UK’s point of view

Ambassador Greg Dorey is the British Ambassador to Ethiopia, Djibouti (non-resident) and British Permanent Representative to the African Union and the UN Economic Commission for Africa. Prior to his assignment to Ethiopia, Ambassador Dorey served as Ambassador to Hungary. He was also posted to Hungary as First Secretary (Political and Economic) between 1989 and 1992, during one of the most interesting periods of modern Hungarian history. During his career in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), he also served as Counselor (dealing with Economic, Commercial, Development and Media issues) at the British High Commission in Islamabad in 1996, where he became Deputy High Commissioner in 1998. In 2000, Mr Dorey then became Deputy Head of Mission in the British Consulate General in Hong Kong, initially coupling this role with that of Director of Trade and Investment and subsequently with that of Deputy Consul General (Political/Economic). He was appointed to head the Ethiopian mission in 2011, a job he has been carrying out until now. Last week, the ambassador sat down with Asrat Seyoum of the Reporter to discuss a range of political issues which includes the recent Ethiopian election, the capture and imprisonment of Andargachew Tsige and trade and investment. Excerpts:        

What is your take on the recent election in which the ruling party won all the 547 seats in parliament? Would you characterize it as free, fair and credible?

I think it is a pity that we couldn’t observe that election. First of all, The European Union (EU), which observed election[s] in Ethiopia in 2005 and 2010, was not invited this time; we needed an invitation. If you are going to have an observation mission it needs cooperation from the government. It was clear that the government did not want the EU observation mission to come on this occasion. Very unusually, diplomats were [are] not allowed to observe election [s here]. Though, peculiarly, it seems ok for the African Union (AU) mission to have diplomats as part of the election observation mission. I have observed elections in many other places such as Pakistan even in the remote tribal areas but not permitted here. So, we don’t have first-hand information on what went on. I think we will wait until we hear the official announcement of results and I expect we will then comment [the interview was conducted last week]. But we have some concerns especially regarding the relative lack of political space in the run-up to the election. It is starting to sound as if the ruling party and its allies will have a 100 percent of the seats in parliament. And I think that is not good for democracy; that is what you get in places like North Korea. But actually in Ethiopia you need some diversity of opinion in parliament. But, that is not to say that the current government is doing a bad job when it comes to development; it is doing a good job overall. However, in a democracy, it is health[y] to have somebody who is articulating alternative views. And in the previous parliament one out of 547 MPs seemed a bit inadequate. I think it would be a sign of Ethiopia growing and developing and being part of the global democratic family, if in the future we see rather more substantial opposition within parliament, I think that will be good for the country. I am not in a position to comment on allegations of electoral abuses, as I said we did not observe. However, I think if the government has got 100 percent of the seats in parliament, it will be very important to ensure that in the coming years, those people who voted for other parties, and I do think a lot of people voted for other parties, feel that they have a say in the running of the country; and that their views are represented at the highest level. That would be important for the stability and sustainability of the future.

But the government narrative says that the EU decided not to send an election observation mission citing resources limitation, finance being one of the limitations. Is that not right?

We have around seventeen or eighteen elections happening in Africa this year. So, yes we do have financial limitation[s covering] all these election. But, in the case of Ethiopia, we never even got to that stage as we never got an invitation. You need time to plan these things. And actually, we got the message from a high level that we were not welcome. So, actually, we had to take the decision; if we’re not welcome in Ethiopia, we have to put our resources elsewhere. It is more complicated than the message that you heard from the government. Yes, there’s a resource issue but that was not what determined things here. As I have mentioned earlier, EU observation mission in 2005 and 2010 made a number of recommendations which were sort of rejected by the government here and overall were not implemented. So, you also have to take into account that if you’re going to have an elections observation mission, and its views are not really embraced by the receiving government, perhaps there will be other countries that will be more open to the usefulness of the EU Election Observation Mission.

How about the contribution of the opposition parties themselves in the outcome of the election? Commentators also argue that opposition parties have themselves to blame for the result, they being fragmented and weak, especially comparing them with those opposition parties in 2005. What is your view on this?

Obviously that is part of the problem in terms of not having an election that could produces more diverse result. The other aspect is the first-past-the-post system which we also have in the UK. And here it meant that although there [were] lot[s] of votes for the opposition that has not been translated into seats in the way [a] proportional representation system would. But, I do witness a degree of fragmentation amongst the opposition parties. And this is really something for them to consider over the next few years and to try to decide whether working together might produce a better result. Yes, if there are a lot of parties that split the vote then that would clearly undermine their chances of success.

Are you of the view that the first-past-the-post system is not suitable for conditions in Ethiopia?

No, I think it is for each country to decide what system it wants. And whatever system you have got, you have got to try and work within that system. I think you should not be thinking of changing a system simply to benefit a specific group. But, one way or the other, you need to have an opportunity within a country for diverse opinion to be expressed because otherwise it is a destabilizing factor. So, I wouldn’t want to say Ethiopia should have this system or that. But somehow you need a system which allows people as a whole to be properly represented.  I just want to stick with the general point I made that it is healthy in a democracy for a variety of views to be expressed. If you don’t get that variety of views expressed, then it puts a lot of pressure on the system and can create instability.

Last year your government decided to divert financial support channeled to program called security and governance in Ethiopia under its DFID Ethiopia portfolio. The speculations are that the decision was based on a Human Right Watch report on Ethiopia and to some extent based on the capture and imprisonment of Andargachew Tsega. Can you clarify this?

I can say first of all that the DFID program in many countries is based on a set of partnership principles which will include human rights issues but not individual consular cases. So, it was not related to the Andargachew case. What has happened is that there was always an intention to move out of Protection of Basic Services (PBS) program and into economic development activities which will be more valuable in the longer-term. And that process has been accelerated as a result of a specific decision. The decision to accelerate was an outcome of a number of considerations including the view that this is a better use of DFID’s resources, and, of course, concern about the condition of civil and political rights in Ethiopia; in a general sense not specifically related to the case you have mentioned.

Because he was a British citizen, your government have been diplomatically engaged with its Ethiopian counterpart regarding the fate of Andargachew Tsega. What is the latest in the case of Andargachew?

First of all, I should make it clear that I am limited about what I can say about this case because we don’t comment on the details of consular cases. We are providing a consular assistance and we are in very close touch with the family. We don’t comment on the details of consular cases since we don’t want to say anything that is not being said to the family. Since his capture, I have seen Andargachew three times and I’m hoping to see him [again]'before too long. And what else can I say?...We are concerned to make sure that he is being treated properly. And that is the purpose of consular visiting. Although Ethiopia is not a signatory to the Vienna Convention on consular relations yet, which [I don’t know why but] hope it will be one day, it is of course signatory to UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and it is bound by the covenant and what it says about the treating of people in prison. So, there are certain sets of standards which apply in this case and, of course, in the case of all detainees.

But obviously your concern about this case is not like treating any other detainee in the country; you have special interest because he is your citizen

We have specific concerns and duties when there is a British citizen in prison abroad. The British public expects us to make sure that such people are being treated properly and according to international standards. I have a separate concern about human rights in general. Of course, we participate in a number of international bodies including the [UN] human rights council which want to strengthen human rights standards throughout the world. So, if there were stories about mistreatment of people in any county that would be of interest to us. And we would want to express concerns if basic standards were not being followed.

In the case of Andargachew, would you say these basic standards are fulfilled? Is he being treated properly and up to your standards?

I am unwilling to comment on that because of the restrictions I said earlier about individual consular cases and the family.

There are people who argue that Andargachew being politically involved in Ethiopia does not leave a lot of room for UK to do the bidding on the behaviour of its citizen. Where does Andargachews political activity put you in this regard?

Generally, I cannot at this moment comment on what he was doing or not doing and, of course, this might be something which is subject to future legal proceedings. But it doesn’t matter what any British citizen who is in jail in another country has done. That is completely irrelevant to the issue of consular access and about treating individuals in line with basic standards.

Are you saying it does not make any difference if your citizens were implicated in serious crimes like terrorist activities?

In terms of visiting the individual and ensuring their health is being looked after, their basic needs of life are being catered for it would not make the slightest difference at all. Also to make clear, in all circumstances, we oppose the death penalty. We would always take issue with the use of the death penalty and argue against it. We don’t believe the death penalty serves a good purpose in any circumstances.

Recently countries like the US have come out to denounce groups like Ginbot 7, the group that Andargachew was affiliated to, and others labeled as terror organizations by the Ethiopian parliament. What would the position of the UK be regarding these organizations?

Im not sure that I have seen that particular wording …

It was the sense of the recent statement by Windy Sherman, undersecretary of US State department...

 I believe she said that the US does not support Ginbot 7 and I can say the same thing. Of course, we do not support Ginbot 7 or groups like it. And neither has Ginbot 7 been proscribed as a terrorist group in the UK; because we have not seen the evidence that would be considered suitable in a British environment to proscribe the group. But, we don’t support any group that seeks the overthrow of a legitimate government. I know that Wendy Sherman’s statement was not always reflected accurately in the media. So, to be honest, I don’t know exactly what she said but I do not believe that the position of the US government is in substance any different from that of the UK government.

In the bilateral support arena the UK has been standing out as the largest partner to Ethiopia for the past four-five years. But, this prowess is not reflected in the trade or investment sectors, especially compared with some of the aggressive emerging economies like China and Turkey, why is that?

 First of all, we do not use development assistance as some other countries do to promote British business. We do use it to try and improve the environment for business and investment overall, but we don’t link that to British firms getting assistance contracts. We are looking at development assistance in a more detached way and we’re considering how best it will benefit the economy. There are some British companies that have been doing business with Ethiopia for the past 100 years or more. So, some companies have quite a longstanding relationship with Ethiopia. But it is also true to say that some five or six years ago there was not a huge amount of British investment in Ethiopia in absolute terms. But from that low base, we can say that it has taken off dramatically. Now, companies like Diageo and Uniliver have come to Ethiopia. We are interested in renewable energy and there are some British investors in that area and I think there will be more once the legislation is in place that they would be comfortable with. We have companies working on oil exploration and [the] mineral extraction sector where they have invested a lot of capital which we hope will pay large dividends for the economy in the future. We also have well-known British outsourcing companies which are coming to buy textiles, coffee and food from Ethiopia. So, I think there are quite a wide range of economic activities going on. We are trying to encourage some suitable British Companies to come here. And I think investment will grow in the future. But British companies that have not yet entered the market will look very carefully at how the companies that are here already are treated. I think the British companies that are here already take a long-term view, they believe in Ethiopia’s very good future, they believe that the economy is going to develop in a very positive way. Yes it is a market which is not the easiest in the world; it takes quite a lot of patience. But they know that and they are prepared to work with it. And overall, you will see British investment in the economy increasing continually in the future.

How do the British companies view the emerging markets of Africa? Do British multinationals consider the African markets to be the next ground for competition because many are?

I don’t think it is an issue in that sense. If you look at historic stock of investment in Africa, Britain is still the biggest investor in the continent. Though if you are looking at new investment, then that is less true and you will see China, Turkey and India coming in. In Ethiopia, we are starting from a relatively low base. Yes, we are interested in Africa. It is projected to be the fastest-growing continent in world and we want to be part of that and get involved. Sometimes we will be competing with other countries. In Ethiopia, we certainly haven’t got into that stage yet. I think there is more than enough opportunities to go around. We are looking to work with other countries’ companies perhaps in a consortium or similar arrangements. I can see that happening in Ethiopia.

In terms of reform, especially with regard to regulations, what do you see needs to change?

I think that companies that come here, not just British companies, spend an awful lot of time dealing with bureaucracy. And this is inhibiting investment. It puts some investors off completely and it can take up a lot of time of investors who are already here, that would have been better spent on growing the investment, boosting jobs or ensuring transfer of technology. Of course, some regulations are very good if they are genuinely making Ethiopia healthier or a safer place. You need a regulation that is transparent and understood by everybody. But the regulations also need to be as simple as possible. My understanding is that at the moment Ethiopia is overregulated. There are regulations which do not serve a useful purpose for either the government or the investors or the people in general. I think at some point someone should carry out the review of regulations and decide what is actually useful and what isn’t. Perhaps if new regulations have to be introduced then there should be an obligation to come up with a business case that demonstrates clearly why those new regulations are actually beneficial for the country because, at the moment, regulation is a constraining factor.

Is visa and travel one of these issues because we have heard recent reports that you have to go to the authorities to complain on the Ethiopian visa process?

I am conscious that our visa system is probably not one of the easiest in the world but it is pretty clear and transparent. If we ever make a change we advertise that change very widely so at least people can understand that change and work with it. The vast majority of people who apply for visas to the UK get those visas. And these are people who have completed the documentation properly and people who have been truthful in their applications. Yes, some people don’t get their visas. That’s because a number of people in different categories and different countries go to the UK and then they don’t leave. They destroy their documentation and overstay. So, we believe that it is politically right to have a rigorous system that checks people out before we give the visas. What happened here a few months ago is suddenly more expensive visas were introduced; I don’t have a problem with the expense but the new rules were not clear and that they were being interpreted differently in different places around the world. And all of a sudden, business people were given a month’s visa as opposed to three month’s visa. And the date in the visa was the date of application and by the time you get here they have few days left in their visa and they have to leave. For a country that is trying to attract foreign investment that is problematic. And I should say that we are a country that does not issue diplomatic passports to everybody. Our senior officials and parliamentarians do not have diplomatic passports. So, this is not just our businesspeople who are suddenly facing visa regulations that didn’t meet their business needs at all, but it’s actually affecting our officials who want to come here to transact business. But Prime Minister Halemariam Desalegn has said that this system would be sorted out and whatever comes in the future will be business friendly.

But your embassy in Ethiopia, perhaps one of the oldest embassies in the continent, has discontinued processing visa altogether and you have moved the visa centre to South Africa. What is the logic there?

 Partly it is financially driven because the security requirements of our visas are quite high these days. And actually issuing the visas is a specialist and expensive task. So, around the world, we are what we call [hubbing] the visa operations. In Africa now our only mission that issues visas is in Pretoria, South Africa. We have a visa application centre in Addis where people after they’ve applied online can go to that centre to hand in their passport and get their visa. But, the passport has to go to Pretoria physically and back. And in normal circumstances that would take a maximum of three weeks. But, it’s driven by cost and technology; it’s not that Ethiopia has been discriminated against in some way. This is what is happening in the world where we are centralizing our visa issuing operation.

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