More Ethiopians

More Ethiopians Eying Global Helm

In recent years, Ethiopia has seen more and more of its citizens campaigning and securing leading positions in global institutions. From United Nations agencies to tech giants in the United States’ Silicon Valley, more Ethiopians are tiptoeing up the helm of big multinational corporations and organizations. As much as the trend shows both individual and national success, recent developments paint a contradicting picture of Ethiopians as global leaders, writes EBR’s Addisu Deresse.

In June 2021, SOS Children’s Villages International elected Dereje Wordofa (PhD) as its fourth president, in a move regarded as a turning point in its 70-year-plus history. Dereje was not new to multinational institutions, of course, serving previously as Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Before leaving for the UN, Dereje served as deputy chief operating officer for SOS Children’s Villages for the Middle East and North Africa.

“I am profoundly humbled and honored by the trust placed in me to be the fourth president of this prominent federation, with more than 70 years of impact,” Dereje said upon his election.
Having also served as the organization’s Africa regional director, Dereje completed his high school education at Hailemariam Mamo School in Debre Berhan, one of the oldest towns in Ethiopia. He received his undergrad degree from Addis Ababa University in management. Before eying overseas jobs, Dereje worked in Ethiopia for ten years.

He was one of only two people shortlisted to run for president of world’s largest non-governmental organization focused on children and families at risk.

Out of the 118 registered member countries that can vote, the organization requires a nominee must be supported by at least ten nations to be an eligible candidate for the presidency. About 28 countries supported Dereje’s campaign with his role as the organization’s African director advantageous in his bid. But, he had to run a campaign to convince those beyond his continent.

In the organization’s long-standing history, there had never been a competition between candidates for the presidency. Dereje, however, went against 20 candidates who ran for the top job, until two were finally shortlisted. In the end, he won after running against the incumbent.

This is not the first time for an Ethiopian to swing beyond borders to lead an international institution, of course.

In the past decade, we have seen more and more Ethiopians aspiring to positions in global institutions. Sufian Ahmed, Ethiopia’s technocratic minister who led the Ethiopian Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MoFED) for more than a decade, ran for the presidency of the African Development Bank in 2015. But Sufian didn’t make it as Akinwumi Adesina (PhD), Nigeria’s successful agriculture minister won the election in a landslide victory. The former Ethiopian minister, who had once famously said that inflation would be the major challenge of the Ethiopian economy during his entire lifetime, oversaw the east African nation’s economy during its heydays alongside the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

Former Addis Ababa mayor and current Senior Minister and Special Adviser to the Prime Minister, Arkebe Okubay (PhD) is another Ethiopian who swung at a top globe-leading job. Well known for his initiative on small businesses along the streets of Addis Ababa and later for being an ardent advocate of industrialization, Arkebe ran for position of director-general of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). As the only candidate from Africa, he was endorsed by the African Union. He has published several high-profile publications on Ethiopian and African economies, including the famous ‘Made in Africa,’ which had been a topic of interest regarding industrialization and the African Economy. Many thought Arkebe was a shoe-in for the top job at UNIDO. However, he lost the bid to Gerd Müller, former German Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development.

Tedros Adhanom (PhD), Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), is another Ethiopian who ran a successful campaign to land his current job. Tedros, ex-minister of the ministries of health and foreign affairs, campaigned for leadership of the WHO boasting accomplishments including the training and dispatching of about 38,000 health extension workers nationwide.

An expert who advised most of these campaigns, including that of Dr. Tedros, told EBR on condition of anonymity that a lot goes into these international campaigns and costs could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars—especially for the candidates’ travels around the world. When calculating the air tickets, hotels, venues for sideline talks, and other related costs, such outlays are understandable.

“Dr. Tedros and his team had to travel to more than 60 countries to earn the votes that got him elected,” says the campaign advisor.

The other element of campaigning internationally is digital presence. The ever-expanding demand for digital platforms—even more so due to the pandemic—restricted most of Dereje’s campaign to the online sphere. Websites, social media presence, and email marketing are all weapons in the campaign war.

All do not matter, of course, if the candidate is unable to clearly outline his desired accomplishments once elected. This Vision Statement, as per campaigning lingo, is a document that does the rounds with voters for months or years—in the end testifying how fit the candidate is for the position in question.

For many decades, Ghanaians, Nigerians, Egyptians, and South Africans were the expected fellows in regional and international institutions’ corridors of power. This was not so much true with Ethiopians, until lately. More Ethiopians on the global stage is not just individual success, but also a national triumph.

“It is a direct result of our slowly changing socio-economic status,” says Dr. Darskedar Taye, international relations Expert and Researcher at the Institute of Strategic Affairs. According to him, holding top management positions in these institutions could have plentiful implications for Ethiopia.

Directing aid and projects is something that can be done through these top officials at multinational institutions. Sideline talks with top personalities from all over the world on matters related to political, social, and economic aspects that could sufficiently inform decision-makers of one’s own nation, according to Darskedar.

The implications of these top positions are most relevant in regional and global tensions. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, former UN Secretary-General once said, “the next world war could be caused by water disputes.” Of course, Ethiopia knows much about this and the quote became a dictating thought for issues surrounding the Nile River for years to come.

“Yes, top positions in these institutions influence the way your nation is seen by the rest of the world,” says Darskedar. “When the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam was progressing, we all thought that we could enter a third world war as we reminisced that one quote from a leader of an international institution.”

A recent zoom video meeting among Ethiopians leaked by Canadian independent journalist Jeff Pearce might paint a different picture though. The video features, among others, Eleni Gabre-Madhin (PhD), Founder and ex-CEO of the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange and current Chief Innovation Officer of UNDP Africa, participating in a meeting that entertained a rebuilding operation after a forced government change in Ethiopia. The zoom event, organized by Peace and Development Center International and chaired by Professor Ephraim Isaac, was not just a simple meeting, in the end. It was rather followed by a revelation of a scandal to possibly have involved a list of Ethiopians in global leadership positions.

Ethiopians holding senior positions in global institutions have also been associated with the banning of pro-Ethiopian voices on social media platforms. The continuous ban of such voices on Twitter is recently associated with an Ethiopian system analyst at the social media giant.

Whether more and more of its citizens heading towards the helm of global institutions will help or hurt is yet to be proven further. For now, Dereje has landed on a job he swung at. More Ethiopians need to cross philosophical and mental borders before their careers cross geographical boundaries. Dereje might have wisdom to share in that regard.

“They need to have passion and they should be determined to help others,” Dereje told local media during his campaign. “I had colleagues who lost their lives because of job-related hazards; therefore, surviving such hardships always builds up the stamina to go ahead.” EBR

10th Year • Jan 2022 • No. 103


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