Theatrics of Ethiopia’s Foreign Policy

The process whereby foreign policy decisions are made within agencies is called organizational politics model. The reference in organizational politics model is standard operating procedures (SOPs) which gives guidelines to govern humdrum issues that policy makers can handle. SOPs are used as reference and foundation in foreign policy decision making.

SOPs emanate from the constitution of nations, foreign services proclamations, proclamations that subscribe the responsibility of the executive organ of the government, and foreign policy and national security document of nations. Observers comment that adherence to SOPs entails only minor fine tuning of past decisions rather than a broad exploration of policy alternatives resulting in incrementalism in foreign policy decision making.

Incrementalism leads to decision inertia because the same alternatives in similar fashion are accepted over and over and rarely solve problems for good. SOPS, in addition to helping isolate problems easily and find politically acceptable solutions, also provide relative permanence and predictability, and a standard way for decision-makers to go about domestic and international foreign policy issues. It is used in many countries of the world.

In Ethiopia too any question related to foreign policy traces its pedigree to the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia’s constitution generally, and Article 86 of the constitution that stipulates the principles of the nation’s external relations. The constitution is therefore the first and supreme guide to all standard operating procedures, and a general guideline to foreign policy decision making. This brings the constitution-foreign policy nexus into the picture of foreign policy orientation.

The constitution–foreign policy nexus helps interpret what the constitution stipulates about external relations, on whom the constitution bestows foreign policy decision making, the relation between the national constitution and international law, agreements, treaties and other forms of engagements.

The constitution as an instrument to safeguard people’s interest, at least in its democratic form, has the natural design to hold in check the power of the government.

This is done through mechanisms like check and balance, separation of power, elections, recalls, and principles like accountability, transparency, active public participation. The constitution makes clear who should be doing what; who formulates different policies including foreign policy and who should be implementing them.

So, investigation of constitutional provisions as a grand standard operating procedure is of a paramount importance to see how it is impacting foreign policy and identify general statements on policy, and in particular, foreign policy.

The Ethiopian constitution as a political, social and legal document has guiding principles on general objectives of policies of different kind to which foreign policy belongs. The constitution as a covenant agreed between the people and the government at least in its democratic color is the general wish of the people. It is the fundamental law of the state from which other laws come about and are derived and should be in harmony with.

Every policy including foreign policy is rooted in the constitution. That means foreign policy as an instrument of realizing people’s interest has provisions of general direction in any constitution. Therefore, the impact of the constitution on foreign policy is out of question.

The general intention of the constitution and its overall impact on the developments of the country are what constitute the foreign policy formulation and implementation of the country. Central to the state’s reaction to foreign policy is the general statement of the constitution and what its statements imply.

International relations in the traditional sense of the term is the function of interstate interactions. At the core of a state is what is called sovereignty. Sovereignty defined in terms of territorial jurisdiction is at the crux of international relations.   The constitution articulates that the territorial jurisdiction of Ethiopia shall comprise the territory of the members of the Federation and its boundaries shall be as determined by international agreements.

Ethiopia has undivided power to make a relationships with its counterparts based upon principles of equality of states in international law. Its boundaries are determined by international agreements. International agreements of any kind are indispensible to facilitate interstate relations. The Ethiopian constitution inscribes that all international agreements ratified by Ethiopia are an integral part of the law of the land.

The issue of conferring nationality upon foreigners is a very important point that should be given due consideration in foreign policy. It has both negative and positive consequence to the country that confers or not confers depending on the situation. In that regard the Ethiopian constitution of 1994 has this particular point to put “Ethiopian nationality may be conferred upon foreigners in accordance with law enacted and procedures established consistent with international agreements ratified by Ethiopia.’’

The constitution allows direct participation of citizens in which the people can use any opportunity to contribute to policy making and foreign policy making particularly. Another way of contribution to policy making is through their representatives. The parliament as a law-making institution has been given constitutionally the power to enact laws on foreign trade which is an important aspect of any foreign policy and particularly Ethiopia’s foreign policy which has economic diplomacy at its center.

The HPRs is also responsible for enacting “Nationality, immigration, passport, exit from and entry into the country, the rights of refugees and of asylum,’’ laws which are very important determinants of foreign and external engagements.

The organization of national defence, and “on the basis of a draft law submitted to it by the Council of Ministers shall proclaim a state of war,’’ are responsibilities to HPRs. This law related to war, and national defence organization, is also very important in the behavior of states in their international management.

The democratic nature of any constitution presupposes decentralization and the concentration of power. The current constitution as a democratic constitution has responsibilities and powers separated and distributed among different federal institutions and foreign policy stakeholders. Accordingly, issues of foreign policy are not single-handedly controlled by the parliament.

Here we have the president of the republic, as a non-political executive, having his/her share of responsibilities in foreign affairs of the country. Articles 71 of the FDRE constitution has this to stipulate; “He shall, upon recommendation by ­the Prime Minister, appoint ambassadors and other envoys to represent the country abroad and “he shall receive the credentials of foreign ambassadors and special envoys.’’

The political executive has also its due in issues of foreign affairs. The prime minister as the first among equals has the duty to implement foreign policy issues. “He exercises overall supervision over the implementation of the country’s foreign policy.’’

The council of ministers to which the prime minister belongs to, have the power to regulate external exchanges and matters related to which are currently very important in the area of economic diplomacy. “It shall formulate the country’s foreign policy and exercise overall supervision over its implementation.’’

The constitution gives the guiding principles of external relations in addition to what are alluded to above.

The constitution vows to promote policies of foreign relations based on the protection of national interests and respect for the sovereignty of the country. The foreign policies and relations should protect and promote national interest which is defined as the interest of the whole people and sovereignty which has more human flavor. The venerated Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations also articulated that diplomats have the responsibility to protect national interests of the sending state in the receiving state.

The other constitutionally inscribed foreign policy principle in Ethiopia’s foreign policy is to promote mutual respect for national sovereignty and equality of states and non-interference in the internal affairs of other states. It is international standard to respect national sovereignty and equality that grew out of the Westphalia Treaty of 1648 which is assumed to be the birth date of Western states.

Non-interference is also concomitant to sovereignty that has high standard of acceptance among states aspiring to undertake foreign relations. The Ethiopian state, as an entity of the international community, understands the importance of those standards and stipulated them in its constitution as a guiding principle to its foreign policy and relations. This dedication and commitment of Ethiopia is expressed in the constitution as it sates that the foreign relation policies of the country are based on mutual interests and equality of states.

This part of Ethiopia’s commitment reminds us the principle of reciprocity and creating win-win formulation in foreign relations for mutual interest promotion. To observe international agreements which ensure respect for Ethiopia’s sovereignty and are not contrary to the interests of its peoples is also part of the principle.

International agreements as norm creating instruments and as instruments of regulation in a fast changing global world should be observed. But it should be in pursuant to respecting the sovereignty and national interest of countries. And that is what this provision of our constitution is exactly saying.

Integration, in its all forms of economic or/and political, has been at the top of the table to post colonial African leaders. Integration is the mantra of the day to the rest of the world too. The Ethiopian constitution seems to be considerate of that growing tendency for integration and its advantages. So, it pledges to forge and promote ever growing economic union and fraternal relations of peoples with Ethiopia’s neighbours and other African countries.

Another guiding principle that indicates the importance given to institutionalism, in the process of dispute resolution as guiding principle in Ethiopia’s external undertakings, is to seek and support peaceful solutions to international disputes. Ethiopia’s predisposition to collective diplomacy and security and its practical expression in offering its good office and mediation to many African neighbouring countries, its commitment to the African Union, the UN, IGAD and COMESA showcased its commitment the grand principle of institutionalism.

To sum up, the constitution of Ethiopia is the grand standard operating procedure of foreign policy making. Every principle, rules, action and inaction, commission and omission of foreign policy traces its genealogy to the constitution.


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

Published on Jan 03,2017 [ Vol 17 ,No 870]



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