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India- Ethiopia Cultural relationship

In an increasingly globalised world, all the countries must interact with other countries. With time-space compression, today there is a robust relationship of any country with another country even when distance is huge. Immediately after Independence, India too embarked upon its journey to build a strong relationship with all the countries of the world. Following its rich relationship with Africa who seemed closer to India due to close sea routes, India intended to revitalise its relationship with African countries.  Largely due to geostrategic location, India tried to build a relationship with Ethiopia that is situated on the horn of Africa.   In the initial years, following Independence India established an official channel of communication by initializing diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1948. These talks reached a positive outcome between the two countries when officially both the countries set up their embassies on each other soil. Ethiopia had sent Amanuel Abraham as its first Ambassador to India, which made Ethiopia become the first African country to open an embassy in New Delhi. On the other hand, India designated and sent Sadar Sant Singh as its first Ambassador to Ethiopia. After establishing strong diplomatic relations both the countries ventured into other areas of co-operation too following the change in trends in diplomacy whereby co-operation was extended to soft areas too that signified a robust relationship between the countries. These relationships are in the area of culture, people-to-people contact, etc. this article will situate India- Ethiopia’s cultural ties that enter into education, social exchanges, and people-to-people contact.

Having established a diplomatic relationship, India and Ethiopia tried to build closer ties with each other keeping the international scenario at that time that was full of animosity due to the Cold war. Ethiopia has been one of the close co-operators with India in Non-Alignment Movement (NAM).  They have also co-operated with each other in maintaining international peace and security by co-operating in various United Nations and its allied agencies’ activities. The two countries have ventured into a close educational partnership to strengthen their cultural ties. In 1969, India started an Indian technical and economic co-operation (ITEC)  programme to facilitate joint working with universities abroad and make new scientific advancements reach abroad. The result of this was Ethopianain universities got benefitted. As per the data available with the Ministry of External Affairs, the frequency of interaction under ITEC has increased in Ethiopia from 5 slots in 1969 to 220 slots in 2013-14. India has also signed an  Educational Exchange Program with the country in July 2007. This was followed by the establishment of a Joint Working Group (JWG). 

The first meeting of the JWG was held in April 2011. As part of India’s continuous efforts to strengthen its cultural ties, the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR)  offers 50 scholarships to Ethiopian students for University studies in India that have helped them to pursue education in the field of Engineering, IT, and Social sciences in Masters and Ph.D. level. So far, more than 1000 higher-level university instructors have been trained and other 350 are following their education in 21 Indian universities. Following various exchange programmes around 1500 Indian academics are teaching in various colleges and universities throughout Ethiopia. In fact, after independence, many Indian teachers came to teach in schools all over Ethiopia even in the remotest parts. The cultural relation during that time was also very good. A sizeable Indian community consisting of teachers, merchants, and artisans, settled down in Ethiopia 

India in order to strengthen its ties with Africa had launched a pan African e-Network project in 2007  in Ethiopia. This programme has benefitted Ethiopia a lot as many of its premier universities have come under this programme. Regular interactions and academic exchange has benefitted both countries and helped them keep up to date with the latest researches. As part of this initiative itself, a tele-education Centre has been developed at Addis Ababa University and the Tele-Medicine Centre has been set up at the Black Lion Hospital in Addis Ababa.  The Tele- Education project has established linkages between the Addis Ababa University and the Indian Institutes of Technology at Delhi and Kanpur.

In order to equip the youth of Ethiopia with vocational training, India has established a Vocational Training cum Incubation Centre in Ethiopia under India Africa Forum Summit (IAFS-I), 2008. The purpose of this center is to impart practical training for different types of manufacturing trades such as Soya Milk, Bakery & biscuits, tomato ketchup & fruit juice, honey processing, edible oil extraction, water filtration, packaging, gemstone cutting & polishing, jewelry making, paper napkin, toilet rolls, plastic bottle & caps, socks knitting, candle, chalk, wire nails, barbed wire, etc. This will help the entrepreneurs and unemployed persons to gain knowledge and expertise for setting up new small enterprises. The newly established Incubation Centre was handed over to Ethiopia on 15 November 2013.

Following its commitment to build, people-to-people contact and revitalize its historical textile linkages, the Central Leather Research Institute and the Footwear Design and Development Institute have developed a sizeable twinning program with the Ethiopian Leather Development Institute. The Ethiopian Textile Industry Development Institute (ETIDI) has recently signed a three-year twinning partnership agreement with the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) of India. As per the agreement, NIFT would be capacitating the ETIDI enabling it to provide training to the staff and the participants from the garment industry in the area of fashion, manufacturing, and marketing continuously. Moreover, North India Textile Research Association (NITRA) has set up an institute of fashion at Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. The main objective will be to market Ethiopia as a sourcing destination for apparel and textiles and provide consultancy services for the industry. 

India and Ethiopia are revitalizing their countryside by making them self-sufficient. As a result, Barefoot College India has trained, 34 poor rural women from four different regions in Ethiopia. So far more than 500 households have been electrified successfully with the help of solar energy. Under this programme, 170 mobile solar lanterns were distributed across 16 villages in 4 poorest regions. These efforts have helped in plugging the lost hours of the children of these regions who could now study at night.  These mobile lights have equipped the village midwives in delivering babies. 

As part of cultural exchanges, India and Ethiopia have signed a cultural agreement in 1983, since then both sides had many cultural exchange events regularly. For example, an Ethiopian cultural music and dance group have come to New Delhi in October/2011 and performed in Delhi, Hyderabad, and Thiruvananthapuram. As part of this exchange, Indian cultural troupes have visited Ethiopia. Gujarati Dance troupe went in 2006, Bihari Dance Group visited in  2007, Bharatnatyam Dance Troupe went in 2008, Goa Dance Troupe visited in 2008, Fusion Music Group went in 2009, Punjabi Music and Dance Troupe went in 2010, Sindhi Goma Troupe went in 2011, Fusion Band ‘Shwaas’ (2012).

Another depiction of the strong efforts of strengthening the people-to-people relation is the opening of a cultural centre by the Ethiopian Embassy in New Delhi. It was opened on March 19th, 2013. The goal of the cultural centre is to strengthen a long term people to people relationship between Ethiopia and India by promoting a positive view of Ethiopian people’s culture, traditions to Indian citizens and foreign nationals and use that, to induce greater cooperation between the two nations that is built up over centuries. 

 Constant interactions between the two countries have now come to influence the recent style of paintings. The recent research article by Stanislaw Chojnacki shows that  Indian textiles have come to influence the style of painting too in Ethiopia. The researcher said that Indian textiles have significantly influenced Ethiopian’s life. The research suggests that the cultivation of cotton was first developed in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent and from there was carried to southwestern Arabia, whence – during the first millennium, B.C.it was transported across the Red Sea to Nubia and Abyssinia. Similarly, the art of weaving and method for the construction of the loom also originated from India. Canadian scholar, Michael Gervers, argues that an ancient pit-treadle cotton loom, first developed in India, which is now universally used in Ethiopia may have also arrived there by the same route as cotton itself.

Another important landmark in developing cultural relationships between the two countries has been setting up a hospital by the Indian community settled in Ethiopia in 1963. This hospital was named Gandhi Memorial hospital for gynecology and obstetrics. It was set up to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the then King Haile Selassie I coronation. The King in return dedicated the hospital to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi is seen by Ethiopians with great respect. This shows the strong people-to-people bondage between the two countries. 

 Cultural ties are further strengthened with the strong presence of  Indians in Ethiopia who are over 10,000  the majority being the new investors and their employees, and professors in local Universities. . The early settlers among the Indian community in Ethiopia came from Gujarat. They came to this country in the latter years of the 19th century. During imperial times, there were also tens of thousands of Indian teachers in schools all over Ethiopia, even in the most remote parts. The number of Indian nationals has been on the rise in Ethiopia due to the increase in Indian investments in this country. Several Ethiopian companies engage Indian workers. With more and more Indian businesses/investors entering Ethiopia, the number of Indian nationals is expected to increase further in the coming days.  The Indian community has a sizeable presence in the educational sector of Ethiopia. The number of Indian Lecturers/Professors is increasing every year and currently, there are about 2000-2500 Indian Academics in about 30 Universities and higher educational institutions. Although exact figures of the Indian community in Ethiopia are not available since many of them residing/employed in Ethiopia have not registered with the Mission, it is estimated that the size of the Indian Diaspora is between 5000-6000The number of visas issued by the Embassy annually is in the range of 5000. Besides Indian tourists and businessmen get visas on arrival at the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport. In addition to this Ethiopian Airlines has daily flights to Delhi and twice-daily flights to Mumbai. It has also cargo flights to Chennai. This enabled the people’s movement easily.

The Embassy has been actively promoting Indian culture in Ethiopia. The Missions has been celebrating the International Day of Yoga and the 3rd International Day of Yoga was celebrated on 17 June 2017 in Addis Ababa with the participation of more than 1000 people, including local and foreign Yoga enthusiasts/experts, children, women, Ministers, and senior government officials, etc. Legendary Ethiopian runner and youth icon Haile Gebreselassie participated in the International Yoga Day event organized by the Embassy and endorsed the benefits of yoga. 

 The Indian embassy in Ethiopia also participated in the 11th Ethiopian International Film Festival (ETHIOIFF) from 14 to 16 November 2016 with the screening of three Amharic-subtitled Hindi films. Kathak and Rajasthani folk dance performances were organized. Dr.Negeri Lencho, Minister of Government Communication Affairs Office of Ethiopia visited India from 19 to 27 March 2017 under ICCR’s programme of ‘Distinguished Visitor’s Programme’. Ms.Meskerem Assegued, a renowned art critic in Ethiopia and Director, Zoma Contemporary Art Centre, Addis Ababa was sent to India from 21 February to 3 March 2015 under ICCR’s Academic Visitor’s Programme. Ms. Zenebu Tadesse Woldetsadik, Ethiopian Minister of Women, Child & Youth Welfare was selected by ICCR in 2015 for the Distinguished Alumni Award for her outstanding contribution towards bilateral relations between India and Ethiopia in the field of promotion of the welfare of women, children, and youth in Ethiopia. The textile exhibition ‘Vastram – Splendid World of Indian Textile’ curated by Ms. Shelly Jyothi was mounted in Addis Ababa in December 2015. Ethiopian traditional dance troupe YeTemesgen Lijoch was sent to India in October 2015 for performance. Another Ethiopian cultural troupe performed in India during the Africa Day Celebrations from 25-26 May 2017 in New Delhi.  The Indian Embassy had celebrated Gandhi’s 150 years in Addis Ababa. A heritage walk was organized on the 150th Birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.  In 2018, Mission brought out a publication to celebrate 70 years of diplomatic relations between India and Ethiopia. A photo exhibition with rare and historic photos displaying 70 years of relations between India and Ethiopia was also organized. 

Conclusion 

In today’s era, diplomatic relations between the two countries are not limited to military and economic relations. For any country to have a seminal presence and have an international reputation, cultural relationships are imperative. India has rightfully utilised this opportunity with Ethiopia to build strong cultural ties. A close look at the above events rightfully points at the fact that India has developed co-operation at all levels including education and cultural exchanges. At the time when India eyes for a reputable position in the world, it is necessary for her to cement these ties more strongly.

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