German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier Visiting Ethiopia
January 29, 2019 (Ezega.com) - Germany’s president Frank-Walter Steinmeier is set to visit the country for four days, according to reports in Germany. During this period, he’s expected to hold bilateral discussions with the Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, President Sahle-Work Zewde and members of the civil society, where he expects to get first-hand information on the country’s reform progress. He’s also expected to meet the AU chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, who’s based in Addis Ababa, the headquarters of the African body.
This will be the third time the German president will be visiting Africa; having been to Botswana, Ghana, South Africa, and the Gambia. But it’s not his first visit to Ethiopia. He’s been in the country in 2014 when he was serving as Germany’s Foreign Minister, though at that time the circumstances were different compared to now.
Ethiopia and Germany have had productive diplomatic relations for years now. In October 2016 when German Chancellor Angela Markel visited the country, she met Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. They discussed issues touching on migration, peace, security, good governance and democracy.
Germany offers the fifth largest market for Ethiopia’s export which is in the range of 200 million euros. The country exports agricultural products, mainly coffee and textiles to the German markets, and imports medicine, machinery, and pharmaceuticals. At the same time, more than 35 German companies have invested in Ethiopia’s horticultural sector, transport industry, logistics, and the pharmaceutical industry.
Germany has been assisting Ethiopia in human capacity building that is key to its economic growth. It has assisted Ethiopia to produce personnel in technical, vocational and engineering fields, with remarkable gains. German businesses in Ethiopia are minimal, but the president’s visit is meant to assure investors that Ethiopia offers a better investment opportunity.
When Mr. Gerd Muller, the German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development visited Ethiopia last year, he signed 100 million euros grant deal with the Minister of Finance and Economic Cooperation, Dr. Abrham Tekeste. The money is to be used to create job opportunities for Ethiopians.
Since Abiy Ahmed took over as the prime minister, Ethiopia has witnessed incredible transformation catching the world by surprise. In 2018, Abiy instituted various reforms involving appointing women to key positions, and inviting warring groups to negotiate with the government. That’s why the German president thought it was wise to honor Abiy and Sahle-Work’s courtesy call.
While appearing in an interview with the press, President Frank-Walter reiterated the importance of showing encouragement for such reform practices while on the ground. “It’s crucial not only to honor from afar the courage of these changes in favor of democracy but as a European and German to also be there on the ground to encourage the journey along this path,” said the German head of state.
Whereas Abiy’s government has faced tremendous challenges, the president was quick to reiterate the changes he’s instituted in Ethiopia are a continuous process. The country must persevere if it’s to sustain the changes, bearing in mind Ethiopia has a history of old rivalries that are yet to be totally reconciled.
According to the president, people; especially Ethiopians must be patient because the whole transformation process needs time to bear fruit. “I hope the population is patient and the political players maintain their perseverance,” said President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
What Can the President’s Visit Bring to Its Long-Term Ally?
Prime Minister Abiy symbolizes Ethiopia’s transition into a democratic state, but many Ethiopians have expressed their reservations in concentrating all the country’s expectations in a single individual. Instead, experts have called for the strengthening of its institutions.
Bearing in mind Ethiopia is a federal state, just like Germany, it’s important for external players to avoid being tempted to influence the reforms in Ethiopia. If the premier is heading in the right direction, he ought to be supported. This is according to the German president.
Germany as an economic giant can support Ethiopia, only if it’s willing to cooperate politically, via consultations like capacity building. At the same time, Ethiopia still needs some form of economic stimuli, and that’s why the president will travel with a delegation comprising of company representatives who are interested in investing in the country.
Last week the German lawmakers urged the government to increase its input in the peace process between Eritrea and Ethiopia. They feel their country can assist Africa by playing a substantive role in the peace agenda, economic development, and poverty eradication.
Ethiopia’s transformative path requires support. However, it’s up to the leadership of Ethiopia to assess whether the country needs this support in establishing peace in the delicate region characterized by perennial civil wars.
The Anchor of Stability in a Volatile Region:
Germany considers the Horn of Africa to be an important geopolitical region, according to its president. Bordering South Sudan and Somalia, which are experiencing perennial civil strife, it is a relatively stable power. However, recent demonstrations have made it difficult for Ethiopia to assume its mediatory role in the Horn of Africa.
Once the country stabilizes, and the human rights record improves, Ethiopia will not only concentrate on its internal affairs, as has been in the past. Rather, it will play a bigger role in the region.
With the German president scheduled to visit Ethiopia, a new opportunity lies ahead for the country and for potential investors. German businesses are also watching. Abiy’ government is building industrial parks and expanding the road network. At the same time, peace with Eritrea means the port of Assab is available to Ethiopia, which is a key trade route.
But more importantly, the two countries will be seeking to strengthen their cooperation in a way that each party will continue to benefit. Germany urges other countries to have confidence in European countries, and not to look at them with an accusing eye.
Africa is yet to realize its potential, but having a mutually beneficial relationship with Europe is the best way to go. However, Europeans must make greater contributions to this relationship.