‘Focus Africa Programme, which is the precursor of IAFS, was initiated by BJP in 2002’

Former education minister of Ethiopia, and one of the most articulate members of Delhi’s diplomatic community, Gennet Zewide shares her views with Hardnews on how traditional ties between her country and India could be strengthened 

Sadiq Naqvi New Delhi 

What are your expectations from the new BJP government?

Ethiopia and India are two ancient civilisations whose relations go back to the first century, when Indian traders brought silk and spices to Abyssinia (the former name of Ethiopia) and took back gold and ivory to India.

Today, the engagement of the two countries has expanded to multi-sectorial activities of trade and investment, capacity building, technology transfer, and so on. There are many Indians who have invested in areas of textiles, leather, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, agro processing, manufacturing, hospitalities, with a capital of $5 billion. Actually, Indians are the second highest investors in Ethiopia.  Many Indian professors teach in Ethiopian universities; likewise, many Ethiopian students are pursuing their education in Indian Institutes of Technology, Science and Management, under both Ethiopian and Indian scholarships. Our trade has increased from a mere $300,000 a few years ago, to close to $1 billion today. Therefore, it is my hope and desire that the multi-sectorial activities that the two countries have engaged with will be further multiplied as the new government is keen to have good relations with Africa. The multiple sectors in which Africa and India are engaged at continental, regional and bi-lateral levels as expressed in the I and II India Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) are demonstrations of a cooperation and partnership based on mutual interest. In fact, the Focus Africa Programme, which is the precursor of the IAFS, was initiated by the BJP in 2002 when it was in power. Thus, I expect a more stretched and enhanced engagement in the next IAFS III which will be held in December 2014. 

How is the turbulence in the Middle East affecting African nations, especially ones that have a sizeable Muslim population?

Africa is the closest continent to the Middle East. North Africa is not only close to the Middle East geographically but also linked to the region through culture, language and religion. Similarly, the Horn of Africa, where Ethiopia is located, shares history, culture and economic links with the region.

Political turbulence has claimed and is still claiming thousands of lives in Syria, Israel-Palestine, and Iraq where attempts for brokering ceasefires have repeatedly failed. Whatever is happening in the Middle East has a direct and/or indirect impact on Africa as Africans living in the Middle East are affected by the war and our business and trade relations are vulnerable and so on.

Despite the fact that Islam as a religion is a peaceful one, it is wrongly and unjustifiably associated with terrorism and fundamentalism where peaceful followers of the religion are  stereotyped as terrorists. Of course, any act of terrorism is criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of the motivation by whosoever is committed. But labelling followers of Islam as terrorists without distinction has negative consequences in many African nations, my country included, that have a sizeable Muslim population since it is groundless and intolerable. For instance, the followers of the two major religions in my country (Christianity and Islam) lived together amicably in harmony and peace for centuries and are still living as such.

But terrorist and fundamentalists movements operating in neighbouring countries like Somalia have tried several times to disrupt our peace. So far, we have contained them and are focusing on our development agenda of inclusive economic growth, establishing good governance and deepening democracy where ethnic, religious and gender equality is recognised and respected.  I believe that economic development, where people, regardless of their ethnic and religious origin, participate and benefit, is a fundamental element to ward off terrorism.

But terrorism in all its form and manifestation constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security. Therefore, it should be tackled not only by one country, region or continent but internationally. 

What should be done to contain violence in  neighbouring South Sudan? How is it affecting Ethiopia?

South Sudan’s political situation is still fragile, although a cessation of hostilities agreement has been signed by the government of South Sudan and the Opposition. There are still challenges in the implementation of the agreement. Of course, when violence erupts in any country it affects not only the people of that country but also its neighbours. As an immediate neighbour of South Sudan, we are affected by the situation as the property and lives of many Ethiopians who lived in South Sudan have become vulnerable, many South Sudanese have fled to Ethiopia as refugees, and so on. The Intergovernmental Agency for Development (IGAD), which is  East Africa’s regional trade bloc whose member countries are Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Djibouti, Sudan and South Sudan, is mediating between the South Sudan government and the Opposition to bring about a lasting peace.  Ethiopia, as current chair of IGAD, is playing an important role and the chief mediator, Ambassador Seyoum Mesfin, a seasoned diplomat who understands the situation of the region very well, is also an Ethiopian.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: AUGUST 2014