Determined to create the most suitable city
As the seat of the headquarters of the Africa Union (AU) and many international and continental organizations, Addis Ababa is considered by many as the “Diplomatic Capital” of Africa. The ever-expanding city is home to many important institutions. Samuel Getachew of The Reporter sat down with Abraham Asrat, The Public and International Relations Director at the Office of the Mayor of Addis Ababa to explore the city’s international relations especially with its various sister cities across the globe and their impact on the development of the capital. Excerpts:
The Reporter: As the public and international relation’s director at the Office of the Mayor, what are some of your responsibilities?
Abraham Asrat: My major responsibilities include overseeing international relations of the city with all foreign delegations in the city including embassies, international organizations and other diplomatic missions found in Addis Ababa under the direct supervision of the Mayor. One of the many fold mandates of the Office of the Mayor is to communicate and work closely with embassies and diplomatic missions throughout the city for various purposes. In addition, I also manage international relations with the different sister cities that Addis Ababa has across the globe.
What is the Office of the Mayor relationship with the many embassies and international organizations situated in Addis Ababa?
As one of the largest diplomatic cities in the world, Addis Ababa is not only home to its residents but to a vast number of expats and diplomats from many countries who have made our city their homes, whether it is for short or long period of time. Addis is known for its overwhelming hospitality.
Our ultimate objective is to make Addis Ababa the most suitable city to live in. In order to accomplish this vision and maintain the hospitable reputation of our city, we have to make sure we facilitate all the necessary infrastructures to the various diplomatic missions in the city as they are mainly responsible for bringing in these opportunities. These International organizations have various needs that require the attention of the city administration. One of the mandates of the international relations directorate of the Office of the Mayor is to attentively respond to the various infrastructural, social, security and several other needs of these delegations.
We should also bear in mind that there are many development partners and non-profit organizations who are partnering with the government of Ethiopia to play their part in the growth and development of Ethiopia. The city impartially provides all the necessary basic services to these organizations based on their request to the Office of the Mayor.
The diplomatic community of Addis Ababa is also involved in various corporate social responsibility projects throughout Addis Ababa. In the future, the Office of the Mayor plans to involve the international community in development city wide development projects such as the Addis Ababa chapter of green initiative and different other programs.
How many sister cities does Addis Ababa have and what are some of the practical benefits of establishing these relationships?
A city can have more than one sister city. Addis has 21 sister cities all around the world including in Europe, Asia and North America. We are currently working to establish sister city partnership with different countries in Africa, and Kigali is in the pipeline and we are finalizing the formation of this relationship with Addis and Kigali.
A lot of people think establishing this sister city partnership or alliance is a simple diplomatic gesture but it has various practical and mutual benefits to both partnering cities. Sister city partnership could be established on the basis of political, social and or economic cooperation. It is a broad-based, long-term partnership between two cities. Many of the pacts between sister cities cut across various spheres such as; political, social, cultural, economic development, tourism, public health, governance, green initiatives and others depending on the geographic and other similarities of the cities.
Over the past couple of years, we have worked tirelessly to establish and maintain mutually beneficial sister city partnership with different cities across the globe. To give you a recent example, even though Addis Ababa had signed a sister city agreement with Washington DC back in 2013, we are recently rejuvenating the practical aspect of our relationship under the leadership of Takele Uma (Eng.).
In order to cement this partnership, the Addis Ababa City Administration named a new roundabout “Washington DC roundabout” in the heart of the city connecting the Bole Africa Avenue road and the AU headquarters. If you look at the strategic similarities between these two great cities, you will notice that they are both national and diplomatic capitals. They host various embassies and multilateral organizations. This enables us to learn a lot from each other on issues ranging from tourism, urban planning, solid waste management, traffic management and green initiatives.
Imagine the importance of this fact to enable our city to learn from one of the great metropolitan cities in the world. More importantly, Washington DC is home to one of the largest well-established Ethiopian communities. This relationship will ensure various forms of protection to the community there.
To mention another specific example of support and collaboration, our sister city in Germany, Leipzig, trained some of our finest firefighters from Addis Ababa and they came back well equipped with several lifesaving emergency response drills. They have similar railway system as we do and the team has learnt practically how to respond to fire emergencies in areas such as that.
As you can see, there are several practical and mutual benefits of forming sister city partnership, and the Office of the Mayor of Addis Ababa will continue to nurture these pacts.
You mentioned earlier that one of the ambitions of the Office of the Mayor is not only to make Addis Ababa the best city for its residents and guests but also to make the city a preferred destination for conference tourism, what do you say are the role of the diplomatic community to make this happen?
As you can see, Addis Ababa is going through a massive facelift and transformation. The Office of the Mayor is determined more than ever to create the most suitable city to live in and to visit. I believe the diplomatic community has a huge role to play in promoting the country’s city’s tourism potentials. The Office of the Mayor will continue to work in close collaboration with embassies, development partners, continental and international organizations to promote Addis Ababa in their respective countries as the most suitable destination for meetings, incentives, conferences, exhibitions and also leisure tourism.
As you also know, many travelers transit through Addis Ababa to go to different parts of the world, when the economy fully opens up after the pandemic, the International Relations Directorate of the Office of the Mayor will work hand in hand with the diplomatic community to continue to promote the free transit tour of Addis Ababa for global passengers. I believe utilizing the websites and social platforms of all embassies will have a significant impact on promoting this as citizens are more likely to visit the website of their respective countries before and while making travel plans.
What is the role of the diplomatic community in the Addis Ababa chapter of the Green Legacy campaign?
I would like to thank everyone of the diplomatic community that have taken part massively in last year’s green legacy campaign. Various missions, embassies and international organizations planted seedlings in their respective compounds and in different parts of Addis Ababa and the surrounding region. As one integral part of the Addis Ababa community, on behalf of Engineer Takele Uma, I would like to extend my call to all my colleagues in the diplomatic and international community to take part in this historic campaign ones again.
Finally, how is it like to work under the leadership of Engineer Takele Uma?
Throughout my career as an educator, journalist and various other freelance consulting jobs, I have had the opportunity to work under different line managers, but for me working with Engineer Takele Uma has been a truly unique experience. His passion to drastically transform the city and vision to make Addis Ababa the best place to live in for its citizens is truly contagious. He makes the job look so easy.
For example, rolling out a city-wide student feeding program, the first of its kind in the history of the city is logistically a very complex process, let alone launching it in a very short period of time but he makes it happen. He gets things done. As a leader, he always makes us feel empowered and motivated. I look forward to continue to serve under him and learn from him.