Ethiopia’s security reform to seal regional illicit flows, porous borders

November 2, 2018 Africa , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , POLITICS

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Fanuel Lakew



The Horn of Africa has been one of the most turbulent regions in the world as it was snowed with civil wars, terrorism, and illicit trade, among others. Recently, it has been experiencing political changes as Ethiopia and Eritrea thawed relations. In addition to this, the tripartite agreement among Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea was a bold move to strengthen regional integration in the region. All these changes would bring a flicker of hope to the region. In this regard, Ethiopia, the most populous and biggest economy in the region, has been striving its level best to integrate the region. Ethiopia has also been working to connect countries in the region through infrastructure and ensure peace and security deploying missions; its contribution is huge.


However, Ethiopia needs to give due attention to its national security if it wishes to aspire to be an active player in the region. National security and foreign policy are two sides of the same coin. Foreign policy emanates from national security. The question here is how should Ethiopia need to deal with the aforementioned issue. This reporter discussed with Ann Fitz-Gerald, who is a Professor of International Security Management at Cranfield University in the UK, regarding Ethiopia’s foreign policy in relation to national interest and security system.


Prof. Ann said that Ethiopia is the dominant power in the Horn of Africa. At the heart of this dominance is the sheer size of the nation coupled with its population size and most of all its long, glorious and ancient history. Although this dominance remains unchallenged the resultant respect and place that the country commands in the body politics of the Horn has waned and waxed and, at times, found itself staggering. Some tend to ascribe Ethiopia’s superiority in the Horn as a hegemonic phenomenon. Yet its dominance has been lightly worn, sometimes challenged and not quite hegemonic in character, she added.


Pertaining to Ethiopia’s Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy and Strategy (FANSPS), Prof. Ann pointed out that the recent decision to review the ageing strategy by the administration of Abiy Ahmed is both good and long overdue. “Whilst the analysis underpinning the 2002 FANSPS may well have held relevance during this time, the fluidity of the national security and foreign policy space would have rendered the document outdated within five years of its publication. The conflation of the concepts of ‘national security’ and ‘foreign affairs’ was also puzzling as one concept is subordinate to the other.”


Prof. Ann ascribed the reform agenda made by Prime Minister Abiy as a commitment to reform various aspects of the wider security and justice sector. In this regard, moves already taken to de-politicize the armed forces and develop an intelligence function accountable to the people – rather than to the Party – add richly to this agenda. “But transforming these intentions into real, credible and enduring successes will require new and separate strategies for both national security and foreign policy – and, ideally, in that order.”


Furthermore, a new foreign policy will steer, and help clarify, the nature of Ethiopia’s hegemonic aspirations, she added saying that Addis Ababa has not, in general, thrown its weight around its immediate regional neighbourhood comes down to three enduring reasons: its meagre economic power; the distraction of its own internal challenges and – perhaps something harder to define – its ‘apartness’ and introspective nature compared with its continental peers. The Professor noted that it is useful to look at each of these factors, in turn, to examine what influence they have had on Ethiopian foreign policy up to today and how changes and continuity in each case might affect the country’s foreign policy in the future.


In addition to this, Prof. Ann described the country’s foreign policy as it is, of course, true that a country’s foreign policy is a mixture of the active -those things that a government has the freedom to act upon – and the passive, or those things like the extremes of climate or the actions and events by and in other states that Ethiopia must perforce respond to. “A former British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, once aptly answered a student question as to what drove a nation’s foreign policy with the words: “Events, dear boy, events.”


Regarding Ethiopia’s economic growth and its standing in the region, she described as it is improving rapidly, but from a very low initial point; a phenomenon that economists prefer to call ‘low hanging fruits’. As such, growth figures have been consistently high and there have been notable infrastructural developments. However, she added that these developments cannot conceal a low, though improving, level of GDP, high levels of public debt, heavy reliance of subsistent agricultural sector and high levels of under- and unemployment.


Concerning the above point, Pof. Ann further pointed out that like any developing country that has either failed to exploit its natural resource or has no significant natural resource reserve, foreign intervention is needed to respond to the infrastructural demand of the day either in the form of donations, loans or FDI. “Such level of foreign financial injection is needed to support the regeneration of the industrial sector, improve internal communications and logistics and capitalise on particular economic opportunities such as tourism and coffee that the IMF, together with the Federal Government, sees as its priority.” Thus, stability and confidence are essential if this strategy is to be effective.


She as well said that confidence and co-operation of international partners at the state and commercial levels can only come if, among other factors, Ethiopia’s foreign policy plays its part.


Moreover, Ethiopia’s foreign policy in the near term will have to support and be seen to support the internal reform program; the Professor added saying its security forces, in particular, must be seen as politically neutral. “There is no better way that this can be done, within the limits of a constrained defence and security budget, than by building on the Ethiopian National Defence Forces’ growing reputation as a dependable and highly professional international peacekeeping and stabilising force in the region. Ethiopian contributions to UN and AU mandated interventions in the region are part of a foreign policy that serves Ethiopia’s national interest in maintaining regional stability, limiting costly and dangerous migration flows and helping to seal porous borders.”


Summarising, Prof. Ann underscored that Ethiopia’s foreign policy in the Horn of Africa should continue to support those economic and political reforms which the new government in Addis Ababa has so boldly set for the country. If possible, this policy should be pursued with tact and charm in the other regional capitals, she added.





Fanuel Lakew

Fanuel Lakew is a reporter at the Ethiopian Herald Newspaper of the Ethiopian Press Agency. He did his B.A. degree in Political Science and International Relations from Addis Ababa University in 2012. He also served as the Secretary-General of the Ethiopian Political Science and International Relations. He as well studied M.A. in Politics and International Relations at the Central University of Gujarat, India. He can be reached at [email protected]

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