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Ethiopian prime minister at the University of Copenhagen

It has been the best kept secret: The current chairman of the African Union turned up for a closed session. The University Post was there

A sure treat for Centre for African Studies students: The ‘students of Africa’ – as they call themselves – met Tuesday 22 October 2013, one of the most important politicians of Africa. Hailemariam Desalegn is not only the Prime Minister of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia, but also the newly elected chairman of the African Union.

He arrived in Copenhagen for the discussions during the 2013 Green Growth Summit and luckily found a vacant spot in his schedule to have a conversation with University of Copenhagen (UCPH) students. Besides them only a few researchers could attend, and a select group of Master’s students.

“You all belong to Africa because the Horn of Africa is the origin of humankind,” said Hailemariam Desalegn as a welcome. And the friendly tone also stayed in his voice later. He never missed a chance to address the responses to his ‘brothers and sisters’, the students in this case.

No place for Eritrea

Being aware of the tight schedule, he introduced the Horn of Africa and the African Union very shortly.

“Africa has to go from where we are now to a […] well industrialized continent. […] Out of the ten fastest growing economies in the world, six are in Africa,” Desalegn said.

But when the Prime Minister characterized the Horn of Africa, he did not mention Eritrea as a country in the Horn. Ethiopia and Eritrea are, of course, in an ongoing state of tension.

UN in Mali

Observant CAS students noticed it instantly and grabbed the opportunity to ask the right question.

“Eritrea is not an IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority for Development) country, that’s why I did not mention it,” he explained.

More questions by the students followed the previous one. Some were interested in environmental issues, others in current politics e.g. the ongoing, joint-effort mission in Mali. “The UN (United Nations) brings peacekeepers, but not peace-enforcers. They don’t fight, they just stand there and watch. Then why are they there?” – he replied to this question.

Principle involved in criminal court

Regarding the questions about the conflict between the ICC (International Criminal Court) and the African Union, he added:

”ICC has important principles that it follows. Like genocide and crimes against humanity. Our problem is not with the principles. It is with the implementation.”

Not all of the students were satisfied with the answers they got, but it seemed as if they enjoyed having a high-level politician as a guest.

Informal session

Stig Jensen, the Director of CAS, organised the session.

Holger Berndt Hansen, Professor Emeritus of the Center of African Studies (CAS) opened the proceedings.

“Informality is a characteristic of Nordic universities”, he said, and referred to the Ethiopian guest’s studies in Finland.

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