"The wind of reform will have important reflections on the future of Ethiopia"
Fatih Ulusoy is the outgoing ambassador of Turkey to Ethiopia and the African Union. Mere days before he departs from the capital, he reflects with Samuel Getachew of The Reporter on the highlights of his time in his nations biggest trading partner in the continet, Turkey’s contirbution to Ethiopia and how he envisions the relationship to be as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's scheduled to visit Ethipopia next year. Excerpts:
The Reporter: You have departing Ethiopia after serving an ambassador of Turkey. What have been the highlights so far?
Fatih Ulusoy: Thank you for this opportunity. Ethiopia is my first post as ambassador and I feel proud to serve as ambassador at such an important country for Turkey. Taking into consideration a number of cultural similarities between our two countries, I felt at home in Ethiopia. Having spent three years here, I can say that we have done a lot, however there is a sea of opportunities waiting for both countries to be materialized in order to further strengthen our partnership.
In the past years, it would be fair to say that our relations passed important tests of time successfully. In July 2016, Ethiopia was one of the first countries to officially express support and solidarity with the people and Government of Turkey following the terrorist coup attempt perpetrated by FETO (Fetullah Gulen Terrorist Organization). The same year, Turkey stood with Ethiopia against all challenges which took place inside Ethiopia and continued its investments without any pause.
This is very important as we proved that we will stand by each other, not only in good times but also in challenging times. Turkey hopes to see the commitment of Ethiopian Government on FETO schools to be implemented. Fighting terrorism is an issue where Turkey and Ethiopia are both very dedicated and like-minded. Both countries are key actors in their respective regions and beyond. Turkey and Ethiopia share same views on many global and regional issues, such as open-door policy to refugees, importance of multilateralism, peace and stability in the Horn of Africa, etc. As two partners, we also extend support to one another at the international candidatures. At this juncture, I wish to highlight that Turkey is not just a partner of Ethiopia for investments, but stands for much more than that. Our political meetings with Ethiopia is quite positive meetings where we concur on many issues.
How about on the economic front?
On the economic side, we held a Turkey-Ethiopia Joint Economic Commission at the level of ministers in late 2016. Although we aimed to boost our trade volume upto 1 billion USD/year, it has stalled in the past few years due to the foreign currency restrictions in Ethiopia. However, Turkish way of addressing things does not include giving up. In that sense, we are focusing on a number of alternatives to overcome this challenge with our Ethiopian counterparts. The Turkish investments in Ethiopia has surpassed 2,5 billion USD already and I have no doubt it will keep its momentum as it will also diversify into new areas such as energy, mining, agriculture, construction materials, etc.
I am happy to see that in the past year we launched our defence industry talks with Ethiopia. It is indeed Ethiopia’s own interest to diversify the source countries for its defence industry. And Turkey as a new global producer and as a key partner to Ethiopia, would be more than happy to focus on this field and enhance our cooperation with Ethiopia. This is an area with a huge potential.
In the humanitarian sector, we organized two separate waves of humanitarian campaigns within 2016 to the most drought-struck regions in Ethiopia. Initially Turkish business community organized an aid campaign and donated food and animal feed in Afar to thousands of families. Then Turkish Red Crescent sent a sizeable amount of food to Afar. Finally TİKA (Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency) delivered aid to Somali region. In addition to our efforts in 2016, TİKA recently donated 18,000 blankets to an IDP camp in Somali region.
TİKA also has done two big projects in Ethiopia. The restoration of the Tomb of King Negash in Tigray region and restoration of the Ottoman Consulate Compound in Harar city. Both projects are finalized now and they will be important landmarks attracting tourism and generating economy. I was so happy to hear that a group of Muslim pilgrims from Eritrea visited the Tomb of King Negash. We feel proud to have contributed the normalization process on our part. We hope that there will be an official opening ceremony when we have a high level visit from Turkey to Ethiopia soon.
What has been the contribution of Turkey wihin the continent interms of deveopmemnt?
At this point I want to highlight the Turkish approach in Africa which envisages a good balance of development and also humanitarian efforts. This approach also includes a perfect model of public-private partnership. Turkey is visible not only in Ethiopia, but in most African countries through its Embassies, government agencies and also with its private sector. If one keeps providing only humanitarian aid and lack support for resilience and development, that would do more harm than good in the long run. With that perspective, this approach has been registered by the United Nations as ”The New Way of Working”.
Turkey has also opened its doors to Ethiopia in the field of health tourism in the past two years. One of the areas that Turkey has reached remarkable progress domestically is health and medicine sector. We are very keen to work with Ethiopia in these issues. We are happy to see our Ethiopian brothers and sisters travelling to Turkey for check-ups or medical treatment, combining with tourism and shopping.
Besides all our hectic schedule, we did not miss the cultural aspect. Last year we introduced Turkish jazz to Ethiopia, thanks to the blessing of great master Mulatu Astatke. We also arranged a whole-day Turkish folk dance show in last year’s diplomatic bazaar. And this year we participated in two film festivals (Asia-Pacific and European Union film festivals) with remarkable Turkish movies. I am very happy to see all our cultural events received huge interest and appreciation.
Ethiopia and Turkey are said to have a historical link that dates back to the 16th century and a diplomatic relationship that is more than a century old. Tell me about that?
Turkey and Ethiopia has centuries long relations, however, our diplomatic ties date back to 1896 when Sultan Abdulhamid II and Emperor Menelik II exchanged envoys. Turkey opened its first Embassy in SubSaharan Africa in 1926 in Addis Ababa. This is no coincidence as Ethiopia was the only non-colonised country in SubSahara at that time. However I also want to mention that Ottoman Empire opened its last Consulate in the city of Harar in 1912. Ahmed Mazhar Efendi was the Ottoman Consul General in Harar, the first ever Turkish diplomat resident in Ethiopia. The founder of Turkish Republic, our great leader Mustafa Kemal Atatürk has sent an envoy to Emperor Haile Selassie’s accession to the throne ceremony, and afterwards the Emperor has kindly sent a message of thanks for Turkish envoy’s participation in the ceremony. In December 1969, first presidential visit from Turkey to Ethiopia took place. In the current era, President Erdoğan has visited Ethiopia three times. Two times as Prime Minister, and in 2015 his first visit to Africa following his election to Presidency took place in Ethiopia.
If you look at what is changing the narrative of Ethiopia, its trade, your nation has been a major foreign investor within Ethiopia. In fact, Ethiopia is the top destination in Africa for the investments from Turkey. Tell me some of the highlights of these investments?
Our investments in Ethiopia are not mere business activities, but Turkish entrepreneurs are bringing the machinery from Turkey transferring technology, also providing vocational training on site, creating jobs and employment, making exports on behalf of Ethiopia and bringing foreign currency to the country. The initial wave of Turkish investments reached Ethiopia through textile, however now one can see Turkish investments in cable manufacturing, beverages, agriculture, shoes, etc. We continue to see new Turkish investments underway in textile as well.
At this point I want to highlight a major project under construction by a Turkish company. Awash-Weldia-Hara Gebeya railway route has the toughest terrain in Ethiopia. It is north-south line in the center of Ethiopia. A major Turkish company is building a 400 km long high-standard railway with competitive prices. Due to its tough terrain, this route required many bridges and viaducts. Last year, I was happy to attend the test-ride on this route together with former PM and many ministers where our train reached over 105 km/hour speed. Currently the first phase which is 280 km is completed and the 120 km second phase is 40% completed, the progress of the construction goes ahead of schedule.
Turkish entrepreneurs do not shy away from challenges and have necessary talent and skills to operate in difficult environment. Turkish companies also run many social responsibility projects. We have to remind ourselves that investors focus on places where there is predictability, stability and a positive environment towards investors. The support of the people is also very much needed as well as the support of the government representatives to keep and attract investors.
In the years you have been an ambassador, Ethiopia has been experiencing a slew of reform. You have eluded some of these reforms as a great effort forward. Tell me about that?
My tenure in Ethiopia coincided at a very interesting time where there were challenges, changes and reforms. With the new government, everyone was impressed with the messages of unity delivered by PM Abiy Ahmed at his initial tours to the regions. We have also witnessed the announcement of important reforms. Any effort towards unity, peace, stability, open economy, reconciliation, free & fair elections, inclusiveness has always been supported and welcomed by Turkey. Normalization of relations with Eritrea has been one of the most remarkable steps taken by the new government. Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs delivered two separate press statements welcoming these developments and supporting the efforts of both leaders. Ethiopia also elected a female president, who has been a seasoned diplomat for the first time, empowering the role of women in decision making in the country.
Besides the political reforms, the announcement of privatization has been an important milestone. We all look forward to learning more about the modalities.
Turkish companies are estimated to have created some 30,000 jobs and Turkey is a generous donor of scholarships to Ethiopian students. Now you have spent some time in Ethiopia, how do you want Ethiopian to envision your nation to be?
Turkey is keen to enhance its partnership with Ethiopia in multiple ways. I have already touched upon some of these. But now I want to mention the people-to-people aspect. Our countries have many similarities. We have family cultures with huge respect for elders; our weddings, funerals have similar elements; in both our countries coffee is not just an ordinary drink but means more than that; we both open our doors to refugees coming from our neighbours and welcome them; our societies have a good harmony with regard to the presence of different religions; we are both key actors in our regions, strive towards peace and stability not only in our countries but beyond that; and we have no tolerance against terrorism.
Turkish people has a quite positive perception about Ethiopia. Once we see an Ethiopian, we remind ourselves King Negash’s hospitality and kindness; we also remember Bilal Habeshi. The historical perspective is very positive and popular in Turkey with regards to Ethiopia. Every year, more than 60-80 Ethiopian students receive Turkish Government scholarship for graduate and post-graduate levels. These students receive the warm welcome in Turkey and establish a bridge between our countries at people-to-people level. Every Ethiopian who travels to Turkey would witness this warm welcome.
My message to Ethiopian brothers and sisters is, they should think of Turkey as a sincere and close friend, they will see this themselves once they visit Turkey. I encourage them to visit Turkey for trade fairs, culture, faith tourism or medical purposes and health check-ups. They will find more than their expectations.
How do you envision Ethiopia to be a decade from now?
Many of our delegations who visited Ethiopia few years back, realized the immense changes going on once they came again afterwards. Addis Ababa city has been growing rapidly. However, the wind of reform will have important reflections on the future of Ethiopia. In the not too distant future, I hope to see Ethiopia with a developed economy and fully open to investors, become one of the international capitals of the world. I hope to see Ethiopia overcome the transformational challenges it is facing today, and in a decade win its fight against poverty, break new records in growth figures, build necessary resilience to face the negative effects of climate change, get rid of all diseases & health challenges, achieve a modern industrial reform all around the country while maintaining its wonderful ancient culture.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is to visit Ethiopia next year. What does this visit signify for the Ethiopian society and for the Turkish-Ethiopian relationship?
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has visited more than half of African countries, however he visited Ethiopia three times in the past. His first two visits took place when he was Prime Minister and his last visit in January 2015 was actually his first visit to Africa as the President of the Republic of Turkey. In the past two years, former President of FDRE Dr Mulatu Teshome paid two visits to Turkey upon the invitation of President Erdoğan. Dr Mulatu paid an official state visit to Turkey in February 2017. His second visit was to attend the 2nd Turkey-Africa Business and Economic Forum in 10-11 October 2018 in Istanbul. We were very happy to host former President Dr Mulatu Teshome at this event and he had a meeting with President Erdoğan.
At that meeting President Erdoğan stated that he intends to visit Ethiopia following municipality elections which is expected to take place by late March 2019. President Erdoğan has visited Ethiopia already three times, however following the launch of big reform and transformation process in Ethiopia I am sure there will be a rich agenda for him to discuss with PM Abiy Ahmed, including multiple bilateral, regional and global issues. President Erdoğan has sent a congratulatory message to Dr Abiy Ahmed once he was elected as the chairman of the EPRDF. Later on, President Erdoğan continued his communication with PM Abiy Ahmed. An official opening ceremony of the King Negash Tomb could be included in the visit program, depending on President Erdoğan’s consideration.
Your nation is seen as an exemplary society for most developing nations such as Ethiopia. What can Ethiopia learn from Turkey in terms of trade, the building of needed infrastructures and on fighting inequality?
Turkey has a well-established system connecting private sector with government. We have a number of major business associations and our ministers attend their events and regularly get together with private sector representatives. For example, DEİK (Foreign Economic Relations Board) was the organizer of 2nd Turkish-Africa Business&Economic Forum. Now DEİK has been assigned as the Turkish counterpart for African Union with regard to private sector relations. As I mentioned earlier, private sector has an important role in Turkey’s presence in Africa. Ethiopian private sector can learn from the Turkish experience for enhancing the scope of business associations, and also with regard to establishing good examples of public-private partnership.
Turkey has reached advanced stages in engineering on a number of areas. Construction is one of these fields. Turkish companies are now capable of building mega-structures with fine engineering. Ethiopia is a country on its path for development and Turkey could be an excellent example while planning and designing mega projects in Ethiopia. Turkish companies present good opportunities as they have the capacity to provide high-technology with competitive prices. That is one of the main reasons why they receive a lot of projects in Africa.
With regards to fighting inequality, we have an important institution in Turkey assuming the responsibilities of ombudsman. This institution is attached to Turkish Parliament and has a separate budget, it runs a number of cooperation projects with some African countries. If Ethiopia is interested in working with Turkey on this issue, we would be more than happy.
You have been an engaged, informative and important ambassador in Ethiopia. What is next for you?
After having served a total of more than six years abroad, it is time for me to return to Turkey and assume a new post. However, as Ethiopia has been my first ambassadorial post, it will always maintain its special place. I had the opportunity to visit all regions of Ethiopia and meet the unique and friendly culture. I will always remember the warm hospitality of Ethiopians and hope to visit Ethiopia again in the future.