Ethiopia and the AU: Special Responsibilities of a Host Nation

This paper examines Ethiopia’s policy on the African Union (AU), and its predecessor—the OAU. By defining what constitutes a grand strategy, as opposed to an ad hoc approach in pursuing national interest in a multilateral setting, the paper attempts to answer seven fundamental questions: (i) Has Ethiopia ever had a grand strategy regarding the OAU/AU, and if so, what are or were the main tenants of such a grand strategy or policy? (ii) Are there points of convergence and divergence in the policies of the three regimes of Emperor Haile Selassie, Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam, the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Prime Minister Haile Mariam Desalegn in respect of their policies toward the OAU/AU? (iii) The Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy and Strategy (FANSPS) refers to the ‘special responsibilities of Ethiopia’ to the AU. What do ‘special responsibilities’ entail? (iv) Which of Ethiopia’s state institutions currently guide and formulate policies and decisions with regard to the AU and Pan African Community Organizations? (v) How does Ethiopia’s approach to the AU differ from other key regional players such as Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt and Algeria? (vi) if there is such a need, what considerations should Ethiopia take into account in formulating a strategic policy toward the AU? and (vii) by way of policy recommendations, what considerations should Ethiopia take into account in formulating a strategic policy toward the AU?  

Before attempting to answer these questions, the paper first addressed the definition of the term “grand strategy” and also summarized major reviews and critiques about Ethiopia’s influence on the AU/OAU.

In this paper, “grand strategy” refers to integrated long term thinking encapsulating a full-fledged comprehensive normative (policy), institutional, and financial framework that guides and utilises economic, military, technological and intellectual resources in pursuit of national interest. A grand strategy requires a long-term political orientation that clearly stipulates a desirable end state, with identified feasible means and clear directions of achieving the end state based on a realistic and sincere assessment of the existing state of affairs.

A classic example of grand strategy is that of containment during the Cold War.  With regard to the topic at hand, a grand Ethiopian strategy on the AU would mean a clear formulation of the interests of Ethiopia and its ‘desired status’ within the AU and the Pan African community; identification of the requisite economic, military, technological and intellectual resources required for reaching the end state; formulating clear policy directions; and establishing the required institutional mechanisms to achieve the desired end state.  With long-term intent, monitoring trends and exercising foresight may serve as the foundations of a grand strategy.

As in the case of other countries with similar responsibilities, Ethiopia may need to develop a stand-alone policy on the AU. In order to showcase the need for such a policy, the case of Belgium as a host nation is discussed in detail on page 32.  

The article argues that Ethiopia’s policy towards the OAU/AU depended on the personalities and practices of the country’s leaders, and explains why this arbitrary practice should be replaced by a system of institutional and policy-based foreign relations. Partially attributable to the EPRDF-led government’s disproportionately inward looking foreign policy, Ethiopia’s policy toward the AU exhibits a reactive, confined and ad hoc approach. The main domestic anchors of Ethiopia’s foreign policy have been development and stability. Therefore, its foreign policy has focused on ensuring collective security and countering direct external threats to Ethiopia. In contrast to its unmistakably clear policies toward IGAD and its MSs, and in respect of the Nile Basin riparian countries, FANSPS does not bestow the same necessary emphasis on Ethiopia-AU relations.

Nonetheless, despite the absence of a fully-developed policy, throughout the past five decades Ethiopia’s commitment, overall direction and contributions toward the OAU/AU have been those of continuity and consistency. Ethiopia’s current primary areas of focus are the following:

  1. Peace and security – including mediation, peacekeeping, counter insurgency and terrorism;
  2. Leadership within IGAD – IGAD Chairmanship, South Sudan mediation, troop, financial and political contributions to the IGAD and AU, peace support operations, and Refugee Summits;  
  3. Leadership in various AU organs – NEPAD, Peace and Security Council;
  4. Regional integration – aviation connectivity, hydroelectric supply, road and railway networks and cross border trade; and
  5. Representation of Africa’s interests in global forums – such as Group-20, Group-8, climate change negotiations, Forum for China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), African partnership Forums with India and South Korea. Ethiopia is also active in the Africa-South America Summit, Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD V), Afro-Arab Summit, and Annual AGOA Forum.

In conclusion, the article argues that irrespective of the personalities of its leaders and the lack of a stand-alone policy towards the AU or even IGAD, Ethiopia’s influence within the IGAD and the AU will continue to grow due to its history, large population, strategic geographic location, military strength and recent promising economic performance. Apart from its commendable diplomatic, peace and security contributions.  By providing integrative opportunities through its fast construction of transportation and energy infrastructure, (road, rail, air and electricity), Ethiopia has become an engine of regional integration in Africa. Perhaps Ethiopia’s newest and finest contribution to Africa is its inspirational developmental state ideology and its fast-economic growth, despite not being an oil exporter. Ethiopia’s development has sown hopes in Africa and inspired Africans to consider the real possibility of African-led fast economic development without depending on natural resources.

However, the intellectual competence, persuasive skills, Pan-African disposition, personal ambition and trust that Ethiopia’s leader enjoys, at any given time, from the IGAD region and within the Pan-African and international community, will determine what degree of influence the country enjoys within these regional and global governance institutions.

Furthermore, FANSPS is too broad to effectively determine the special responsibilities of Ethiopia as the host nation of the AU Headquarters, Pan African community, and those accredited to the AU. It also fails to clearly identify the specific interests of Ethiopia in the AU and Pan African community. Similarly, the existing Host Country Agreement with the AU, operational directives and commitments under international law are too narrow to constitute an Ethiopian policy towards the AU and the Pan African community.

Hence, in order to maintain and increase Ethiopia’s influence in the AU, in addition to and beyond the personal capacity of its leaders and the country’s excessively inward-looking policy, its vague and ad hoc approach to the AU needs to change.  Ethiopia needs to formulate and implement a strategic stand-alone policy and institutional mechanism governing its relations with the AU. First, a Host Country Policy would enable Ethiopia to effectively govern the special responsibilities of Ethiopia as the host nation of the AU Headquarters, the Pan African community, and those representatives accredited to the AU. Second, such policy would define the specific interests of Ethiopia in the AU and Pan African community. Third, the policy could detail the aims and mechanisms of working through Pan African institutions to promote and defend their interests and also Pan African positions. Fourth, the policy could identify those areas in which Ethiopia, as a founding and active member of the AU and Pan African community, has been making momentous contributions to Africa and the AU, and whatever additional contributions it might make in the future.  

The policy and its institutional framework need to be anchored inwardly, not only to protect but also to promote the interest of Ethiopia and the region at the AU level. Such a policy should also enable Ethiopia, and its capital Addis Ababa, to discharge their “special responsibility” as identified in the FANSPS, not only in servicing the Pan African Community, including Civil Society Organizations working on Pan African issues, but also in setting an example for the rest of Africa in upholding the core values of the AU.

Read the full paper here.