Friday, December 4, 2009

A Bogus Call for a Paradigm Shift - Ethiopia’s Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy and Strategy

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs Responds to Alemayehu Fentaw's Critique of Its Policy

It has been more than seven years since the current Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy and Strategy was issued by the Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. It was adopted following extensive public discussions of the draft document, some aired and televised. At various times, different institutions have held discussions on this Policy and Strategy document. It’s been translated and made widely available in English, and is available on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is written in a language accessible to the general public. The fact that the Foreign and National Security Policy and Strategy has been debated openly and made widely available to the general public is, in itself, already a radical change for a country that used to treat all foreign affairs documents and communications as top-secret.

Despite this, some appear to have found it difficult to grasp the true tenets of this transparent policy instrument, evaluate its worth on merit or measure it by implementation. The fact that the document has been in the public domain from inception has, of course, encouraged comment, often critical, from all sectors of society. This is appreciated, and welcome, but constructive criticism of this, as of any policy instrument, does require it should be read in its entirety. One has to say, for example, that Alemayehu Fentaw (Ethiopia’s Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy: The Case for a Paradigm Shift, November 2009, doesn’t appear to have read the Policy and Strategy Document very closely or in great detail before indulging in parallels and analogies with previous regimes in Ethiopia. His comments are in fact widely disconnected from the content and reality of the policy instrument. He appears to have drawn from the archives of the past rather than the current day realities of Ethiopia’s foreign and national security considerations. It isn’t necessary to treat his brief commentary point by point, but it does offer the opportunity to recall the main tenets of Ethiopia’s Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy and Strategy, and its achievements.

The Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy and Strategy has two major parts. The first lays the foundation of the policy instrument. It contains the principles, values, objectives and strategies that underpin the entire instrument. The second part explicates and expounds the historical value and meaning of Ethiopia’s relations with third parties, and provides guidance on how these relationships should best be handled. This, the most detailed section, should of course be tempered by the understanding that some, if not most of the section, can and will be influenced most significantly at times by ongoing developments around the world or in specific countries and organizations.

The first part of the Policy and Strategy is critical to help refocus the undivided attention of the country on the attainment of economic development and democratization as central to ensuring the stability and continuity of Ethiopia as a country. Democracy and development are questions of survival. For a country as rich in diversity of nations, nationalities and religions as Ethiopia, the establishment of democratic order is a sine-qua-non to avert disorder and disintegration. Democracy allows for mutual accommodation and resolution of conflicting interests. Similarly, lifting the country from abject poverty and underdevelopment is imperative to avert the disorder and chaos that could follow if this situation was allowed to continue. The question of national pride and national heritage are integrated in the policy document with emphasis on the duty of the present generation to fight extreme poverty while building on the proud legacy of the country’s longstanding independence, its past civilizations and glories. Full recognition is given to the phenomenon of globalization as an opportunity and also as a challenge. In a world of increasing interconnection and fierce competition, Ethiopia also has to devise ways and means of mitigating the negatives effects of globalization while exhaustively utilizing the many opportunities it also has to offer.

Ethiopia’s Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy and Strategy sets out specific and realist objectives, easily demonstrating this is indeed a major paradigm shift for the country. It goes back to creating an enabling environment for the economic development and democratization of the country. One major aspect of this is through a transformation in foreign affairs, that is the implementation of a policy of economic diplomacy. This allows for the securing of foreign market opportunities for local goods, attracting of foreign investment and enhancing development assistance through grants, loans, technical assistance and technology transfer, and the promotion of the country as a tourist destination. Technical and financial support for the vital institutions to entrench democratic governance in the country is also critical. The policy instrument seeks to expand the number and role of Ethiopia’s partners and reduce threats by the resolution of conflicts peacefully through dialogue and negotiation. One might add that nowhere in the Policy and Strategy can one find suggestions of the sort of war-based foreign relations objectives that Alemayehu Fentaw appears to see. They simply aren’t there.

The strategies devised to attain the Policy and Strategy objectives are further evidence of the radical shift in Ethiopia’s foreign policy orientation. Unlike the past, the focus is not on any perceived “siege mentality” or on external factors but on the dynamics of the domestic conditions. This is the decisive factor. In other words, this means the determination of Ethiopia’s own priorities, mobilizing and relying on the country’s own resources as far as possible, while seeking foreign assistance to fill any gaps. The strategy also demands that we should minimize threats to national security, study and identify their source, and reduce any vulnerability to such threats by concentrating on the fight against poverty, backwardness, and any absence of good governance.

All this requires the establishment of strong democratic institutions and the construction of a national consensus on the vital national issues of common concern. There has to be a concerted effort to guarantee the rule of law to the fullest extent. At the same time as reducing national vulnerability, the country also has to build a reliable defense and security capability consistent with its economic level, and in a manner that is sustainable and complementary to the country’s economic development. Ethiopia’s strategy has many different nuances including the linking of military expenditure with the economy and making it cost effective. Defense, it might be noted, is another area where Alemayehu Fentaw gets it wrong.

As envisaged in the Strategy, the Government has also endeavored to enhance the implementation capacity of the foreign affairs establishment. This is, in fact, a work in progress. We are continuously working to enhance equitable gender representation and of nations and nationalities in the foreign-service. The focus is equally on the strengthening of the professionalism, commitment and integrity of public servants in this area. It is important that the effort to forge a national consensus on the vital issues for the country, whether inside Ethiopia or outside, should be redoubled while coordination with all relevant public and private actors is enhanced. In sharp contrast to the theories advanced by Alemayehu Fentaw, the Policy and Strategy instrument says that what should matter most is the internal situation of the country. The relevance and validity of Ethiopia’s Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy and Strategy is thus determined by its contribution to development, democracy and peace in Ethiopia. This is quite clearly a clean break from the policies of former regimes in Ethiopia which used to relegate internal objectives to external considerations. Equally, giving domestic progress the decisive place does not mean that the defense of the country’s territorial integrity isn’t given the importance it deserves. In fact, the first of the external relations principles in the Constitution provides for the protection of national interest and respect for the sovereignty of the country. It also refers to mutual respect, non-interference, respect for international treaties, integration with neighboring countries and other African states, and the peaceful resolution of conflicts.

Alemayehu Fentaw does not just miss these central elements of the Policy and Strategy instrument. He concocts facts and makes unsubstantiated allegations. One is the suggestion that US-Ethiopia relations would cool under the new US administration. In fact, as is obvious, the relationship between the two countries is thriving. Another is the claim that Ethiopia’s involvement in Somalia demonstrates a ‘foreign policy through war’ approach. It shouldn’t need repeating that Ethiopia took action in Somalia following the appearance of a clear and present danger from terrorist groups and at the invitation of the legitimate Government of Somalia. It withdrew as soon as it was in a position to do so when the current Somali political dispensation was created by the Djibouti Agreements. Again, Ethiopia has made major strides in the promotion and protection of human and civil rights, and no misrepresentation of the concept of human security can conceal this. In fact, Ethiopia’s Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy and Strategy could be said to represent a well-proportioned human security framework, of human and civil rights. It encompasses both security in the traditional sense and security in terms of democratic rights as well as enjoyment of freedom from hunger and deprivation.

The Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy and Strategy has helped redefine Ethiopia’s place in the world. The country is now successfully attracting substantial foreign investment. It has significantly increased its external trade and is currently negotiating entry into the World Trade Organization. The new approach of economic-diplomacy is making tangible progress in contributing to successive years of economic growth. Ethiopia is preparing to hold its 4th round of national elections with its institutions demonstrating impressive implementation capacity, and with a series of enabling laws creating a conducive environment for the further nurture of democracy. More and more, Ethiopian nationals and foreign nationals of Ethiopian origin are engaged in development activities in the country. Ethiopia is playing an active role in the African Union’s integration agenda and in the maintenance of international peace and security through active participation in the policy organs and peacekeeping operations of the African Union and the United Nations. Despite many remaining challenges, these and other achievements clearly demonstrate the intrinsic and practical value of the Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy and Strategy.

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