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Page 16                                            Op-ed Notes                                                                                                         Fortune Vol. 21 No. 1070 Nov. 1, 2020

Passive Foreign Affairs Service Makes Effective Foreign Policy Unhelpful

Abiy Ahmed (PhD) almost lost his life while        Combustible Youth Explosion                                                                                                           nonetheless two-pronged. On the one
posted as a radio operator in the late 1990s,                                                 My                                                                                         side, the administration inherited a
during the Eritrean-Ethiopian War. He is the       The all-consuming worry in Ethiopia                                                      Sure he can start small, in a parent’s       foreign service that has historically been
only survivor of a platoon boarded on a tank       today is the threat of violence as                                                       garage on a business that costs just         disempowered and deinstitutionalised. This
that was hit by heavy artillery. The whole         political tensions persist across the                                                    a couple of thousand Birr a month            is despite its formalisation as a part of public
episode of the war was needless, avoidable         country. It is distressing, evidently. It                                                and just one labourer, but how many          administration as a ministry by the Ethiopia
and regrettable. But it is a reminder in the       is above personal and professional                                                       of those do actually succeed without         government 113 years ago. The Foreign
pages of history books about the terrible cost                                                                                                                                           Ministry probably only had institutional
of war when diplomacy fails.                       matters, above and beyond the self         Opinion                                       meaningful capital backing?                  agency when it was being overseen by
                                                                                                                                                                                         Emperor Haileselassie, who served as
Two decades on, Abiy would become Prime            or even the community. For some,                                By Christian Tesfaye     Our friend will not make it unless a         minister for 13 years before taking the
Minister. Within only months of holding            perhaps for many, such national                                                          family member or luck come to the            throne, and when the head of government,
office, he would strike what was perhaps his       trauma is a matter of sanity. It takes     or buying into political radicalism.          rescue. With economic opportunities          Empresses Zewditu, was politically weak.
most significant accomplishment in office:         nothing less than great personal           They are at an age of sexual maturity, in     - including saving – this sparse, the        The use of the service for rewards or a
a rapprochement between Ethiopia and               strength to push on, to see the light at   biological terms, and this entails certain    alternative to upward social mobility is     position of demotion was also a tradition
Eritrea that won him the prestigious Nobel         the end of the tunnel at this depressing   behaviours that make them more prone          a loss of hope. It creates the feeling that  begun by the Emperor.
Peace Prize. He has yet to earn it.                time.                                      to acts they may regret later.                the mountain is too steep to climb, no
                                                                                              For the most part, there is little in our     matter one’s efforts.                        Circumstances have not improved ever
Two years on, it is little less than a marvel      But such worry has also made us            current economic circumstances to entail                                                   since, even with Seyoum Mesfin’s almost
that Abiy meets periodically — officially          forget something. Our political            that this is avoidable. Unemployment          Hopelessness usually leads to one of         two-decade stint as head of the Foreign
as well as informally — with President             problems may be a clear and present        and underemployment are no longer             two things. Substance abuse is one. It       Ministry. Personification continued to be
Isaias Afwerki but without appearing to            danger, but few seem to point out          a surprise, and millions suffer from          offers a temporary release of dopamine       a leading factor, overwhelming chances
move the strategic partnership between             how threatening the distant future         them as we speak. But the challenge           that alleviates the psychological pain       of institutionalising the foreign service.
the respective counties they lead any              is as well.                                of the youth is too deep and broad that       that is felt but will have destructive       Not even Teodros Adhanom, now chief of
closer. Eritrea's President comes to visit                                                    the future is bleak even to those that we     long-term health impacts. The other          the embattled World Health Organisation
for seemingly mundane of occasions — to            This has to do mainly with our             would consider relatively well off.           alternative is to put one's energy into      (WHO), delivered on his promise of building
tour an industrial park or two and a coffee        booming young population. When this        The gross domestic product (GDP)              changing the politico-economic system        an institution out of the individual domain of
plantation, as well as a newly landscaped          is taken into consideration, the long-     per capita in Ethiopia has reached            that is perceived to be a barrier to         the foreign affairs service.
park. They appear as cordial as ever, keep         term prospects of political stability      around 1,000 dollars. Let us consider         one's economic advancement. This is
to a busy schedule on visits, and part ways        start to look all the more ambivalent.     an Ethiopian that lives on five times that    revolution.                                  But this administration’s effort at protecting
without any indication of the future of the                                                   amount, which would come to about                                                          and advancing the interests of the country
relationship between the two countries.            First, some figures. Ethiopians make       15,000 Br a month based on the formal         If a person that earns five times the        in the international arena is further
This is while the basic tenets of the Algiers      up for well over a percentage of           exchange rate. In the last fiscal year,       national income per capita feels             complicated; there appears to be no
Agreement on rulings from the boundary             the world population. At a 2.5pc           there was an average inflationary rate of     they cannot climb the social ladder          consistent vision articulating its foreign
and claims commissions remain untouched.           population growth rate, we are adding      20pc. The same amount of money would          through their own effort, imagine            policy.
                                                   about three million people annually        thus retain just about 80pc of its value      the desperation that will be felt by
At best, it is nothing but a personal affair. The  to share more of the resources that        within a year.                                the millions of underemployed and            Drawn up in 2002, the country’s foreign
longer it continues, the more it offends the       we have. Each one of these millions        What such an inflationary rate entails, in    unemployed in Ethiopia? Now, apply           relations guideline remains one that belongs
fact that the countries lack policy frameworks     of people added annually will require      the face of an average of an eight percent    the same logic and the socio-political       to a different time with a highly divergent
institutionalising the long-sought process of      schooling, health services, shelter and    savings rate, is that putting money in the    headache this is going to create unless      sets of circumstances. It is a detailed
normalisation of the relationship. Without a       feeding. At least for 18 years, they will  bank is not ideal. It is not economically     addressed by the time there will be          document holding national security as the
meaningful institutional arrangement, it will      consume these goods and services           rational. If one saves, indeed, it would      over 170 million Ethiopians by 2050,         central objective of foreign policy. In its
remain all about the personal and political        without being productive.                  have to be to invest it as soon as possible.  with over half of that estimated to be of    attempt to view foreign policy through the
interests of a few individuals holding onto                                                   That investment could be to acquire           working age?                                 lens of development and peace, and the
state power than the long-term interests of        After that, they slowly become adults      assets such as vehicles or houses that do                                                  region-by-region basis through which it
either country.                                    that need jobs, qualify for housing        not depreciate as fast. Unfortunately, both   Taking the political and economic            attempted to define relations, it remains
                                                   and develop political interests. They      increase in value faster than inflation;      system that will not only absorb the         a valuable document. However, it belongs
This is a phenomenon that, to a lesser             will continue to be a strain on socio-     thus our friend that earns a net of 15,000    growing population but incentivise it        to circumstances that no longer hold true.
degree, exists everywhere within the foreign       political and economic resources and       Br a month will never have a chance of        to become productive is a project that
affairs service, where the institution put         infrastructure, just like most of us are   catching up. It is possible to get a loan,    will take decades. It is an urgent matter    There are more countries in the Horn, after
in place to oversee it is disempowered.            today. Fortunately, hopefully, by their    but at an average lending rate over 14pc,     that should be dealt with now.               the addition of South Sudan, and Ethiopia
What remains is a foreign affairs office           20s, they will become productive           this is going to be prohibitive with the                                                   is the biggest economic powerhouse within
overshadowed by the person of the Prime            members of society that will give back     income that our friend currently has.         Our obsession with our current state of      its vicinity. Djibouti has grown to become
Minister and the significance his office           at least as much as they take.                                                           politics – no doubt, worrying in itself      military real estate for big powers. Beyond
exerts. The reminder is passiveness on the                                                                                                  – does not allow this. But we have no        the Horn, Ethiopia finds itself at a time
diplomatic front with a consequence that is        But what happens if they cannot                                                          choice. The clock is ticking.                when middle powers, such as those in the
being felt on issues that matter to the country.   become productive? What happens                                                                                                       Middle East, are more assertive, multilateral
                                                   if their energies and interests are not                                                                                               institutions are decidedly weak, and the
A case in point are the negotiations with                                                                                                                                                world is no longer unipolar.
Sudan and Egypt over the Grand Ethiopian           focused where they could make use          Pretty much the same logic applies to any      Christian Tesfaye (christian.
Renaissance Dam (GERD). A major blunder            of them?                                   sort of investment that may be made in        tesfaye@addisfortune.net) is a               All of these have a bearing on Ethiopia’s
was the tactical failure when Ethiopia agreed                                                                                                                                            national interests as it was made clear by
to an observer role by the World Bank and          Easy. They become destructive. They possible businesses. A high lending rate researcher and Fortune's Op-Ed                           the GERD affair. It is then only disingenuous
the United States, a decision that was walked      have energy to expend, and they will and the costs of entry to almost any kind Editor whose interests run amok                        to hold that Medemer, Prime Minister
back as it was too clear that Ethiopia would       expend it somewhere, somehow. It of business make it impossible for our in the directions of both print and                           Abiy’s guiding directive, presents enough
be arm-twisted into signing a deal contrary        could be abusing psychoactive drugs friend to catch any break.                           audiovisual storytelling.                    of a clear picture in the exercise of foreign
to its national interests. To a smaller degree,                                                                                                                                          policy. A notion that lacks clarity just about
the poor state of affairs of the foreign service                                                                                                                                         on any issue, it is what has been ascribed
could also be seen in the government’s                                                                                                                                                   in Medemer that members of the foreign
response to the uncalled for remark by                                                                                                                                                   service were hoped to digest and use as
President Donald Trump that Egypt “will                                                                                                                                                  a guiding principle in their diplomatic
blow up the Dam.”                                                                                                                                                                        missions abroad. It is a book that espouses
                                                                                                                                                                                         nostalgia of a retributive nature in restoring
He claimed that Ethiopia's leaders had                                                                                                                                                   the dignity of citizens abroad and granting
defaulted on a promise they had made to his                                                                                                                                              priorities to the neighbouring countries.
country over the GERD. And the jury is still
out on what the nature of that promise was.                                                                                                                                              The disconnect between Ethiopia's senior
                                                                                                                                                                                         diplomats and the Prime Minister cannot
Neither was there any substantive content to                                                                                                                                             be felt more starkly than the existence of
add from the government’s side any more                                                                                                                                                  a foreign policy draft that has yet to make
than the patriotic diatribes that have little                                                                                                                                            it past the Council of Ministers. Under a
meaning or purpose outside of Ethiopia’s                                                                                                                                                 drafting process since last year, its limbo
borders. That too was in the Amharic                                                                                                                                                     status is nothing more than an indication of
version, which was in sharp contrast to the                                                                                                                                              the low priority foreign policy holds for this
wishy-washy and watered-downed tone in                                                                                                                                                   administration.
the English version. It only exposes much
of Ethiopia’s strategy, or lack thereof, when it                                                                                                                                         It also serves as a showcase of the
comes to foreign adversaries that have been                                                                                                                                              problematic conditions the affairs of the
only playing catch-up by responding to the                                                                                                                                               state find themselves in. Matters that have to
surprises thrown at the country. Egypt is on                                                                                                                                             do with the more mundane aspects of public
the offensive on the diplomatic front, despite                                                                                                                                           administration — and do not deal directly
its weak standing in defending its claim for                                                                                                                                             with the threat to peace and stability — do
historical rights.                                                                                                                                                                       not gain nearly as much attention as they
                                                                                                                                                                                         inevitably should.
Contrast this with the grassroots, concerted
effort by diaspora communities that have                                                                                                                                                 From today’s unsettling perspective, the
been effective at making use of digital                                                                                                                                                  matter of imbuing the foreign service
technology to influence the discourse and                                                                                                                                                with consistency, vision and purpose
drum up support from pockets of the                                                                                                                                                      does not sound urgent. Even the utterly
international community. What ought to                                                                                                                                                   unprecedented circumstance of Ethio-
be making this all the more depressing                                                                                                                                                   Eritrean relations, which has been hanging
should be the place from which the foreign                                                                                                                                               on the goodwill of the leaders of the two
service starts. It speaks for itself that Prime                                                                                                                                          countries, is rarely pointed out anymore.
Minister Abiy may not be the first leader to
run the show on the foreign policy front to                                                                                                                                              But in a rapidly evolving world, a
the detriment of the institutionalisation of                                                                                                                                             disempowered foreign service dependent
the foreign service. To be fair to him, it is                                                                                                                                            on the Office of the Prime Minister, cannot
often the case that the head of government                                                                                                                                               avoid being a weak link in safeguarding the
is generally allowed leeway in setting the                                                                                                                                               wellbeing of its people. The GERD - being
foreign policy agenda, even in countries                                                                                                                                                 built within national borders, developed
where the legislative bodies are protective                                                                                                                                              to utilise domestic resources and financed
of their powers on the domestic front and                                                                                                                                                locally - is a reminder that Ethiopia is not an
where institutions are robust.                                                                                                                                                           island and should not be treated in public
                                                                                                                                                                                         administration as such.
The unique situation of Ethiopia is
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