Ambassador, thank you for taking time to speak with us. In terms of Ethiopia’s global standing due to the conflict in the North, how would you characterize this past year?

2021 has been a tumultuous year for Ethiopia with a number of twists and turns, shenanigans, and political maneuverings; this has helped Ethiopia clearly distinguish its trusted allies from its fair weather friends. This past year has also revealed the interests and motivations of our regional and global partners. We have indisputably witnessed various pressure campaigns in an attempt to bend the will of the Federal Government, the elected representative of the Ethiopian people, to fit western agenda. Similar to these very nations, Ethiopia has its own foreign policy priorities and should not be expected to be at the beck and call of external powers. We are grappling not only with the challenges and aftermath of the conflict in the North, and all the while asserting our sovereignty and autonomy in the Horn and beyond.


In the context of our existing challenges, what are some challenges, existing gaps, or areas of improvement?

A: The elemental question is how we handle our internal disagreements and resolve our fundamental differences to propel the nation toward a peaceful and prosperous path. Though we may not be able to resolve all our differences all at once, it is important to bring about a national consensus on the most fundamental things. First and foremost, we need to place the highest importance on solving our own issues, as narrowing existing gaps and societal cleavages requires incremental work. The upcoming all-inclusive dialogue will help in sorting out our issues and better equip all Ethiopians to chart a path of their own choosing; this grand project, however, does not include groups who have been designated as terrorist groups by Parliament; that is, unless, it reconsiders its decision. In this multipolar global order, Ethiopia must not remain at a crossroads because our differences make us vulnerable to exploitation by various groups that seek to weaponize our differences. Though Ethiopia has enjoyed a long history of statehood, regrettably- we lag 100-years behind in our collective ability to address significant differences amongst ourselves.


Would you say that we exist in a rules-based international system?

There are international norms, and there are certainly rules, but these rules are not in place to serve everybody, rather- they are in place to serve the rule makers. Those with power and means frequently bend these rules to their favor, those without risk being taken advantage of, and even coerced. For a developing country like ours, the international arena requires careful planning, as well as a frequent aligning and realigning of national interests. For this reason, I hesitate to say that we are indeed in a rules-based international system.


What are the core issues planned for the upcoming all-inclusive dialogue?

First, there needs to be clarity in our understanding of the term “national dialogue”. The tentative national dialogue is meant to establish a shared goal amongst the people, and the political elite; it does not mean or imply bargaining with designated terrorist elements. This endeavor could take months, or perhaps years depending on the process. Considering the Ethiopian parliament’s designation, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF – Shene) will not participate in the dialogue because this designation disqualifies them from having a stake. No legitimate government can be made to accept preconditions from terrorist elements and Ethiopia certainly will not accept preconditions if a negotiation is to happen. It is the Ethiopian government’s responsibility to set clear conditions and standards so as to move forward with normalization and rehabilitation efforts.


Among the Ministry’s most recent reforms, are there initiatives in place that best equip civil servants at the ministry?

The Ministry is rolling out various changes to improve its capacity and overall stature. Before proposing changes, the Ministry undertook a lengthy and thorough assessment of its personnel. Our two-pronged assessment entails a personal, as well as a standardized test, to best gauge our strengths and weaknesses. There is a distinct disparity in theoretical knowhow and experience between our senior and junior staff, the difference is largely due to seniority. In terms of capacity building, the Ministry prioritizes bridging these gaps by providing technical and skills-based training to our staff. In the past, we used on-the-job training as a primary tool for capacity building which has resulted in an abundance of generalists. We intend on ameliorating this gap by placing greater emphasis on highly specialized areas, geographic locations, and thematic interests in our diplomatic work.

We are also in the process of amending a rather antiquated practice at the Ministry whereby every professional staff is ensured an international deployment after three years of service, i.e. irrespective of factors like experience, relevant studies, and language. This practice has led to scarcity of subject matter experts and an abundance of generalists. In addition, the financial burden of our overstaffed missions is yet another motivation to repeal this practice. For example, where embassies of industrialized nations in a particular region would have four or five diplomats, the Ethiopian counterpart in the same region might have up to 15 diplomats. The Ministry aims to place heavier emphasis on factors like political relevance, diaspora needs, investment and partnership interests so as to rate the size of the mission or embassy in line with our foreign policy objectives.

Our Ministry is intent on widening its reach not only through traditional diplomacy but also by utilizing tools of this digital age. Though there might be initial shocks to the system, I believe the long term benefits of this reform will be many fold.


Going into 2022, what are the Ministry’s top three foreign policy priorities?

The to One is to assert our relevance by handling our domestic issues, and also portraying a positive image. Secondly, the ministry plans to strengthen its partnership with Ethiopians in the diaspora as well as friends of Ethiopia, to facilitate paths for investment and tourism. This will significantly add to efforts to combat foreign and foreign backed campaigns against the Ethiopian people.

Considering the Ethiopian parliament’s designation, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF – Shene) will not participate in the dialogue because this designation disqualifies them from having a stake.

Lastly, we are only beginning to venture deeper into our homegrown economic reform agenda to enhance our economic development. Though our aim is to gradually become self reliant, we still solicit partnerships and projects both in terms of investment and aid.


Horn Review : Given the current political context, there have been unprecedented waves of social media campaigns as well as mobilisation in the diaspora. How does the ministry plan to encourage such citizen diplomacy efforts in the digital space?

We are expanding our public diplomacy and public relations departments as well as staffing them with highly trained young professionals in digital communications. In addition to the local languages, we are expanding our linguistic base to French, Arabic, Spanish, and English, to integrate the diaspora. Furthermore, we aim to increase our collaboration and ventures with Ethiopian Ministries, as well as diaspora agencies and organizations.

It is apparent that the level of cohesion observed in the diaspora is a reflection of our unity at home; it is my hope that the upcoming national dialogue will forge greater ties within the diaspora as well. In this regard, Ethiopian embassies and missions are hosting various online seminars, consultations, and discussions to directly address members of the diaspora. We are encouraged by the overwhelming interest for involvement from the diaspora.


What can we expect to see in 2022?

It is both our hope and plan that 2022 will bring an increased involvement of the diaspora. We hope that the great homecoming that is taking place provides ample opportunity for the diaspora to assess the reality on the ground for themselves. As direct stakeholders, the diaspora can play a crucial role in disseminating accurate information.

In parallel, there are commendable efforts from the diaspora to help in the daunting task of reconstruction from damages to hospitals, schools, and other public facilities as a result of the war.

Our major task in the coming year is bolstering our domestic reform efforts. We expect this to have a cascading effect in encouraging our partners and friends for increased collaboration, both in the diplomatic and development spheres. Additionally, though we may be through with the conflict, we will need to begin reconstruction and rebuilding infrastructure. The next year will be the year of mending, reconstruction, and rehabilitation.


Are there plans, ongoing or future, to reinvigorate passion for diplomacy and international affairs for the young professionals in international relations?

In the coming year, we are tentatively planning to host a number of workshops, panel discussions, and trainings in and around university campuses on core international Affairs issues relevant to our continent, our region, and the world. Compared to other nations in the region, we significantly lag in this regard; this is partly due to the financial commitment and lack of a coordinated effort between the ministry institutions of higher learning, and other relevant stakeholders. There is more to be done in this regard, and our ministry plans to maintain the current wave of citizen diplomacy in our university campuses.