From the vantage point of Algeria
Salah Francis Elhamdi was appointed as Algerian Ambassador a year ago. This is his second time serving his nation in Ethiopia having served in Ethiopia more than a decade ago. Here, he converses with The Reporter's Samuel Getachew on a referendum set to take place in his nation this week, on his career, on trade, partnership and on how to make the historic relationship between Ethiopia and Algeria move forward.
There is a constitutional referendum that is set to happen in your nation this weekend. Tell me about that.
As you may know, there were lots of activities that were taking place and most were coming from the protests of almost two years ago that had set off demands coming from the population of Algeria. The first draft of the revised constitution was sent to the assembly and the senate before being submitted to the population for their judgment. The President wanted to be proactive with what the population wanted; so, he not only sent the draft text to be adopted by the parliament but he had it adopted first by the national assembly, then by the senate which in Algeria we call the Council of the Nations.
The President did not stop at that, though he could have, as he wanted to go for a referendum and ask the population for their input and the referendum will take place on November 1st. It means we will have our population go out and vote for the kind of society they want to have moving forward. The constitution has been reflected on in order to help the population embrace their own objectives, to show how people can get organized within the different powers, including the legislative, the executive, the judiciary and the media as well. You know, in Algeria we have more than 150 daily newspapers – including those owned by private entities and the government and all kinds of media outlets, digital or otherwise.
All these have been organized, including on how political parties can be organized and ultimately make our society more balanced than the previous government and have it dealing with the consent of all Algerians. If you allow me, I would like to highlight that the popular protest that came about happened with no death being reported and was conducted entirely peacefully.
There are many external interests in the affairs of your nation, in particular from France. How do you deal with that?
You know there are many of those around and I see that mostly from the Western world, especially from nations such as France as you mentioned. We are a peaceful nation and people. We hold ourselves in the world in a dignified way. We respect other nations and people and even recognize their own unique organization. We do not aspire to involve ourselves in the internal affairs of others as we expect others to not do that. The recent protest is proof of the kinds of people we are, peace loving. You know, after those protests ended, the public went back to the streets to clean the streets and roads. That shows there is a high level of civilization among our people.
The overall performances by even the security as well as the military restraint shown is something to respect, extremely professional and citizen-like.
What is the relationship between your nation and Ethiopia like?
We have a very strong relationship that is happening between us. The relationship started a long time ago, even before our independence. We got our independence in 1962. That time Ethiopia was ruled under Emperor Haile-Selassie. Ethiopia was by then one of the three African founders of the United Nations Organization. The Emperor was a very strong advocate of the independence of all African nations from colonizers and he spoke eloquently on that front. Also, once we got our own independence, we became an advocate for the independence of other African nations. We supported them without getting involved in their home affairs.
Also, a year after our independence, we were in conflict with Morocco over border issues. We did not have a full army as we do now. All we had was freedom fighters as we were building our state. At that time, it was the Emperor of Ethiopia, along with the President of Mali who played a role to bring ceasefire, mediate between our two nations and avert a potential war. We did not and we will never forget the role Ethiopia played then.
When the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea started, we found a role of mediation. The Algiers peace agreement was what came about from our effort which took 18 years to be accepted as our former President was the Chairman of the African Union by then. We saw it as a debt to Ethiopia as more than 80,000 people were killed and we achieved a ceasefire between the Prime Minister of Ethiopia and the President of Eritrea and stopped the war and the killing that was too severe. We wanted the issue to be solved between the duo and our role was mandated by the United Nations as a way to help and find a solution to their differences and bring a definite end to the conflict.
But I have to ask, how are you planning to conduct an election in the midst of COVID-19 when other nations are struggling to follow in your footsteps, including Ethiopia?
I like to highlight that it will be according to strict medical protocols. The social distancing will be adhered and masks will be mandated. We have polling stations in more than 19,000 sites. The well-being of those who will come to vote will be our biggest concern. There will be a medical staff nearby and all will be protected medically. The security sector will also be involved in terms of the issues of social distancing. All is being conducted by an arm-length agency that will execute the mission of the election that is free of government interference.
We know that Algeria was elected as a non-permanent member within the UN Security Council 14 years ago, is your country going to run for another mandate in the future ?
Algeria is candidate for the seat of non-permanent member of the Security Council for the period 2024 – 2025 to represent the African continent within this important UN organ. And here I would like to recall that my country, since its adhesion to the UN, was elected three times as a non-permanent member of the Security council, in 1968 – 1969, 1988 – 1989 then for the last time in 2004 – 2005.
The candidacy of my country for the term 2024 – 2025 aims, as during its previous mandates, at representing and defending the interests of the continent in a spirit of cooperation and complementarity. It will also represent an opportunity to share the longstanding diplomatic experience of my country at the UN level.
My country, as it has always done, is willing to work within the UN Security Council towards the promotion of peace and security around the world and particularly in the African continent especially in the fight against terrorism.
Defending the right causes and decolonization issues will be among Algeria’s agenda within the UN Security council to allow the preservation of the people’s right to self-determination as in Western Sahara, the last colony of the African continent.
Anything else you would like to add?
I would like to add that our relationship with Ethiopia is important to us. We are planning to offer scholarships to young Ethiopian students in the coming year, starting in January, about 10 and growing by September. We want to explore trade agreements between us, including Ethiopia’s top quality coffee that I enjoy very much. There is no reason why Ethiopian coffee cannot be sent to Algeria. Also we want to bring a trade mission to Ethiopia and see how we can complement each other. There is a growing market for agro-food that is coming to Ethiopia, for instance, and we produce much in the world and see if that can be brought to Ethiopia. There is more exciting road ahead for us all and we look forward to seeing that grow.