Wednesday, July 24, 2024
CommentaryRevisiting the foreign policy of Ethiopia

Revisiting the foreign policy of Ethiopia

Foreign policy is a tool for external relations and Ethiopia has had a long history of external relations. It should be dynamic in line with global changes. Now it is time to revisit the foreign policy document critically, writes Melaku Mulualem.

Foreign policy is a set of principles of a government that defines its relations with other countries or groups of countries. States formulate foreign policy in order to attain their domestic policy and national interests. The current foreign policy of Ethiopia, namely “The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy and Strategy” was introduced in 2002. The foreign policy is designed to attain the national interest of the country i.e. peace, economic development and democracy. This foreign policy has been formulated based on the Federal Constitution of Ethiopia that states about the principle of external relations.

The foreign policy of Ethiopia has set various strategies in implementing the core objectives of the external relations. After the introduction of the foreign policy document in 2002, many international changes have been noticed. However, the foreign policy document was not revised until now (October 2017).  Considering internal and external situations, foreign policy document should also be dynamic. My main purpose here is not to evaluate the implementation of the foreign policy; rather it is to forward personal comments on updating and revising the foreign policy document. Based on this understanding I have put forward the following proposals in improving the foreign policy document of Ethiopia.

The foreign policy as a reflection of domestic policy

Foreign policy document should be dynamic, in accordance with the situation of international relations and the internal changes of Ethiopia. The foreign policy of Ethiopia clearly states that the domestic policies of the country are “the basis of our foreign policy”. Currently, the Ethiopian government’s domestic policy focuses on “Democratic Developmental State”. This domestic policy is not reflected or mentioned in the foreign policy document of Ethiopia.

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Peacekeeping mission of Ethiopia and the foreign policy

Ethiopia is a founding member of the United Nations (UN), as well one of the very few countries to sign the UN Charter at that time.  It also supported the UN Principles of Collective Security that focus on the global peace and security. By supporting the principle of collective security, Ethiopia has had participated in different peacekeeping operations of the UN starting from the 1950s. Currently, Ethiopia has emerged as the largest single African troop contributing country to African and UN peace support operations.

Ethiopia has actively participated in several peacekeeping operations organized and led by the UN and the African Union (AU) that includes South Korea, Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Liberia, Abiye and Darfur (in the Sudans) and Somalia.

Even if Ethiopia is playing a great role in the peacekeeping mission, the foreign policy document does not mention it. There is no single phrase talking about peacekeeping mission in the foreign policy document.  Ethiopia is currently the chair of the UN Security Council and Ethiopia’s proposal in the reform of the peacekeeping mission was well received by the Council. However, Ethiopia’s role in maintaining peace in Africa and in the Security Council is not being supported by a white paper/foreign policy document.

Tourism as part of the economic diplomacy of Ethiopia 

Economic diplomacy has been given priority in the foreign policy of Ethiopia so as to pull people out of poverty and to reach a middle income country. In this economic diplomacy trade, foreign direct investment and development assistance (technical support, grants and loans) have been mentioned in detail. However, the contribution of tourism to the economic benefits and economic diplomacy is totally ignored in the policy document. As an ancient country, Ethiopia has so many tourist attractions including natural, historical and cultural sites. Some of them are registered as World Heritage by UNESCO. But, when compared with some African countries Ethiopia is not benefiting from tourism. Thus, there is a need to conduct cultural diplomacy to strengthen the benefits of tourism to economic development. In that regard, the foreign policy document should incorporate the role of tourism to the economic development of the country.

One continent is not included in the foreign policy document

In the foreign policy of Ethiopia the government has clearly shown its policies towards Africa, Asia, North America and European countries. However Latin America and the Caribbean, which incorporates 33 countries, are not mentioned in the policy document at all. In my opinion, at least the foreign policy document should include Brazil, Jamaica and Cuba, to mention a few.

The foreign policy and international borders

Ethiopia is bordered by six countries. There are common languages with all bordering countries. Some of the borders are demarcated but others are not yet delimited and demarcated. For instance, there are still border problem between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The foreign policy document of Ethiopia does not mention about delimitation and demarcation of borders with neighboring countries. Demarcation helps to have good relations with neighbors and also to maintain long-lasting peace and security. It also helps to trade and develop joint projects from both sides for the benefit of local population.

Updating facts and figures in the foreign policy

The foreign policy document has incorporated a lot of facts and figures. However, this information should also be updated and show the right facts and figures. For instance, the policy document says Japan is the second largest economy in the world. Of course, this was the case at the time of preparing the foreign policy. But now this fact is changed. In fact, China is the second largest economy in the world. Another example is the number of countries in the European Union, which is mentioned as 15. However, the number has increased and has reached 28.

At the time of preparing the foreign policy Somalia was a failed state; however, now a government has been established which has its own executive, judiciary and legislative branch of government. The foreign policy document of Ethiopia should take all these changes into account.

On July 9, 2011 South Sudan seceded from the Sudan and established a new state called the Republic of South Sudan. Since the foreign policy document of Ethiopia is not yet revised, the newly born state – the Republic of South Sudan – is not included in it.

Consistency in the foreign policy

The foreign policy of Ethiopia towards Palestine says Ethiopia “should support the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, and that the problem be solved peacefully and juridically”. On the other hand, the policy towards Somaliland and Puntland says:

“Question could be raised regarding the recognition of Somaliland as an independent state. Taking this initiative is not preferable to Ethiopia because it would create negative feelings on the part of Somalis living in the rest of Somalia and others would be suspicious of our intent. Therefore, our cooperation with these regions should not include recognizing the regional administrations as independent states.”

Both Palestine and Somaliland have ambitions of creating their own internationally recognized states, but Ethiopia’s foreign policy is not consistent in handling similar issues.

Ethiopia as a seat of the AU

Ethiopia is the seat of the highest continental organization – the AU – and had played a great role in the establishment of the AU’s predecessor – the Organization of the African Unity (OAU). The foreign policy document of Ethiopia has mentioned some facts about the AU as a complementary to the policy of the country towards other African countries.

In mentioning the policy of the country towards international organization, the AU is not mentioned. Rather the policy mentioned Ethiopia as the seat of the UN Economic Commission for Africa. In this broad topic the AU should be stated in detail. The description should also include the recent development of the AU that includes the establishment of the African Standby Force and the Agenda 2063.

Foreign policy towards Eritrea

The foreign policy of Ethiopia was introduced after the war with Eritrea. Because of this the document clearly states about the negative role of Eritrean government and some positive scenario of cooperation between the two countries. After mentioning positive scenarios the policy document concludes its statement saying “the maximal policy we will pursue regarding Eritrea will come into play where the regime or its policies have been changed…this scenario [positive scenario] can only see the light of day if fundamental change comes to Eritrea”. This policy of Ethiopia is not a proactive policy. Rather it is reactive, and goes in accordance with the regime in Asmara. In my opinion, the policy should be proactive towards Eritrea.

The foreign policy and sustainable development

Economic development of the country is one of the priorities of the foreign policy of Ethiopia. But this development should not compromise environmental issues. Ethiopia and its neighbors are vulnerable to environmental crisis, exacerbated by climate change. This may yet emerge as the greatest threat to human security in the region. The UN has also developed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) which all member countries are expected to implement. Ethiopia has also represented Africa in relation to global climate change and its impacts on Africa.

During the 72nd UN General Assembly Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn delivered his speech by stressing on the impact of global climate change and the need to work seriously. Based on the above international and national profound issue, the foreign policy document of Ethiopia should set general directions of economic growth in relation to sustainable development.

The foreign policy and multilateral forums

There are different approaches in implementing foreign policy of a country. The two most approaches are bilateral and multilateral forums. When we see the foreign policy document of Ethiopia, its focus is on bilateral than multilateral institutions at the global, continental and regional levels. Multilateral forums help execute the foreign policy in collaboration with other countries. For instance, the Nile Basin Initiative is a multilateral forum which is helping Ethiopia to utilize the Nile River/Abay. There are other important multilateral forums such as ACP-EU, South-South Cooperation, FOCAC and AGOA, among others that Ethiopia is working with. Thus, additional focus should be given to these forums in the foreign policy document.

The foreign policy and migration of people

In 2017, it has been reported that there are 22.5 million refugees in the world. Because of the volatile situation in the Horn of Africa there is immigration of peoples from neighboring countries to Ethiopia. There are about 830,000 refugees in Ethiopia. The refugees come from nineteen countries, with the majority being from South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and the Sudan. Ethiopia is praised in handling these peoples. On the other hand, many Ethiopians have emigrated and are still emigrating to the Middle East and European countries. International human trafficking is also a challenge to the continent and the world at large.

This immigration to Ethiopia and emigration of Ethiopians to other countries has its own impact on the foreign relations of the country. For instance, recently, the Government of Saudi Arabia expelled many undocumented Ethiopians from their country for the second time. Many Ethiopians are also victims in Middle Eastern countries as a result of mistreatment by their “masters”. Such measures of other countries have put pressure on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the country at large. Many of the work forces of the Ministry will be busy by such incidents. Addressing these two issues will help in reducing both internal and external vulnerability. The foreign policy document of Ethiopia should set general directions on how to handle immigrants to Ethiopia and those who emigrate to other countries.

The foreign policy and security

The foreign policy is named as “Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy and Strategy”. This national security is not only about border security; rather, it is also about human security. There are seven types of human securities that are identified by the UN and other international organizations. These are economic security, food security, health security, environmental security, personal (physical) security, community security and political security. They are interconnected to one another. In the period of globalization, cyber security has also become crucial for the betterment of governments. Cyber-attack can cause great damage to a security of a country. Thus, the foreign policy document should be holistic in defining and addressing security.

The foreign policy and gender

The issue of gender is always important and should be considered. The Government of Ethiopia has gone far to balance the participation of women in the political sphere. Since the foreign policy is a reflection of domestic policy, this domestic policy and commitment can be reflected in the foreign policy. Ethiopia is member to many regional, continental and international organizations. How is the balance of gender in these organizations? Can Ethiopia forward an agenda regarding gender balance in such organizations? In my opinion, Ethiopia should also play a major role in empowering women in regional, continental and international organizations. In our foreign policy document we do not get a word saying ‘women’ and ‘gender’.

The need to have foreign policy of Ethiopia towards some additional countries

In addition to South Sudan, the foreign policy document should also see some influential African, Middle Eastern and Asian countries such as South Africa, Nigeria, South Korea and Saudi Arabia (because of regional rivalry with Iran and the competition between different Islamism that has an impact on Ethiopia; because of Saudi’s historical relations with Ethiopia, and since Saudi an influential Muslim country, a member of the Arab League, and an influential force in the Gulf Cooperation Council). Even if the policy document covers East and some North African countries (Algeria and Egypt), it has not included the Western and Southern parts of Africa.

Foreign policy is a tool for external relations and Ethiopia has had a long history of external relations. During the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie I the relations with Western counties were significant, and at the time of the Derg the relations with Eastern and Socialist countries were prominent. The current Ethiopian government, which is led by the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), is balancing the relations with both the West and the East. The present foreign policy is successful in many respects.

Finally, the current foreign policy has served for fifteen years without being amended or revised. It should be dynamic in line with global changes. Now it is time to revisit the foreign policy document critically.

Ed.’s Note: Melaku Mulualem is a foreign policy and diplomatic issues commentator. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter or the institution he is affiliated with. He can be reached at [email protected].


Contributed by Melaku Mulualem


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