“Economically strong & democratic Ethiopia is a stabilizing force in the Horn of Africa”: German’s Devt Minister

  • GERMANY KEEN TO SUPPORT ETHIOPIA’S DIGITALIZATION DRIVE

Push Ethiopia and Germany have agreed about a new form of cooperation during the G20 Compact with Africa conference in Berlin last week. The so-called Reform Partnership has been initiated by Dr. Gerd Müller, Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development of Germany, who is arriving in Addis Ababa on Saturday for his fifth visit to Ethiopia. This time, he is accompanied by Hubertus Heil, German’s Minister for Labour and Social Affairs, with a mission to discuss joined efforts to create new jobs in Ethiopia, especially for the young generation. Before his departure, Berlin-based German journalist Beate Wedekind* has talked to Minister Mueller exclusively for The Daily Monitor.

Excerpts:

The Daily Monitor: Minister Mueller, could you briefly tell us what a Reform Partnership is all about?

Minister Mueller: Reform partnership is a new flagship format with which we are implementing … the paradigm shift in our cooperation with progressive countries like Ethiopia.

The focus is on sustainable investments that could create jobs, especially for the young generation of Ethiopians. We are concentrating on ownership, private investment, vocational education and employment.

The participating countries need to further improve the general environment: democracy, good governance, development of tax authorities and supreme audit institutions, legal certainty, anti-corruption measures, more efficient administrative procedures.

In return, we provide them with additional funding, for instance for vocational training and for administrative reforms. Through our reform partnerships, we want to show that countries that reform will benefit – from more investment, economic growth, jobs and tax revenue.

The Monitor: Ethiopia has been led for one and a half years now by Dr. Abiy Ahmed. Just a few days from now, he will receive the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. How do you assess the current situation in Ethiopia?

Minister Mueller: Since he assumed office in April 2018, Prime Minister Abiy has pursued reforms at an impressive pace. He is a true driver of change.

I was able to gain a personal impression of his approach at an early point during a meeting with him last year.

Democratization is moving full speed ahead in Ethiopia. Opposition parties have been allowed to form and political prisoners have been released. A new election law is paving the way for the decisive parliamentary elections next year and is allowing newly established parties to take part in political competition. Far-reaching new freedoms have also been granted for civil society to play a part in public life.

The Nobel Peace Prize pays tribute to these reform efforts as well. The reconciliation with Eritrea has reunited families that had been torn apart. In terms of its impact, this move is comparable to the fall of the Berlin wall.

However, the process of democratization has also raised high hopes among the population. People now expect better living conditions.

The Monitor: In Ethiopia, millions of young men and women are unemployed. How can Germany best support the country in resolving this challenge? It is not by accident that you are visiting the country together with Labor Minister Heil.

Minister Mueller: The economic reforms launched by Prime Minister Abiy are following market principles, moving away from the country’s previous approach of a state-run economy. These reforms make the Ethiopian economy ready for the future and provide opportunities for the two million young Ethiopians entering the labor market every year.

However, Ethiopia’s industrialization can only become a success if there is compliance from the beginning with vital norms such as core labor standards and environmental standards.

In these efforts, we are building on our long-standing cooperation with Ethiopia. Under German development cooperation, we have been training Ethiopian government inspectors since 2016 to ensure compliance with social standards in the textile and garment industry.

Well-trained workers are also vital for a flourishing economy. The Ethiopian government wants to make its vocational training system particularly practice-oriented, using the German model as guidance, and is giving Germany a leading role in this effort.

The Monitor: In your view, what are the best opportunities for win-win partnerships between Ethiopia and Germany?

Minister Mueller: The reform partnership is our contribution to making Ethiopia’s reform process a success. An economically strong and democratic Ethiopia is a stabilizing force in the Horn of Africa and is in Germany’s interest, too.

In line with our principle of encouraging and challenging our partners, we have identified areas together with the Ethiopian government where the government will pursue specific improvements.

We, in turn, will intensify our development cooperation activities.

Here is an example. The Ethiopian government has made a commitment to launch a new investment law and to improve access to financing for small and medium-sized enterprises.

In response, we are providing funding for the further improvement of the investment climate and for efforts to make headway on economic development. Ethiopia’s economy will benefit from this, and so will German medium-sized enterprises that invest in Ethiopia. For sure, all this is a true win-win situation, especially as we deal with each other as equals.

The Monitor: Could you give us some concrete facts and figures?

Minister Mueller: 400 million Euros are being invested in promoting African medium-sized companies. Another 400 million Euros from the development investment fund is available for investments by medium-sized German and European companies in Africa.

In addition, through the 50 projects being supported under the Special Initiative on Training and Job Creation, another 70,000 jobs and 32,000 training places will be created on the continent, with a focus on the Reform Partnership countries.

Our Ministry has also launched a new Digital Initiative, because digital technologies are advancing faster in Africa than anywhere else in the world. Altogether we are investing some 270 million Euros in over 200 African digital projects.

They range from internet-based citizen participation schemes to apps which farmers can use for selling their produce to telemedicine in remote regions.

The Monitor: Let’s get back to Ethiopia. The textile sector is one of Ethiopia’s most important industries. How can we foster sustainable production in countries like Ethiopia?

Minister Mueller: Take a garment worker in an Ethiopian jeans factory – she works extremely hard for 16 hours a day, six days a week. In return, she gets less than 20 cents an hour – a wage on which she can barely feed her family. We must not turn our backs on her situation.

Our ministry has initiated the Green Button, a label that is making it easier for consumers to make their purchasing choices. It is the first official label for garments that have been produced in a socially and environmentally sound way.

Twenty-seven companies are already Green Button-certified, and further enterprises are undergoing the certification process. In this way, we protect humans and the environment along supply chains in producer countries such as Ethiopia.

But we are not leaving our partner countries to fend for themselves when it comes to meeting higher human rights and environmental standards. We provide targeted support, for instance in the textile sector, to foster better working conditions and to help local enterprises get ready to meet the high Green Button standards.

The Monitor: What can we, the consumers in Germany and Europe do, to stop the “modern” exploitation of economies such as that of Ethiopia?

Minister Mueller: Fair globalization starts at home. Our prosperity in Germany must not come at the expense of people in developing and emerging countries. Consumers can choose fairly produced and traded products when they buy things such as coffee or garments from countries like Ethiopia. But the producing companies themselves must do their part, too.

I am sure that, in the future, fairness and sustainability along value chains and supply chains will be a key factor for the competitiveness of enterprises, including German companies. And in instances where voluntary commitments are not enough, policymakers have to introduce regulations, be it with regard to the terms of fair world trade or with regard to mandatory due diligence along supply chains.

The Monitor: Last but not least, we would like to ask you to share your personal principles to foster peace, justice, equality and well-being for all.

Minister Mueller: My principles are very simple: We have to understand that we all live in one world and that we interdependently share our future, for better or for worse.  For example, climate change shows us very clearly that decisions we take in the industrialized countries have dramatic consequences on people’s lives, for instance in Ethiopia. We have to be aware of this common responsibility, and we have to act accordingly.

*Beate is a former editor-in-chief of several German magazines. She has been working as a volunteer in Ethiopia for the West German Government in 1976. She only returned in 1996 as a biographer of Karlheinz Boehm, founder and mastermind of Menschen fuer Menschen. Several years ago she started to mentor young Ethiopian entrepreneurs. She lives in Berlin and partly in Addis Ababa. Next March she is publishing a new issue of a publication about TheNew_Ethiopia – Journal of Change.