Ambassador’s Keynote Address at the Opening of the National Alliance of Civilisations Forum

Hawassa, 22 December 2017

It is indeed an honor for me as ambassador of Norway to Ethiopia to be invited to attend and address the Alliance of Civilizations Forum.
 

When I got this invitation, I wondered how I as a representative of the international community could add value to your discussions. That is not an easy question to answer – only you who are here will be able to give me an answer as to whether or not I succeed in my attempt. Of course, I don’t pretend have the deep knowledge of your history, culture and diversity that you who are here possess. So it is with humility I have accepted the invitation to address you. But my personal experience is that sometimes outside perspectives have a value to add. Outsiders can see things we don’t see ourselves or approach a problem from a different perspective. I will now soon have completed my 4 years as ambassador of Norway to Ethiopia. I have visited all parts of your beautiful, fascinating but also very diverse country. So – I might say – I have acquired some knowledge about Ethiopia – its challenges and opportunities.

The topic of this year’s Alliance of Civilizations Forum – “building peace values and values of living together with love and respect: Opportunities and challenges”, is highly relevant to today’s situation at so many levels. It is my personal assessment that we can no longer take for granted the values that are underlined in the topic of the conference  “peaceful co-existence, love and respect” – neither at the global level, nor regionally, nor indeed within Ethiopia. So the question needs to be put – and debated by broad segments of the population. 

And that would also be why I would underline that the topic is not only relevant to the domestic situation in Ethiopia – but it is indeed relevant to the global political situation, as it is relevant to the region of the Horn of Africa. I would from my side – hope that you would in your deliberations focus on all these perspectives, not only focus on Ethiopia itself.

Why? Because I believe that Ethiopia’s perspectives on and contributions to the global and regional developments are very important. Ethiopia sits currently on one of the A3 seats in the UN Security Council, it is one of the largest contributors in terms of personnel to peace keeping operations; its chairmanship of IGAD is vital to the peace prospects for neighboring South Sudan, and its membership in the UN Human Rights Council gives Ethiopia a say in the global human rights discourse. So, of course Ethiopia’s perspectives and contributions on how to mediate and settle conflicts or to maintain the peace will be listened to, and your perspectives are based on your values and your national strategic interests.

Still staying on the global arena – Ethiopia’s values and priorities are important in the area of combatting the negative effects of climate change. You are currently heading the LDC group of negotiators under the climate agreement, as well as the climate vulnerability forum. Your values and perspectives are thus important for the further course in our global endeavor of combatting man-made climatic effects. Effects that are being felt in Ethiopia more than in many other countries of the world, and we all know and recognize that climate induced displacement and other migratory movements are not helpful in seeking “stability, peaceful co-existence, love and respect”.

Regionally – I believe the question that you put to yourself is equally important. Ethiopia is the regional hegemon of the Horn of Africa. That it is a position of responsibility. Ethiopia’s contribution to peaceful co-existence in the Horn of Africa is – accordingly – sizeable. I would like to commend the Ethiopian leadership for its never-ending engagement to achieve a lasting and sustainable peace in South Sudan – first through an active mediation that led to the cpa being signed in august of 2015, thereafter through the IGAD-led revitalization plan for the implementation of the said agreement. Last night’s signing of a cessation of hostilities agreement in the South Sudan conflict is another testimony to an active Ethiopian leadership. Ethiopia’s engagement in Somalia equally strives to see the development of a viable state through its engagement in AMISOM and politically in its active engagement with the political leadership in Mogadishu.

However, it is clear that Ethiopia’s success on the regional and global arena starts at home. Ethiopia has in the last quarter of a century been a haven of stability based on peaceful coexistence, tolerance and respect. This is no little feat given that Ethiopia is a very heterogeneous country – in terms of religions and in terms of its ethnic composition. Here I might add that I share the concerns expressed by the speaker of the regional parliament regarding developments on the border between the Somali- and Oromo region.

The stability of Ethiopia, based on tolerance and respect, is indeed something to be proud of. You are an example to be followed in a world where violent extremism and intolerance is becoming ever more prevalent. But it is an example that you need to work on daily if it is to be maintained. Which is also why I find this forum and its topic so inspiring.  

The country has seen solid economic growth rates over the past 15 years; life expectancy in the country has grown by almost 1 year per year over that past 15 years; the proportion of the population living in poverty has fallen from 44% as late as in year 2000 to 30% in 2011. Ethiopia was one of the countries that scored the best in reaching the MDGs; Ethiopia has through re-alocation of its own resources been able to handle the drought crisis in 2015 and 2016 (El Nino) affecting nearly a fifth of the population; Also in matters of education and health Ethiopia has seen major strides forward.…. and I could go on…. Many positive results have been and are being achieved. From what I see and read out of the GTP I and II is a vision for the development of the country.

And yet, and in spite of these positive achievements, Ethiopia faces major challenges. We have all seen the symptoms – the unrest that erupted again in November of 2015 in Oromia and further spread to parts of the Amhara region. Currently, we see conflicts developing on the border between Oromia and Somali regions. Many are being displaced. Again unrest is spreading in parts of Oromia and Amhara. The majority of the grievances being expressed have been recognized as legitimate. The continued unrest tells us something about the depth of peoples’ concerns and frustrations. The root causes behind this situation are complex. I understand that the Ethiopian authorities at all levels are working hard on addressing these.

I think foremost of these challenges is job creation. With an increasingly educated population combined with a population growth of some 2,6% - there is a need to create more jobs than what is currently being created. The young people are expecting to use their skills for a constructive purpose. If that option is not on the table, they become restless. This is a major challenge which is not unique to Ethiopia: it is faced by several countries all over the world, at different points in their respective development trajectories. I commend the government for its engagement in tackling this problem. But I believe it is safe to say that more needs to done. Attracting FDI, Creating industrial zones, and a revolving fund for youth employment are important contributions. But probably not enough. The challenge in my opinion is even larger than the creation of jobs – it is about ensuring the inclusive nature of the already remarkable economic growth so that all parts of the population benefit. I think these are core issues that should to be addressed by you here, including the young, women, civil society.  

Another important challenge seem to relate to governance issues. Corruption is often cited as one of the reasons of discontent. Corruption is hard to uproot. It exists in almost every society. Norway is no exception. To tackle it and to avoid it taking root in our societies, I believe it requires an effective, professional, transparent and independent justice sector. The effective implementation of the rule of Law is core to handling this challenge.   

Land issues is another cause of friction and conflict. In a country where 85% of the population depends on the agricultural sector for their livelihood and the absolute majority are small holder farmers – this challenge is no surprise. The need for land security is challenged by ambitious development plans and projects. Again, a complex challenge which requires careful handling in order to arrive at a sustainable and inclusive solution.

Human rights, such as the freedom of expression, political space and democratic participation are further issues that the Government of Ethiopia have identified as issues it needs to work on. Since the beginning of this year, several processes have been initiated, establishing dialogue on several levels, be it with religious leaders, the political opposition or the civil society. I welcome this. The international community welcomes this. However, Is it enough? Does it include all relevant stakeholders, and are all relevant issues included in the agenda?  That will probably be a topic of discussion during these two days. Let me add the hope that the processes that have been initiated will lead to increased accommodation of diversity in political opinions both in formal state institutions but also in informal societal settings.

Fundamentally, Ethiopia has a progressive and liberal constitution. It defines Ethiopia as a federal, democratic republic. If thoroughly implemented at all levels of society, it probably provides answers to many of the challenges currently surfacing. Dr. Fasil is here to guide these discussions. I know you are in able hands with somebody as knowledgeable as him.   

 

Norway is and will remain a partner of Ethiopia. I have in many contexts termed this partnership a strategic partnership – based on friendship and common interests. I believe our two countries can learn a lot from each other. I believe that our cooperation in matters of the many global challenges we are facing is in the interest of both countries and the global system as a whole. As such the long term sustainable and stable development of Ethiopia is a direct interest of Norway. 

In concluding, I would like to laud the Ministry of Federal affairs and HE Minister Kebede Chane and Justice for All - Prison Fellowship – Pastor Daniel - for organizing this meeting. It gives me hope for the future course of this country that such important issues are being debated in an open and inclusive manner.  Ethiopia’s positive experience of stability and peaceful coexistence based on tolerance and respect for the other cannot be allowed to fail. I trust a responsible leadership will lead to wise decisions pointing in the direction of a sustainable political, societal and economic development benefitting the whole of the population. The world needs a prosperous and stable Ethiopia to help us tackle the many global challenges we are facing.