By Solomon Dibaba
Ethiopia’s foreign relations with countries near and afar, and the country’s foreign policy and diplomacy can best be characterized as a process of change and continuity in which various determinants are involved. The country’s foreign policy and diplomacy has passed through three stages of foreign policy dimensions each characterized by different policy determinants and objectives.
These include: Ethiopia’s foreign policy and diplomacy during the imperial regime (1931- 1974), then during the totalitarian regime of Derg (1974- 1990) and in the advent of a democratic federal state (1991- present)
The major determinants of the foreign policy of the country during the imperial regime included the quest for resolving international disputes through peaceful negotiations without resorting to violence. This meant a devotion to the principles of collective security, and becoming stronger militarily.
Major diplomatic activities were carried out by the emperor himself through charismatic personal diplomacy, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs played second fiddle in formulating and implementing foreign policy objectives. There was no meaningful connection between the domestic policies of the regime and its foreign policy and diplomatic objectives. In fact the emperor’s domestic polices totally contradicted with the country’s foreign policy.
The emperor loved lavish foreign travels in which he conducted foreign policy on his own whims and desires. He focused on the formation of the now defunct OAU and the Non-aligned movement. In short, the imperial regime had no consolidated foreign policy document or strategy, except for the speeches the emperor was delivering on various international conferences. Ambassadors, senior diplomats and practitioners of the trade were selected by the emperor and were not appointed on the basis of merit and professionalism.
During the Derg era, the nation was at loggerheads with the neighbouring countries despite the government’s official commitment to peaceful coexistence. Somali Irredentism and Egyptian militarism as well as the declaration made by former Sudanese President Jaffar Nimeiri to institute Islamic state in Sudan with Sharia law, the proliferation of local liberation movements and war with Eritrean Liberation movements for over thirty years was a total mismatch with the government’s commitment to “proletarian internationalism”. Derg talked about peaceful coexistence and mutual respect without adhering to any of these principles.
Just like the feudal regime before it, the government followed totally incompatible policies in its domestic and foreign policy. Internally Derg was repressive, to say the least, and at the international level, the country sided with the socialist countries that were led by the former Soviet Union. In a similar manner, the military government had no specific policy document that could have explained the foreign policy and diplomatic objectives of the government.
The establishment of a federal democratic system in Ethiopia in 1991 ushered a major paradigm shift in the dynamics of the country’s foreign policy and diplomacy. For the first time in the history of the country, a comprehensive and an all embracing democratic policy and strategy was released in 2013. The document, entitled ‘The Foreign Affairs and National Policy and Strategy of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia’ was issued as a document that clearly defined the foreign policy & diplomacy of the country.
It is clearly stated in the introductory part of the document that the foreign policy of Ethiopia focuses on “sustained economic development, prosperity, promotion of democracy and peace as the pillars of the nation’s objectives of foreign policy and diplomacy.”
Unlike all the previous foreign policies issued by previous administrations, the new foreign policy of Ethiopia is based on promoting the national interest of the country. Contrary to all the previous foreign policy and diplomacy objectives of past governments, the country’s foreign policy emanates and is based on the domestic policies of the country. The full consonance between the two policies shows the complementarities between domestic and foreign policy objectives.
A shift in foreign policy goals of the country is vividly demonstrated in Ethiopia’s relations with the neighbouring countries. Ethiopia’s foreign relations with these countries have shifted from a coalition-collusion syndrome to a one of cooperation, mutual respect, common economic benefits and maintenance of peace and tranquillity [in the Horn of Africa].
The antagonistic relation with the Republic of Sudan has already shifted to mutual economic development, economic integration, collective security and maintenance of peace. This mode of relations has already kicked off with Egypt in which confidence building measures have already been initiated to boost mutual trust in the use of the waters of the Blue Nile and possible power sharing schemes from power to be generated from GERD.
The institutional economic diplomacy that is pursued by the nation has won it a seat in the UNSC as a temporary member and has further increased the positioning and clout of Ethiopia’s influence in Africa.
Furthermore, Ethiopia has already become a major investment destination in Africa and the credit must be given to the economic diplomacy policy. The establishment of industrial parks; programs of [electric] power sharing with the neighbouring countries; linkage in infrastructure between Kenya, Djibouti, Sudan and South Sudan; linking Africa with air transport; and hosting major international and regional summits can all be attributed to the implementation of the diplomatic strategy charted out by the government.
As the other aspect of the foreign policy and diplomacy, Ethiopia sees the stability of the sub-region and Africa important. Ranked as the fourth largest troop contributor of peacekeeping forces, the country has deployed 8,000 member of its armed and police forces to maintain peace in Abiye between South Sudan and the Republic of Sudan. Ethiopian armed forces have also helped in bringing peace in Liberia, Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia and in Darfur, Sudan through various peacekeeping missions.
In 2016, Ethiopia conducted a full fledged diplomatic relations by continuing to help the establishment of a central government in Somalia and had done everything possible to ascertain peace in South Sudan based on its position of influence in IGAD.
Ethiopia has conducted a number of consultative meetings on bilateral issues with Canada, Great Britain, Italy, France, and number of EU countries Saudi Arabia, China. Such meetings have won the nation a highly recognizable.
One of the unique features of Ethiopia’s foreign policy and diplomacy is the government’s efforts in mobilizing Ethiopians and citizens of Ethiopian origin in the Diaspora on the socio-economic development of the nation, which can be seen from the conspicuous role in raising a commendable amount of fund for the construction of GERD.
Ethiopia has continued to conduct its foreign policy and diplomacy with skilled professional diplomats, whom the nation has continued to train. This is another indication of policy shift from all previous regimes, which in most cases appoint ambassadors to keep away individuals who are critical to the views of the respective regimes. Ethiopia’s current developmental democratic diplomacy is conducted by devoted professionals, who puts ahead the national interest of the country through a strategy of economic diplomacy.
The dynamics of Ethiopia’s foreign policy and diplomacy is still unfolding with speedy momentum to ensure that Ethiopia would become a mid level developed country by 2025.
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