The Greek Charge d’affaires in Addis Ababa, Aristomenis Miliaressis, had two conversations with his US counterpart, James Rives Childs, regarding Greek policy towards Ethiopia in 1952. Childs held previous diplomatic posts in Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen whereas Miliaressis continued to represent Greece in Addis Ababa until 1954.
During the 20th century, Greece signed the Treaty of Amity and Commerce with Ethiopia on February 18, 1922, and an additional accord on March 23, 1931, which was ratified by the Greek government on October 10, 1933. After the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, Greece’s attitude towards Italy was a combination of fear, dislike, and conciliatory caution until October 28, 1940- ‘Oxi’ Day. During WWII, Greek refugees from Samos, Chios, and Ikaria were housed in camps in Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa. There were cultural links between Greece and Ethiopia stretching back to the early years of Christianity through the Coptic and Orthodox churches.
Miliaressis stated that “two facts of Greek foreign policy are the encouragement of the growth of the Greek merchant marine and [overseas] immigration. Greece’s merchant marine was the cornerstone of its foreign policy as it helped its poor economy and trade.”
Greece’s economy had been shattered by WWII and the Greek Civil War, leaving many Greeks destitute who migrated to other countries in search of better economic opportunities. The ships of the Greek merchant marine were registered in Panama or Liberia instead of Piraeus.
According to Miliaressis, Greek immigration to Ethiopia never exceeded fifty per year with the total number domiciled in Ethiopia being 3000 – 2000 lived in Addis Ababa and 1000 in Dire Dawa. Ethiopian citizenship was difficult to attain and only three Greeks had become citizens, although many of them were of Ethiopian birth. Many Greek males married Ethiopian women and while Greek immigrants established themselves abroad, they never completely severed ties with their homeland. They helped the Greek economy through their overseas remittances. “Africa, in general, and Ethiopia in particular, are of prime importance to Greece’s immigration policy,” Miliaressis said. Overseas remittances were common to all expatriate Greek communities.
Ethiopia’s abundant natural resources offered wonderful opportunities for the establishment of Greek businesses there. However, Greek business activity was confined to small-scale trading which had been established in the early 20th century. The Greek legation encouraged businessmen to undertake large-scale development in the agricultural field, and “as an incentive for cooperation by the Ethiopian government, the Legation has advised entrepreneurs to offer Ethiopian participation up to 30% of the capitalization of their enterprises. This has been a standing procedure in all but one of the five Greek business ventures which have been planned.”
Miliaressis continued: “The exception is the Greek sugar concession signed by the Ethiopian government on February 6, 1952, and by a Mr. Vasilopoulos, who represented a group of Greeks in Paris. This group established an anonymous company, presumably with an Ethiopian name, has agreed to Ethiopian participation up to 10% and 15% of the capitalization. The company initially was to be incorporated in Tangier but decided to incorporate in Switzerland instead, with headquarters in Geneva.” I couldn’t find any official documentation regarding this concession.
The Ethiopian government approved three other Greek enterprises with one established “to cultivate and collect rubber in the western provinces in the Gore region.”
An Athenian businessman named Tsirigotis invested $70,000 of his own money as the start-up capital for this business venture. He manufactured “rubber solid shoes and miscellaneous rubber good goods in Athens.” Messrs Papadakis and Nicolaidis were his local associates. “If the enterprise proves successful other Greek entrepreneurs have indicated that they will provide $500,000 through the auspices of the National Bank of Greece.” On the other hand, “if the production does not measure up to expectations, Tsirigotis will merely supply his own needs.”
Another business venture involved Greek merchant Gerasimos Contomichalis (1883-1954) based in Sudan with business interests in agriculture, and banking. He also operated a shipping line. He had commercial links with London, Cairo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Haifa, and Panama and “is said to have a combined capital enterprise worth up to U.S. $2 million.” Contomichalos was to establish two companies, “one for exploration and one for the exploitation of gum-arabic [which is used in a variety of industrial applications in textiles, food, printing, cosmetics, and paint production… No money has been raised for the exploitation company but Egyptian capital is available for the scheme. Project success depends upon the grade of gum-arabic obtainable in Ethiopia.”
Contomichalos established an Ethiopian shipping company that he hoped would commence operations in late 1952. He hired a retired Greek navy captain to prepare a draft code for an Ethiopian merchant marine but the Ethiopian government hadn’t even studied it. Since no navigation laws existed, ships would fly the Panamanian flag. His company would have six to eight ships “most of which will be provided by Greek operators in Egypt and Great Britain. Contomichalos might furnish two ships.”
The final Greek venture was cotton cultivation which required capital to initiate the project. The question was where would the finance come from? One major source of funding was the National Bank of Greece, which had no branches in Ethiopia. The approval of the Ethiopian government could speed up the process. It was important for the National Bank of Greece and the State Bank of Ethiopia (also the Central Bank) to reach an agreement regarding foreign exchange before the federation of Ethiopia and Eritrea in September 1952. One had to consider that “foreign banks might establish branches in Ethiopia and Eritrea.” Childs stated that “the Greeks might want to establish their bank as soon as possible even it means giving up the right to deal in foreign exchange.”
If negotiations for these schemes succeeded, then “some 1000 Greek technicians would come to Ethiopia. Counting their families will mean a net increase in the Greek colony in Ethiopia of about 3000 persons.”
In conclusion, Miliaressis saw his role in encouraging the expansion of Greek businesses’ investment Ethiopia and to further strengthen the long-standing ties between the two countries.