Wednesday, July 17, 2024
SocietyFairways and foreign policy: Teeing off in the heart of diplomacy

Fairways and foreign policy: Teeing off in the heart of diplomacy

Where golf and global affairs intersect in Addis Ababa

With over 134 diplomatic missions, Addis Ababa stands shoulder to shoulder with global heavyweights like New York and Geneva. The Ethiopian capital is not just a city but a nexus of diplomacy, hosting pivotal institutions such as the African Union (AU) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), alongside a myriad of international organizations.

Yet, despite its prominence, Addis Ababa has struggled to cater to the nuanced needs of diplomats and entrepreneurs. Unlike other diplomatic enclaves, the city falls short in offering a blend of contemporary conveniences, prime locations, and a cosmopolitan atmosphere that encourages international mingling. To truly serve its eclectic mix of diplomats, investors, CEOs, tourists, and other notable figures, Addis Ababa must prioritize developing well-equipped facilities, from leisure and entertainment options to luxurious amenities.

Concerns have been bubbling up about the lack of outdoor recreation areas, cultural hubs with engaging activities, theaters showcasing international performances, multilingual cinemas, high-end restaurants offering global cuisines, international schools, bilingual medical staff, and safe supermarkets stocked with foreign goods. Some residents even venture to neighbouring countries in search of vibrant nightlife, beach leisure, outdoor adventures, or rich cultural experiences.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) appears to have his finger on the pulse of these issues. He has spearheaded numerous projects aimed at expanding the capital’s tourism attractions and leisure offerings.

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Since 2019, Al Busyra Basnur has served as Indonesia’s ambassador to Ethiopia, Djibouti, and the African Union. Known for his community involvement and love for the great outdoors, his explorations across Ethiopia have earned him the moniker “nature enthusiast.”

In 2021, to celebrate 60 years of diplomatic ties between Indonesia and Ethiopia, the Indonesian Embassy organized the inaugural Indonesia-Ethiopia Friendship Diplomatic Golf Tournament, hailed as a promising annual event. On June 1, 2024, the embassy hosted the second diplomatic golf competition.

The event drew an impressive roster, including leaders of the Ethiopian Golf Association, diplomats such as Roland Kobia (Amb.),head of the EU delegation to Ethiopia, UN representatives, officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Samora Muhammad Yunis (Gen.)former Chief of Staff of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces, and other high-ranking military and government officials.

The four-hour event, themed “Tournament of Friendship for Stronger Global Cooperation,” concluded with a prize-giving ceremony hosted by the embassy. One participating ambassador, speaking on condition of anonymity, revealed that he often travels to Kenya for quality tournaments due to the scarcity of such events in Addis Ababa and other parts of Ethiopia. He lamented that, despite the city’s status as a major transit and diplomatic hub, it lacks the facilities to cater to its sizable foreign population.

Al Busyra envisions that an annual tournament and weekly practice sessions will inspire Ethiopia’s youth and serve as a blueprint for future golf course expansions. He emphasized that these events are vital not only for Ethiopia and Indonesia but also for the broader international community residing in Ethiopia. He believes the events will foster deeper, stronger, and more connected relationships among individuals from Ethiopia, Indonesia, and other friendly nations.

A seasoned golfer since 1993, Ambassador Al Busyra extolled the myriad benefits of golf—spanning health, recreation, travel, business, and diplomatic dialogue—coining the term “golf diplomacy.”

He noted that diplomacy transcends governmental interactions, allowing citizens to engage through public diplomacy. He stressed that golf is not just a sport but a leisure activity that promotes communication and mental rejuvenation, facilitating discussions on diplomatic and business matters.

According to the Indonesian envoy, Addis Ababa’s excellent climate makes it an ideal golfing destination. Golf is gaining traction among young professionals, and it is expected that more individuals, including students, will embrace the sport in the future. Given the large expatriate and global community residing in Ethiopia, the ambassador recommended that the government and private sector invest in constructing more golf courses in Addis Ababa and other cities. Currently, the capital boasts only one government-owned golf course.

In a city bursting with potential, the call for modernity and convenience is more urgent than ever. Addis Ababa, with its rich diplomatic tapestry, stands on the brink of transformation—ready to evolve into a city that not only hosts the world but also embraces it.

Abraham Abegaz, chairman of the Addis Ababa Golf Club, echoed Ambassador Al Busyra’s sentiments, calling for a significant boost in the city’s golf infrastructure.

“Compared to countries like Kenya, which boasts 44 golf courses, Ethiopia is lagging far behind,” he noted. Abraham shared Canada’s experience, where a dump site was transformed into a mountainous golf course. He suggested Ethiopia could undertake similar visionary projects before those areas are gobbled up by looming skyscrapers.

Golf, first introduced to Ethiopia in the 1970s by Emperor Haile Selassie I, faced a rocky history. The political upheaval of the Derg regime branded the sport as bourgeois, repurposing the lush greens into a Russian military base. Decades later, during the rule of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), the field was revived, but the development has been minimal at best.

“Golf is more than just a sport; it’s a magnet for businesspeople, picnickers, and the diplomatic community,” Abraham passionately stated. Over his two-decade tenure, he has witnessed a parade of golfers arriving, only to be greeted by underprepared and underequipped facilities.

“When they come to Ethiopia, they are astonished that a major diplomatic hub has just one barely functional golf course,” he added, expressing hope that Ethiopia would recognize golf’s potential and develop it more hospitably in Addis Ababa and beyond.

HabtomTadese, a dedicated golfer from the Addis Ababa Golf Club, took part in the second Indonesian golf tournament. He began playing golf twelve years ago simply for fun, but it has since evolved into a valuable networking tool for business.

“The main problem with golf in Ethiopia is a lack of awareness,” Habtom observed. “If the country commercializes and promotes it, the benefits could be substantial.”

Golf is an ideal way to forge business relationships in Ethiopia, a nation hosting hundreds of diplomatic missions and undergoing significant political and economic transformations to become an African manufacturing powerhouse and a beacon for commerce and investment.

Over the course of 18 holes, golf fosters entrepreneurship and relationship-building, cementing trust with colleagues and potential business partners. To meet the needs of its visitors, many believe the nation must undertake significant efforts to develop more golf courses nationwide that could become the threads that weave together diplomacy, business, and leisure, creating a vibrant and welcoming environment for all.

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