Vivekananda International Foundation launches "Connect Africa"
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The Vivekananda International Foundation unveiled its latest "Connect Africa" programme on September 22, 2022. This initiative's primary goal is to invite prominent African and Indian figures, such as academics, diplomats, practitioners, and journalists, for conversations on various emerging African issues. The event will allow Africanists in India and elsewhere to engage with Africa by bringing attention to several important factors influencing the continent. It will also facilitate cross-learning.

H.E. Ambassador Dr Tizita Mulugeta, (Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary) Ethiopian Ambassador to India, addressed at the inaugural Connect Africa event about current situation in Ethiopia and the future of India and Ethiopia relations. She has also been the non-resident Ambassador to Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Ethiopia since May 2019. She is also an assistant professor at Addis Ababa University. Her doctorate in sociology and humanities is from the Norwegian University of Tromso. She held the position of Member of Advisory Group, Ministry of Culture & Tourism, starting in 2018.

After a warm welcome by Dr Arvind Gupta, Director VIF, Her Excellency made the presentation. She started by expressing her gratitude to the Vivekananda International Foundation for allowing her to talk about the current situation in her country. The reports available on the internet are mostly one-sided, and she expressed her happiness to be able to share the alternative version. In 1948, Ethiopia established its embassy in India; just one year after India gained its freedom. Ethiopia was the first African nation to establish a mission in India. New Delhi has always backed Ethiopia in numerous international forums.

Ethiopia is a federal democratic republic with two chartered cities; nine ethnically based autonomous regional entities. It is a multiethnic African nation with more than 90 different ethnic groupings and 80 different languages. It is Africa's second most populated country, with 120 million people. Agriculture accounts for 35% of Ethiopia's economy, followed by industry (23.11%) and services (6.8%). Over the years, the nation has continued to grow steadily, averaging 7.7% in 2018, 9% in 2019, 6.1% in 2020, and 6.3% in 2021. In fact, it has the region's fastest growth rate. She asserted that Ethiopia is also a vital player in the fight against terrorism on the continent. Ethiopia also actively backs the Intergovernmental Authority of Development (IGAD). Additionally, Ethiopia provides the most personnel to the UN peacekeeping operations.

She invoked some historical backdrop to the problem in order to describe the state of affairs in Ethiopia at the time. Following the fall of Mengistu Haile Mariam's Marxist military Government in 1991, Tigray, Amhara, Oromia, and SNNPR created a coalition party named EPRDF. The EPDRF reigned from 1991 to 2018 under the leadership of the TPLF. However, public outcry against the TPLF-led coalition government broke out in 2018 and propelled the current Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to power. In 2019, Abiy dissolved the EPRDF and created a new coalition party called the Prosperity Party with eight regional states. However, the TPLF refused to join the alliance and stayed out, accusing Abiy of making a move in an effort to strengthen his control.

When the administration decided to delay the general election scheduled in June 2021 because of the Covid epidemic, the TPLF chose to continue with the election in the Tigray area in September 2020. Later, to disarm and eliminate the Northern Command force, the TPLF assaulted the Ethiopian National Defence Force in November 2020 under the pretext of a pre-emptive strike. Thereafter, the Ethiopian Government under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed decided to launch the law enforcement operation. Mekelle was eventually placed under the command force's jurisdiction by the Government.

Despite its early setbacks, the TPLF staged a comeback and was on the verge of attacking the capital Addis Ababa. Out of concern for a riot in the capital, on November 2 last year, Abiy Ahmed issued a six-month nationwide state of emergency. He then joined the security forces from the front lines, leading the national troop in combat against the TPLF. The Ethiopian military declared it an existential war and chose to conduct a full-scale attack, seizing control of the entire region except for Tigray.

According to many UN reports, the fighting has caused widespread starvation and child malnutrition in the Tigray region. Additionally, government forces have been charged with preventing aid from getting to the Tigray region. However, Madam Ambassador supplied a list of the following items that the Ethiopian Government had given to the Tigray region:

  • 241,000 metric ton of food
  • 52,645 metric ton non-food items
  • 258,000 metric ton (Medicine)
  • 7,275 (fertiliser)
  • 2.9 billion Ethiopian birr
  • 1,7497,22 litter oil (6631 trucks)
  • 2032 trucks never return

She regretted that, in most international media coverage, her Government's actions are either not mentioned at all or are inaccurately depicted. She stated that despite a unilateral humanitarian truce established by the Government, the TPLF was still aggressively pursued by the international community. She also lamented that the International Community had not publicly accused the TPLF of stealing humanitarian aid, diverting trucks to carry militia members, or enlisting young children in the fighting. Instead, the issue was exacerbated by unverified allegations in the international media.

Although there have been claims that the Ethiopian Government has refused to speak with the rebel group, she stated that the Ethiopian Government has ultimately approved the African Union's appointment of an envoy to the Horn of Africa to assist in peace talks. Rebel parties, however, want the US, UN, and EU to play a more significant role in mediating and claim that the African Union (AU) is backing the Ethiopian Government. The Tigray dispute was on the UNSC's agenda six times when it met behind closed doors. The Ambassador stated that this empowered the TPLF and encouraged it to continue exploiting Tigrayan children, youth, and seniors as human shields in the battle zone.

She provided an update on the current state of affairs by informing that the Government had removed the emergency and released all of the TPLF's key leaders from prison as of January 2021. The Government expressed its preparedness for a humanitarian ceasefire in June 2022 and its unconditional desire to engage in constructive negotiation. On August 24, 2022, the TPLF started the third round of attacks despite its refusal to engage in negotiations. Despite the TPLF's lack of desire for peace, Madam Ambassador said that her Government is still eager to end the conflict amicably. She nonetheless stressed that only the African Union can mediate in a way that respects its territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Madam Ambassador recounted some significant achievements made under PM Abiy Ahmed, including ending the 20-year territorial standoff following the conflict, for which he earned the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. Additionally, the PM invited all political opponents for conversation and freed all political prisoners. The PM also removed internet prohibitions in an effort to increase freedom of expression. In addition to undertaking a number of economic reforms, the PM pledged legal reforms of restrictive legislation, including the anti-terrorism and charities and societies laws. Finally, the PM demonstrated his message of working together by appointing the previous member of the opposition party as chairwoman of the national electoral board of Ethiopia.

Madam Ambassador applauded India's stance on the crisis since India has consistently upheld its moral stand and respect towards Ethiopia's sovereignty and territorial integrity. India framed the situation as an internal matter before the UNSC meeting and suggested an African Union-led diplomatic solution. She thanked the Indian Government on behalf of her administration for the support and friendly relations, noting that India has consistently supported Ethiopia's position at the UNSC and during the UNHRC special session on Ethiopia.

Going forward, there are many ways in which relations between India and Ethiopia can flourish. In the fields of agriculture, education, health, banking, and services, there are many opportunities for enhancing partnerships. There would be more opportunities for trade and investment once the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) got going. Ethiopia's administration is still implementing economic reform while putting a lot of effort into safeguarding and diversifying the economy. As the Ethiopian Government recently liberalised the telecom services and finance industries, easing the entry of multiple foreign players, she expressed her hope that Indian companies would now play a major role in these two sectors. She also cited the 2019-launched Green Legacy Initiative (GLI), which aims to plant 20 billion trees in four years.

Ethiopia also began working on the Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) project in 2018, which intends to set the nation firmly on the path to reaching self-sufficiency in wheat production by 2025. The Ethiopian farmers have many small pieces of land that call for mechanisation. She welcomed the Indian agro-industry to assist Ethiopia in this respect, given that India and Ethiopia share similar geographic features. During the meeting, representatives from Asteria Aerospace Limited described how using drones can help Ethiopia overcome several obstacles, including the utilisation of high-tech in agriculture. And India would be keen to collaborate on these issues. She conveyed her interest and urged them to get in touch with her later in order to connect them with the commercial attaché in the embassy.

Event Date 
September 22, 2022

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