History of Ethiopian Foreign Relations

History of Ethiopian Foreign Relations

Ethiopia, the only Black country in a sea of white countries, created history in 1920 when it joined the League of Countries as a founding member, leaving its mark on effective diplomacy.

Ethiopia is another country that will go down in history as being crucial to the union of the Casablanca and Monrovia blocks. It seemed as if these two rivaling powers would divide Africa. Still, Ethiopia, with the help of its Emperor and the Foreign Minister at the time, was able to pull them together and create the Organisation of African Unity. This development was seen with skepticism by outsiders.

Ethiopia has also established a praiseworthy reputation for its assistance in peace efforts. It has mediated disputes and taken part in several peacekeeping operations, particularly with its neighbors. It is widely respected for its role in mediating agreements between parties in conflict, especially in the area.

Ethiopia now represents the spirit of Pan-Africanism and serves as a uniting force for all of Africa thanks to its victory in the Battle of Adwa and other similar actions. Addis Ababa has a significant competitive advantage since it is home to both continental and international organizations, including the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the African Union. It is also the third-largest center for diplomatic communities, after New York and Geneva.

It is also a country that, despite the prevalent “with us or against us” mindset, was able to successfully negotiate the challenging geopolitical environment throughout the Cold War by clearly stating its national interests and cooperating with both sides.

Heroes of diplomacy such as Goshu Woldie, Ketema Yifru, Tsehafi Tiezaz Aklilu Habtewold, and others made a lasting impression and produced amazing outcomes that still fill us with pride. People like Hadis Alemayehu, an Amharic author, contributed to the development of the country’s diplomatic environment.

Ethiopia has a degree of respect and involvement from the international community that is greater than its economic status because of its long diplomatic history. Girum Abay, a retired senior diplomat, emphasizes the importance of its ancient capital to the country’s modern diplomatic endeavors.
To put it simply, these riches enable us to lead and take the lead in our current diplomatic endeavors. If we use them effectively and comprehend them correctly, they have great worth, Girum said.

“In Africa, our opinions and insights are highly valued.” Girum told The Reporter, “International actors recognize our perspectives and consider them when making choices, a luxury that is seldom extended to other African governments.

Although the reasons for Ethiopia’s admission into the BRICS are still complex, its lengthy history of diplomacy probably contributed significantly to this development.

President Sahlework Zewde acknowledged her nostalgia at the inaugural remarks of the newly launched “Diplomacy Exhibition” at the Science Museum, remarking, “Stepping into this hall and meandering through the displays – memories flooded back for me.”

The President underlined the importance of accepting our past as it is and making the most of it to move ahead.

Nonetheless, the country faces at least two significant obstacles that prevent it from fully using its historical narrative and promoting diplomatic efforts.

Firstly, there is a propensity to downplay or ignore Ethiopia’s historical achievements. Secondly, there exists a tendency to bask in the glory of the past rather than doing sufficient actions to maintain and enhance them. Both strategies fail to provide results.

“Our people don’t always recognize the past successes and realize how important they are to our current diplomacy,” Girum said. Some people have very little knowledge of our history or its actual significance. Everyone needs to be aware of and make use of our history in this way, regardless of their political beliefs.

In her address, the President expressed a similar worry, saying, “I am persuaded that we will not be able to fully tackle our challenges if we do not face our past and know our history. We won’t be content with who we are.

She issued a warning: “Those who bury their past build their future on unstable ground.” We cannot build a foundation that is unshakeable until we confront our past.

However, Ethiopia faces a danger in its diplomatic endeavors when it depends too much on its previous successes rather than putting in the work required to succeed in the present.

“Yes, our place in history is highly valued and elevates our standing on the world stage,” President Sahlework once said at a consultative session organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, sharing her expertise and offering guidance to prospective Ethiopian diplomats. But honors by themselves are inadequate. We have to actively tend to our connections and make an effort to keep them growing.

It is no secret that Ethiopia has sometimes had difficulties with its diplomacy, especially in the last several years.

Ethiopia’s worldwide impact may be gauged using the Elcano Global Presence Index, a tool that rates and measures a country’s “external projection” and global influence. Regretfully, Ethiopia doesn’t have a nice image.

Its score showed a sharp deterioration in only six years, falling from a reasonable 62 in 2015 to a pitiful 36 in 2021. Instability contributed to this decline, which increased by 20 points between 2020 and 2021.

To put this into perspective, the US and China, the highest achievers, have scores of 3,241 and 1,364, respectively, while Haiti and Somalia, the poorest performers, have ratings of 0.78 and 0.42.

Ethiopia consistently ranks among the underperformers and is conspicuously absent from the majority of the “Global Diplomacy Index” rankings, which further highlights the country’s appalling performance.
There are several concerns about the efficacy of Ethiopia’s diplomatic efforts in light of this abrupt drop. It is a glaring example of how the country’s past accomplishments have not translated into success in the modern day on the international scene.
Ethiopia’s diplomatic efforts haven’t suffered for a long. Most ambassador appointments are politicized and tainted by non-merit-based criteria, which ignores the vital requirement for mission-focused diplomats who can successfully promote a country’s interests in specific host nations. Missed chances and strained relationships are the costs.

Additionally, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with its 157 embassies and 43 consulates, seems to be playing a less significant role in foreign affairs, especially in the previous six years, with the Prime Minister’s Office handling several significant engagements directly.

Given that foreign diplomacy is, in one way or another, a mirror of domestic events, internal disputes are the reason for the difficulties the nation’s international relations are facing.

“A country’s foreign policy reflects its domestic circumstances. The strength of our ties determines how our country is seen by other countries. On the global scene, we cannot create a better future if we continue to murder one another. Global advancement is facilitated by domestic advancement, according to Sahlework.

Certain episodes that demonstrate the crisis in Ethiopian diplomatic engagement also provide light on the government’s strategy for preserving a positive diplomatic standing.

In this context, two recent occurrences stand out.

An unsettling event occurred in Addis Ababa last month concerning the arrest and suspected assault of a senior official from the African Development Bank (AfDB), an essential Ethiopian financial partner. Ethiopia is unique in that it was a founding member and stockholder of the African Development Bank (AfDB), an organization that has been essential to Ethiopia’s development initiatives.

This episode is a sobering reminder of how delicate diplomatic ties may be and how crucial it is to preserve international rules. Ethiopia is put to the test not just in terms of handling this particular situation with accountability and openness, but also in terms of reestablishing credibility with the AfDB and the global community.

This is why the bank’s president, Akinwumi Adesina (PhD), who is thought of as an excellent friend and supporter of Ethiopia, had already declared the departure of all foreign employees from Addis Ababa.

Even though the situation was finally handled, Addis Ababa—a city proud to house various continental and international organizations, notably the African Union (AU), which some have shown interest in moving—was negatively impacted for some time thereafter.
Ethiopia, a country with a long history and a standing for adhering to diplomatic convention, is now struggling to face a harsh reality. The nation’s reputation has been damaged and its political clout on the international scene has decreased due to accusations of breaking the Vienna Convention, a cornerstone of international diplomacy.

Ethiopia has come under fire for what is believed to be a “disgracefully bad” episode involving the alleged maltreatment of a senior foreign official. This has cast questions on Ethiopia’s commitment to upholding international conventions.

The problem was made worse by the Ethiopian government’s silence as embassies of the US, UK, Canada, and other countries quickly voiced their displeasure.

Girum draws attention to the propensity to brush errors under the rug quietly and stresses the need to foster a culture where mistakes are learned.

Respected senior banker Tekalign Gedamu, who had previously worked for Emperor Haile-Selassie I as Minister of Planning and then as an official at the African Development Bank, came out to express his sincere regret for the mistake committed by the government.

“Let me close by expressing my belief that, before long, you and other like-minded officials would find a resolution to the challenge that this most unwelcome of episodes has left in its train,” he writes in his letter to the head of the AfDB, “at the risk of sounding presumptuous.”

This law-abiding person handled the situation politely after taking the initiative to resolve his nation’s diplomatic dilemma. “You have been a fantastic ambassador for Ethiopia in recent years. I hope that under your direction, the Bank will carry on its excellent job so that Ethiopians, who stand to gain the most, may rely on your guidance.

But the government’s voice in this regard was conspicuously lacking.

A noteworthy matter that has garnered notice in diplomatic circles lately is the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that was signed between Somaliland and Ethiopia concerning the leasing of a coastal corridor.

According to reports, the agreement gave Somaliland long-overdue recognition—a highly valued asset for Somaliland—as well as a share in lucrative Ethiopian companies like Ethiopian Airlines. However Ethiopia faces a serious diplomatic risk as a result of this recognition.

Dejen Messele, an expert in international law and legal diplomacy, highlights that intentions count, despite the assertions of some that it is only an MoU and not a serious subject.

Ethiopia is known for adhering to strict diplomatic etiquette, therefore Dejen thought the country’s latest action to be noteworthy. He cited Ethiopia’s track record of standing up for other people’s rights in the global arena as proof of this change.

He observes, “Ethiopia has always defended the rights of others. One notable example is how, in the middle of the 1990s, Ethiopia and Liberia—two African countries that had never been colonized—took the initiative to forcefully oppose the then-Apartheid government of South Africa in favor of Southwest Africa. Positive connections have always been fostered by Ethiopia. Recent acts seem to run counter to its established reputation as a diplomat’s ally. ”

An unidentified foreign policy specialist told The Reporter that this action amounts to a “reckless foreign policy shift conducted without thorough research, resulting in a miscalculation of the gains and losses in the country’s national interest.”

The expert claims that the action has needlessly jeopardized its international standing.

He thinks that legal means might be used to fulfill Ethiopia’s sincere desire for sea access. He sees opportunities for the country to have lawful access to the sea. But he bemoans the fact that “this move undertaken by the government has severely affected Ethiopia’s future requests, as it portrays the nation as an aggressor on the international stage.”

It is important to acknowledge that nations and international organizations are aware of Somaliland’s three decades of self-governance and its ongoing bilateral relations. However, many nations and institutions, including superpowers and institutions like the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN), are reluctant to give Somaliland the recognition it has long sought due to the complexity of the world political landscape and the possibility of upending the current geopolitical order.

Several nations have “liaison offices” in Somaliland as an alternative to official embassies, carrying out diplomatic operations similar to those carried out with other recognized nations worldwide.

According to Girum, the official title is the sole distinction between these offices and embassies and consulates in terms of how they operate. He explains, “It’s mostly a formality because they function completely even without the embassy label.”

Nevertheless, in contrast to other nations that maintain diplomatic decorum for appearances, Ethiopia was unable to successfully negotiate this diplomatic terrain.

Ethiopia cannot afford the government’s choice, according to Dejen, who finds it confusing.

Even though there have been some worries expressed, namely by Egypt and the Arab League, Girum thinks that Ethiopia is not under too much pressure right now.

He advocates for a proactive and robust strategy on the diplomatic front and strongly urges against withdrawing or changing direction. He cautions, “Once you’ve grabbed the tiger’s tail, letting go isn’t optional.”

With a few exceptions, Ethiopia’s bilateral ties with its neighbors continue to be challenging.

Relations remain strained as a result of Sudan’s invasion of a sizable chunk of Ethiopia’s sovereign territory. After the Pretoria agreement in 2022, there was more pressure on the relationship with Asmara. Signals suggest that there are issues with other nearby nations as well.

Recent diplomatic setbacks have cast a shadow on Ethiopia’s reputation worldwide.

Both residents and experts agree that Ethiopia is now more vulnerable than ever due to the country’s declining diplomatic might.
“Some of those who threaten us now wouldn’t have dared years ago,” notes Ambassador Girum. There are several complex internal and foreign variables contributing to this weakening of our position.

Ethiopia has to negotiate difficult diplomatic seas in the face of catastrophic drought, ethnic tensions, internal conflicts, and growing foreign debt. In light of these demands, effective management of international relations has become even more important.

President Sahelework emphasizes the necessity for thoughtful answers while acknowledging the seriousness of the issue.

“Our diplomatic must-endeavors change with the times,” she urged interested parties. “These are not typical conditions. They need more work, and we have to be ready to take on the task. Recall that healthy relationships need ongoing maintenance.

By: Amharic ET Team

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