A burgeoning diplomacy

Yerlik Ali is Ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the Republic of Kazakhstan to Ethiopia. Kazakhstan, a former autonomous republic within the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), is the world's largest landlocked country by land area and the largest economy in Central Asia. It possesses enormous oil reserves as well as minerals and metals. It also has a considerable agricultural potential accommodating both livestock and grain production. Kazak-Ethiopian diplomatic relations are of recent history. According to historical records, formal diplomatic relations between the two nations began to take shape only after 2011 pursuant to Kazakhstan’s foreign policy orientation of expanding foreign relations with African countries. However, Kazakhstan’s plan to be represented by an ambassador in Ethiopia materialized only in 2014 when the country opened its first embassy in Africa in Addis Ababa. Kazak-Ethiopian relations went a step further In December 2013 with the visit of a high-level delegation led by the  minister of foreign affairs of Kazakhstan to Ethiopia when the two sides held discussions to further strength relations of mutual cooperation between the two countries. A year since its establishment, Asrat Seyoum of The Reporter held a brief interview  with the ambassador via email regarding the progress made in the fields of diplomatic and economic cooperation Excerpts:       

The Reporter: It appears that Kazakhstan’s foreign policy direction has taken a turn after the so-called Kazakhstan's new Foreign Policy Concept for 2014-2020. In this your government made the decision to diversify foreign contacts in the context of national interest and Africa is one of the regions this policy identified as important. Would you explain the logic behind this decision?

Yerlik Ali: Yes, it’s true that Kazakhstan’s Foreign Policy Concept for 2014–2020 is based on the principles of multi-vector, balance, pragmatism, mutual benefit, and solid defense of its national interests.

Indeed, this program document envisages the expansion of relations with the African continent, the development of political and economic cooperation with African nations and international organizations like the African Union.

The logic behind this decision is pretty simple. Given the fact that Africa today plays an important role in the international political arena, Kazakhstan is interested in developing both bilateral and multilateral relations with African countries.

And what is Kazakhstan’s national interest in Africa and in Ethiopia in particular?

As I said before, building relations with African countries occupies an important role in Kazakhstan’s foreign policy. This is because Africa is the world's second-largest and second-most-populous continent that plays a very important role in the international political arena. Moreover, it is one of the fastest-growing regions in the world with high GDP growth, rich deposits of natural resources and good demography. It’s a rising force within the global economy and it is already showing all the characteristics of the next powerhouse of global growth. In this vein, I would like to point out that receiving observer status in the AU allows Kazakhstan develop mutually friendly and beneficial relations with all African countries.

As for Ethiopia, we regard this country as our close partner in Africa, in which the country plays an important political role as the headquarters  of many international and multinational organizations, including the African Union.

Ethiopia has big potentials and we hope to develop trade and economic cooperation with Addis Ababa.

Formal diplomatic relations between the two countries started in 2011 and the opening of the Kazak embassy came into effect in 2014. Can you highlight the major achievements in the diplomatic arena since the launching of the embassy in Addis Ababa?

The diplomatic relations between our countries, were, in fact, established in 2011. Since that time, cooperation between Kazakhstan and Ethiopia has witnessed progress in the political field.

An impetus to Kazakhstani-Ethiopian relations led to the official visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Yerlan Idrissov, to Addis Ababa in 2013. The same year, Kazakhstan was granted a status of the first Observer country from the Central Asian region of the African Union. In December 2014, Kazakhstan opened its Embassy in Addis Ababa and appointed a Permanent Representative to the African Union Commission.

From my perspective, these facts clearly demonstrate the beginning of Kazakhstan's diplomatic achievements in Africa. And I hope to see more achievements in the future.          

In 2013, Kazakhstan put forward its candidacy for a seat as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the 2017-2018 period. Could you possibly be lobbying  African countries for their votes? Why the UNSC in general, and why now?

Well, let me try to answer it this way. As you might know, today the world faces a number of new threats and challenges, such as international terrorism, the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), trans-national organized crime, regional conflicts, religious extremism, drug trafficking, illegal migration, etc. There are also global environmental problems, the challenges of climate change, poverty and diseases such as HIV/AID, Ebola virus and malaria. All of these problems affect not only individual countries, but the whole world community that have to work together to cope with those new challenges and threats.

The Republic of Kazakhstan, as a member of the international community, has entered the third decade of its independence as an established and politically stable state with a dynamically developing economy, the largest in Central Asia. Kazakhstan is widely regarded as a committed member of the international community.

With a view to making its own contribution to solving global security issues, Kazakhstan has put forward its candidacy for a seat as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the 2017-2018 period, given the fact that this is one of the most influential UN organizational structures. And Kazakhstan’s candidacy was put forward in accordance with the principles of a fair and equitable geographic rotation and adequate representation of all member states of the Asia Pacific group on the UN Security Council.

From my side, I would like to assure Ethiopian readers that if Kazakhstan gains a non-permanent seat in this powerful UN structure, it will do its best to promote the interests of African countries in the UN. This is our mission in your country.

Astana is also preparing to host the international specialized exhibition EXPO 2017, which is dedicated to climate change and sustainable development, and hence global technologies in the sphere of renewable energy sources will assume centre stage. What is you government’s position on the overall climate change and carbon emission debate?

Actually, in its domestic and foreign policies, Kazakhstan gives a big priority to global climate change and environmental protection issues. This is because our country has been aware of the need to confront the coming climate crisis that might have a huge negative impact on Kazakhstan’s sustainable development. In other words, global climate change holds a lot of problems for Kazakhstan, with its sharply continental climate.

Therefore, Kazakhstan, at the international level, acts as an active participant in international conventions, agreements and projects, the most important of which is the Kyoto Protocol. In this respect, Kazakhstan thinks that it’s necessary to continue the process of ratifying this Protocol. At present, Kazakhstan plans to continue work in this direction, with the support of the world community.

From its side, Kazakhstan strives to make its own particular contribution in the efforts of the world community to realize the policy, aimed at the stabilization concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

According to the initiative of our President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, we developed a global energy-environment strategy for sustainable development in the 21st century and the “Green Bridge” partnership program. Both of these programs are aimed at the transition of Kazakhstan to a "green economy" in order to improve the management and efficient use of resources (water, land, biological and other fields), as well as to raise environmental quality and improve the population’s welfare. Moreover, they are aimed at strengthening  partnership between public and private sectors in Europe, Asia and the Pacific, civil and international organizations to implement programs and plans to promote "green growth".

To the issues of climate change and sustainable environmental development is dedicated the International specialized exhibition EXPO 2017, that will be held in Astana (capital of Kazakhstan) from June 10 to September 10, 2017. This exhibition will be the first in the Commonwealth of Independent States region and will serve as a platform for discussion and presentation of the best global technologies in the sphere of renewable energy sources. Kazakhstan is expecting more than 100 participating states and international organizations, as well as nearly five million visits to the Exhibition.

You are planning to embark upon a green economic growth strategy in the near future. But, Kazakhstan’s economic miracle is based on the major energy and extractive sectors such as oil and gas and minerals like coal and uranium. However, aren’t these sectors the most ungreen economic activities anybody can think of? How can that go well with the green strategy?

First of all, let me note that energy sustainability is a critical challenge facing the international community, from promoting energy security, tackling energy poverty and meeting the increasing threats of climate change. As a major energy producer, Kazakhstan understands first-hand that global leadership and coordinated action is required to address these global issues.

That is why we are so eager to make a meaningful contribution to the global energy agenda by hosting EXPO 2017 and developing domestic programs in the field of environmental protection.

In a way, for a county like Kazakhstan, is it shooting itself in the foot to aggressively promote the so-called green economic path since your economy is benefiting from such sectors? Elaborate on this please.

It’s true that conventional energy sources are the pillars of our economic development.

However, we are fully aware of the fact that they will run out one day. And it can be aware of this even through the recent and outgoing fall of oil prices.  

For this reason, as I mentioned before, we are now making efforts to implement environmentally friendly programs. That’s what we do in terms of promoting a Green Economy in our country.

Is Kazakhstan primarily an FDI destination or an investor itself? What is the potential that Ethiopia offers for Kazak investor, if there is any?

Well, on the one hand, Kazakhstan is a country that attracts foreign investors, on the other , Kazakhstan is currently becoming an investor by itself.

Kazakhstan has, in recent years, become one of the largest outward investors from the Commonwealth of Independent States region. Most of Kazakhstan’s direct investments abroad go to the energy, banking, construction and tourism sector. The total stock of Kazakhstan's direct investments abroad amounted by 2013 to an estimated USD 25.5 billion. It places the country among the 50 largest investors worldwide.

As for your country, I would like to note that Kazakhstan and Ethiopia have a great potential for expanding their bilateral cooperation in the spheres of mining, agriculture, infrastructure, medicine, trade and education.

Last Thursday, our Embassy held a special event, dedicated to Kazakhstan’s priorities in the UN Security Council for 2017-2018. On the occasion of this event, Addis Ababa was visited by the Deputy Minister of foreign affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Askar Mussinov. By holding this event, Kazakhstan is willing to enhance bilateral and multilateral cooperation with both Ethiopia and other African states.  

From my side, as an Ambassador of Kazakhstan to Ethiopia, I want to assure Ethiopian readers that we will do our best to enhance economic cooperation between our two countries. That’s what we are here for.

In 2013, the Ethiopian state-owned Metal and Engineering Corporation (MeTEC) started to forge alliances with some Kazak companies for possible partnership in the manufacturing sector. The state wealth fund Samruk-Kazayana was one such group showing interest to work with MeTEC. What progress have these companies made in the investment arena? If not progressing, what happened?

Indeed, the Joint Stock Company Sovereign Wealth Fund “Samruk-Kazyna” and the Metal and Engineering Corporation (METEC) have signed a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in 2013.

This document envisages development of cooperation between Kazakhstan and Ethiopia in the fields of oil/gas exploration, infrastructural development, industrial production, civil construction, information and communication technologies, etc.

As of today, we expect the visit to Addis Ababa of the Kazakhstani delegation for holding substantive negations about these issues with the Ethiopian side.

This week, your country celebrates its Constitution Day. Some 22 years since its adoption, can you explain how the constitution helped Kazakhstan achieve stability and economic progress?

Kazakhstan celebrated Constitution Day on August 30, 2015. This event is one of the most important state holidays in our country.

The Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan was instrumental in ensuring accelerated economic reforms and maintaining political stability and social accord in Kazakhstan. This is because this universal law has established the principles of building independent, sovereign, economically liberal and democratic Kazakhstan.

Without the Constitution, we would have never achieved the progress we now have in the political and economic development of our country over the 25 years of its independence. 

Therefore, the Constitution is generally regarded as a pledge of our economic, political and social success.