Africa: Why Did Ethiopia Become Focal Point for World Leaders to Come?

From The Ethiopian Herald

Photo:  Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Addis Ababa’s light rail system speaks to the country’s economic development.


Over the past few years, various government officials and world leaders have paid official visits to Ethiopia. Turkish President, Chinese Prime Minister, Italian Prime Minister, US President among other prominent world leaders have made their way to the National Palace in Addis, some of them for the first time in their country’s history. This is despite the fact that vocal criticism of human rights abuse thrown at it by international human rights group, some Ethiopian opposition groups and other entities. To get an insight into the variables that best articulate these dynamics and other related issues, The Ethiopian Herald held an execlussive interview with Costantinos Berhutesfa (PhD), Professor of public Policy at School of Graduate Studies, AAU. He is also Board Chairman of Ethiopia Aid and Trustee of African Humanitarian Action. Hereunder follows the first part of the interview.

In the midst of widespread accusations from human rights groups and Ethiopian opposition groups, many world leaders have visited Ethiopia over the past few years. The Turkish President, Chinese Prime Minister, President Barack Obama among other prominent world leaders have visited Ethiopia. Why is that?

The first thing is Ethiopia is the political and diplomatic capital of Africa. So, there is no way for leaders to avoid coming to Ethiopia. The second thing is Ethiopia is a major player in Africa politics, including the fact that the country is seat to important regional institutions like the AU, UNECA. Thirdly, despite being located in one of the most difficult neighborhoods in Africa, which includes countries like South Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea, Ethiopia with its large population has become very stable amid this confusion. Also, in the last three year, the passing of our former Prime Minister Ato Meles Zenawi also attracted a lot of emissaries to come here for his funeral.

Among these variables, there are allegations of human right abuse in Ethiopia. First of all, it should be known that people differ in the definition of human rights violation, and every country has its own abuses. In the US for example, we have seen the Ferguson killings, while several other incidents have been reported in the US. Here in Ethiopia situations related to the Human Right abuses and violations have been reported. Of course the Ethiopian government denies this human right abuse because it says it’s in its own interest to maintain the Human right of people in this country. As a matter of fact, the Ethiopian government claims to be one of the few governments which talks about inclusive growth and bringing up the poor population in the rural areas; up to speed with the urban population. With so with many programs Ethiopia has for the rural areas and the rural poor, and Ethiopia having met the MDGS, the accusation of human right have been denied by the government.

So, overall, the fact that Ethiopia is an important player in Africa politics, together with its economic growth, and having met the MDGs and the fact that the country is showing good progress and in a positive trajectory, we have had official visits being made here by European, America, and Asian leaders. So, there are many reasons why Ethiopia became focal point for the world leaders to come here and visit us.

What contributions have Ethiopia’s articulated policies and strategies achieved in this regards?

I think the success story in Ethiopia emanates from government policies and strategies. For one, Ethiopia has been a depressed economy under the military government of the ‘Derg’. So, coming out of that some ten years after the Derg, the economy continued on the same pace. But, beginning from the last decade what really happened is Ethiopia’s government came up with several economic plans. One is the Sustainable Development and Poverty Reduction Program (SDPRP), which was a five year program. The next one is Plan for Accelerated and Sustained Development to End Poverty

(PASDEP) and the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP). During this period, Ethiopia made rapid infrastructural development and also social development so much that it has met most of the MDGs now. This is the outcome of a combination of commitment from the government and commitment from the Ethiopian people. The energy that Ethiopians has now to build enterprises, to work very hard at developing enterprises is unprecedented. So, if we take for example the service sector has taken over the agriculture sector, and the service sector remains within the hands of Ethiopian people and much of the work that’s been done. So, it’s a combination of a lot of things that has brought this economic health. In terms of policies, of course there are arenas that we can do a lot more especially in the area of finance, telecommunication, while attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to the optimal potential of the country. We are not being able to attract FDI as we should. One reason being; while the FDI level is good enough (I think we are number 8 in Africa now), we could have been number one, because we have the resources; the water, the energy, land which can be used for agriculture, our minerals have never been exploited even to the minimum level. So, there is a potential for it, and that potential has to come with a mix of policy transformation and also government willingness to be able to acquiesce to the demands of those people who are bringing in FDI.

Since we are on the subject of policies, how does our foreign policy attract and balance all these interests that are from divergent socio-economic background?

They have their own interest for coming here. You mentioned the Chinese Prime Minister. China has a vested interest in Ethiopia because it’s financing and building most of the infrastructural projects. We have dams, roads, railways that have been built. So, the relationship between China and Ethiopia has never been at its best. Turkish companies are now the highest in terms of FDI in Ethiopia. So, the Turkish leadership believes that Ethiopia is destination for them to come and see. Most countries in the world today are not amenable to investment because of lack of resources and lack of cheap labor. But in Ethiopia, with 90 million people, we have the labor, we have the young population, we have the land and we have the water. So, all this combined makes Ethiopia good destination for investment. They want to bring investment here more and more. The US remains to be the highest donor to Ethiopia even today. It’s funding human development programs in terms of health, education, food security. So, now the US is moving into energy with the signature program of President Obama, the ‘Power Africa’ program. So, all of them have interest in this country because this country historically have never been colonized, it’s a country with 3,000 years of history and culture. It’s a country which has been stable in the Horn of Africa. It’s a county that has been supporting the African countries to come out of colonialism. So, both historically and now with the kind of economic development that you see and the central role Ethiopia is playing in Africa especially with issues like the climate change, it becomes a very attractive destination. In addition, the Italian Prime Minister who has never been here has also visited making him the first Italian PM to come and visit Ethiopia. So, all this is the special interest they have placed on Ethiopia to be the future engine of growth for Africa.

There are some reports that claimed the Chinese are feeling a little threatened by the visit of President Obama?

The Chinese will never be threatened by the visit of Obama. As a matter of fact, you mentioned that there were human rights critiques that have been telling President Obama not to come here. As it’s known, they have also been saying that China is supporting dictatorial governments in Africa. So, for the Chinese it should be good that Mr. Obama was here because it exonerates them from this blame that they are supporting rogue governments. So, this is very important for them and I don’t think the Chinese government cares about this because they are more practical, and oriented towards work. We have long term, medium term and short term agreements with them. Therefore, they know that they are going to pursue this.

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