Ethiopia’s foreign policy under review
Two months after the federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) agreed to end a two-year brutal war that may have resulted in the deaths of over 600,000 people, Ethiopia is back at work repairing its damaged foreign diplomatic relations. During the war, diplomatic relations between the west and the Horn of Africa nation were at an all-time low. The uncertainty in diplomatic relations served as a deterrent to foreign direct investment as well as political and economic cooperation.
“Many have invested in this war, both local and foreign investors. After we resolved the northern conflict peacefully, now they are shifting to the conflict in Oromia,” Redwan Hussein (Amb.), national security advisor to the PM, said during his discussion with political party leaders at the African Leadership Academy last week in Sululta. “We are in a sponsored conflict.”
Only in the past two years, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has convened 15 times to address Ethiopia’s current situation. In every single vote and discussion that has taken place within the UN Security Council, China and Russia have maintained their unwavering support for Ethiopia, while the United States and Europe have taken the opposing position. The UN Human Rights Council’s latest voting showed the same pattern.
Seventy-one countries, primarily from the West, voted against Ethiopia’s motion to end financing for the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE). China, Russia, and some Middle Eastern countries echoed previous statements of support for Ethiopia’s call to end funding for ICHREE.
But the UNSC is already in the midst of profound change. Ten new members that will not serve a permanent term have been added to the Security Council. Many countries have left the group, including Finland, and Ireland, countries that have been exerting pressure on Ethiopia.
The new members, on the other hand, get along rather well with Ethiopia. In 2023, the United Nations Security Council will welcome a new group of nonpermanent members The United Arab Emirates, Ghana, Gabon, Mozambique, Japan, Brazil, Switzerland, Ecuador, and Albania have been selected as the next non-permanent members of the Council to serve for terms of two years.
Ethiopia breathes a sigh of relief at the UNSC reshuffle, as it is now less likely that the organization will consider its case, according to experts. But the events that occurred in the year that has just come to a close still compel the need for an overhaul of the nation’s foreign policy, which needs to be rectified in light of the tarnished image the country has in the west.
During the rule of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), China and other eastern powers influenced Ethiopia’s developmental state model. When Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power in 2018, he reversed a trend that had been developing for more than 15 years. Abiy’s early policies were more liberal, involving deregulation, privatization, and liberalization.
Ethiopia is employing a different diplomatic strategy to undo the harm caused by the war in post-Tigray war diplomacy. The new strategy adopted by Ethiopia is inclusive. In essence, it doesn’t adhere to one group at a time but rather makes room for all and seizes possibilities for the benefit of Ethiopia’s state.
“The world we are living in currently is not a world divided into two. It is a multipolar system now. Superpowers are emerging here and there. At this point, Ethiopia has to stick only to its national interest,” Dina Mufti (Amb.), member of the foreign relations standing committee at the Parliament, told The Reporter.
The Ambassador said that as long as it serves national interests, relationships can be developed with anyone. “It is an outdated approach to stick with the west and avoid the eastern camp, or vice versa. The current global scenario does not allow such an approach. Such an approach also affects our national interest.”
A new foreign policy is likewise being developed, and once it takes into account the shifting global circumstances, it will be implemented.
“So our standard is equality, respect for our sovereignty, and respect for our political, economic, and cultural values. We will strengthen our relationship with anyone as long as these are protected. This is the direction of our foreign policy approach now,” Dina said, adding that the aim and approach now are to maximize the benefits from the US-Africa summit, the China-Africa summit, the Russia-Africa summit, and other platforms.
International relations are dynamic, Dina says, adding that the only thing permanent is national interest.
Ethiopia and Sudan have experienced one of the Post-Pretoria Agreement’s most effective political repairs. “We have reached an agreement with Sudan regarding GERD,” Redwan said. “So, Sudan will have no concern regarding our projects on Abay.”
A significant change since the Pretoria deal was the US’s invitation of Abiy to the US-Africa meeting a few weeks ago.
Redwan is worried that the shifting geopolitics of the world will force tight allegiance rather than cooperation.
“There are signs of a shifting global world order, and some global superpowers are panicking as a result. They are asking us, ‘Are you with us or with them?’ We have to testify every day. We have to prove our allegiance or get hit. Otherwise, we will be denied hard currency by the World Bank or the IMF,” Redwan said.
He believes Ethiopia is currently the only country that is pursuing its foreign policy independently. “Most African countries are still not free, even after colonialism ended long ago. This is neo-patrimonialism. Only Ethiopia has no master.”
However, experts contend that Ethiopia is unable to sustain an equitable and balanced relationship between the western and eastern camps.
“Ethiopia and Africa in general are under the influence of the US. All African leaders do what the US says. All African leaders flocked to Washington a few weeks ago for the US-Africa summit. Even Abiy, who has been denouncing the US, did not hesitate to meet with Biden,” a political analyst who spoke to The Reporter on the condition of anonymity, said.
According to the expert, it is obvious who is in charge of Africa, and Ethiopia in particular is taking several actions that are beneficial to the West. “The economic liberalization, key privatizations, and deregulations favor the west.”
During the conflict, Ethiopia was aided by a number of countries that now demand favors from Ethiopia, according to the analyst. “The US is also behind not only the Pretoria peace agreement but also the northern Ethiopian war. At various times, the United States and Europe provided satellite data for military intelligence on the warring parties, including drones,” the analyst said.
The analyst claims that satellite information decides who wins the war. “But finally, they changed course because the northern Ethiopian war was becoming a regional war because Sudan was to start acquiring satellite information from Russia. The US forced the war to end before it could expand into a regional conflict. So, we cannot say a country can handle the superpowers equally,” said the analyst.
However, the analyst concurs that it would take time for Ethiopia to mend fences and return to the road of constructive and productive diplomacy.
The peace agreement’s signing and the end of the war do not automatically mean that things will return to normal, a diplomat who talked to The Reporter on the condition of anonymity stated.
“Now the west is requesting that we investigate the war crimes. Still, they have this as a precondition.” The diplomat says the US and Europe still want to pursue the ICHREE, and the ties are not yet fully back to normal with Ethiopia. “Plus, the West is still preoccupied with the crisis in Eastern Europe. And the west now prefers only countries that are on the side of Ukraine. But there are opportunities for Ethiopia’s foreign diplomacy,” the diplomat concluded.