Cablegate: Post Report of Visit of Iip Speaker Elbert "Bert" Ransom To


DE RUEHDS #0656/01 0661341
P 061341Z MAR 08





E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Post Report of Visit of IIP Speaker Elbert "Bert" Ransom to
Ethiopia (February 1 - 13)

1. SUMMARY: IIP Speaker Rev. Dr. Elbert "Bert" Ransom completed a
highly-successful, twelve-day visit to Ethiopia on the topic of "The
Role of Faith Communities in Social Change: Contributions of
Christians, Jews, and Muslims to the American Civil Rights
Movement," as the main focus of post's Black History Month
programming. Ransom spoke to religious leaders in Addis Ababa,
Harar, Bahir Dar, and Gondar, large audiences of students and
townspeople in Bahir Dar, Gondar, and Dire Dawa, and opened post's
photo exhibition, "Building Islam in Detroit." Ransom's message of
inter-faith cooperation was well-received in all locations,
indicating a "huge wellspring of goodwill," as he put it, for
cross-faith cooperation on social issues. Ransom's experience and
recollections of the Civil Rights Movement and his work with Dr.
King were especially well-received and he engaged in extensive media
outreach as well, to include Ethiopia's leading talk show Post will
follow up this visit with a proposal to the Department for setting
up interfaith councils to address local issues in Ethiopia as a
means of fostering greater Christian-Muslim cooperation and mutual
understanding across the country. END SUMMARY.


2. Rev. Ransom's visit to Ethiopia launched post's new faith
communities outreach strategy, drawing on the experience of the
American Civil Rights Movement. This new strategy lies not in
"Muslim Outreach" per se, but rather in bringing all faith
communities together to promote tolerance, mutual understanding, and
inter-faith cooperation to address common issues of social concern.
In doing so, post hopes to strengthen indigenous religious
communities (especially Muslim groups) against outside/foreign
influences and to build on Ethiopia's long tradition of tolerance
and mutual respect between Christianity and Islam.

3. Since faith communities are central to this strategy, Rev. Ransom
met with His Holiness Patriarch Paulos, of the Ethiopian Orthodox
Church, at the beginning of his visit. The normal 30-minute
audience stretched to over an hour as bishops and monks were kept
waiting in the anteroom while the Patriarch described the role of
the Church in Ethiopian history and culture, and Rev. Ransom
discussed inter-faith cooperation in fighting segregation in the
United States. Clearly moved by Ransom's interest in the Church, and
elated when he learned that Ransom's grandson is named "Addis," the
Patriarch telephoned the seminary where Ransom was to speak later
that same day, instructing them to give Ransom a full display of
Ethiopian Church chanting and dancing at its best. That 20-minute
experience of Orthodox liturgical dancing, chanting, and drumming,
rich in African traditions and rhythms, moved Ransom to tears as he
described his own spiritual connection to Ethiopia. The audience of
students, clerics, and professors engaged in hearty discussion of
the Civil Rights Movement and Ransom's own experience of living and
working with Dr. King, as well as the role of Faith in the
African-American community.

4. Ransom also met with the leaders of the Muslim Community in a
well-attended roundtable near the Mercato section of Addis Ababa.
With Sheikh Elias Redman, head of the Ethiopian Muslim Community
presiding, Ransom interacted with the audience of more than fifty
clerics and other Muslim leaders (including women Muslim leaders) on
how Christians, Jews, and Muslims found common cause in fighting
segregation. Lunch afterward enabled Ransom and Embassy PD staff to
engage the religious leaders and student leaders more intensively as
discussion continued on the influence of Wahabis in Ethiopia,
cooperation with the Christian community in addressing poverty and
other developmental issues, and the life and work of Dr. King and
Malcolm X. After leaving the luncheon, Dr. Ransom commented how
impressed he was with the "number of people of good will there are
in Ethiopia."

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5. Ransom met with 30 Muslim religious leaders at the Office of the
President of Harar Region on February 6. The meeting was organized
by the head of the Harar Region Islamic Affairs Supreme Council,
Sheikh Ibrahim Sharif, and included religious leaders from Harar and
Oromia Regions. Rev. Ransom spoke of the struggle of
African-Americans to achieve civil rights, beginning with the bus
boycott led by Rev. Martin Luther King in Montgomery, Alabama. His
story struck a responsive cord with the Muslim leaders who commented
on how they could learn from the civil rights struggle and apply it
to achieving a just and equal society and alleviate poverty in
Ethiopia. Another person, who had followed the civil rights
movement with his Peace Corps friends in the 1960s, considered it a
privilege to meet personally someone who had participated in the

6. Rev. Ransom also opened the photo exhibition, "Building Islam in
Detroit," with Mayor Arif Hussein of Harar. This superb exhibit,
which post obtained on its own initiative from the University of
Michigan, shows Muslim life in Detroit and how faith communities in
Detroit have lived and worked together for more than a century.
Ransom noted in his remarks that the exhibition showed the variety
of Muslim life in America and how it reflected favorably on the U.S.
and freedom of religion for all Americans.


7. Before speaking at the university, Ransom met with a group of
about 25 Muslim leaders (both male and female) in Bahir Dar.
Greeting everyone with a hearty "As salaam a laikum," a huge smile,
and a warm hug or handshake, he immediately broke the ice and put
everyone at ease as he spoke of Muslim-Christian relations, our
common social concerns, how faith groups must work together to make
life better for everyone in society, etc. The imam of Bahir Dar's
main mosque, a young graduate of a Sudanese university, invited him
to visit the mosque later that day, which Ransom gladly accepted.
As a result of this contact, post will follow up with this young
imam in the hope of doing more programs with the Muslim community in
Bahir Dar, something he asked us to do in his own hope of
strengthening our relationship.

8. After lunch, over 600 Muslim and Christian students, including
one lone female, packed a large lecture hall to hear Rev. Ransom at
Bahir Dar University, near the shore of beautiful Lake Tana, the
headwaters of the Blue Nile. For almost two hours, all eyes in the
packed house were riveted on Ransom as he described how Rosa Parks
refused to give up her seat on the bus, his work with Dr. King, how
he managed Resurrection City, and marched with Whites, Blacks, Jews,
Christians, and Muslims across the South and in Chicago in the 1950s
and '60s. After his introduction by the university President,
Ransom's preaching in the rhythmic cadences of his beloved Baptist
Church captivated the students and drew in many more from the plaza
outside who caught his voice over the loudspeakers. Within minutes,
the lecture hall was packed and many more students were standing
outside, craning their necks to see and hear this champion of the
American Civil Rights Movement. When question time came, dozens of
students clamored for a chance to speak while Ransom and the PAO
jointly fielded questions on the African-American experience, USG
Africa policy, Kenya, democracy in Ethiopia, etc.


9. The next day, Ransom headed to Gondar, the old imperial capital
of Ethiopia, where he spent a free day visiting the old palaces and
churches. Then on Sunday morning, sitting on the steps of the
oldest church in Gondar, Ransom was the guest of honor at a special
church service with honorary poems recited in the ancient Ge'ez
language, liturgical dancing and chanting, and then an invitation to
preach/speak to the large crowd sitting on the grass in front of the
church. The hundreds of people in attendance clearly appreciated
this visit by an associate of Dr. King, but surprisingly enough,
many of the clerics and those educated in religious schools had not
even heard of Dr. King! Unfazed, Ransom described how this great
Martyr of African-American rights and advocate of the downtrodden
around the world touches our lives even today - a message that
resonated very well with the many poor people in attendance.

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********************************************* *****

10. PAO knew Ransom well from previous assignments, having
programmed him twice in Kosovo and once in Ireland before coming to
Ethiopia. This was also Ransom's first visit to Africa, and
Ethiopia was his first country in Africa to visit, surely a great
way to start his trip! Ransom relates very well to his audiences
wherever he goes and he especially knows how to relate to people of
faith, whatever their faith tradition. One idea that developed out
of his visit is to start "Inter-Faith Councils" in one or two cities
to bring religious leaders together purely to address social issues
and, in doing so, to address and reduce religious tensions that may
be developing in their own communities. Post will explore this
possibility for future programming as it is a natural corollary to
our strategy of "Faith Communities Outreach."

11. Post enthusiastically endorses Rev. Elbert "Bert" Ransom for
further programming by IIP; in fact, this post may request him again
if the idea of the councils continues to develop. Besides being an
intrepid traveler of infinite patience and a ready laugh, Ransom is
also a great "citizen diplomat" for America who can charm and engage
substantively virtually any audience you throw at him. He is simply

superb. Post thanks IIP for making this program happen and we hope
to host him again here in Ethiopia.


© Scoop Media

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