The biking diplomat
Mette Thygesen, the Danish ambassador to Ethiopia and several regional nations uses unconventional ways to engage with her followers on Twitter. In her second year in Ethiopia, she has used her social media platform to champion causes that are of mutual interest to her nation and Ethiopia. A quick glimpse of her page reveals her interest in all sorts’ things, among many, the issues of child soldiers, the arts, culture and the environment.
The ambassador has a way with communication.
There is her appearing on casual clothing with Chef Yohanis on his signature show talking about the culture of home and in a suit talking about the ‘Strengthening of Ethiopia’s Capacity to Counter Money Laundering and Illicit Financial Flow”, using the words of Beyoncé to champion youth idealism, paying tribute to local athletes, promoting endless African Union conferences on youth and travelling in the rural parts of the country.
“Make is personal, know your audience, use visuals,” she twitted a rephrased words used at a retreat of her embassy earlier this month. When The Reporter reached out to her on social media for a sit-down interview, she was quick to oblige but suggested the youngest member of her staff would be the ideal candidate instead.
She was quick to introduce The Reporter to Peter Fjeldgaard Hansen. The 29 year old political assistant of her embassy, at the beginning of what she hopes would be a career in international diplomacy and he had plenty to say.
He is on his first assignment to Ethiopia and is excited that the embassy is a hub of many areas of interest. For instance, it is also the embassy office for neighboring nations such as Djibouti, Sudan, South Sudan, as well as the African Union and different engagements with regional economic communities like Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
“I had to opportunity to come here two years ago for my job at the time and I was very much inspired by Ethiopia,” he told The Reporter. “It was interesting for me to come to a country in Africa that had not been colonized and to discover the amazing cultural heritage. It was also important for me to come to Addis, one of Africa’s diplomatic capitals where a lot of major events and changes are taking place, namely in terms of continental peace and security as well as migration and refugees affairs.”
He is quick to point out the fact that Ethiopia, a nation that is economically on the move , but still suffers from reoccurring draughts, is still home to more than 800,000 refugees, more than what European nations have taken, is a model nation for others.
The embassy is currently working on a variety of bilateral and regional projects. On the bilateral side, it is working with the Ethiopian government on a productive safety net program and on the regional side; it is in the process of expanding the Africa Program for peace as it enters its fourth phase, building capacity within the African Union.
He is also quick to echo the words of the ambassador where the embassy is to invest in conflict resolution in the region. As Denmark is said to expand on its relations with the continent, just as most European nations are, it is said to look for partnerships, not continue to build the status quo, which was aid dictated as was the direction of most African society.
The Scandinavian nation is currently exploring, with the different regions, opportunities to make advancement on migration and climate change, which are both important issues in the North of Ethiopia. Because of the population increase and reoccurring draught, within Africa, there are very high needs and demand for natural resources and for Denmark to play a role.
Hansen is planning to stay in Ethiopia for about a year, enjoying the natural sceneries of Ethiopia; the culture and do important diplomatic work. Biking to work every morning, he has observed how the capital is slowly but surely embracing the bike culture, that is the norm in Denmark.
“I like to bike, a Danish culture that is fast becoming popular in Ethiopia,” he told The Reporter. “It is very different from Copenhagen, where they continuously arrange specific bridges and lanes for bike riders only, and they shut down some of the roads in the center to allow safer passage. It is also easier there are most of the capital is flat, which is not exactly the case here in Addis. It is for sure more challenging but it is not as bad as people could imagine.”
He is excited that there are now more and more biking communities in Addis, pointing out how there are, for example, three bicycle teams regularly compete against each other.
On the Ethiopian New Year’s several months ago, which was his first experience, he went with friends to look for all the bonfires going around in the capital and enjoying a traditional Ethiopian meal with local families. For Meskel, he went to the streets, celebrating with thousands of people, holding candles, dressed in all white.
“These are real, beautiful cultural experiences of Ethiopia,” he said.
The embassies of Denmark and the Netherlands, with others, are set to launch a social media campaign on Monday, until the beginning of the AU-EU summit on youth happening from November 28-29 in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. They are to invite the youth of the continent to share their vision of the continent on a white piece of paper virtually, and post it on social media with a hashtag #wishingwell. All the contribution is to be shared with the leadership of the two institutions as they converse on the affairs of the African youth at the summit in West Africa.
“The idea is to flood Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with pictures of youngsters telling the African and European leaders about their wishes for the future and make their voices head at the summit,” Peter said.