Lundi 22 Avril 2019  

N°124 - Quatrième trimestre 2018

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  S.E.Mme / H.E. Tadelech HAILE MIKAEL

An African power in the making

In the heart of an African Horn weakened by ongoing conflict and prey to terrorism and food crises, Ethiopia stands as a regional power. Nearly a year after its celebrations of the 2nd millennium, H.E. Ms Tadelech Haile Mikael, Ambassador of Ethiopia to France, tells us of her hopes for the stability and economic development of the oldest African nation.

The Diplomatic Letter: Mrs Ambassador, in September 2007 Ethiopia celebrated its 2000 years of existence. What signification can you give to this celebrations?

H.E. Tadelech Haile Mikael: Ethiopia celebrated its millennium on 12/09/2007. The Ethiopian calendar, also referred to as the Julian calendar, has a difference of 8 years and corresponds to the period from September 12, 2007 up to September 11, 2008 of the Gregorian calendar.
Also known as the cradle of mankind, the country is endowed with historical and cultural wealth, a pride not only for Ethiopians but for Africa as a whole. This exceptional legacy plays a key role in understanding the roots of human being origins. Taking this into account, the African Union and the UNESCO adopted the Ethiopian millennium as an African millennium.
The celebration of the millennium not only promotes Ethiopia's image and consolidates the bond of friendship it has with countries of the world but also promotes the African continent. Moreover, this occasion will avail the opportunity for Ethiopia to attract foreign investments and develop its tourism sector. In short, the objective is to promote the country's visibility in France and in the remainder of the continent through this celebration.

T.D.L.: After having been a political prisoner for 12 years, you have given much of your attention to the plight of women in your country, notably taking on two ministerial portfolios pertaining to this issue between 1993 and 2002. In the light of your personal experience, how would you describe the changes in Ethiopian society and, in particular, the role of women within it?

H.E.T.H.M.: The lack of democracy and military dictatorship led to the imprisonment, disappearance and execution of several people in Ethiopia. The end of the dictatorship in 1991 represented a significant moment for me since it is the period when I earned my freedom after so many years of imprisonment like many other victims of the junta. Ethiopia was then able to focus on its socio-economic and political development.
Development in general requires the participation of all the population and especially that of women, whom in our country account for 50% of it. This is the main reason why we were able to achieve our goal, namely setting-up of good governance, developing the country and maintaining peace. Moreover, Women issue in Ethiopia became vital. According to article 35 and 36 of the Ethiopian constitution, the right of women and children became the starting point of a policy. The institutional mechanism enabled us to integrate women issues in every development project and programme of the country. It goes without saying that in the country's development the role of the woman at family as well as at the Community level occupies a very important place.

T.D.L.: In the summer of 2007, Ethiopian authorities released some leaders and militants of the two major opposition parties who had been arrested during the tense climate that followed the 2005 elections. In your opinion, does this initiative herald a new push to further the democratization process in your country? What motives drove these parties nevertheless to boycott the local elections last April?

H.E.T.H.M.: In our political history, the 2005 elections marked a new phase towards the advancement of democratization in Ethiopia. This poll was also a challenge for our country. In my opinion, democracy in Africa does not only refer to the good conduct of the elections in general, but should also lead to political, socio-economic and cultural development of a country. Boycotting an election is not a solution for the advancement of democracy but rather an obstruction for its flourishment. Obviously, representatives of the various opposition parties did not seize the opportunity but rather opted for a what I would call a "simple a solution": to boycott. The people can be aware of various points of view and policies of various parties thanks to debates in the National Assembly and not through boycotts.

T.D.L.: With a growth hovering around the 10% mark over the past four years, Ethiopia takes the lead among the most dynamic non-petroleum-producing economies of Africa. How would you define the advantages of the development strategy pursued by the Prime Minister Meles Zenawi? Beyond the performance of Ethiopian agriculture, in what other sectors could your country diversify its sources of revenue and increase its competitiveness?

H.E.T.H.M.: Among non-oil producing countries, Ethiopia is amongst the countries to have registered an economic growth of 10% for a number of years. To obtain these results, it is essential to have a sound development strategy based on the reality on the ground. Political decentralization and economic reforms enabled a positive climate for the development of the regions which make up the country. The various ethnic groups and women in particular were able to define their needs and take part in development activities. The diversification of the development strategy in every sector made it possible for Ethiopia to register this kind of economic growth.
Currently, several opportunities are available for foreign investors in Ethiopia particularly in the agro-industry, infrastructure, construction, hotels, SSE-MSE, etc… The business environment is very encouraging for investors. The code of investment is very clear. Privatizations are also being implemented in some sectors. All in all, I can summarize the opportunities to invest in Ethiopia as follows:
– The potential of the market: with an approximate population of 75 million habitants, Ethiopia can be regarded as a reliable nest for investments.
– The climate: a diverse geographical feature which accounts for about eighteen ecological zones and five climatic zones, allowing the possibility for various types of cultivation. Agriculture, agro-processing and agro-industries will remain a priority for the economic development of the country.
– Major assets: Ethiopia is different in the sense that it offers one of the most transparent business environment among development countries. It is most probably one of the countries with the lowest levels of bureaucratic corruption among the LDCS (the least Advanced Countries). Crime is rare and the level of safety of the people and the property is highly maintained.

T.D.L.: In the context of infrastructure projects and the government’s program of privatization, new opportunities are afforded to the developing private sector and more particularly to foreign investors. How would you describe this opening up of the Ethiopian economy?

H.E.T.H.M. : During the dictatorship, between 1975 and 1991, then during the first years of the transition, Ethiopia suffered greatly, socially as well as economically. The military regime had the State take over all sectors of the economy. Moreover, the establishment of monopolistic state enterprises affected prices in general.
Such was the situation when the government embarked on a process of development, which, it must be understood, is being implemented progressively. The process of opening the market has thus begun, first with the allocation of trading permits and the adoption of a Code on Investments, but also by way of a trade strategy including the organization of trade fairs in different sectors of activity. Steps have also been taken to improve the business environment. For example, a Code on Intellectual Property has been adopted and I would like to stress that the government displays real determination in this area, in collaboration with organizations such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), which has moreover opened a representative office in Ethiopia.

T.D.L.: Beyond the performance of its agricultural sector, your country remains vulnerable to food crises. What are the priorities to strengthen the Ethiopian economy? In which sectors of industry can your country increase its competitiveness, particularly in the light of the privatization projects envisaged by the government?

H.E.T.H.M.: In order the strengthen food security, one of the government’s major priorities remains to consolidate the network of infrastructures for roads and thoroughfares generally. Ethiopia being a very mountainous country, the difficulty of accessing some regions during the periods of drought brings urgency to the task of achieving this road building project. The development of the country has also been given a new impetus by the adoption of a strategy of decentralization and by giving greater powers to the regions so as to encourage and facilitate their participation in the economic vitality of the country as a whole. This approach has proved beneficial and will in the longer term contribute to reinforcing the national feeling of belonging.
The growth of the agri-food sector is also a priority of Ethiopia’s current economic policy. Measures have been taken to encourage the development of sectors of industry such as horticulture. Ethiopia is an agricultural country. 85% of the population lives from land cultivation either directly or indirectly. We are today the first African exporter of coffee. 50% of our agricultural exports, meat especially, are destined for the Middle-Eastern countries. This point is particularly important, moreover. Indeed, some investors have made good use of our country’s geographic advantage, positioned as it is in the centre of Eastern Africa and at the gates to the Middle-East, offering trade opportunities beyond our borders.
To answer your second question, a number of privatizations have indeed been launched. Some large monopolistic state enterprises still remain today, especially in the telecommunications and banking sectors. One of the main concerns of the government remains however to maintain a balance between national and foreign enterprises. To achieve this, it is necessary to proceed one step at a time in order to prepare the Ethiopian economy to open its doors to foreign investors in an environment of fair competition.
The banking sector, for example, has already opened up to national investors and presents today a relatively diversified landscape. Foreign investors will probably be welcomed in the near future. The same applies to the telecommunications sector, which is currently experiencing a growth boom. Whilst the first foreign companies to set up in Ethiopia were Swedish, increasingly it is the Japanese and Chinese enterprises that are becoming interested in the Ethiopian market, and even the French, such as Alcatel. France Telecom has recently signed a cooperative agreement with the national Ethiopian Telecommunica-tions Corporation (ETC) as part of the public aid to development.

T.D.L: The internal conflict in Somalia, where Ethiopian troupes have intervened to support the federal transition government (FTG), and the latent tensions between your country and Eritrea have turned the Horn of Africa into an extremely fragile zone. How much do you think this regional instability will affect Ethiopia?

H.E.T.H.M.: I must say that in the rather unstable environment which prevails on both sides of the Horn of Africa, our country remains relatively unscathed, thanks mostly to the common interest shared by the population, in all its diversity, to maintain its cohesion for the sake of the development of the country. This common interest is based on a true national sense of belonging, derived for the greatest part from Ethiopia’s immaterial heritage, a heritage rich in a long history that is still deeply embedded in the Ethiopian psyche. Whilst the involvement of the Ethiopian army has cost us, the resultant stability has proved well worth the price.
The arbitration of border conflicts with Eritrea also comes at a price, if one considers the loss represented by the surrender of a town such as Badmé, which historically has been an integral part of Ethiopia, not forgetting the loss of human lives in the conflict that opposed the two countries at the end of the 1990s.

T.D.L.: With the downfall of the rule of law in Somalia, the Horn of Africa has become since September 11, 2001 a strategic area in the fight against terrorism. How do you perceive the situation in Somalia and, in particular, the threat that terrorist groups still represent with regard to the security of the region?

H.E.T.H.M.: I would first point out that our region did not discover the threat of terrorism with September 11, 2001. Well before that, terrorist attempts were committed, such as in 1996 against the Egyptian President, Osni Moubarak.
Ethiopia was drawn into the conflict with Somalia. Already in the winter of 2006, terrorist infiltrations into Ethiopian territory forced the government to intervene. Did our country have a choice? Ethiopia could not wait until a multilateral force could be put in place, a process which we know today requires, beyond the political will, financial and logistic means.
All the countries concerned by this conflict are today satisfied with Ethiopia’s intervention in Somalia. The constitution of the provisional Somali government was upheld by the African Union, the United Nations and the European Union. All partners are also aware that Ethiopia bears the burden of the fight against terrorism in the Horn of Africa. In this respect we have established a cooperative relationship with the United States, particularly as regards information and data exchange.
A certain amount of stability has been returned to Somalia with the re-establishment of state institutions. I think terrorist organizations have now been considerably weakened, even if one cannot completely eliminate the possibility of a wide conflict resurging as has occurred previously. Furthermore, discussions that have taken place recently in Djibouti have reopened certain avenues for the resumption of dialogue and maybe a reconciliation, even if the hardest elements of the opposition to the provisional Somali government remain hostile to a peaceful compromise. However, I truly believe that an opportunity now exists to rekindle talks with Somalia.

T.D.L.: Before taking up your post in Paris, you held the post of Ambassador of Ethiopia to the Ivory Coast at a time when that country was going through a serious political crisis. On the basis of that experience and taking into account the situation in Darfur, what is your view regarding the political, economic and social weaknesses at the root of the African conflicts?

H.E.T.H.M.: The Ivory Coast crisis began exactly a few months after my arrival as an Ambassador to Abidjan from Ethiopia. The conflicts in Africa have several characters. They have internal as well as external feature. Ethnic diversities and the existence of various regional cultures within a country, an asset in general, can in the absence of a good governorship become a challenge. But all these conflicts like in Ivory Coast, Darfur, Ethiopia, etc… are triggered by lack of economic development. To fight against this endemic poverty, Africa first of all needs a lasting peace. The lack of institutions which are not at the level of democracy do not facilitate the tasks. Because of the nature of globalisation it has become so simple to exaggerate, when it concerns Africa. Thus the absence of peace in Africa can also be a problem in Europe or elsewhere. This must be seen in a global context.

T.D.L.: On 25 October 2007, your country was elected Member State of the Executive Board of UNESCO, to which you also hold the post of Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of Ethiopia. What, in your opinion, should UNESCO set as priorities for its work program in 2008-2009? How is the cooperation between your country and UNESCO organized, particularly with regard to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and the Dakar objectives of Education for All?

H.E.T.H.M.: To achieve the millennium development objectives particularly "education for all", the UNESCO put in avant-garde and prioritized institutions (TTISSA) whose target is to ensure that Africa is able to achieve its goals. In this regard, the UNESCO must focus on this priority in Africa. The centre of attention of the African Union is to solve pandemic conflicts and eradicate poverty and diseases like malaria and HIV/AIDS. However, stabilizing the aeras where tensions still exist remains fundamental.
The establishment of peace and development in Africa is fundamental to counter the immigration problem, a current political phenomenon, undesirable by northern countries. The African economic development requires the contribution and support of foreign investors which have the capacity to explore the wealth as well as generate employment for African youth. This is what the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) wish to achieve. Like most African countries, Ethiopia with the strong participation of its partners, has an objective of eradicating poverty through economic development.

T.D.L.: In February last, France signed a tax convention with Ethiopia, to complement the Agreement on the Reciprocal Promotion and Protection of Investments. Which sectors of industry do you see as providing the best opportunities for enhancing bilateral economic exchanges?

H.E.T.H.M.: The House of Representatives of Ethiopia ratified the agreement on the Reciprocal Promotion and Protection of Investments signed between the two countries in May 2008. This agreement facilitates and simplifies the steps that the French companies have to take to invest in Ethiopia.
French investors are expected to invest in various favourable sectors like agro-industry, mining, construction of the roads like in tourism. Already established in Ethiopia, group ACCOR is in spirit to build its first hotel in Addis Abeba. In the same way, there are many opportunities for the French investors who wish to be involved in the leather sector (shoes and clothing). Ethiopia is a large market and a strategic point which connects Africa, the Middle-East and Asia. Any French investor will be welcome in our country.
Concerning the bilateral relation, I want to stress that Ethiopia and France enjoy a very good diplomatic relation which deserves to go beyond the policy level, to progress economically and culturally (twinning of our cities and institutions for example). Our country is also in the process of preparing its accession to the International Organisation of La Francophonie with the status of Observer Member. Thus, the current situation is positive and encouraging for the future.

T.D.L.: Can you already anticipate an increased interest on the part of French enterprises for the Ethiopian market?

H.E.T.H.M.: The most promising potential of economic cooperation between Ethiopia and France resides in sectors like the agri-food sector, where market opportunities exist today, particularly in the meat production chain but also in horticulture, where French enterprises are already present, as well as in the infrastructures sector.
But, to promote these exchanges, it is now necessary to move away from such outmoded concepts as, for example, the distinction between French-speaking and English-speaking Africa, which have lost some of their importance, particularly in terms of investment potential. Also, not having lived through colonization or been subjected to any strong outside influence, Ethiopia has not taken on board the notion of privileged partnership in its traditional sense.
French enterprises do indeed appear to be more interested. However, there is also great interest in Ethiopia regarding French know-how in certain fields and, more generally, in developing bilateral trade with France. I must point out however that these early signs have not as yet been translated into significant concrete achievements. Today, the most active investors are Asian companies, mostly Chinese, Indian or Japanese, although our country seeks to widen as much as possible its panoply of partners.
I would also like to raise the issue of the image that has been attributed to our country. Ethiopia is not the same today as it was at the end of the military dictatorship. Between 1970 and 1991, she suffered from poor governance and isolation and so missed out on the great advances that were accomplished in the world during that period, in the field of technology in particular. At the time, the regime in Ethiopia focused only on maintaining and reinforcing national unity and territorial integrity, and ignored the country’s development, thus allowing the spread of the famines that continue to plague us today.
This image still too often persists in the minds of many Westerners, despite the fact that it does not correspond to the reality of the country. Considerable efforts have been made and are progressively bearing fruit. Food security remains a priority for the government. But above all, Ethiopia today is experiencing strong growth with the development of many sectors of its economy.

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