PRESS CONFERENCE ON DJIBOUTI
Gentlemen of the press: I have asked you to assemble here today because I have an important announcement to make to you. The matter that I will be considering this afternoon affects the vital interests of both the people of Ethiopia and the Djibouti Territory.
The question of Djibouti Territory has come to the forefront as you know, recently. But we must not be mistaken in the fact that the Djibouti Territory is an integral part of Ethiopia. This is not a fictitious claim; it is based on facts.
As is well known, the frontiers of Ethiopia had stretched from time immemorial to the shores of the sea and the area that is today known as Djibouti Territory formed an indisputable, integral part of Ethiopia. It was only during the latteral part of the 19th century that outside forces intervened in this part of the world to cause dismemberment of certain parts of Ethiopia. It is also well known that the Ethiopian people had heroically resisted this dismemberment throughout history; but our efforts, however heroic, were of no avail. The dismemberment took place as it took place in many other parts of Africa. The accuracy of this statement is clearly attested by the annals of history of this part of the world.
It is also well known that prior to the era of freedom in Africa Ethiopia resisted invasion and resisted dismemberment and the slavery of her people. We also know that when the fascists had occupied our country the whole world sympathized with the fact that a heroic people were victimized by the forces of evil.
When we say that the Djibouti Territory has always historically formed part and parcel of Ethiopia and that we are not claiming somebody else's territory, we are fortified by the memories of recent history and by historians who seek the truth. We do not seek what belongs to others. However, we will continue impressing people that are concerned in this matter that the Djibouti Territory had always formed, prior to the last part of the 19th century, an integral part of Ethiopia. This fact is well known to the people of Djibouti themselves and many other peoples throughout the world are aware of it. It is also known to France. The French Government and people know that the Djibouti Territory and the people there cannot survive without the vital links with Ethiopia.
We must also remember, in addition to the fact that the Djibouti Territory has always formed an integral part of Ethiopia, there is an important economic link between the territory and Ethiopia. Djibouti forms the terminus for the Franco-Ethiopian railroad. Economically speaking, Ethiopia has always been in the service of the Djibouti Territory and vice versa the Djibouti Territory forms an important vital port for Ethiopia.
When we consider the situation from the ethnic point of view, it is also clear and indisputable that out of the 80,000 people inhabiting that area, 40,000 are Danakils, the large segment of the Danakil tribe being in Ethiopia, thus being Ethiopians. 20,000 out of this 80,000 people constitute the Issa tribe, again the large body of whom are Ethiopians living within the territorial jurisdiction of Ethiopia. These, I say, are the real inhabitants of the Djibouti Territory. These are the peoples whose interests we should hold uppermost in mind when thinking in terms of the fate of the people concerned.
For instance, I pointed out that the Danakils are Ethiopian nationals; they are within Ethiopian territory. Similarly, the Issas form part of Ethiopia. I do not believe that members of the Issa tribe who are Ethiopian citizens would wish part of their tribe to be dismembered and to have its fate disjoined from the fate of the main stock and the people of Ethiopia.
There are additional considerations, such as the geographical location of the territory, which cannot be ignored. The territory forms an important strategic area for Ethiopia. We know that out of the 500 kilometres frontier of the Djibouti Territory, 400 are with Ethiopia and only 100 kilometres with Somalia.
All these considerations – historic, strategic, ethnic and the economic factors which form the vital interests of the Ethiopian people and of the inhabitants of the Djibouti Territory – compel us to resist forces that would put apart the destiny of the people of Djibouti from that of Ethiopians.
Peace and Cooperation
In so far as the Somalia Government is concerned, we have openly in the past expressed our desire to live in peace. It is also well known that the Ethiopian Governments has done in the past all it could to see to it that there is better accommodation of interests, that there is less acrimony and that there is peaceful co-operation. However, unfortunately we have not been able to attain that to the full extent. The difference in policy that we pursue and that of Somalia is quite clear. We resist the dismemberment of our country while they stand for dismemberment of others.
I pointed out the strategic importance of the Djibouti Territory to the Ethiopian people, and such an area particularly inhabited by a people whose sole means of survival and viability is based on the Ethiopian economy and whose composition of citizenship derives from Ethiopia and whose historical links with Ethiopia have been affirmed by history, cannot be separated from Ethiopia herself.
In so far as self-determination is concerned we have advanced that principle to the people of the Djibouti territory. We have no opposition to the application of the principle of self-determination to the people because we are aware and we know for sure that the large majority of the inhabitants of the Djibouti Territory know their vital interests and they will make decisions in accordance with these, were they to be asked to express themselves in the form of a plebiscite. I am confident that the people in the Djibouti Territory are fully aware of their vital interests, where their freedom lies, their prosperity is located, and will take decisions in accordance with those interests that are dictated by necessity as well as by the desire to acquire significant freedom.
We have heard of the recent demonstrations in the Djibouti territory. These demonstrations affirmed the desire of the people to be free to decide their own destiny. And when that chance is given to the people of the Djibouti Territory we have no doubt as to where the answer would lie and what association they would wish to create for joint prosperity of this region.
I know that certain forces – I mean outside forces – have attempted to take advantage of the demonstrations of the people who are in quest of an opportunity to make a vital decision for themselves. I know certain evil-doers have attempted to blacken the motives of that quest of the people by inserting matters that do not directly relate to the interests of the people concerned but to ideas that would serve alien interests.
I know, for instance yesterday, the property of Ethiopians in Djibouti had been damaged by certain unruly groups who do not speak for the majority of the people in the Djibouti territory. I hope appropriate compensation for the destruction of the property belonging to Ethiopians will be arrived at through a discussion which we have in mind of conducting with the French Government. When we think in terms of the future of the Djibouti Territory, I believe we must always keep in mind the interests of the people themselves and not the interests of the alien powers or alien agents.
We must take into account the interests and the needs of the Ethiopian people too. We must recall historical facts. We must also think in terms of the strategic consideration and the ethnic affinity of the Djibouti Territory and the people. The Ethiopian people and Government will never accept a solution to the Djibouti problem, which is in contradiction to the interests of the people concerned and in violation of the rights of the Ethiopian people.
(His Imperial Majesty's statement was followed by questions from pressmen to which appropriate answers were given).
Your Imperial Majesty, you have correctly stated that the Ethiopian Government does not oppose the application of the principle of self-determination to the inhabitants of the Djibouti Territory but we have witnessed recently that some efforts are being made by foreign interests so that the people there would be diverted from their real interests. What do you think would be the remedy to the situation?
I had pointed out earlier that the Adal and Issa people in Djibouti, who constitute the real and original inhabitants, will not seek separation from their real interest which is association with Ethiopia. Since we have confidence in the vast majority of the people there we have very little to fear.
In your long reign we all know that you have taken several historical and decisive actions and we also know that if the Djibouti Territory falls into the hands of aliens, the Ethiopian people and the people concerned would be harmed. But, supposing the Djibouti situation takes a different turn and supposing the interests of the people of the Djibouti Territory and Ethiopia are harmed, what action will the Ethiopian Government take?
At the present, the Djibouti Territory is in French hands. We have continued to affirm that the Djibouti territory forms an integral part of Ethiopia. However, the future should be decided with this basic principle in mind: Dismemberment or alienation of the Djibouti Territory from Ethiopia is like dismemberment of a vital part of the human body. What would a human being do if there is a threat to serious dismemberment of his body or an actual dismemberment takes place? That we will leave for a future decision. There is no point in making speculation.
We know that many countries had historical experiences such as the one we are facing and I am confident that the attitude of the French Government and the people of France would not be in variance with the interests and desire of the people of the Djibouti Territory. Under the circumstances, I do not believe the French Government and people would act in a manner contrary to the interests that are involved.
How does Your Imperial Majesty foresee the future – voting for independence and then association with Ethiopia?
We realize that the independence of the Djibouti territory is not far off. I read the conclusion from General De Gaulle's recent statements. I also know that France gave freedom to many other territories in the past. However, under the situation we are facing today in Djibouti, I would emphasize the strategic considerations and ethnic factors from which the Ethiopian Government views the problem. I would also emphasize the vital interests that are linking the Ethiopians with the inhabitants of the Djibouti Territory. No matter in what form a decision is made, these realities must be maintained.
The French people and the Ethiopian people have maintained friendly relations for a long time. I believe friendship implies a commitment on each other's part that the vital interests of our respective peoples should not be endangered.
Your Imperial Majesty, since the Djibouti Territory constitutes a vital interest for Ethiopia, instead of urging that the territory be free, and subsequently joined with Ethiopia why does not the Ethiopian Government make an outright claim to the territory?
That was a good question. We must remember that Ethiopian affirmation that the Djibouti Territory forms an integral part of Ethiopia is not of recent origin. The documents of Menelik II, Emperor of Ethiopia, and my own father Ras Makonnen testify clearly that Ethiopia long ago had asserted the necessities as they existed in the relations between Ethiopia and the Djibouti Territory and the people there.
Your Imperial Majesty: About 43 years ago, in 1916 Ethiopian Calendar, you had visited Europe and in particular France. The Agreement that was signed at the latter part of the 19th century merely postulated that it was to have duration of 99 years without fixing a definite time limit. In that visit you were able to come to an agreement with the French Government to have a time limit for the expiration of the agreement concerning the Franco-Ethiopian railroad. Did you have any further discussions with the French Government otherwise concerning the Djibouti territory?
It is quite true that the agreement for the construction of a railroad from Addis Ababa to Djibouti was to have the duration – the contract was to have the duration – of 99 years. This was conceived to be in accordance with the interests of Ethiopia, the Djibouti Territory and the French people who were assigned to undertake construction of this railroad. (It is also logically clear that were we to understand that after 99 years we were going to dismantle the railroad from the area and from the section in the Djibouti Territory we certainly would not have accepted the agreement that would have divorced us from such vital interest after a certain period of time). The logic of events points to the fact that Ethiopia has continued to assert the fact that the Djibouti Territory forms an integral part of Ethiopia.
Sept. 16, 1966.
Selected Speeches of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie – page 683 –