Interview with Asfaw Dingamo Kame, Ethiopian ambassador
Shankar Kumar | February 5, 2018 | New Delhi
Ethiopia is being energetically wooed by both India and China as it is a major player in Africa. The Ethiopian ambassador to India, Asfaw Dingamo Kame, spoke to Shankar Kumar about the ongoing defence cooperation between the two countries and shared his views on the clamour for reforms in the United Nations. He also shed light on the fast-paced developments in Zimbabwe.
India and China are spreading their presence in Ethiopia. How do you maintain a balance with the two?
First of all, I would tell you that Ethiopia is a country which is in need of investment. Both India and China are fulfilling that need. Ethiopia values its relationship with both countries. We provide equal opportunities to them. Ethiopia, historically, is a good friend of every nation. Poverty is the only declared enemy of ours. Hence, those coming to our country to assist us economically and otherwise, we value their support. There is no favouritism against this and that country. While Chinese have invested heavily in several infrastructural projects, India is engaged in setting up three sugar mills and now they are entering into power sector.
What about defence cooperation between India and Ethiopia?
Oh, yes, India is helping us a lot in this sector also. As you know, India has set up one of the biggest and the finest military academies in Harar in Ethiopia and Indians are training the men in uniform since it was established in the 1960s during the imperial era. Indian military officials are training our men under an agreement between the two countries. We are negotiating with the Indian government to renew and upgrade it [training facility] further.
How does Ethiopia looks at the planned Asia-Africa Growth Corridor?
Once Asia and Africa were part of the same continuous landmass. The two continents share the same ocean, Indian Ocean. Africa is a gateway for India. Prime minister Narendra Modi has already said that the 21st century belongs to Asia-Africa. In this context, this corridor will definitely benefit us.
How important is the UN reform? What is the Ethiopian stand on India’s quest for permanent membership of the UN Security Council?
Ethiopia wants reform of the UN in general and of the Security Council in particular. All five permanent members [of the Security Council] are denying the entry of others into the UN’s decision-making body. We want representation of one or more than one country from each continent [as permanent members] in the Security Council.
What is your stand on the One Belt and One Road project?
This is a China-led initiative. We have to look at its objective and economic rationale. But at this time I have no idea about the project. On the basis of media reports, I, as a professional, would not like to make any comment. As a representative from the land-locked nation, I have to look at its advantages. I think it is a smart idea, but I have to see whether it is inclusive, it is good for economy or not – all this requires a sort of political and economic analysis.
Has there been a change in India’s outlook towards Africa in the past three years? What is your comment?
I came here in July 2016. But I don’t think there is a change in India-Africa relation; it is a continuing process. The first India-Africa Forum Summit was started by the Congress-led UPA government. The initiative was further carried out by the BJP-led NDA government. The government may come and go, but the system remains the same and so is the policy.
In terms of implementation of projects announced for Africa, is there any change?
Well, bureaucrats are very slow when it comes to India-supported African projects. We are complaining about it in some areas, and it is not due to this or that government, but overall, for 21 months, I am seeing marked changes in this country. In our country too, the bureaucracy is doing the same, hindering us in doing things smoothly and speedily. In India, PM Narendra Modi is trying to nudge civil servants to do the right things; he is trying to bring in behavioural changes among them. To change someone’s attitude is not easy; it is a slow but continuous process.
Which Indian sector has hugely impacted Ethiopians’ life?
Basically, India is involved in several areas of Ethiopia. But one area which has impacted Ethiopians greatly for many years is education. Many Ethiopians are flocking to India for medical treatment. Contribution in capacity building area is also very significant.
How do you see the diplomatic engagement between India and Ethiopia? It took 45 years for an Indian president to reach Addis Ababa. Was it a cause of concern among the political leadership of Ethiopia?
Diplomatic relationship between Addis Ababa and New Delhi was established in the 1940s, soon after India’s independence. It was established by Ethiopia’s then imperial leadership and India’s Jawaharlal Nehru. Both were known to each other. Since then the relationship between the two sides has been growing. Ethiopia was the first country in Africa to set up diplomatic ties with India. Among all African missions in India, Ethiopia is having the largest number of diplomatic staff in its mission in the country. Besides me, there are 12 to 16 other diplomats. Also, there are 21 to 22 local [Indian] workers in our embassy. We have expanded our services; we have consular offices in Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Chennai. So, you can see how we value our relationship. As for the Indian presidential visit after 45 years, there is no such feeling that we have been left behind. Former Indian PM Manmohan Singh visited Ethiopia in 2011; he hosted the second India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) there and addressed our parliament. When Pranab Mukherjee was the foreign minister, he undertook a visit to Ethiopia in 2007. Our former prime minister Meles Zenawi visited India four times from November 2007 to February 2011 and current prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn visited India to participate in the 2015 India-Africa summit. Therefore, we are having one of the best diplomatic ties with India.
India is among the top three foreign investors in Ethiopia with approved investment of over $4.8 billion. Majority of the investments are from private Indian investors who are worried about the move to nationalise their assets. Please comment.
Ethiopia is a socialist country. It has a democratically elected government which honours international agreements and norms. Ethiopia and India have signed an agreement on protection of investments of each other. So there is no confusion on this issue. A few years ago, violence took place against one Indian company, but our government compensated the damage done to it. Our government guarantees the private ownership of properties. As such, there should not be any worry about nationalisation of assets of investors. If that would have been the case, we would not have promoted investment, nor would any investor have come to our country.
How do you see Zimbabwe’s development where president Robert Mugabe had to step down under military pressure? Was there a foreign hand?
Oh, [laughs] that is not our business [to comment]. But as a fellow African country we feel… However, that country for years has been democratic and there was an elected government. Although the [Zimbabwean] military claims that it was not a coup and most of people have agreed on that term, but good thing is that they [military] have handed over power to that country’s vice president. Yet the fact is that it has been a stable country despite economic hardship there. I hope the country will resolve its problem soon. As regarding foreign hand in the Zimbabwe’s recent development, I would say that it requires a thorough investigation.
(The interview appears in the February 15, 2018 issue)
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