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Next year, will be the 25th anniversary of Ireland opening an embassy in Ethiopia. The two nations continue to have a strong partnership. Ireland is one of the key donor countries for Ethiopia through Irish Aid. Mostly focusing on sustainable developmental cooperation projects, Ireland continues to provide funding to key endeavors in health, education and agriculture, among others, in Ethiopia. Capital spoke to Sonja Hyland, Ireland’s Ambassador to Ethiopia about the over two decade long friendship between the two countries
Capital: If you could give us a briefing on the current relationship between Ethiopia and Ireland.
Sonja Hyland: Next year will be the 25th anniversary of opening our embassy and the 25th anniversary of the partnership we have with the government and people of Ethiopia in relation to development cooperation.
We opened an embassy here in 1994 and from the beginning invested quite heavily in a partnership with Ethiopia especially around development priorities; the health sector, education sector, social protection, gender issues, livelihoods and agriculture and that sort of range both in terms of basic public services for citizens and also in terms of rural livelihoods and agriculture in the productive sector, particularly the rural agriculture sector.
Our partnership has grown obviously, now we have partnerships in the cultural area, beginning in areas of trade and investment, we have an air link; there is now a direct flight to Dublin. So it is a partnership that has grown beyond the initial partnership which was based on developmental cooperation, but we do still have a very strong developmental cooperation here which is the largest one we have in the world.
We spend about 30 million Euros which is about one billion birr a year with government, UN and NGO partners in support of social protection, health, gender issues, governance, rural livelihoods and agricultural development.
Capital: What about looking at investment relations; that is something Ethiopia is looking for as well.
Hyland: We have had some interest from Irish companies, I would say it is relatively modest interest at this stage because Ireland is relatively a small domestic market; we are four and a half million people. So we are not a huge economy, but having said that we have very successful multinational companies.
One of the things everyone knows about Ireland is it is one of the largest recipients of US foreign direct investment on per capita terms but the thing people don’t know is that Ireland is actually the 9th largest investor in the US as well. So we actually do have quite a few companies that are of a size and a scale that can invest abroad.
I would say that markets in Africa are underrepresented in terms of Irish companies because I think most Irish companies which have grown first into a European market then to the States, Australia, and beginning in Asia quite a lot now, and Latin America starting. There is a strong interest in a number of African markets, but it is not somewhere that has been fully explored by Irish companies.
Having said that we do have some investments from mobile technology companies; M-Birr for instance which is a money transfer system by a French-Irish company, we have some Irish companies in the agribusiness sector as well, we have had interests in the manufacturing sector.
I think it is definitely a relationship that needs to develop further and one of the things we have been talking about with the government whether we might share our experiences on attracting foreign direct investment because as I said we are one of the most successful countries in the world in terms of attracting foreign direct investment and that has to do with a whole range of issues with the regulatory environment, education and skills, the taxation environment, governance; all sorts of issues that have added up to make Ireland an attractive prospect for FDI.
Capital: Looking at development cooperation, there is Irish Aid which has been a partner for development for a long time now. How strong is that partnership right now?
Hyland: This year we will be spending 30 million Euros in Ethiopia on a development cooperation program and that is part of a strategic commitment between 2014 and 2018 of a 130 million Euros overall; so this is the final year and it is 30 million Euros.
The humanitarian element has unfortunately grown in the last couple of years. When we started our current strategy in 2014 we didn’t envision much at all on the humanitarian side but now because of the last three consecutive years of drought and because of the conflict between the Somali and Oromia regions, we have been forced to adjust some of our spending to put more in the humanitarian basket.
We have just announced that we will provide the government with three million Euros following the launching of the Ethiopian Humanitarian and Disaster Resilience Plan; that is a commitment we take seriously.
Capital: It is also mentioned that there needs to be a sustainable way of addressing issues instead of depending on material aid. What has Irish Aid done to archive that?
Hyland: I think all our programs are focused on exactly that which is basically sustainability and reaching development gains and priorities the government has set in a way that is sustainable. For example the social protection and Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP) we are one of the key donors in that, we are actually the chair of the donor group this year for PSNP.
It is exactly one of those programs which is the key to breaking that cycle of humanitarian crisis by supporting them in a way that allows them to improve their productive capacity and graduate from the PSNP program; that is our biggest investment from the 30 million Euros a year, 10 million goes to PSNP.
Similarly in the health sector what we are doing is helping to strengthen the national health system so again we are not building our own clinics or bringing our own doctors. The support goes into a pool of funding for the Ministry of Health to deliver on the priorities that has been set by Ethiopia.
Agriculture and rural livelihood is a key piece of the resilience strategy in any country. In Ireland we have the experience; initially we were subsistence farmers like many people in Ethiopia are now and we moved through that to a more productive agricultural economy and now we are one of the biggest agricultural exporters per capita in the world.
Our agricultural support even in the last seven years went up by 60 percent and so we have not only increased in volume but really increased in value addition. This is something we would like to share with Ethiopia as well, and while the our embassy will be here for a long time, Irish Aid over time will not be here because it will not be needed. For that reason our programs are focused on sustainable development, resilience and basically alleviation out of poverty.
Capital: One of the biggest issues for donor countries is that there is shortage in funding due to many humanitarian crises, how are you dealing with that? What about the issue of accountability?
Hyland: We have put a larger percentage of our development funding into humanitarian aid, we have to do that because we have to meet immediate needs, but at the same time, you don’t want that situation to continue forever because you are in a situation where you are not investing in development and resilience and a long term future.
Accountability is always an issue in a humanitarian context because by definition it is always a crisis, it’s always a confusing situation that involves a significant displacement of people so I guess what we try to do is work with the government, with the UN and NGOs to make sure they have robust accountable systems in place and have a dialogue with the government on how important that accountability is.
Capital: Ethiopia is currently implementing a State of Emergency. What is Ireland’s thought on this?
Hyland: You probably saw the EU statement and Ireland is part of the EU and part of that statement and we would associate ourselves with that.
From our perspectives what we see in Ethiopia is that there is a significant demand from Ethiopians for political reform. The government and the current Prime Minister, when the first State of Emergency was announced, committed very openly and publically to reform and back in January again the EPRDF made a very clear statement around understanding the pace of reform was not enough and further reform needed to be prioritized and more rapidly implemented. We agree with that.
The State of Emergency, again we would associate with the EU statement; we don’t necessarily see that as a helpful element in demonstrating commitment in political reform and economic reform. At the end of the day it is the decision of the Ethiopian government but from our perspective, we feel that a more rapid implementation of economic and political reform would be perhaps more easily done without the State of Emergency.
Capital: On a lighter note, we have heard that a famous monument in Addis Ababa was lit up in green, tell us about that.
Hyland: This is a campaign called the Global Greening Campaign, it started in 2010 globally and it started small, maybe 20 to 30 monuments around the world going green on Saint Patrick’s Day which is our national day and green is the national color of Ireland.
The idea is to highlight Ireland on Saint Patrick’s Day by lighting up monuments in green in reminder of Ireland, Irish culture and heritage, tourism possibilities in terms of coming to Ireland. The second thing it highlights is our long standing friendship with many nations.
In case of Ethiopia this year we decided to green the lion in front of the National Theater. The reason we chose the lion is because it is an all Ethiopian symbol and the symbol of Addis Ababa so we thought it would be a good monument to green to demonstrate the partnership between Ethiopia and Ireland.