A woman with a double success story: Ambassador Birtukan Ayano

November 23, 2018 Africa , Interviews , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , OTHER



Ambo Mekasa interviews Ambassador Birtukan Ayano



Many exciting things have been taking place in our country. Happily now, members of the fair sex comprise half of the cabinet. Unprecedented in Ethiopia’s history, we also now have a woman president, in Sahle-Work Zewde.


In this piece we have come up with an influential and great woman of the country. Today’s guest is Ambassador Birtukan Ayano.


Birtukan was born in Arsi province on 12 November, 1975, but due to an attempted abduction on her, she moved to Bale province and completed her high school education at Robe High School. After she completed her college education at Bale Teachers’ Training Institute, she became an elementary and junior secondary school teacher.


From September 2003 to December 2006 Birtukan served as a Judge in Oromia State’s High Court. In January 2006 Birtukan joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and became first secretary and then a counselor at the Embassy of Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia in Ottawa, Canada, in addition to being counselor at the Ethiopian general consulate in Toronto, Canada.


Ambassador Birtukan is one of the most well educated women in the country. In 2003 she earned her LLB Degree from Ethiopian Civil Service University. In 2013 she attended a semester towards a second degree on Diplomacy and International Relations at the School of Diplomacy and International Relations, Ethiopian Civil Service University and in 2018 she earned her Executive Master in Governance and Development Policy, CERIS, Belgium Brussels.


Ambassador Birtukan has been deployed in different countries, in numerous capacities and positions, and has been serving her country at national and international level.


From July 2011 to May 2013 she became Senior Counselor of the International Treaties and Legal Affairs Directorate General at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia. From May 2013 to November 2017 she was Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia to Canada. Since December 2017, she has been Director General of the American Affairs of Ethiopia, and since 9 May 2018, State Minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia.


In the global arena, Birtukan had served as Vice Dean of the African Diplomatic Group, President of African Women Diplomats, and Executive Committee member of Ottawa Diplomatic associations, among others.


I earlier had the opportunity to interview Ambassador Birtukan Ayano:



How did you become an Ambassador?


Ambassador Birtukan: My ambassadorship was almost a surprise to me. Without informing me of the purpose, the Oromia State President Office took my CV. At that time I used to work at Oromia State High Court. I was vexed by their deeds. I took it as an affront to my dignity, given that I was a Judge.


Later on, the office informed me my selection by the president’s office to take training to be a diplomat for the country. But I had a plan to stay a Judge to ward off the injustices perpetrated on the citizens, especially on women. I had a dream to contribute my due share towards promoting justice in the country. Though, I loved my profession, I had to respond to the call from the government with alacrity. After three months training, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) assigned me to Canada, Ottawa as a Diplomat.



If you had not become a Judge – turned Ambassador, which profession would you have pursued?


Birtukan: When I was at elementary school, I used to participate in sport. Representing my elementary school, I used to run when races were held among schools. I was a good runner but my grandfather warned me to better focus on my education. But when it came to education, I had an ambition to be a Journalist or an Artist. If I had not become an Ambassador, I was sure to be one of the well-known artists in Ethiopia.



How did you see Diasporas past and present?


Birtukan: As you know most Ethiopians in the Diaspora were averse to the system. They were known for vehemently denouncing and opposing the system via different media outlets. Most of them were political refugees. They were expressing their complaints by staging different rallies and uttering denouncing slogans and hovering high political flags. Instead of the country’s flag, they even used to hoist their political flag on the premises of Ethiopian embassies abroad.


In addition, divisive lines were conspicuous among ethnic groups and religions. Things were very hard for many ambassadors as they had to be impartial. There is a need to treat all equally without a slightest fault, intentional or otherwise.


But after Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed’s inaugural speech before parliamentarians, many Ethiopians and Diasporas of Ethiopian origin started to trust the premier. They accepted his call for synergy and unity. Specially, after his visit to America, everyone started to wholeheartedly work for the motherland. So, the current change is a fulfilled dream, which all were eagerly looking forward to. They saw it a windfall we should sustain working hand in glove. The rekindled sentiment of Ethiopianism, being witnessed on the side of Ethiopians in the Diaspora, is appreciable and should be stepped up. Though, Ethiopians in the Diaspora live and work in different comfortable zones, Ethiopia is the only country sealed on their heart.


So let us unite and build the nation. Now, every Ethiopian in the Diaspora is singing the tune of the motherland. May God provide us everything.



What do you think about the ongoing changes in the country?


Birtukan: Everyone remembers that half of 2010 was a time of pain for all Ethiopians in the country and those in the Diaspora. Many had been on the horns of a dilemma thinking whether the country will unite or disintegrate. Some were killed while many were displaced. I think now we are about to pass onto the next stage of hope and a bright future. Though there are things to be done, citizens are entertaining hope that a better situation is yet to come. Due to the incredible changes seen in the country, many neighboring countries and Africans are hoping the change in Ethiopia is bound to bring them something better.


Palpable changes are manifested in the country. The change has effaced the tarnished image the county had before. It is transferring the country to a marvelous era. What happened in the last seventh months exceeds the diplomatic missions we had been accomplishing for many years. It is incomparable in all aspects. For example, distancing themselves Diaspora members were saying your government, your minister, your official and the like. But now, as the ice is thawed they are saying our prime minister, our government, our country and the like. These are the fruits of change seen in the course of the last seven months.


We have to take care of what we have already got, we better work together to develop the country and sustain the change. In addition, every citizen should focus on maintaining his/her peace, for change begins within the self. Without expecting from anyone, we have taken a responsibility towards the furtherance of the country’s peace.



How did you manage to handle your duty parallel to running your family?


Birtukan: Becoming an ambassador for a married woman, entrusted with manifold responsibilities, is very difficult, because she has to handle things in her home parallel to discharging missions one takes from her government. She has to give priority and time for her duties and family.


Being an ambassador presupposes readiness at home and at the workplace. An ambassador needs to be well informed about the homeland and the country to hold one’s mission and strengthen bilateral relationships.


Diplomacy needs ample information and knowledge. Due to this, an ambassador has to be alert watch things going on in one’s country and abroad. All these need time to read and arrange things. As result, the task needs added support from family members like taking children to school, giving encouragement and rendering all due treatments.


Next to God, my husband takes credit for my success. Every time he treats me well and fuels my passion with a tap on the back. On many occasions he quit his jobs to be with me at my duty. Though many could laud their husbands, I think mine is different. He is a special person who covers my weakness and wishes to see my successes.


Acclimatizing with the cultures and the weather conditions of countries where I was assigned to was very difficult. As many could agree, the weather condition of our country is salubrious compared to others. Abroad, one faces either a scalding sun or extreme cold. Inclement weather was a big challenge I faced. You see, Ethiopia’s weather is almost the same throughout the year.



Does an Ambassador have different status?


Birtukan: Being an Ambassador in African countries and developed western countries has no difference at all. But here there are things to be taken into consideration like choosing countries for different purposes for the benefits of the nation. On the other hand, there are places that we give priority to based on the level of their development in terms of education, science and technology and politics, among. For example we need to have a relation with America on different investment and science and technologies and they need us to maintain peace and security. Here, the government has to select the diplomat who can better handle the task for the benefit of the country.


Many do think that the status of an ambassador in western countries is worse than those assigned in African countries. But the reality could be the reverse of that, everything is done only based on the benefits of the homeland. For example, we do have economic and port-based ties with Djibouti, the government selects the one who be would be assigned an ambassador where to perform the duty. Performances of embassies are evaluated based on their performances in discharging assigned tasks and given missions.


In addition, ambassadors are delegated to protect the rights of citizens in the host countries and the interests of the homeland. Peace, trade and economic ties and relationships between neighbors’ countries are the priorities of missions handled by ambassadors.



The cabinet is 50% populated by women and the first woman president has come to the political scene of the country. How do you assess the empowerment of women in today’s Ethiopia?


Birtukan: This sounds very exciting and makes me take pride in being a woman more than ever before. Many have been boasting we are for women; we are here to empower women.


But, this is a golden chance we have seen offered to women in developed countries. I was wishing and waiting for such a great time for Ethiopian women. I really appreciate the premier’s bold move. He is really a man of his words. I think he overturned the attitude of culturally-programmed citizens towards women. He made a great thing almost unprecedented in the continent. Now, everyone has an equal chance to serve one’s country.


In my view, this action would make other nations follow suit. Women are mothers, sisters, daughters, housewives, lovers, etc. Utilizing the favorable situation, we will work to develop our nation. The appointed ministers are educated enough and committed to change the nation. We are about to see a great light in the near future. Since we have equal right to enjoy and a chance to benefit our country, we have to show the world how we can manage things beyond our home.


In addition, the appointees should seek participatory approaches to take women aboard. The government should continue its support in a sustainable way. Even most women lack self-esteem due to the discrimination they suffered during the past systems and outmoded cultures. Now, our time has come, let us use it and change the nation and make a great history in the world.





Ambo Mekasa

EPA reporter, earning his BA in English Language and Literature from Arsi University.

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