How Ethiopia sustains a growing engagement in international affairs

August 3, 2016 Interviews , OPINION/NEWS


Fanuel Lakew interviews Professor Costantinos Berhutesfa



Professor Costantinos Berhutesfa teaches public policy at the School of Graduate Studies at Addis Ababa University and discussed with Fanuel Lakew Ethiopia’s growing influence and presence in international affairs.



Fanuel Lakew: What factors enable a country to become influential in global politics?


Costantinos Berhutesfa: The features that make nations influential in global politics are respect for a democratic constitution, the rule of law, political stability, good and corruption free governance; a merit based public administration, a high level of Human Development Index and respect for Human Security. The relative strength of political agency determines the rules of the political game that require plural sets of political agencies, which promote and protect rules of peaceful political participation and competition. Democratic institutions ensure control of the state executive. The relevant organisations are found in society, where they represent and aggregate interests, and in the state (Legislature & Judiciary), where they check and balance executive authority.

While African nations, in a long transition to pluralist forms of governance, are forging ahead to create a liveable system, such a scheme can be attained only if legal texts are applied to ensure full accountability, transparency and predictability of executive authority. Invariably, this demands capacity for political culture development even before citizens go to the polls for elections that have recently been harbingers of violent protests in many nations. Pluralistic governance is a process of institutional learning, in which society develops a set of mechanisms to participate and compete in politics peacefully. To be an equal partner in global politics, nations must prove that they can ensure human security [Freedom from Want (food, shelter, etc.) and Freedom from Fear (human rights)]. Nobel laureate Amartya Sen‘s celebrated argument in his book ‘Development as Freedom’ that no famine has ever taken place in the history of the world in a functioning democracy and a free press and an active civic engagement constitute the best early-warning system a country threatened by famines can have, is no longer open to dispute. Indeed, these are the main drivers of the community theories of change, deeply embedded in cultural configurations: security, adaptation, responses to stress and shocks.

The lessons learned point to the need to address the issues to put national policies, policy transfers and interventions in coherent theoretical or strategic perspective. This begs the question what the overall rationality of programmes and projects, the proliferating of which shows little or no regard for economy of coordination. Additionally, it asks how far and in what ways do various agencies’ programmes, mechanisms, forms of knowledge and technical assistance feed on one another in helping set the boundaries of reform. Developing nations undoubtedly depends on vital international assistance to catalyse development within. Yet, it must be recognised that external support creates opportunities as well as problems. Hence, in confronting the imperatives for change, nothing is more challenging than the strategic coordination of diverse global and local elements, relations and activities within themselves, nor has anything, greater potential for enabling good economic and social pluralism through sound policies to be influential in global politics.







FL: How do you evaluate Ethiopia’s influence and credence in international and regional politics? What are the achievements gained so far in this regard?


CB: Ethiopia is an ancient nation with more than three millennia of recorded narrative beginning with The Axumite Kingdom and Queen Sheba. The chronicles of the Orthodox Church reveal a rich testimony to Ethiopia’s prominence in Africa and the Middle East. Opulent archaeological vestiges corroborate the existence of successive kingdoms, which had a flourishing trade with the outside world and produced literature, music and art. In mediaeval times, Abyssinia was known to Europe as a bravura land of riches. Ethiopia is an old country with old problems but the keys it is trying to unlock them with are often bold and new that could show a possible way forward for other nations. A patchwork of races, religions, climates and landscapes, Ethiopia has one of the world’s ancient cultures and echoes of its history reach from very distant past. It was one of the earliest homes for the monotheistic religions of the Middle East: Judaism was the first arrival in Old Testament; Ethiopians were Christian before most of Europe and Muslim before most of Arabia.

Ethiopia has a unique position on the most constricted but important axial lines of communication in the Middle East and lies along one of the historical corridors of human mass transit. Consequently, the history of the settlement and interaction of peoples, and the current ethno-political geography of the region are mutually reflexive in their complexity. The scramble for power influence in the Horn of Africa between the commencement and conclusion of World War I & II enhanced the strategic value of the country that strongly seduced outside involvement in its affairs. The defeat of Ottomans (Gundat on 16 November 1875 and Guræ in March 1876) and Europeans in (Amba Alage, Makalle on 21 Jan 1986 and at Adwa on 1st of March 1896) testifies to the resilience of the Ethiopian people. As the only country that stood successfully against colonial powers during imperial expansion, it was recognised as a sovereign state by these powers at the turn of the century. It stepped onto the international arena in the 1920s when it joined in the first attempt at a world organisation devoted to security, the League of Nations.

The philosophical underpinning of Ethiopia’s foreign and national security policies augur on diplomatic activities trained at advancing the country’s rapid economic development and good neighbourliness. Addis Ababa is the seat of the African Union and the diplomatic and political capital of Africa thanks to the vision and wisdom of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile-Sellasse I. Today Addis Ababa hosts the second or third largest number of diplomatic and international missions in the world after New York and perhaps Geneva. Notwithstanding the fact that Ethiopia spearheaded the independence of colonized African nations, it has the largest peacekeeping operations in Africa (deployed by the UN and AU missions) and robust martial preparedness in the region. Ethiopia hosts the UN Economic Commission for Africa and is the founding member and chair of IGAD. It has recently been elected to UN Security Council non-permanent member status by all nations of the world save five countries. Ethiopia hosts the highest number of refugees in Africa principally from Eritrea, Somali and South Sudan.

Located in a turbulent region, new martial and security scenarios in the Greater Horn of Africa obtain with Yemen as the epicentre; one may ask if the Gulf Cooperation Council‘s move into the greater Horn (with Eritrea as its hub) will have a destabilising effect. Ethiopia’s move to allow Somalilanders to move freely with goods and services into Ethiopia in the early nineties has had immense contribution to peace in that unrecognised nation.

Regional integration and economic development is difficult. Stirring testimony to this effect is provided by European advanced economies struggling to survive and the decision by UK to leave the EU (Brexit). Nonetheless, Ethiopia has moved quickly to integrate the region with power supply, road and rail networks (Djibouti, Sudan, Somaliland, Puntland, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, etc.). Challenged by poverty and El Nino droughts, Ethiopia is consciously pursuing structural transformation in meeting the MDGs and successively implementing the SDGs. While the Ethiopian economy is growing remarkably, a shift in macroeconomic policy can decisively contribute to high growth rates and new margins of manoeuvre for sectoral and structural policies. The dazzling feature of such GDP growth is that the contribution of real cost reduction recorded is higher than in any of the well-performing emerging markets. A democratic developmental state model that accords primacy to macroeconomic stability notwithstanding; Ethiopia’s growth potential is yet to be and can be mobilised. Structural transformation will in effect involve unchaining self-reinforcing policy trajectories and a coordinated change in the composition and level of public and private sector investments.




FL: Can you elaborate the achievements that Ethiopia has gained so far in human development and human security?


CB: While Ethiopia has recorded significant achievements in GDP growth, it faces predictable armour of trials rife in poor nations with too few mechanism and wherewithal, while also wrestling with the perennial problem of sequencing policy reforms, all subject to doctrinal reins. Given the very slim boundaries for manoeuvre imposed by abject poverty, deficits and a complex interlace in its political fabric, getting the priorities right are the central issues to be addressed. An IMF report (2012) underpins the fact that Ethiopia pursues a public sector-led growth strategy that focuses on promoting growth through high public investment supported partly by low nominal interest rates. Real GDP growth is still robust. While the strategy has contributed to robust economic growth in the past, recent developments indicate a build-up of vulnerabilities, which need to be addressed in order to sustain growth performance. Ethiopia has been borrowing funds for development from various sources. Hence, it is imperative for a sovereign credit rating as an assessment of its credit worthiness. Fitch has assigned long-term foreign and local currency Issuer Default Ratings (IDRs) of ‘B’, short-term foreign currency IDR of ‘B’ and a Country Ceiling of ‘B’. The outlooks on the long-term IDRs are stable.

Ethiopia’s drive to be a middle-income country has resulted in an encouraging growth episode and progress has been made on the broad-based social and economic development and stands on track on the MDGs. Ethiopia has already met seven of the eight MDGs. Poverty has been declining rapidly, both in rate as well as absolute number of the poor. Children, boys and girls alike, are in schools; and the country has met the target rapidly. General education coverage has increased. The health and other complimentary sector programmes are significantly improving the child survival rate and promising to achieve the target set for under five mortalities. Infant mortality rate is essentially reduced by enhancing immunisation in the country. Substantial progress has also been made in terms of reducing both incidence and prevalence diseases.

Gender disparities are significantly narrowing down in primary education level. The government effort on environmental management and biodiversity is encouraging. There has also been significant progress in creating, maintaining and expanding global partnership for development. Such developments notwithstanding, challenges remain on youth unemployment, food poverty, and both the urban and the rural poor are prone to various kinds of shocks and vulnerabilities. Literacy rate is improving. However, it remains low and requiring significant effort to expedite progress. Completion rates both in the first and second cycle of primary education are very low. The education quality needs to be addressed urgently. Much more effort is needed to curb the long-standing cultural, social and economic factors that impede from substantially reducing maternal mortality.

Hardware investments encompass the whole range of physical and infrastructural facilities needed to allow the movement of labour, goods, and services across a market economy–roads, railways, power plants to generate electricity, electricity grid networks, water and sewage facilities, etc. Roads, Railways and Air Infrastructure. Ethiopia is building 71,000 kilometres of new roads, to virtually all communities and modern eight-lane express ways. It is constructing 2,395 kilometres of new railways linking Addis Ababa with Djibouti, linking selected domestic cities, and within Addis Ababa. It is raising Ethiopian Airlines’ air fleet by 35 additional aircraft, (four new cargo carriers) and building a huge new cargo hub with a capacity to handle 125,000 tons per day in perishable export commodities. Power generation & distribution: Generating 10,000 MW of new power generation capacity and laying132,000 kilometres of new electricity distribution lines and the expansion of electricity coverage to 75 per cent of the country. Water supply and irrigation is expanding the water supply infrastructure to 99 per cent of the population and the drilling of some 3,000 water wells per year and increasing in irrigation coverage 16 per cent. In industry & commercial agriculture, textiles, metals and engineering, cement, fertilizers and sugar production and three million hectares of land is available for investment. In Oil & Minerals, exploration is going on by more than 25 companies for oil, gas, minerals.

Software investments are best seen as the human capacity building required to run an increasingly modernizing national economy– from basic healthcare to ensure a capable labour force to the provision of adequate education at the primary, secondary and tertiary level, in additional to specialized vocational and technical training schools needed to run an increasingly complex economy. The first poverty reduction programme was formulated in 2001. Given the size of the resource gap and the limited capacity of the economy to mobilize domestic resources, the financial gap is covered from donors’ assistance. New aid modalities support the nation by generating national consensus on GTP I & GTP II. This is aligned with development assistance to achieve MDGs and SDGs and aligned with principles to promote aid effectiveness.

Evidence of sufficient knowledge and information about the business sector is another indicator. Progress in information systems on micro-economic behaviour including labour market networks, and the specific requirements of technology transfer and adaptation are all preconditions for sound policy and strategy analysis, formulation and management. Planning and policy-making are characterised by on-going dialogue between government and different groups of economic actors and by regular exchange of electronic data and information on specific needs and requirements including the critical area of technology transfer and development. Further, communities of practice and a coherent and coordinated approach between different government agencies in their dealings with the business community; flexibility in response to changing circumstances; attention to detail in the objectives agreed upon; and emphasis on achieving high levels of performance must be developed.

Entrepreneurs that are expected to employ the vast army of labour and that operate on a small-to intermediate-scale usually exhibit fairly sophisticated organisational skills. Nevertheless, as their businesses grow along the small-to intermediate-scale continuum, they often face constraints such as limited managerial capabilities; difficulties with technology transfer and adaptation; and, as in the case of informal sector micro-entrepreneurs, inadequate or inappropriate public provision of enterprise-level support. If entrepreneurship is to become the vehicle of growth, ‘graduation’ of informal sector micro-enterprises to better endowed establishments and higher levels of value-added and economic diversification is to be achieved, it is clear that the deficit of skills that are necessary to establish a range of capabilities on the managerial side must surmounted.

An efficient and a development-oriented private sector provide the nourishment, which markets require to grow and function effectively. Markets themselves provide the credit ingredients, which the private sector requires to grow, expand and contribute to development. Thus, there is a reciprocal and mutually productive relationship between the private sector and credit and capital markets. Responsibility for their implementation has been assigned to stakeholders at all levels. States should incorporate the requirements of establishing capital markets and strengthening the private sector in the list of macro-economic reform and employment programmes priorities. The banking system must be functioning as efficiently as planned – taking care of the money market and hence credit market needs of private sectors. Consequential growth response of the latter should give a boost to capital markets, which in turn provide capital for entrepreneurial employment. Central banks in many countries have created incentives to private commercial and merchant banks to provide employment loans of various dimensions. The most popular has been the loans provided to provide more employees to business.



Presentation of Former President Mandella’s Gift to Haile Gebre Sellasse – It was an honour for me to present this on behalf of Mandella





FL: What are the main challenges for Ethiopia to further improving its sphere of influence in global affairs?


CB: Recent allegations of embezzlement in government institutions have brought the issue of corruption to a new level of alarm. The organisational imperative of the massive bureaucratic machine is to command and control, preoccupied with its own survival and enrichment; as the state had proved to be the main channel for personal wealth accumulation and securing privileged position in society.

As the winner takes all and the looser is consigned to the political and economic wilderness, all the brutality of bitter fights ensure in every competition for personal and group accumulation of resources. The collective shame is devastatingly onerous on our identity, crushing our dreams and aspirations of renaissance.

A major contributing factor to the appalling governance and corruption situation stems from a shallow understanding of, and a feeble grip on, the essential components that constitute the required merit based public administration and the intensive and comprehensive nature of their development and utilisation processes. As such, important components and commitment required to build a meritocratic system and use a quality administrative force for accelerating and sustaining growth are not properly addressed in the public management system.

Regional states and woredas have to produce and retain the necessary pool of self-confident, knowledgeable and skilled force, with resourcefulness and a sense of purpose, work ethics, vision, integrity and direction. Pronouncements are being made regarding good governance, employment and career development programmes in many forums. Yet, like many other policy efforts, these have yet to yield the desired results. Human capital flight from the nation has reached alarming levels leaving behind those who bet on graft and sleaze.

While the prime role of the state in advancing the economy is well recognised, reducing state involvement in the economy, streamlining the discretionary decision-making authority of its officials will reduce the threats of corruption. Reforms can eliminate monopolies and economic distortions that facilitate them and improve accountability. Strong private sector leadership at all levels of society is essential for an effective auguring of quality labour market, essentially complemented by the full and active participation of civil society.

There is simply no alternative to defining the scope of the state and the establishment of sound institutional capacity for real-time strategy development, sensitivity analysis, policy coordination, and attention to the details of implementation of entrepreneurial employment. Strategic objectives must be clearly defined and specific measures made consistent with overall polices of a good national economic management. Provision of incentives to entrepreneurs must be subject to periodic review, continuation and expansion, conditional upon performance criteria established in advance.

Leadership, political will and public support are essential to the success of stemming any threats of corruption, and that the causes and not just the consequences of these threats have to be addressed. Upholding the rule of law is important to guarantee protection of human rights, ensure judicial predictability. It creates a climate conducive to domestic private sector activity, foreign direct investment and enforce adherence to formal rules of behaviour.

Civic watchdogs are significant components of this strategy to increase integrity and transparency. Creating a merit based and metric civil service is a basic requirement for limiting any threats of corruption and rebuilding public confidence. A culture of professionalism needs to be created and thus, incentives as well as sanctions have to be employed. Remuneration is obviously a factor, but opportunities for career advancement based on merit are important mechanisms to instil a sense of professional pride.

Corruption cannot be seen in isolation, as its effects permeate societies, and in turn, societal attitudes can either encourage or discourage corruption. Without the active involvement of civil society, it will not be possible to combat corruption. Professional associations, civil society watchdog bodies, community organisations, consumer associations and religious leaders can build coalitions against corruption and demand greater accountability.

The media has a very important role to play in educating people, exposing corruption and building support for efforts stemming the threats of corruption. Corruption thrives on secrecy, which countered by a free press also fulfils an important public information function and can help counteract public perceptions that corruptions inevitable and important people are immune from investigative journalism.

The fact that political corruption is frequently exposed in the press serves as strong deterrents in many industrial countries. Experience in developed nations has shown that preventing and combating corruption requires a consistent, coherent, broad-based approach and a long-term perspective.




FL: What Ethiopia should do to strengthen its local development and remain influential at the international political arena?


CB: Lodged in a highly turbulent region in the Horn of Africa, the legitimacy of the elections and democratic process under way in Ethiopia will depend in important ways on it being perceived as reasonably honest, transparent, and accountable in the execution of political responsibility. Indeed, there are too many instances in the history of the country, which prove the transcendence of ethno-centrism.

It is apparent that as the country enters this new era of political pluralism, there is a need to overhaul the political machinery and develop institutional alternatives to the current structures. In the above review, the attempt has been to identify some of the impediment for the consolidation and preservation of democracy in Ethiopia. The passage to democracy in Ethiopia is a political development problematique, not merely because of the challenges of balancing the desire for an immediate transition with the reality of initiating such a process in a country with a limited democratic experience and a civil society marred by high levels of illiteracy.

The Ethiopian transition was bound to have shortcomings that stem in part from historical and structural conditions marked by authoritarian and militarist traditions for a good part of its history. While there exist almost insurmountable obstacles to the flourishing of democratic governance, other nations with identical historical features, have managed to install and maintain multi-party democratic systems.

Scholars looking at nation branding from a political perspective see it as coordinated government efforts to manage a country’s image in order to promote tourism, investment and foreign relations. In this light, nation branding is seen as a powerful political tool, especially for nations eager to strengthen their economic position and to compete against the economic, financial or military clout of superpowers.

Unless the overall branding strategy rings true about its people, there is little chance that it will be believed or endorsed by the population, much more the rest of the world. Hence, the most enlightened in society must step forward to play the role required of them as harbingers of freedom, modernity, and social change. There must be courage and an unravelled motivation to spearhead the process towards changes in a society where traditionally, there has been the temptation to downgrade the value of professional development.

As Tarnue Johnson said in his seminal essay, a collective psyche that puts so much trust in the paraphernalia of domination must be superseded by a social consciousness that gives due respect to the highest ethical and professional standards in social life. State failure teaches us is that any society, which is not based on strong institutional pillars and a robust meritocracy in its distribution of social and economic benefits, is bound to fail.

Thus, the merit system is consequential as a tried and tested route to success in constitutional self-governance. The mystique of executive power is closely linked to the lack of institution building and the distortion of the role and influence of existing ones, such as the courts, traditional societies, public associations and other pillars of civil society.

Hence, the syndrome of personal power must be superseded by a system of institutional power and the fostering of forthcoming aptitude at all levels of the social system. In the experiences of the great nations, institutional power has always been legitimatised by dialogue and democratic voices including all sections of society.

The critical observer would note that the structure of national failure could be principally located within the vortex of this pathology, and the psychosocial assumptions and web of psychic delusions, which substantiate and give it its lifeblood. What this presupposes is that the analysis of political and structural failure should be predicated upon bringing into conscious awareness the role of subjective and phenomenological factors.








Professor Costantinos Berhutesfa

Costantinos has been until recently working with the United Nations as Senior Policy Adviser on poverty & sustainable development to the UN in New York, South Africa, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Malawi, working extensively on poverty, disaster reduction, streamlining government, private sector development policies and Public Private Sector participation. Costantinos has also served as chairperson of the African Union Board on the Convention to Prevent and Combat Corruption. He teaches public policy at the School of Graduate Studies at the AAU and serves as chair of nine NGOs. He has published extensively on public policy and institutional reforms and is author of a number of publications.



Fanuel Lakew

Fanuel Lakew was a reporter at the Ethiopian Herald Newspaper of the Ethiopian Press Agency. He did his bachelor degree from Addis Ababa University in Political Science and International Relations in 2012 and has served as Secretary General of the Ethiopian Political Science and International Relations since 2012. Now, he studies M.A in Politics and International Relations at Central University of Gujarat, India.


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