CORNERSTONE OF THE ASSAB PORT
We have chosen to come here today for the ceremony of laying the foundation stone for the construction of Our Port of Assab, not only in order to inspect the beginning of what is to be a great technical achievement, but also to commemorate a significant moment in the history of Modern Ethiopia, combining as it does progress in modernity with antiquity of tradition.
No Ethiopian of this or of future generations, can afford to forget the disadvantages under which Our country suffered in the days when we had no access to the sea. It has, therefore, long been the desire of Ethiopia to see her ports restored to the Motherland. In order to secure an outlet to the sea on these shores, We entered in 1928 into an agreement with the Government of Italy, but the agreement remained unhonoured, with no default on Our part.
God has ordained that this desire of Ethiopia be fulfilled during Our reign, and has crowned with success Our efforts to secure the re-integration of Eritrea and Ethiopia, which We undertook as soon as We, by the help of the Almighty, had returned to Our homeland and had completed the work of re-establishing and reorganizing Our Government under Our personal guidance and direction. For this Our gratitude to God is unbounded.
The trials and hardships to which Ethiopia had been subject in the days when she had no free outlet to the sea, qualify her in a special sense to appreciate the great importance of having a seaport of her own.
In laying the foundation stone of the Port of Assab, this historic gateway to the sea, connecting Our land with the oceans of the world, We are today opening for all the peoples of Our Empire a door to prosperity and good fortune of which they can be justly proud.
This port, connecting Ethiopia with the pulsating artery of world commerce, joins her in ties of trade with the shores of her friends and neighbours, and also brings her into free contact with the continents of the world. We stand on the renowned Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb, through which pass, perhaps more ships than through any other stretch of water on our globe. Ethiopia, here in Assab, stands sentinel to aid and assist the vast number of vessels which carry the life-blood of world commerce. She must therefore be fully conscious of her responsibility to work hard for the development of her ports.
This uniquely strategic port of Ethiopia, after the trials and vicissitudes of nearly a century when it languished unattended and cut off from its motherland, has now been restored to her, and Ethiopia, in full realization of her high responsibility, has undertaken the great task of transforming Assab, into that outlet for Ethiopia’s sea-born products, which, by virtue of its unparalleled position on the trade routes of the world, it has so long deserved, and indeed demanded.
At the very instant of the long awaited return of Assab and Massawa, now five years ago, We declared:
In order to utilize to the maximum the resources of the two ports of Massawa and Assab, We have given orders that an ambitious programme of rehabilitation and improvement of the installations at Massawa and Assab should be undertaken. Moreover – and this has taken place well ahead of the date of the Federation of Eritrea with Ethiopia – We have already commenced important works for the repair and improvement of the roads linking these two ports with Eritrea and Ethiopia.
The first part of the ambitious programme has already been, under Our own direction, largely accomplished. Although the challenge of the work that is yet to be undertaken demands immense effort, We must not forget that much has already been achieved here, all of which may not be apparent to the casual visitor.
The more than 26 millions of Ethiopian Dollars which We are expending for the high engineering and technical exploits involved in the development programme of the Port of Assab, constitute already a direct and permanent investment in the future of the Port for which We today lay the foundation stone. This in itself is sufficient guarantee for the unhindered development of the port to meet the rapid expansion of Ethiopia’s economy which has characterized Our reign.
The expenditure of large sums of money and thousands of hours of engineering skill and re-examination by experts in engineering, in marine construction, in finance, in commerce, and, finally, many weeks of careful study and re-assesment by Ourselves of all the work that has been undertaken at Our command, have taken place in order to make possible this historic moment.
Following these careful studies, and after mature reflection on all aspects made by Our ends, the great and noble people of Yugoslavia, most advantageous to us in comparison with other similar proposals, both in terms of engineering genius and of financial facilities, We have accordingly, chosen to entrust this vastly significant task of constructing the port of Assab, to the Yugoslav people.
We would not let this auspicious occasion pass without Our expressing to His Excellency Marshal Josip Broz Tito, President of Yugoslavia, Our thanks for the assistance he has rendered in bringing to fruition this co-operative venture, which shall always remain a symbol of our mutual friendship.
We are fully confident that the Port of Assab will respond fully to its high destiny and that a great future awaits to bless this undertaking.
It is essential, as We stated five years ago, that Massawa also be fully developed. The resources of Ethiopia, both present and potential, are manifestly adequate to permit the three ports of Massawa, Assab and Djibouti, to thrive together without rivalry in a spirit of collaboration and co-operation.
In thus providing the means for the continued growth of Ethiopia’s foreign trade, We have looked not only to the benefit of one particular region, but also to the welfare and prosperity of Ethiopia as a whole.
At the moment of the return to Ethiopia of Our loyal subjects along the Red Sea coast, We declared: “We will provide, by all possible means, for the welfare of the population of Eritrea.”
This promise We have always maintained and fulfilled in various practical ways.
Since God gives us to enjoy only those fruits which we cultivate with toil and sacrifice, We call upon all Our beloved subjects, in a spirit of national dedication, by their labours and devotion, to ensure that this Port, now to spring into existence, will prove worthy of its heritage and of its challenge.
May 10, 1958
Selected Speeches of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie – page 555 –