Ethiopia at the UN General Assembly

30 Sep 2019

September is that time of the year when the eyes of the world turn to New York, as global leaders and change-makers gather to take part in the General Debate that marks the opening of the latest session of the UN General Assembly.

A high-level delegation, led by President Sahle-Work Zewde, arrived in New York to participate at the 74th Session of the General Assembly, which opened on 17th September. The first day of the high-level General Debate started on 24th September under the theme “Galvanizing multilateral efforts for poverty eradication, quality education, climate action and inclusion”.

Ms Zewde is the first female president of Ethiopia and is currently the only female serving Head of State in Africa.


…President Sahle-Work addresses General Debate

On 26th September, President Sahle-Work delivered her maiden speech, since being elected President of Ethiopia in October last year, at the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly.

Introduced to the Assembly by Ethiopia’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Taye Atske Selassie, President Sahle-Work delivered her speech in Amharic, Ethiopia’s working language.

In her address, President Sahle-Work outlined the major political, legal and economic reforms that have been introduced to the country since April 2018, when Prime Minister Abiy assumed office.

“We have widened the political space releasing political prisoners and journalists, invited exiled political parties to return home and pursue peaceful struggle.”

Electoral, anti-terrorism and Civil Society laws have also been revised, she added.

“As we look ahead [to] the elections next year, these reforms, particularly the widening of the political space, have built a solid foundation for lasting democratic order,” she said.

The government has also initiated liberalisation of the economy, building on a decade of sustained growth and launched a homegrown economic reform agenda to address emerging macroeconomic imbalances and resolve structural bottlenecks, including the ease of doing business. and to stimulate private sector growth.

Inclusivity has been a core element of the reforms, she said. “We are taking firm steps to institutionalise this reform addressing the huge gap in gender parity including at the highest levels of government.”

She also noted the historic rapprochement between Ethiopia and Eritrea that ended a 20-year state of war, saying that this was a “clear demonstration of the capacity of Africans to solve their problems through constructive dialogue.”

Ethiopia is committed to implementing the sustainable development agendas and the Paris climate agreement, she said.

With regards to Ethiopia constructing the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the River Nile, President Sahle-Work reiterated that this was mainly to generate hydroelectric power for the nearly 65 million Ethiopians who do not have electricity.

“The utilisation of the Nile waters offers a unique opportunity for our trans-boundary cooperation between the sisterly countries of the region. It should never be an object of competition and mistrust.”

“Ethiopia strongly believes that the utilisation of the Nile River shall be based on the principles of equitable and reasonable utilisation of natural resources causing no significant harm”, she noted.


…meeting with UN Secretary-General

On the sidelines of the UN Assembly, President Sahle-Work met with the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres. They discussed developments in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa region. The Secretary-General commended Ethiopia for its significant contribution to promoting peace and security in the region, particularly Prime Minister Abiy’s mediation in the Sudan crisis, and emphasized the need to pursue the same with South Sudan.

President Sahle-Work highlighted the success of political, legal and economic reforms in Ethiopia over the last year and a half, and reiterated Ethiopia’s commitment to supporting the peace process in South Sudan and the peaceful settlement of the situation between Eritrea and Djibouti.

President Sahle-Work, a former member of senior UN leadership, expressed pleasure at re-engaging with the UN in her capacity as Head of State and promised to positively consider the Secretary-General’s invitation to join his circle of leadership on Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse.




Alongside the customary speeches from heads of state, important high-level summits and meetings also took place, covering many of the key issues facing today’s world including the Climate Action Summit; the first-ever High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage; the Sustainable Development Goals Summit (the first of its kind since the Agenda was adopted in 2015) and the High-Level Dialogue on Financing for Development.


…Ethiopia takes leading role at Climate Action Summit

On a personal request by the UN Secretary-General, Ethiopia, Denmark and Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) co-led the Energy Transition Track at the Climate Action Summit. The three partners hosted the Energy Action Forum on 22nd September, bringing together 200 of the world’s top stakeholders to accelerate the energy transition agenda ahead of the summit.

President Sahle-Work emphasized the critical role of climate funding to transform national markets and accelerate investment for an effective energy transition.

She said the financial gap between the commitments and the actual support provided so far underlines the challenges to be faced ahead.

“The need is very clear. Equally stark is the need for funding. I must re-emphasize the critical importance of funding for climate change adaptation and mitigation. To reach the 840 million people in need requires very considerable and sustainable commitment from all sources.”

The president also reinforced the need to make faster progress on energy access while supporting climate action, saying, “Winning the race against climate change is about building prosperity and well-being for everyone. The energy transition is critical not only to meet the Paris Agreement, but to ensure that we ‘leave no one behind’ in terms of delivering sustainable energy access for those millions who do not have it today – particularly those vulnerable populations across Africa.”

Citing Ethiopia’s effective implementation of various programmes to achieve sufficient, affordable, modern and renewable energy, the President announced a major coalition initiative that the country was leading on raising urban and rural electricity access from the current 44% to 100% by 2025.

“The total cost of the programme is around $6.5 billion, about a billion dollars a year. So far, we have only been able to secure a very small portion of what is needed for one year. Nevertheless, the programme has started well and the World Bank has been replicating our least-cost energy transition approach in other developing countries.”

The President also shared Ethiopia’s success in planting a world record 350 million trees within 12 hours. This, the President added, would contribute to the fight against climate change.

In the lead up to the Climate Action Summit, the UN Youth Climate Summit took place on 21st September. Ethiopia’s youth representative, Yared Abera, proudly told the world to follow Ethiopia’s bold action in the fight against climate change, which will see the country plant 4 billion trees by the end of the rainy season in October.


…Political Commitment Key to Expanding Health Service Coverage

While addressing the High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage (UHC), the President shared Ethiopia’s commitment to the right of all people to access quality health care regardless of their ability to pay and economic circumstances.

Ethiopia has invested heavily in the health sector by engaging relevant sectors. Reforms to upgrade health systems and develop sustainable financing towards Universal Health Coverage have been undertaken.

This meeting, held under the theme “Universal Health Coverage: Moving Together to Build a Healthier World,” aimed at accelerating progress towards universal health coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to good quality safe, effective and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all.


…UNESCO launches Futures of Education global initiative

UNESCO launched the Futures of Education initiative during a high-level event at the Assembly on 25th September.  The initiative aims to reconsider how knowledge and learning can contribute to the common good of humanity, said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay.

Speaking at the launch event, President Sahle-Work said, “UNESCO has an important role to play in visioning and strategizing on what should be the role and purposes of education…This new initiative brings that global intellectual leadership into a new era. As we face the profound challenges and exciting opportunities before us, we have a deep obligation to listen to children and youth and fully involve them in decisions about the future of our shared planet.”

The establishment of an independent International Commission on the Futures of Education was announced during the launch. Under the chair of Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde, the International Commission is mandated to develop a flagship global report on the futures of education for release in 2021.


…Sudan commends Ethiopia’s mediation efforts

In the margins of the Assembly, President Sahle-Work also met with the new Sudanese Prime Minister, H.E. Adballa Hamdok.

Congratulating him on assuming the premiership, President Sahle-Work reiterated Ethiopia’s commitment to supporting his administration and wished him success in leading his country through this time of transition.

PM Hamdok commended Ethiopia’s role in mediating the peace process for Sudan saying it was a “good example for Africa-led conciliation.”

The Ethiopian government, led by Prime Minister Abiy, in collaboration with the African Union, has been instrumental in Sudan’s peace process since the former Sudanese President, Omar al-Bashir, and his government was ousted back in April this year.

A High-Level Event on Sudan, co-hosted by the United Nations, the African Union and the Government of Sudan, was convened on 27th September. In her remarks, President Sahle-Work said it was timely and appropriate to lift all sanctions imposed on Sudan, including its removal from the list of countries sponsoring terrorism.

President Sahle-Work addresses the General Assembly of the UN

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