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Address by External Affairs Minister to Indian Community at the inauguration of new Chancery building in Addis Ababa

June 22, 2022


Minister for Women and Social Welfare, Ergoge Tesfaye,

Ambassador Robert Shetkintong. Dear friends

Let me say what a great pleasure to see you early in the morning and that too at occasion, like the inauguration of the new embassy building. As the ambassador told you, I've been myself an ambassador in my time. Of the four Ambassadorships that I did, I saw in three of them a new embassy or a new Ambassador’s residence. So I know what a feeling of pride, it is for the Ambassador, for the Embassy for the Indian community, because for them, a new, better, modern, larger embassy is also a message. And also as the Minister pointed out, further relationship, because every time an embassy expands, every time it undertakes additional activities, it has a contribution to the relationship.

I am actually on my way to Kigali for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. I had various options, and I think Ambassador persuaded me that I must be here with you today and I am so glad that this actually has happened. Let me reflect a little bit on this occasion, about our relationship, and also about the role of the community in our relationship. And Minister, I count you as part of that.

I think all of you know that between India and Ethiopia, our relationship is truly historical. Now, usually when people use the word historical, they mean hundreds of years, I think, in our case, actually probably it means thousands of years. And it is very interesting that you have Indian, you know better than me, that there are Indians who have make Ethiopia their home for four or five generations. Now there are people from Ethiopia who made their home, including in the state that I represent in Parliament, Gujarat, for probably very much longer than that. So there are really very long linkages between us, linkages which is reflected in our habits, in our customs, in our dresses, in our eating. But today, the contemporary version of it is really an Indian community, which I believe is about 5000 numbers strong. And perhaps what is a speciality of your community, the fact that you have such strong links with the local society, and you've made such a deep contribution, especially in the field of education. So, when we in India, think about the Indian community in Ethiopia, for us, it is not just Indians, who have been entrepreneurs or Indians who have set out to seek their prospects elsewhere, it is also Indians who have served Ethiopia well, also over multiple generations who have contributed to nation building, and who have seen times which were difficult and good. So their sense of attachment is something which is really very laudable and certainly characteristic that I think both Governments recognize.

Now, one natural consequence of that, of course, is that education has become a very important medium of cooperation and exchanges between us. And again not just the Minister, I think some of our Ethiopian colleagues here also in the morning told me that they too have spent some time in Indian institutions. And I want to say that we're really proud of that and we see that as a particular bond that we have with this country. A lot of that is done by scholarships, which are provided but we also have initiatives of Ethiopian government for students. So, the point I'm making is that the human connect between us, the community which lives here, the people who are still teaching here, the students who have studied in India, the exchanges between us, the business transactions, this is today really what the relationship is about. Of course, the Governments have their policies and we certainly build on other aspects of it, but you are actually the foundation of the relationship and my presence here today, and my meeting with all of you is really to convey that message that we value, really the foundation, which the Indian community provides to the relationship.

I was told that apart from the Minister, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, who is also an alumnus of India, and a number of State Ministers have studied there. And of course, the minister was conferred the distinguished ICCR Alumni Award in 2021. So, these are, as I emphasize important to our relationship.

But I turn to different part of the human connection, and I would like to recognize the presence of Mr. (inaudible), because he not just as a PBD awardee in 2021, but as a symbol really of today, how far and wide Indian community has gone, the challenges that they have faced, the successes that they have achieved, and I want to tell you that in India, there is a much stronger connect today with the community. You know, you will see particularly after our Prime Minister Modi assumed office, that the sense of you know, between the motherland and the Indians who have gone abroad, the emotional connect, the care which we have taken for each other, the contributions that we often get from the community during our times of difficulty at home, the efforts that we make from the government, when our citizens or our people are stuck outside and we have some difficult situations even in Ethiopia in the last few years. I think all of this speaks today of a very changed relationship between India and the Indian community abroad between the Government of India, how we perceive our obligations and duties and I would say, really our sense of belonging with all of you.

I am also very struck by the economic presence India has in Ethiopia, I know that there are a very large number of companies here. And I understand that we are among the top investors. I think we are the second largest employers, foreign employers in this country and suddenly here too, I want to send you a message that we support Indian economic activities abroad that business is done by business people, but it is the obligation of the government to provide an enabling environment and the supporting environment. So, wherever there are issues where it is necessary for us to settle in some way, we are there for you.

In terms of our bilateral relationship, I think you will all recall that our Rashtrapati Ji has visited Ethiopia on October 2017. And the Deputy Prime Minister of Ethiopia, my counterpart has visited India in February 2021 and we certainly look forward to more visits in the coming future.

I again, want to place this in a context that there is under the Modi government, a much stronger focus on Africa. In fact, a lot of our new Embassies in the last four or five years have all largely opened up in Africa. Even Kigali, where I am going to as my next destination is a very recent Embassy that we have opened up. And that is because we see the promise of Africa, we see the promise of the relationship with Africa. And we believe that it is important for us to have as effective a ground presence as possible. So I want you to know this is one of our oldest relationships in Africa if not the oldest.

Nevertheless, you should also have a sense, what is happening between us and the rest of the continent. Even in the brief time that I have been here, the Ambassador has spoken to me about the contributions that the community has made, and the activities that the community has undertaken, I was very pleased to know that the International Day of Yoga, which was yesterday, was celebrated in a very, very big way, and through really multiple events in Ethiopia. But apart from these activities, there are the daily contributions, which people make. I know that some of you have really apart from your professional or business commitments, have made an effort really to contribute your skill, your knowledge, your energy, to the Ethiopian society. That is something which we certainly, for us, sitting in India, we take I would say pride in whatever Indians do abroad, whatever good Indian do abroad. So I also want to take the opportunity to recognize that.

Now, it's natural, that sitting in India, we always have concerns and interests about our citizens outside. And it is equally natural that citizens abroad have a concern about what is happening in India. So I just want to spend a little time telling you about the changes in India, because I think those of you who have been here for some time, and COVID has made travel very difficult in the last few years, you would perhaps like to know about these changes. Like the rest of the world, we have been through a very difficult two years. And I think almost all of you would have relatives and friends back home, you would have read COVID experiences, but have understood the intensity of challenges that we went through. But what I want to highlight to you today, is that the pandemic could have been much more devastating. It could have been much more devastating, because if you remember, I mean, we won't actually remember but if you read about what happened 100 years ago, in the Spanish flu, a lot of people in India actually died of hunger. So it wasn't only the flu that killed them, it was actually the disruption, the famine which accompanied the flu, that was terrible.

This time around, we have ensured that for all the problems that we faced for those two and a half years, that the people of India did not suffer from want of food. Government actually had a program where about 800 million people- it is almost, I would say two-thirds the size of Africa, were daily receiving food from the Government. There are 400 million people who actually have money put in their bank accounts. So the most vulnerable sections of society had a support system. And they had a support system, because today we have the digital backbone to deliver that. Thanks to Adhar, thanks to the fact that Jan Dhan Yojana, so that everybody has a bank account, thanks to the fact that today almost everybody has a phone connection, that we were actually able to reach out to the population and do something very massive without corruption. So both in their own way are very remarkable developments for us.

Now, it wasn't just the food and the financial support we give. I think it was equally remarkable that we were among the earliest countries to start vaccinating. And we were among the earliest countries to start vaccinating because we were among the earliest countries to produce vaccines. So ask yourself what would have happened today, if we have not had the ability to produce, if there were no Make in India vaccines, our turn in the queue would have been somewhere out there. If there was no invented in India vaccines, that confidence with which we dealt with COVID would not have been there. But look beyond vaccines, we actually had a platform in India. And I don't know, many of you actually went to India and got yourself vaccinated. There was a platform called Cowin. So everybody on the phone got a message saying ‘today is your vaccination day’ or ‘next week is your vaccination day’. So your first dose, your second dose now your precautionary dose. So we were actually able to vaccinate a billion people very smoothly, without you know, too many people in a sense choking the system, people in a disciplined manner waiting for their turn. And I cannot tell you what a big achievement that is, because when I travel around the rest of the world, I still see society struggling even now with vaccination. And these are not necessarily developing societies, even developed societies many of them. There are countries which have vaccines, but have not been able to get the shot in the arm.

So, this I cite to you as one example. But beyond the pandemic stress, there are other changes in India that you should know about. Changes which today thanks to the Government's focus on education, particularly girl’s education, and associated programs which make school entry and school retention easier, like creating toilets for girls. We are seeing a big spike in girl’s education. We are actually even seeing a big change in the male-female ratio of our society. That is a very consequential social happening. We are seeing very a rapid growth in electrification. You know, if you look at the beneficiaries of electrification today, I mean, any number which I am talking about I am really talking in hundreds of millions. The big push right now, because we feel we are now achieved great success in electrification is for tap water. There is also an enormous scheme for providing houses- houses in cities, the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna; houses in the countryside.

So, the India which in a sense today, I seek for, is an India whose human resources are getting better, which is educating better, whose health starting from the time you are born, in fact, starting from the time before you were born, when mothers are still expecting. From the time you are expecting, from the time the child is born to the Poshan Abhiyan, to the initial health support, to taking Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana which is today creating a health system across the country. So, health is today a big area of change. Education is an area of change, Skills and Development are areas of change. (inaudible) on delivery of services.

So the overall picture I want to paint today is really of a country which is coming out of COVID, which has absorbed all the pain and the challenges of the COVID. But, which is very confident about the future. We believe we have handled it. Even financially, we have not created a huge deficits in order to deal with the COVID situation. So this enables us today. We certainly are among the major economies among with the strongest growth prospects this year and in the foreseeable future. But at a societal level also there is a lot that is moving in the right direction. I felt this is an opportunity for you to hear that direct (inaudible).

So once again, let me just say that it's really been a pleasure today for me, to be here at the inauguration of the (inaudible)

My back was towards the screen so I actually did not see that. It is so appropriate the community, you know, you have really a sterling record here. This is a land where you have long had a presence. And in any country, in any society, will have its ups and downs, you have to go with the ups and downs. And I think the one good thing about Indians everywhere in the world is they have by now established a reputation that they are not fair whether friends. That they are there for the long run. That they know how to harmonize their contribution to the land where they live with their attachment to the land, where they come from. So this is also a very unique quality of all of us. So, I convey to you the greetings of Prime Minister Modi, the good wishes of the citizens of your motherland. And I thank the Minister and her colleagues, for joining us today.

Thank you.


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