Ethiopia’s Foreign Policy Dynamism

Foreign policy is a dynamic phenomenon with fast changing local and international contexts. It is a delicate plan of action designed in complex psychological, political and international contexts of the state. It is implemented in volatile, anarchic, self-help, power mongering international environment.

National interest articulation and aggregation should be conscious of such contexts in order to formulate an informed foreign policy. This is important as it could serve to exploit opportunities which could serve to exploit opportunities. In order to cope up with the foreign policy dynamism, Ethiopia should have strong and robust state-of- the- art kind of research and analysis units staffed by competent and professional researchers. They should be specialized in all those areas where Ethiopia’s vital national interests are vested in.

With Ethiopia gaining international importance, designing and implementing dynamic and smart foreign policy is a sine quo none. Unfortunately, the country’s foreign policy, for much of its existence, was dominated by the amour propre and idiosyncrasy of individual leaders who lacked institutional foundation; a historical inheritance that the incumbent government took the responsibility of leading the foreign policy regime of the state.

The current foreign policy regime, notwithstanding official assertions and public rhetoric, is not institutionally installed. The foreign policy establishment lacks institutions and individuals to cope up with international dynamism. A clear indication is the Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy and Strategy (henceforth FANSPS) white paper document remaining unrevised in spite of significant national and international changes since its articulation and documentation in 2002.

Foreign policy decision making are reserved to few high government officials and individuals. It is limited predominantly to the office of the PM, the Ethiopian National Security Council, the council of ministers and ruling party executive committee. It should include the diverse segment of the society. In fact, the FANSPS underscores many different ministries, higher educational institutions, the Diaspora, the private sector, civil society, and media. They should all have participated in Ethiopian foreign policy decision making and implementation (Ministry of Information, FDRE, 2002).

At the heart of coping with international dynamism is inclusive, consultative, professional, coordinated and research-based foreign policy implementation.

Ethiopian foreign policy starved public participation. The nascent intellectuals are also absent in the floor of articulating and aggregating national interest. Some attribute this to the government’s intolerance to opinions other than its own. While the government lambasts intellectuals for their failure to carry out their responsibility of academic non-partisanship by doing independent research.

Broadening the social base of Foreign Policy Decision Making (FPDM) would help make foreign policy informed from wider mines of information. The state of infancy of the newly introduced democratic system of governance and parochial political culture may prevent rational and true discussion on issues of national interest.

On the other hand, the government should build centralized FPDM system for speedy and expedient FPDM. ‘‘Sound national security decision-making requires a centralized authority able to make speedy decisions based on consistent, effective and efficient information processing and agency coordination,’’ (Yun Sun,2013:17). This may conflict with the collective and consensual leadership tradition of the EPRDF led government and the very elitist nature of foreign policy. So, the government should strike a balance between democratizing and centralizing foreign policy, which is a challenge that it should figure out through effective coordination.

The official assertion commands the importance of ministerial coordination. Particularly the indispensability of coordinating the works of ministry of foreign affairs, defence and security. It is of utmost priority for these ministries to develop their manpower, their organizational structure and procedures so that they can effectively carrying out their responsibilities. Isolated efforts will not bring results. These institutions need to coordinate their work and reorganize themselves accordingly (Ministry of Information, FDRE, 2002: 52-53).Government ministries and institutions that are directly or indirectly concerned with foreign and national security affairs should coordinate their work.

In coordinating ministerial activities and solving to some extent problems of coordination the government has embarked on establishing committees; though they themselves lack coordination. There are different ad hoc and permanent committees established to help articulate the national interest of the country. The national export steering committee, the national economic and business diplomacy forum, and the WTO accession steering committee are some of the most important committees designed to articulate and aggregate the national interests.

Without professional staff functioning within an organization, policy implementation would not be satisfactory. It is essential that qualified professionals be deployed in an organized manner. Qualified personnel need to be capable of carrying out studies and assessments in the areas of foreign and national policies.

They are expected to elaborate and implement a plan designed to make the policies effective. For professionals of this caliber, it is necessary for the nation to reach a common understanding on the main elements of the national interests and security issues. Without this common understanding, the proliferation of diplomats and researchers would not be successful. The activities of foreign affairs need competent researchers and communicators. The ministry lacks, however, this kind of professionals to the extent required.

In its effort to change, the Ethiopian government has begun to staff the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with professional diplomats. This would change the contour of national interest articulation and aggregation. The building of professional diplomats with the help of a school of diplomacy and International Relations (MA program) and Foreign Service Institute both of which are located in the Ethiopian Civil Service University (ECSU).

The enactment of service act (proc. 790/2013) is important indexes of the political will of the government. Important also is the growing national economy and its role in strengthening Ethiopia’s capacity. Infrastructural development strengthens internal communication and contact.

Infrastructural development strengthen internal communication and contact, it also includes building higher educational and research institutes which are important for creating true consciousness against what Friedrich Engeles (1893) called false consciousness. Creating educated and civil minded individuals who can participate in articulating national interest is crucial. Peace and stability will be helped by the growing economic power of the country. This is important in increasing national interests in the country.

As part of its strategy to bring to fruition the best interest of the nation, the foreign policy office has created the Policy Research Analysis Department (PORAD). The new institution is designed to carry out internationally acclaimed research outcomes. The department looks into reactive and proactive approaches of analysis. It reacts to events and analyzes issues that have already happened and recommends a possible course of action. The department looks into issues that unfold in strict light of the national interests as articulated in the foreign affairs and national security policy and strategy. The Horn of Africa is in security complex exposed to intra-state conflict, and transnational threats. The security complex does only allow reactive foreign policy; it prevented proactive and long term foreign policy. Berouk (2012:90) opines that ‘‘Ethiopian decision-makers could not develop long term policies and soberly measure possibilities. They could only react cautiously to circumstances as they arose because threats and opportunities changed too quickly in the Horn of Africa’’.

Proactive analysis makes informed forecasting, patterning, trending and analyzing tendencies in international relations and international politics. The government’s proactive engagement with institutions that can help define national interest issues is considerably important to entrench institutionalism. In this reference, PORAD’s engagement with local and international academic and research institutions like Addis Ababa University (AAU), Ethiopian Foreign Relations Strategic Studies Institute, the Ethiopian Civil Service University (ECSU), and the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) are indicative of the government’s political will of inclusion notwithstanding all its limitations. According to officials from MFA, the government is also working with international institutes like Yale University on grand strategy, and planning policy programs with Germany and America. This would deepen the institutional foundation of foreign policy making, though not in and of itself.

To make the long story short, entrenching foreign policy institutions, establishing effective inter-agency coordination, implanting the culture of consultation, collaboration and inclusivity are important tools to cope up with foreign policy dynamism.


By Yohannes Gebeyehu
Yohannes Gebeyehu has a BA in Political Science and International Relations, di his graduate degrees in Diplomacy and International Relations. His areas of research interest ranges around public, foreign policy and institutional underpinnings.

Published on Dec 20,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 868]



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