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Yesterday, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves and his nine member delegation which includes four local Rastafarian brethren were expected to visit the Rastafarian community of Shashamane, a small southern town in the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia -the spiritual home of Rastafarians.

This community occupies lands that were donated to West Indians by Ethiopia’s last Emperor, Haile Selassie I.{{more}}

Dr.Gonsalves’ visit came one day after he met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, in Addis Ababa.

An Agency for Public Information (API) press release stated that at a high level meeting between Prime Minister Gonsalves, his delegation, Prime Minister Zenawi and other Ethiopian Government officials on Wednesday, the waiver of visa requirement between St.Vincent and the Grenadines and Ethiopia and the presence of the Rastafarians in Ethiopia were discussed.

Prime Minister Zenawi, welcoming the visiting Rastafarians, said that his government has been examining the status of Rastas in Ethiopia with a view to treating them differently from other foreigners.

The API release further stated that with regard to the waiver of visas Prime Minister Zenawi said that his Government has agreed with the proposal from St.Vincent and the Grenadines and will be ready to sign the document by Thursday.

The trip will go down in the annals of Vincentian history as another historic one for Vincentians and especially for members of the Rastafari community.

On Monday, October 17, shortly before leaving the shores of St.Vincent and the Grenadines, Prime Minister Dr.Ralph Gonsalves described his visit to Ethiopia as one that has historic, cultural and spiritual significance.

Dr. Gonsalves headed a nine member delegation, comprising his wife Eloise Gonsalves, son Camillo Gonsalves of the Attorney General’s Chambers, St. Claire “Jimmy” Prince, Director of the Agency for Public Information (API), Ellsworth John, Ambassador/Permanent Representative to Washington, and four Rastafarians, Ronald “Ras I Man I” Hypolite, Nigel “Ras Ni-E” St. Hillaire, Philbert “Ras Izaros” Bascombe and Uldrick “O.T” Delplesche.

This is the second time in almost 35 years since the efforts of Michael Manley, former Prime Minister of Jamaica that a Caribbean prime minister is championing the cause of Rastas to forge closer ties with Ethiopia -“the motherland” of all Rastas. In 1996 Sir James Mitchell, former Prime Minister of St.Vincent and the Grenadines recognizing the importance of the Rastafarian Community, held discussions with them and brought the grandson of Emperor Haile Selassie to St.Vincent and the Grenadines. Now, nine years later, Dr. Gonsalves has made the trip to Ethiopia, an African country he calls the “cradle of civilization”.

It was just over two years ago that St.Vincent and the Grenadines established diplomatic relations with Ethiopia.Prime Minister Gonsalves said a discussion had been held between the diplomatic personnel of both countries towards a visa waiver agreement which would allow Ethiopians and Vincentians to travel from St.Vincent and the Grenadines to Ethiopia and vice versa for a period of 90 days in the first instance without a visa.

Explaining the reasons why the trip was being made at this instead of the period dating back to the establishment of diplomatic relations, Prime Minister Gonsalves said at that time Ethiopia was preparing for elections and thereafter experienced a difficult period.

“We had to give them some time to settle down,” Prime Minister Gonsalves said.

He disclosed that in September he met Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister of Ethiopia at the Clinton Global Initiative and spoke about the possibility of the trip.

In a brief ceremony held a the E.T Joshua Airport last Monday morning, “Ras I Man I” Hypolite, said that it was a long awaited dream of his to see the waiver agreement between St.Vincent and the Grenadines and Ethiopia and expressed his gratitude to Dr. Gonsalves for choosing him to be part of the venture.

In 1955 Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie I, invited all Jamaican blacks to live in Ethiopia, offering free land to those who did in Shashamane. Since the first 12 Jamaican settlers in 1963, the community has grown to over 200 families.

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