This opinion piece was initially published on euractiv.com on 4 October 2016.
Since spring 2015, the European Union has been facing an unprecedented peak of illegal migration from the Middle East and Africa, in particular from countries of the Horn of Africa, writes Teshome Toga.
Teshome Toga is the ambassador of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia to the Benelux and Baltic countries, as well as to the European Union.
The EU has defined a set of strategies and policies to deal with this challenge internally, but also to help countries of origin and transit to manage reception and hosting of migrants. Ultimately, the goal is to address the root causes of illegal migration in the countries of origin by creating better living conditions at home.
For African countries, the most significant tool of this policy was set up in Malta at the Valletta summit in November 2015 with the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, endowed with €1.8 billion for 23 African countries.
At the same summit, Ethiopia and the EU signed a joint declaration on a Common Agenda on Migration and Mobility (CAMM) that acknowledges the importance of Ethiopia as a key country of transit, destination and origin of irregular migrants and refugees from the Horn of Africa on the route to Europe.
However, this agreement faced critiques from some media outlets and political commentators who believed that through this solidarity fund with African countries, the EU was “compromising” itself by “funding authoritarian governments”.
Clarifications are thus needed regarding the relevance and use of this financial support as well as on the political partnership between the EU and African countries, and more specifically Ethiopia.
First, the EU acknowledged Ethiopia’s special role as a major host of refugees in the Horn of Africa long before the European continent itself faced a migration crisis and provided funding to the country to deal with this challenge.
With political instability and war in Somalia, South Sudan and Eritrea among others, Ethiopia has been welcoming hundreds of thousands of refugees in the last decade from different countries in the Horn of Africa region.
Today, Ethiopia is hosting more than 800,000 refugees, which is significantly more than several major European countries. As the largest host of refugees on the continent and fifth in the world, it is not surprising Ethiopia receives a coordinated support from the EU to face the challenge.
Besides, the regular cooperation support provided in the framework of the European Development Fund, as well as this support package are project-oriented and have the objective to solve specific problems.
The National Indicative Programmes are signed by the European Commission with the government of Ethiopia, and in this framework projects are implemented through the signature of Financing Agreements, which foresee different implementation modalities consisting of various degrees of decentralisation and use of government’s structures.
After implementation, the projects are screened by the Commission and the member states. More specifically, projects funded under the EU Trust Fund for Africa are being implemented through EU member state agencies, international organisations, the private sector and non-governmental organisations.
The Commission already contracted projects amounting to €67 million in Ethiopia to support most vulnerable communities and refugees in the Oromo, Amhara, Tigray, SNNP, Afar and Somali regions, while the remaining €30 million project is undergoing a competitive call for proposals.
This European support to Ethiopia’s development in the last decades has contributed to several achievements of the country recognised by the international community. According to the World Bank, poverty rates were reduced by 33% in the country between 2000 and 2011. This international organisation also recognised that health, education, and living standards have been improved, with undernourishment rates passing from 75% to 35% since 1990 and infant and child mortality rates falling considerably since 2000.
A middle-income country by 2025
Education rates and access to health facilities have also dramatically improved. More than 30 new universities opened throughout the country in less than 20 years in which more than 25 million students are enrolled; 38,000 health extension workers were trained and deployed; 3,000 health centers were built in recent years.
Among other achievements, this helped the country to reach several Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Besides this, construction of infrastructure such as roads, railway and hydroelectric dams have created the conditions for the further development of the economy and quality of life of Ethiopians and also plays a crucial role in terms of regional integration. The country has grown at a rate of about 10% in the last decade and hopes to reach the status of middle-income country by 2025.
Alongside these developments, new challenges have arisen: access to jobs for young graduates, equal access to the benefits linked with economic growth and lack of good governance.
The Ethiopian government is well aware of the legitimate demands of the Ethiopian people linked to these challenges and is determined to address them in effective ways.
Extensive consultations with the public and different parts of the society after the recent unrest in the country [editor’s note: this op-ed was written before the violence at the weekend in Addis Ababa] have led the government to improve and reorganise government bodies and structures to make them more effective and responsive and to ensure transparency and accountability.
The government is taking measures to address these challenges through deep political reforms including restructuring of some government offices.
Some of this progress, especially regarding the reduction poverty, growth of the economy and infrastructure, has been recognised by the EU. It also fully supports Ethiopia’s constructive role in peace and security in the Horn of Africa, amongst others in Somalia and South Sudan and as chair of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and as the number one contributor to UN peacekeeping operations in Africa, as well as on thematic international debates such as climate change.
It is thus not without reason that the strategic partnership between Ethiopia and the European Union is highly valued on both sides and considered as a successful one among the ACP countries.
On this ground, it has been considerably intensified during the past years following a set of high-level political consultations. After significant milestones such as the Common Agenda on Migration and Mobility in November 2015 and the establishment of a friendship group within the European Parliament in March 2016, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and Jean-Claude Junker, European Commission President signed an Ethiopia-EU strategic engagement document in Brussels on 14 June 2016.
The Strategic Engagement Agreement aims at structuring the reinforced cooperation between the two partners, and will be followed by an Ethiopia-EU Business Forum, to be organised in the next months.