Tekeda Alemu (PhD)

[The International Community] See Ethiopia As an Example for the Rest of Africa.

Born on May 05, 1951 and raised in Addis Ababa, Tekeda Alemu (PhD) has been a diplomat for thirty four years. He began his career at the rank of 1st Secretary in 1983. He was promoted within a few years as a counselor and later as acting head of the International Department and then as head of the African Department within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Upon the change of government in 1991, he became deputy minister of foreign affairs, a position he held until October 2001. He then became a state minister until he was finally appointed as Ethiopia’s permanent representative to the United Nations in New York in January 2011.
The career diplomat earned a B.A. and M.A. from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in political science and a Ph.D. also in political science from Claremont Graduate School in the United States. He was also assistant professor of political science and international relations at Addis Ababa University in the early 90’s.
Tekeda, the football enthusiast, smiles very much when he is asked to speak about his youth life and participation in football in which he had garnered an acclaim nationally and abroad. He had an illustrious history as a member of the UCLA’s Soccer Team, St. George Football Club and the national football team.
The EBR’s Amanyehun SiSAY visited the Permanent Mission of Ethiopia to the United Nations in New York recently and discussed with Ambassador Tekeda, known widely as one of the leading architects of the post 2002 Ethiopia’s foreign policy, about the works the mission has been doing since Ethiopia became a non-permanent member of the Security Council in January 2017 and other issues. The following is an excerpt.

Tell me about the works and successes achieved since Ethiopia became a non-permanent member of the Security Council of the UN. In fact, what was the rationale behind Ethiopia’s drive to be a member of the Council?
The Security Council (SC) is one of the six organs of the UN. Ethiopia is one of the [four] African founding members of the UN, and the only African member of its predecessor – the League of Nations. We have been participating in the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) as well as other organs of the Organization for a long time. We believe it is proper to participate in the works of the Security Council if the opportunity is available. We consider that we can indeed contribute to make the Council more effective, particularly on the issues of peace and security in our region and Africa.
In 70 years history of the UN, Ethiopia has only served twice in the Council. However, countries that joined the organization after Ethiopia, have served more frequently than Ethiopia. The other reason is that, the Security Council has a primary responsibility for international peace and security; and Africa, including our region continues to have huge problems of peace and security. As a result, the bulk of the time (80Pct) of the Council is devoted to debating on African issues. Obviously, as one of the key countries in Africa, Ethiopia’s presence at the table where African issues are discussed appears only natural. Moreover, we happen to be at present the leading contributing country to global peace keeping mission, thus making our presence in the Council becomes appropriate and logical.
The objectives we try to advance as a member of the Council can be seen at three levels: national, continental and global. First, of course, like all states we also have a responsibility to promote the interest of our country which we do without undermining the interest of others. This is so because basically the conduct of our foreign policy is anchored in commitment to mutual accommodation and win-win outcomes. We don’t seek to advance our interests at the expense of others. Second, as a member of the AU and as a country fully committed to Africa agendas, we have a responsibility to advance the interest of the continent in conformity with the decisions of the summit and other organs of the AU. At present, together with Egypt and Senegal, we try to promote the interest of Africa in the council. Third, as a member of the global community, we stand for the common public goods regarding peace and security of the world.

Ethiopia’s membership to the SC started in January. Although it is a short period, how do you evaluate your contributions since then?
It is difficult to tell what we have achieved so far. I wish others could comment on this. Our experts are doing very well and they have gained a great deal of respect and recognition from their colleagues. I have also heard some people saying “you have hit the ground running.” I can say we are doing fine, but we need to do more. There were some parties that doubted how Egypt and Ethiopia could work together in the council since many feel we have issues about the Nile. They must have been disappointed or surprised — Ethiopia, Egypt, and Senegal have a common position on a number of issues including the fight against terrorism.

Reports about Egypt and South Sudan’s ‘dirty-deal’ to sabotage Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam were all over the media as early as January. Now Ethiopia seats with Egypt at the SC. Have you ever discussed anything about this matter with your Egyptian counterpart at the UN?
The principle we have as representatives in the Security Council and as a government, is to work closely with the other African members of the Council. There are a number of issues that we share. The issue of terrorism is one. Based on our principle we are trying to work with our Egyptian counterparts on how to address the common issues that we share. Our experts and the mission in general have good relation with our Egyptian counterparts.
In fact, there might be some issues that are related to the national interest of the two states. However, there is a possibility of negotiating these issues in a civilized manner. Apart from that, we expect to have a common consensus and work together on continental and global issues. For example, there is a working group on the “Prevention and Resolution of Conflict in Africa” which is chaired by Ethiopia. We took the initiative to solicit the advice of Egypt on how to make the Group more effective. When it comes to Senegal, we decided to take the unprecedented initiative of conducting a joint meeting with another committee being chaired by Senegal.

But the issue was covered widely by Medias in and outside of Egypt. I am wondering if the details of the news ever happened to be a point of discussions between you and your Egyptian counterpart.
No, we have been discussing issues only related to the Security Council. We have never discussed such issues, not because we are not aware about them. We are trying to handle the various issues that we are called upon to address. That way we are indirectly trying to help our two governments to address the issues in a civilized and constructive manner.
How does Ethiopia’s membership contribute to the effort of making Africa one of the primary agendas of the Security Council and the UN system in general?
By the conduct you are showing at the Security Council or by the constructive ways that you address issues tabled, people would come to understand the kind of government behind you. Of course, you will be conveying a message, a message of a government which is very serious, a policy which is very constructive. When your contributions are constructive and accommodating, other members will come to appreciate the government behind you. And this has a way of spreading to the people here in the Security Council and overall in New York, in the UN system through the people who have positions in the governments they represent. These are ambassadors and diplomats that have close working relationships with their leaders back home. Therefore, whatever you do here have a tendency of getting to the leadership of the respective countries. What you are doing here indirectly ends up in enhancing the image of your country.

You have been here for a bit more than five years. How do you evaluate your accomplishment?
It is better that we talk about what the mission has achieved in these years. The work we do is not done only by the ambassador. We have colleagues in the mission who contribute a lot. I feel that we have managed to enhance the credibility of [our] country in the eyes of the international community. We have established that Ethiopia’s position is really reflected in the various organs of the UN; our relationship with UNICEF, UNDP, and other organs of the United Nations together with the enormous works that are being done back at home, I would say a lot has been achieved in those good five years.
Ethiopia today has a very good image and credibility in the eyes of the international community. But that’s not the result of the works of the mission here only, it is the cumulative work done in Addis Ababa by our Ministry and the government in general and [of course] at the mission here in New York and other embassies throughout the world. Take for instance the conference on Finance for Development, a very important conference that was held in 2015 in Addis Ababa. The conference is seen as one of the important conferences held in that year by the UN. The conference adopted the Addis Ababa action agenda which was helpful in setting the 2030 sustainable development agenda in the meeting held later in New York. Bringing the conference to Addis Ababa was important and showed Ethiopia’s position in setting the global agenda on sustainable development.

Let us discuss about other benefits of being a member of the Security Council. I mean benefits for Ethiopia, in terms of soliciting finance for its development, promoting the country as a tourist and investment destination, and also in areas of finding markets for its produce?
We have a business and economic section which has a mandate in this area even though we only have one expert for the work. But we do carry out economic and business activities and we have tried and succeeded to establish contact in the New York area and beyond. We have sent investors to our Embassy in Washington DC – they are more responsible about business and investment issues than the Mission in New York. Our mandate is related to the work at the UN. We are the representative of Ethiopia in the UN. We are not supposed to have official and formal contact with the American government. It is our embassy in Washington that has contact with the government of the United States. We deal with the mayor’s office in New York and other institutions for different reasons.
There are economic benefits we get because of our membership in the SC but they come indirectly. The relationship you establish with the various representatives of states in the Security Council and the impression that create about our country, the credibility that our experts and their participation create has an indirect benefit in that regard. Because, indirectly we are selling your country by helping others to underst and that we are a delegation of a country which has to be taken seriously. Of course, Ethiopia is taken very seriously because of historic reasons. And what we have done in the past two decades has earned the country a great deal of appreciation. All these matter in a very indirect manner to advance the country’s economic and business interest.

You have been here for more than five years. Do you observe change of perceptions about Ethiopia in the the eyes of the international community?
I have been serving in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for thirty four years and have witnessed how the image of the country keeps changing. Even though I had a sense of it when I was a state minister of foreign affairs, I was really caught by a great deal of surprise to witness how Ethiopia is held in a very high esteem. One reason for this is our achievement over the last 15 years. I suppose others are more appreciative of what we have done than we ourselves are. Others see us as a country with the potential to be an example for the rest of Africa. That is a major task and a historic homework for us.

There has been a setback in the peace and security situation in Ethiopia in the past one year. How has that affected Ethiopia’s image at the UN?
The setback that we faced recently has no doubt affected our image slightly, but not in a fatal manner. There is a feeling within the international community that Ethiopia has the resilience for getting its acts together. But there is a need to work more to address the national security issues and also address real grievances felt by the people. Complacency is fatal and none of the challenges we have been facing are that difficult to address. They are all amenable to speedy resolution. But they need to be taken up seriously and, of course, prioritizing the national interest and national security interests of the country [is key.]

Ethiopia is a number one contributor for peacekeeping missions in the world; it is also the biggest host of refuges in Africa. Has this been recognized at the UN level and earned the country what it deserves?
Yes, that’s very well recognized. The former Secretary General used to mention these often; the new Secretary General Antonio Gutierrez also mentions this repeatedly. Recognition is one thing. But whether this contribution is acknowledged in practice is another matter. There is a simple example for this. Our representation in the UN Secretariat, particularly in the Department responsible for peacekeeping, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) is very dismal. The same is with respect to the other departments with related mandates: Political Affairs and Field Support.
Do you think the very first image of Ethiopia in the UN now stems from that?
Not only that. If we are talking about the number of refugees that we are hosting, or the number of troops we are contributing in the peacekeeping missions, those two are not the only factors. What we have achieved in the economic area is a major factor. You hear the representatives of the African states talking about this with surprise and appreciation about the way Ethiopia has made all this progress in the last fifteen years. You hear it from partners as well. It is the combination of all these.
Of course, the fact that the country has rich history contributes to this. The people of African descents are happy when they hear that an African country has made so much progress in such a short period of time. What we have been able to achieve in the last decade and half, has been unprecedented in its modern history and this is very much appreciated by the people who read and hear about Ethiopia.

How do you see the contribution of the former secretary general – Mr. Ban Ki Moon – in terms of putting African’s agenda to the attention of world leaders?
I think he was a good friend of Africa. The three very important conferences in 2015 were partly his achievements. He has hardly missed any of the African Union’s summits [in Addis Ababa and elsewhere]. His contributions are very notable. But, of course, at the end of the day any UN Secretary General’s success depends on the kind and level of support he gets from member states. It is not an easy job.
And now there is a new Secretary General, what special things do you think he should know or take in to consideration in terms of dealing with African issues?
We have to understand the context in which the new leadership is coming to office. There is a rising tension globally; a high level of misunderstanding. Perhaps, cooperation among countries for peace, security and stability and economic cooperation is bound to be very difficult.
What one can hope the new secretary general to do is first of all help countries to rise above what otherwise would be the lowest common denominator. Every country is now focusing on its own very narrow national interest. So the Secretary General would have to conduct himself in such a way that member states rise above the lowest common denominator. He appears to be a very intelligent, dedicated, and committed person and with a lot of diplomatic experience and skills. He was the prime minister of Portugal; therefore he appears to know what the international community needs at this very difficult time in history.

Do you think Ethiopia is on the right track both in development and democratization? Do you think the country has the capacity and readiness to realize both?
Yes it has the capacity and there have been indications that in all areas the country has been at the cusp of major transformation. But this cannot be done by the government or the ruling party alone. We need every Ethiopian to participate. We all have a role in this. Governance is a difficult business. Look at the situation in the United States today, or what is happening in Europe. If the United States and the UK are going through these difficulties, one can see how governance could be more complex and challenging for countries like Ethiopia.
The most important thing for us now is to perfect what we have started to build with wisdom and patience. This is critically needed at this juncture in our history. If we manage that, I would say, Ethiopia could continue to achieve greater success and be one of the African countries that would be a source of pride not only for Africans, but for the black race throughout the world. EBR


5th Year • May 2017 • No. 50

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