The 15th of November of this year marks the 90th anniversary of the signing of the Japan-Ethiopia Treaty of Amity and Commerce. This year is also the 65th anniversary of the resumption of our bilateral diplomatic relations after World War II. I am very honoured and excited about starting my new post as the Ambassador of Japan to Ethiopia in such an auspicious year.
Based on our longstanding friendship, I have high expectations for the potential for excellent cooperation between our two countries. After all, Japan is the oldest Asian friend of Ethiopia, and Ethiopia is the oldest African friend of Japan. While the physical distance between our two countries spans almost half the globe, we share many similarities, such as having our own distinct cultures and long histories, and both of us having escaped being colonized by external countries. Now both of our countries share the same values, such as democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law, and we are excellent partners in promoting peace and stability in the region and in the international community as a whole, as seen certainly through our cooperation at the International Peace Support Training Institute under Peace Keeping Center. In addition, through the New Approach for Peace and Stability in Africa (NAPSA), Japan will also be able to support institution building and the strengthening of governance, including judicial, administrative and legislative systems.
Although Japan was one of the poorest countries in the world following the devastation of World War II, and had almost no natural resources to export, it fully recovered within 20 years, as was witnessed by the world when the Olympic Games were hosted in Tokyo in 1964. Various international assistance programmes were instrumental in the early stages of reconstruction, but it was Japan’s democratization and the creation of its competitive free market system that helped to generate the growth of its economy. Needless to say, the education and hard work of its people were key engines for Japan’s growth.
Human resource development is one area in which Japan excels, and we have been contributing to its development in Ethiopia for a long time through such measures as providing Japanese Government scholarships to Ethiopian students to study in Japan, and by dispatching Japanese experts to Ethiopia and receiving Ethiopian trainees in Japan through programmes run by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), since the opening of its office in Ethiopia in 1972. Recently, more opportunities for the future leaders of Ethiopia to study in Japan have been introduced through such programmes as the ABE Initiative (the African Business Education Initiative for Youth, a Master’s Degree and Internship programme) and the SDGs Global Leader Course. Kaizen, which translates into continuous improvement, is a management philosophy that originated in Japan. Japanese programmes promoting Kaizen are a good example of Ethio-Japanese cooperation, as the philosophy has not only been successfully introduced and adopted in Ethiopia, but is also now starting to spread from Ethiopia to other parts of Africa.
In order to further develop our bilateral relations, we should work together to steadily implement development projects in the areas of industry promotion, the development of agriculture, the provision of high-quality infrastructure, as well as in health and education. Ethiopia’s coffee, sesame seeds and roses are well liked in Japan, but there are even more products that can be exported to Japan in the future. Assisting Japanese companies that are willing to work in and with Ethiopia is critical, and I would like to urge Ethiopia to help them as much as possible. Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, Ethiopian companies exported 300,000 t-shirts made in Ethiopia to Japan, after receiving technical advice and training from Japanese experts. It is also noteworthy that a pilot project assembling Isuzu trucks here in Ethiopia has been successful. Furthermore, I believe it is beneficial for both countries to utilize the technologies and know-how that Japanese companies have in such areas as science and technology, including ICT, geo-thermal power generation, and biometrics. Cooperation between our two countries will not only spur economic growth, but will also help Ethiopia to overcome its challenges in achieving the SDGs.
The realization of the SDG objective to “leave no one behind” is also important. A friend in need is a friend indeed,and Japan has been extending assistance to Ethiopia to alleviate the negative impacts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and natural disasters like the infestation of desert locusts, flooding and droughts, as well as by conflict within the country and in neighboring countries. For instance, a total of 72,400 MT of wheat imported by the WFP (World Food Programme) and financed through our humanitarian assistance (costing over USD 30 million), which can feed about 3.8 million of the most vulnerable people in Ethiopia, will soon be distributed by the NDRMS (National Disaster Risk Management Commission). Japan also helps Ethiopia to promote the expansion of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and the Africa Health and Wellbeing Initiative through the provision of medical equipment (valued at over USD 13.6 million), which will contribute to enhancing measures to fight against infectious diseases such as COVID-19. These assistance programmes also help to realize our commitments made at TICAD 7, held in Yokohama in August of 2019. As Women’s Empowerment is important for sustainable socioeconomic development, we are supporting female entrepreneurs in Ethiopia with small scale but innovative business ideas through the Women Entrepreneurship Development Project, a collaborative effort with the World Bank, which provides them with finance and business support.
It is my pleasant duty to do everything I can to enhance the Ethiopian people’s knowledge about the attractiveness of Japan through introducing and utilizing various aspects of Japan’s soft power, such as Japanese cuisine, anime and cartoons, various performing arts, fashion, etc. I am aware that it is not easy to hold cultural events during the COVID-19 pandemic, but I am determined to try my best to reach new heights in amity and commerce between Ethiopia and Japan.
Editor’s Note: Ito Takako is Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.