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Diplomats’ dressing style: then and now

Diplomats’ dressing style: then and now

In recent times, a suit and a tie or formal business attire has been the chosen style of fashion by Ethiopian diplomats and those in foreign missions when they present their credentials to the head of state of their respective missions.

The usual and expected suit and tie has by far been taken aside in favor of donning traditional attires. This reflected in the past year or so, has taken flight among Ethiopian diplomats.

Reviewing Ethiopia’s history of diplomacy and attachés, which at least dates back to the beginning of the 20th century which The Reporter has documented with some pictorial evidences on how Ethiopian diplomats presented themselves to foreign countries where they had been posted to, as a diplomat. As recorded by several historians and photographers visiting Ethiopia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the diplomats were seen with traditional garments.

The then diplomats’ outfit’s seems to somehow regain its grace and beauty with today’s recently appointed diplomats.

Among the pictures which many have applauded and commended on social media includes those of Meles Alem (the former Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), now the head of Ethiopian diplomatic mission in Nairobi, Kenya and Diriba Kuma (who was the former Mayor of Addis Ababa and who now is Ethiopia’s Ambassador to Stockholm, Sweden. Meles and Diriba’s colorful outfit decorated with the authentic traditional attire has pleased many people. Meles was seen with the white woven cloth with Ethiopia’s flag along with Chira (horse tailed-lade van) when he was photographed with Uhuru Kenyata President of Kenya. 

Similarly, a lot of commentators have paid tribute to Diriba Kuma as well. The former Mayor of Addis Ababa presented himself and his credentials to the Swedish King at the Stockholm Palace or The Royal Palace in Stockholm on March 28, 2019.

Diriba was decorated with the traditional kaba [cloak] – honorary attire or a Noble dress among Ethiopians.

Promoting their country’s tradition as well as the unique cultural heritage of Ethiopia, with the power of attracting tourists, other Ambassadors posted as head of diplomatic missions in their respective destinations were documented as bringing a positive impact.

To mention more cases, the two ambassadors Aster Mammo (the former Minister of Public Service) and Alemtsehay Meseret were recently photographed with their spectacular traditional netela and kemis during their visit to Canada and Uganda where they were posted to lead diplomatic missions.

Netela is one of the famous closing types in Ethiopia’s highlands, and is a handmade scarf-like cloth made out of cotton. It is white with colorful, intricately woven borders called Tibèb, commonly dressed by women. Meanwhile Kemis is usually complementary to Netela and is one the traditional clothing of women in Ethiopia. This ankle length, chiffon-made dress is usually worn at formal events.

Catching the eye of many, Henok Teferra, who is serving as the Ethiopian Ambassador to France and Ethiopia’s Representative to the UNESCO, was seen neatly decorated with an attractive honorary style Kaba (Noble Closing) matched with white-colored and locally sawn trouser and a hand-made shoes made up of ox skin. Henok presented his credentials to President Emmanuel Macron at the famous Elysse Palace on April 12, 2019.

A month letter, Ambassador Henok, donning the Jano dress, was present in a UNESCO event. Jano is mostly common and a noble cloth in Amhara region specifically in Gonder areas. It is woven cotton that has tunic with broad rend brand.

Furthermore, taking this trend of wearing traditional attires, Million Samuel, who presented his credentials to the Government of Netherland, was photographed at Nordainde Palace (on 15 May 2019) with his colorful outfit otherwise known as Dirb-Tind.

A day after Samuel debuted his clothing, Ambassador Reta Alemu was also spotted in the same fashion during his credential presentation at the Palace of the Israel government. But this time, Reta was photographed wearing a colorful kaba on the top while putting on the white-colored skirt and a trouser, complemented with a white shoe.

A few years back, Ambassador Hailemikael was the first to be seen wearing a Kaba and a traditional trouser while he visited the UK and appeared before Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace where he presented his credentials in 2016.

By and large, traditional attires are seen by many, of having an important value among Ethiopians.

The Ethiopian Ambassador to the US, Fitsum Arega, was pictured in his locally made fabrics. He was photographed on April 8, 2019 when he presented his credential to President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington DC.

On Wednesday, May 22, 2019, Zenebe Kebede became the latest diplomat who came in with all-white colored traditional clothing while presenting his credentials to the President of the Swiss Confederation, Ueli Maurer in Zurich.

As history has it, after the battle of Adwa, many foreigners living in Addis Ababa repeatedly insisted that Emperor Menelik II establishes a modern institution of administration. Though suspicious and reluctant, the Emperor decided in 1900 to establish a Council of Ministers composed of nine ministries of which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was one. Hence, it was Naggadras Haile Giyorgis who was appointed as the first Minister of Commerce and Foreign Affairs.

However, according to historians, Ethiopia’s foreign relations at that time were more of foreign trade and this might have influenced the decision of the Emperor for combining the two ministries together. The appointed minister was a traditional person with no modern education. He was bare footed and in traditional costume. According to the then belief, people who used to wear shoes were believed to be people who had amputated fingers due to leprosy. The first foreign minister had church education and to find modern educated people in Ethiopia to lead modern institutions was almost impossible at that time.

Though the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as an institution was established to execute the country’s foreign relations and diplomatic representation abroad was limited due to various factors. There was lack of educated manpower and also the role of foreign policy was not well understood.

However, different delegations were sent to different countries to negotiate on various issues and promote national interest. In this regard, a delegation was sent to Russia in 1895 led by Fitawurari Damtew Ketema. The delegation presented the letter of Emperor Minilik to the Czar of Russia and discussed on bilateral issues. Likewise, different delegations were sent to several countries according to the needs of the country.

Diplomacy gradually expanded after the era of Menelik II, during the reign of Empress Zewditu and her successor Emperor Hailesilassie II. Especially, Ethiopia’s foreign relations have broadened during the time of the Emperor due to the growing number of legations, embassies and consular were opened in several countries.