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UNLOCKING EUROPE

UNLOCKING EUROPE

Following the most contested election of 2005 and the gruesome violence which ensued after that, led by the United Kingdom a number of European nations either halted or refrained from providing direct budgetary support to the Government of Ethiopia. The larger-than-life character Anna Gomez, Member of the European Parliament and the EU’s chief election observer at the time, played a role in shifting the opinion against the leadership in Addis Ababa and the support coming from the continent. A complete turn of events this week saw French President Emmanuel Macron pledging direct budgetary support for the administration of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) in a joint press conference the two gave at Elysee Palace in Paris. Abiy went on to meet Chancellor Angela Markel in Germany securing various support and cooperation agreements from the European giant.     

UNLOCKING EUROPE

 

Since his rise to power, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) has been at the center of international attention with foreign leaders sending in congratulatory messages to his office and inviting him to visit their countries. Similarly, both local and foreign media outlets have been talking about the 42 years old Prime Minister who is among the youngest leaders in the continent.

Abiy’s primary task as a Prime Minister was to visit the major centers of conflict in the country beginning with Jigjiga, capital city of the Somali Regional State, and continuing to the south, west and northern parts of the country. Then he went to neighboring countries: his first being Djibouti followed by Sudan, Egypt and Kenya. His peace talks with Eritrea and the thawing of the relation between the two countries was a task commended and applauded by many.

With the intention of meeting the Ethiopian Diaspora in the US, Abiy travelled to Washington DC, Los Angeles and Minnesota in June. On his tour to the US, the PM met with tens of thousands of Ethiopians convincing them to contribute a dollar a day for the Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund which has since collected more than USD 150,000 through the bank account created and USD 189,852 through the website (as of November 2, 2018).

With the exception of his visit to the neighboring countries, Abiy’s visit to the US was not on an official state visit capacity.

Early this week, Abiy has finally got around to making his planned visit to Europe. In his latest tour, PM Abiy visited to two European powers— France and Germany— and this time around on an official invitation from President Emanuel Macron and Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, leaders of the two European countries, respectively. These were also among the leaders who called Abiy to congratulate him on his appointment as Prime Minister and encourage him on his measures in improving the political space in the country.

The visit to France and Germany were mainly focused on gaining support for political reforms Abiy is carrying out in Ethiopia, entice potential investors to come to Ethiopia as well as to meet the Ethiopian Diaspora in Europe and win their hearts and minds to support his moves both politically and financially.

According to pundits, with the US sliding from the global leadership platform in connection to the rise of Donald Trump and his hardliner ‘US first policy’, France and Germany are now emerging as key players. Hence, the argument continues, especially following the US decision to leave the Paris Accord on Climate Change, Macron and Merkel showed huge commitments to full the global leadership vacuum for which they need countries like Ethiopia to stand by their sides.

This seems to be true as far as the joint declaration released after a meeting between PM Abiy and President Macron goes.

“France and Ethiopia intend to deepen their discussions regarding the international agenda in order to find common positions, matching their shared interests,” reads the declaration. In addition, the declaration affirmed French support to the peace and security interests in the Horn of Africa region in general, and the peace keeping tasks and AMISOM and the thaw in relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea ending 20 years of no-war, no-peace situation. Hence, France committed to strengthening of the capacities of Somalian forces, and the stabilization of South Sudan.

Abiy’s statement at the G-20 Compact with Africa (CwA) summit also reflected strong solidarity towards Germany’s leadership.

“The government of Ethiopia highly appreciates Germany’s leadership in supporting the G-20 Compact with Africa initiative,” Abiy told the gathering, adding, “Ethiopia places high importance with Compact with Africa initiatives as it provides a much-needed framework for boosting private investment and enhancing infrastructure in the country.”

But, Abiy was not only by the side of these leaders supporting their global leadership roles but, he also secured support from these countries, both financial and political, to his reform activities in the country. He also used the platform to promote his country and motivate investors to invest in the sectors the government plans to privatize.

“Ethiopia offers a competitive investment opportunity. I would like to take this opportunity to mention the strategic engagement we just started ….as a concrete example of what the compact initiative can deliver when focused on targeted investment, recruitment, and facilitation. We would like to see similar investment from G20 countries and hope this platform continues to play a driving and catalytical role,” Abiy said.

Data show that European investment in Ethiopia are lower compared to China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and India, which have USD 2.2 billion, USD 1.5 billion, USD 922 million and USD 724 million investments. European investments stand at USD 689 million as of 2017.

Despite a 14 percent decline in investment inflow in 16 African landlocked developing countries in 2016, Ethiopia attracted more than a billion dollars in investment, according to UNCTAD investment report. Ethiopia attracted USD 3.2 billion in that year which showed a more than 46 percent increase from the year before.

In his address to the CwA, Abiy asserted that the decision by the government to privatize big government owned enterprises is an indication of the opening up of the Ethiopian economy.

“[The decision to privatize] represents a most important opening of the Ethiopian economy. Apart from its economic transformation agenda, the government of Ethiopia places strong focus on leveraging FDI and foster industrialization, export diversification and most importantly job creation,” PM Abiy told the gathering.

After meeting Macron, Abiy went to The Mouvement des entreprises de France (MEDEF), which is union of French business leaders, to encourage them to come and invest in Ethiopia.

Apart from his investment promotion, Abiy secured financial support from the French government to renovate the national palace which is slated to be a museum in the near future and the rock hewn churches of Lalibela which are at the danger of falling apart unless renovated and preserved.

Again, in a brief press conference with President Macron where Abiy spoke in Amharic, he said that they have signed agreement to strengthen ties with the two nations which focused on peace, democracy and development cooperation. Their agreement also included modernizing the military through trainings as well as investment of more than 100 million euros to modernize the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport.

Again, in addition to the peace process between Eritrea and Djibouti, Abiy also requested Macron to champion the peace process between Eritrea and Djibouti which Macron accepted and planned to discuss with Djiboutian and Eritrean presidents within a week.

At the same press conference, Macron announced that French companies are looking to invest in Ethiopia among which he said one was in a bid to provide modern identification cards for Ethiopian.

“But, it has to be known that investments have to be based on mutual benefits,” Macron pointed out.

Regarding Abiy’s visit to France and the invitation by Macron for the same, commentators pointed out that the visit shows that Macron is not only interested in French speaking African countries but also in others like Nigeria, South Africa and Ethiopia.

After visiting Berlin and meeting Merkel, Abiy went to Frankfurt to meet tens of thousands of Ethiopians gathered at Commerzbank-Arena stadium where he called for them to be active participants in their country.

Ethiopian diaspora from all over Europe had registered and travelled to Frankfurt to attend the gathering.

But, not all were welcoming of the PM’s visit to these countries. Some on social media went on criticizing him for going abroad while leaving the problems in the country unsolved.