A Dialogue Not of the Deaf

Ethiopia is Ambassador Greg Dorey's second posting after his term in Hungary. In his own terms, he has been doing four jobs as he is the UK's envoy to Ethiopia and Djibouti, as well as the African Union and UNECA. Fortune's office was graced by the Ambassador's presence for this exclusive interview by FORTUNE STAFF WRITER, SAMRAWIT TASSEW.

Ethiopia is Ambassador Greg Dorey’s second posting after his term in Hungary. In his own terms, he has been doing four jobs as he is the UK’s envoy to Ethiopia and Djibouti, as well as the African Union and UNECA. Fortune’s office was graced by the Ambassador’s presence for this exclusive interview by FORTUNE STAFF WRITER, SAMRAWIT TASSEW.

Fortune: Isn’t your stay here a little longer than the usual three-year diplomatic assignment of ambassadors? Is there any specific reason?

Amb. Dorey: In the majority of countries in the world now, ambassadorial appointments are four years. For us this is actually three plus one. There is a year that I could volunteer for – if my office expected me to stay here. But I think, doing four jobs here – because I also cover Djibouti, the African Union and UNECA, there is so much to learn and so many people to meet, that it seems a shame to run away when you have built up such expertise.

You said you would want to give priority in particular to bolster “pluralism, accountability and human rights,” While you are here. Looking at Ethiopia’s record, these are issues in short stock. Parliament is without any opposition party; the government admittedly came out in public and apologised for lack of good governance; and, of course, human rights is not what this country is proud of. The UK government has been one party giving voice in these debates and reservations. Would this, by any chance, reflect badly on your performance?

For all sorts of reasons, peace and stability are of critical importance in this region; therefore, we work very closely with Ethiopia on regional security issues. The things you mentioned are actually critical elements for stability and security. You might be able to, for a period, put these things aside but ultimately they will catch up with you. I do not think any of these areas are issues where the government has said it does not want to go. It is for a long time now I have personally heard from the late Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, talking about the importance of building pluralism in Ethiopia and creating a genuine multi-party system. There might be a difference over the timeframe but there is no difference on the end goals.

Similarly, I do not want to imply that there is no observance of human rights in Ethiopia because if you look at rights that have to do with economic and social rights, Ethiopia has made important steps forward when it comes to human rights. But, the deficit is when it comes to civil and political rights. Again, the longer term of bolstering civil and political rights is something which ministers refer to from time to time. It is just that they say, perhaps, Ethiopia is not quite ready for some of these developments. At least, when we have our discussions with our Ethiopian hosts on this subject, we are not completely disagreeing with one another. But I do think these are all very important areas we need to keep the focus on. It is not a dialogue of the deaf – it is an active dialogue on this subject.

And we have heard a little bit in the recent party congresses about wanting to be more open to different opinions. I think that is a very healthy attitude.

Why do you consider it only as a mismatch between priorities and timing?

We do not agree on everything; but, it is important for friendly countries, which we are, to have frank and open discussions about these issues – the things you agree with and the things you disagree on. Of course, we would like to persuade the Government to move in certain directions. We are also very well aware that it is not for us to preach to another sovereign government or to bully another government into doing things.

The friendly relationship appears to be evident especially in the area of development assistance. Ethiopia is the largest recipient of development assistance from the British taxpayers’ money. But once you said, “. . . We’ll be increasingly changing programmes from providing food security and basic services to those focused on economic development.” Why do you want the changes in approach?

I should express caveat here. I am not directly responsible for development assistance approaches; it is our Department for International Development (DfID) office. Having said that, the overall envelope stays the same in size – it is just the elements within that envelope which are shifting to some extent – and this has happened before, in the aftermath of the elections of 2005. There was a decision back then to move away from direct budgetary support to the central government.

For some time now, we have been planning a shift from the protection of basic services into programmes of economic development, which we think are more relevant as Ethiopia develops. Many African leaders, including PM Hailemariam Desalegn, have spoken of their wish to move from development assistance into more commercial types of relationship so that the countries get enough investment and trade and they do not need development assistance anymore. What has happened is a bit of acceleration in that process.

We will also progressively expand the portfolio that is to do with promoting the private sector. Just to give some examples, my DfID colleagues are working on creating better access to credit for people who want to set up small businesses; on land certification; and focusing on certain sectors such as horticulture and leather. This is to see how the value chain can be improved. It is quite a generational shift and we have done it a bit sooner than was expected. And it is no secret that some concerns about civil and political rights were one of the factors that was taken into account.

We will certainly also continue the support especially in the short term; there are going to be big humanitarian problems in Ethiopia this year. That is already evident.

Whatever the format is, does the “how” really matter once you have channelled the funds?

Aid effectiveness is talked about more and more these days. Certainly, there is pressure on us, and rightly so, on other donors as well, to demonstrate donor assistance – which is often taxpayers’ money, is being put to good effect. It is because in Ethiopia we have seen what good outcomes you can get from spending a pound (better than pretty much anywhere else in the world),that we have this very large programme. We are happy with the end results we have seen so far, which have encouraged us to go on.

But there are certain concerns on the ‘how’ question. I want to raise a specific incident: You were one of the members of the Development Assistance Group (DAG) that travelled to the south to investigate allegations of human rights abuses in South Omo area in relation to the development of the sugar factory. Environmental and social impact assessments were not actually made, giving the people there the impression that they were being forcefully evicted from their ancestral land. Was that one of the most disappointing moments of your stay here?

It was actually colleagues from DfID who went on that particular trip. From the details that I have got, I do not think I have anything really to add to the report which you will have seen. Some details of which were sort of held back because they were privileged information. In South Omo, we are not talking about British products – either development or more commercial projects. It is not British money that was spent and that we had to check on effectiveness. That was more to look at some of the allegations being made about development more widely in these particular regions.

My understanding is that the mission did not discover any evidence about people being forced to do things that they did not want to do. And certainly, the general understanding (and this is what government keeps saying too), is that this is a voluntary programme and local officials must not force people to do anything they do not want to do. I have been to some of these villages where a new village is being established, and talked to people who are genuinely very pleased by all this. I do not think they are always just telling us what we want to hear; because some of them are critical about things, too. Basically though, they have been pleased about what has been provided for them.

I have only seen a small sample but the impression one gets sometimes from the international media is that human rights are being abused widely. I just have not seen the evidence of that.

Speaking of new villages, my next question actually relates to that. ‘Villagisation’ is one contentious issue debated both at local and international fora. And I know the UK government supports it in principle but have issues on the way it is implemented.

Half the trouble is that when a programme like this is successful, it does not get much media coverage, globally speaking. You tend to hear the bad news and the allegations of bad news much more than you hear the good stories. I would not want to say for a moment that this is a programme that we know to have been conducted everywhere with full respect for human rights. Ethiopia is not unique in the world in having such big infrastructure programmes, which can only be carried out if people move.

I think that for any big programme, it is really important to have proper social and environmental impact assessments done, whether it is for the Grand Renaissance Dam or a ‘villagisation’ programme.

Are you saying you are satisfied with developments in these big and small scale development projects?

I cannot say that everything was done in an absolutely perfect manner. I would say the broad order, the direction of travel, is a positive one for people in Ethiopia. I have no doubt that the Ethiopian media will ensure that any breaches are highlighted.

I understand, though, you have reservations on issue of good-governance. It is not difficult to find phrases describing that in your statements while serving here. You once said, “Ethiopia is a market that any globally minded company must take seriously. . .” But even then, you did not forget to remind them to be patient because, “. . . they are hamstrung by problems of massive bureaucratic red tape whereas what is needed is structured support.” Do you feel that there is not enough support – structured support – for investment flows to Ethiopia?

It not the easiest market in the world; neither is it the hardest. The potential is certainly here, but there is a degree of risk one needs to warn companies about. I am not sure if Ethiopia wants the kind of company that will come here to try to make a quick profit but companies that will be part of a developmental direction.

But what we are trying to do on our side is to identify the British companies that would be able to come here with the reasonable expectation of making a decent profit but also contributing something more widely. But yes, companies that have a degree of patience because it is no secret that they may not instantly get their profits and foreign exchange when they expect to. If companies are happy to wait a bit, I think there is recognition on the government side that there are some problems.

The ministers often get directly involved in trying to sort out some of the obstacles that investors are facing.

Despite other reservations, that the system is over-regulated, it seems that you have succeeded in bringing big British companies to the country. But the same pattern has not been registered on the bilateral trade front.

I completely agree! The trade fluctuates a bit and it is not developing in some straight, linear, upward trajectory. Some years it looks quite healthy, and some years less so. To improve that, we have in London a conference on trade and investment on Ethiopia, on October 21. It will be the biggest forum of that kind to be held since the middle of 2011, when the then Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam led a very big delegation to the UK. This time, Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom (PhD), who poses himself as a salesman for Ethiopia, is leading the delegation of several ministers and heads of parastatals and businesses.

In parallel, we also have the China state visit and there is going to be a meeting on how Britain and China can collaborate in Africa. We have done a little bit of work on that already. For example, we and DfID brought together a number of Chinese entrepreneurs thinking about investing in Ethiopia in textile factories. We brought them together with some outsourcing companies from the UK and elsewhere – companies like Tesco and Prima, for instance.

Is that a catching up mechanism for filling the gap between China’s and Britain’s presence in Africa?

I do not know that we are trying to catch up in quite that way. Look at British companies globally; they are not really doing a lot of road building or basic manufacturing in quite the same way. But we have moved somewhat the value chain, thus some of the things we are manufacturing are not of interest to Ethiopia at the moment. For example, there are British companies working together with Chinese companies in big consortia around the world.

I was in Djibouti, the other day, where they are building a new container terminal and there was a British foreman with a Chinese workforce. It is happening already; But, we would like to address it in a more structured way because it is not really happening very much in Ethiopia right at the moment. However, you have got the Huajian shoe factory, which I believe purchases finished leather from Pittards, a British company.

Wouldn’t it be easier for Britain to collaborate with other European countries than with China?

You might be selling similar types of goods or offering similar types of technology with European countries. We work together with other European countries sometimes. Unilever, a joint British-Dutch company, is setting up its first factory down at Debre Zeit to manufacture detergent soaps.

I have learnt that tourism is close to your heart. You often argue that it is not a sector optimally used in Ethiopia.

I am a tourist in Ethiopia sometimes; I have a valid perspective on these things. You have an awful lot in Ethiopia that is of interest to other people through culture, history and ecology. There are some good eco-lodges now, in some parts of the country. But there could be many more of those. You have got better hotels coming on stream in Addis Abeba; but, I think there is still a deficit of four and five-star hotels.

A lot more could be achieved with tourism and I think this is something recognised by the government. Otherwise, they would not have set up a commission chaired by the Prime Minister. What the country does not want is tourists to come here and have a bad experience.

Your emphasis on tourism reminded me of Ethiopia’s historical heritage. Studies indicate that British libraries still hold the richest and most comprehensive collection of Ethiopian artifacts than any other country, including Ethiopia. Has the issue of returning those artifacts ever made it to your table in your four-year stay?

You are going to think that I am making excuses. But the fact is the bodies like the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, where there are also some of these treasures, are independent legal entities over which the British government has no control. We are not actually a partner in any negotiations and I am not aware of any meaningful negotiations over the past few years. But the subject comes up from time to time.

Do you see further negotiations taking place with those entities?

It would have to be, in such politically sensitive circumstances. Yes.

After noticing a repeated trend in the two countries’ reciprocal political relations, I cannot help but raise this question. I find the UK officials repeatedly criticising how the Ethiopia’s officials interpret the anti-terrorism law. The paradox lies on the very similarity of the anti-terrorism law of the two countries; to an extent the UK laws have recently been revised to have much wider coverage. The controversial killing of the British citizen who is claimed to have joined ISIS is still on. But no word from Ethiopia has been forwarded. Can we say this bi-lateral political relationship is grounded on equal standing?

Do we see Ethiopia as a political equal? The answer is yes, we do. I do not think there is a huge gap in the definition of what constitutes terrorism, certainly not between us in Ethiopia. What we see is the anti-terrorism proclamation being used in circumstances where we would not use anti-terrorist legislation.

It is mentioned in connection with a number of journalists and that seems to us a definition which is stretching things to an extreme, which is beyond reality. We just simply find it very difficult to believe that so many media figures have been engaged in terrorism, however you define it.

It is said back to us, “but we’ve taken the legislation from the UK, word for word.” In a sense that is true. The anti-terrorism proclamation here is based on language taken from the UK legislation – if not as wide-ranging as the British legislation in extent. And there have been some changes made – some of the wording to reflect the Ethiopian situation. The thing is, with all these types of legislation, it is not just the words on the page. It is the way in which they are implemented and how it is linked into other things.

I am wondering about the reaction. I don’t think the Ethiopian government fully agrees with whatever that threshold in the UK is.

The Ethiopian government has to respect our legislation which says that if you want to designate someone or even an organisation as a terrorist, then you have to meet certain evidential standards. It has to be an understanding about our different legal systems where they come into contact because we are talking about shared problems of some sort. It could come up in the context of migration, prisoner transfer or trying to get criminals who have taken refuge in one country – to another. There is going to be some sort of interface, and when there is, you have to have discussions to see how you can deal with that situation.

It is obvious that the two countries have strong allegiance against terrorism in the region. But there are incidents which seem to be affecting this strong allegiance. I can raise two points here. Your citizen, Andargatchew Tsige, remains in Ethiopia’s custody after he was abducted from Yemen. There is also the issue of the deportation from the UK, of individuals thought to be of Ethiopian origin, which the Ethiopian security establishment is resisting. These and other cases have created tension in the bilateral security relations. Haven’t they?

We have many common enemies; therefore, it is really important that we do collaborate on such issues. When it comes to domestic bi-lateral collaboration in this area, it is not as good as it could be, to be honest. But, we continue to talk to each other and hope it will get better because both of our societies are open to attack from terrorists. If either of us has information that could help the other to protect against such incidents, then it is really important to share this. All I really want to say about this is that it could be better than it is at the moment.

In the case of the consular case you mentioned, I have seen him [Andargatchew Tsige] on four occasions now. But, we would like regular consular access to any British citizen who is in an Ethiopian prison. Until quite recently, that has not at all been problematic. We do not fully have a meeting of minds on this issue, but I have been allowed in to visit our consular case on a number of occasions. I am hoping that would be regularised in the future.

Would you mind addressing the issue of disagreement over the deportations?

There are some people who have overstayed in the UK who appear to us to be of Ethiopian in origin, which sometimes it is unclear because they may have destroyed their papers. In the past, we have been able to return some people to Ethiopia. We have some others who we would certainly like to discuss with the authorities here, with a view to bringing them back to Ethiopia. I am talking here about people who are keen to come back to Ethiopia. It seems wrong to us, in principle, that Ethiopian citizens who want to return to their country should be stuck abroad – in another place.

There is a high chance of the Yemen-Saudi conflict diffusing to the East and Horn of Africa region, especially through Eritrea and Djibouti, and surely reaching Sudan and Ethiopia. There are different alliances and comparative vulnerabilities that play around in this, for instance the Sana-Pact signed by Ethiopia-Sudan-Yemen.

I agree that there is a potential danger there. Yemen is quite a mess at the moment. I do not think it is a danger which is being realised yet; but, we are talking about a very narrow physical gap between Eritrea, Djibouti and Yemen. It is not that hard to sail across just over 20 miles or so of ocean, and there are people who have been living in Yemen, and displaced. I believe there are about 30,000 young Somalians or of Somalian origin who have been living in Yemen. Some of the people who are coming from Yemen may bring problems with them. I think it is another area where you do need security collaboration – you need as much information as you can gather from a variety of sources, to try and prevent that happening.

You will be leaving Ethiopia soon, but not Africa. Is it true that your next assignment will be as a special envoy to Somalia?

This is complete speculation.

But would you like to take such a responsibility in Africa or anywhere in Africa?

I would certainly. Having worked on African Union issues for the past four years, I hope that in my future existence – whatever that might be – I would want to use what I have learnt in the context I have made in some way. But at the moment, I do not have my next appointment agreed.

Where is your next dream destination?

I have now been ambassador to Hungary and Ethiopia. I have been living the dream for the past eight years! I am now open for challenges of other sorts. I do not have absolute preference on what I do next.



Published on Oct 19,2015 [ Vol 16 ,No 807]



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