pleasure.
The Ethiopian March 18/2023