Ambassador Fesseha’s DIPLOMAT Magazine Interview

3 Jun 2019

Ambassador Fesseha is featured in the May/June 2019 edition of DIPLOMAT Magazine.

In an interview with editor Venetia van Kuffeler, the Ambassador discusses his career in diplomacy and his thoughts on relations with the United Kingdom.

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ETHIOPIA’S NEW AMBASSADOR  His Excellency Fesseha Shawel Gebre confesses that this is his first visit to the UK. “And only my third time in Europe! London is a great city – very clean and well organised,” he declares. “The traffic moves so well, and the services, schools and hospitals are impressive. This city has an infrastructure that developing countries want to imitate.” He arrived with his wife, Asegedech Amberber, and two children in February.

For the past 28 years, the Ambassador’s working career has been based in Africa. He has worked all over the continent: Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan and Egypt. “Globally, this area is of interest due to various issues: terrorism, migration, peace and security as well as development. These matters have wider implications for most countries around the world.” His work has been close to the Middle East, “where so many changes are happening.” Plus, these roles involved working on the Nile that travels through 11 countries, creating a great deal of political tension. “I’m proud of the fact that this is my area of specialisation. I feel like I have something to contribute – I can raise awareness on the whole of Africa and the Gulf.”

While serving as Ambassador in South Sudan (2015-18) his role centred around bringing “the country back to normalcy.” He explains, “following South Sudan’s Independence in 2011 there was much jubilation. But unfortunately, the country soon found itself in a terrible civil war. In September 2018, South Sudan signed an agreement, and when I left, we were just in the early stages of implementing it.” He continues: “It was a struggle, but we have silenced the guns to a large extent.” Ethiopia is the current chair of the regional political bloc, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), heading the process internationally. “I think South Sudan, the region and the global community have been happy with our leadership,” he comments. “My government has done their best and I’m proud of my contribution to the process.”

As Deputy Chief of Cabinet at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr Gebre observed how decision-making is carried out at the highest levels of government. He is optimistic that this will help inform his “understanding of how the British process works. Then I can respond accordingly to improve relations.”

Mr Gebre believes he starts from a strong position: “Diplomatic relations with the UK go back over 400 years. We have been through good and bad times, but relations are excellent now. We must get these to a higher level.” One of his priorities is to have his Prime Minister visit the UK and meet with top officials, and the highest UK officials visit Ethiopia – Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, was in Ethiopia at the start of May as part of his visit to Africa, where he joined the celebrations of World Press Freedom Day in Addis Ababa. Likewise, he plans to get many UK business people and tourists to Ethiopia and vice versa.  “We must exchange and trade; this is the bilateral relationship in all its aspects.” Furthermore, he must safeguard the rights of the 40,000 plus Ethiopians living in the UK. “I must check that they are assimilating well, so they contribute to their family, region and country.”

With regards to Brexit, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been clear with his mandate: “whether the UK is inside or outside the EU, we must work to strengthen our relationship. We want this sorted out as soon as possible, so the UK can get some focus.”

Mr Gebre concedes that his region “is full of instability. Ethiopia must mitigate that impact, by creating positive cross-border relationships to ensure peace and understanding in the region. This should later develop into economic integration founded on physical and social infrastructure.”

But for the Ambassador, the day the current Prime Minister was elected in Ethiopia in April 2018 was a game-changer. “Ethiopia was at a crossroads, and his winning was a landmark in our history. The country has never had a leader as popular; I sometimes compare him to Nelson Mandela.”  During their first year in office, the government have had a number of successes.  “We have achieved a cordial relationship with our neighbour Eritrea, which over the past two decades, many have referred to as ‘the frozen conflict.’ My Prime Minister wants to be a bridge between Eritrea and other countries in the region. I think he’s progressing well. The region is calming down, but we still have a lot to do.”

Source: DIPLOMAT Magazine

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