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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

By Mikias Sebsibe
Five months after the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) announced the result of the fourth general elections; former President Girma Woldegiorgis appointed 36 ambassadors and special envoys to various diplomatic missions on October 2010.
Nominated by the late Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, the list included former ministers, state ministers and speakers of the House of Peoples’ Representatives. 
Veteran politicians like Seyoum Mesfin and Girma Birru, who were appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to China and the US, respectively, were among them. Prior to their foreign service missions, Seyoum served as the country’s Foreign Minister while Girma was Minister of Trade and Industry. The pair only had to wait for a month to secure ambassadorial appointments after leaving their ministerial posts in favour of their party comrades, when the then leader of the Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) established its new cabinet after winning the elections. The appointment also came in the midst of talk of Yemetekakat Ekid (leadership succession plan) within the ruling EPRDF which sought to replace senior party leaders with new blood.
Although the FDRE Constitution, under Article 71 (3), grants the president the power to appoint ambassadors nominated by the Prime Minister, the political appointment of individuals with no apparent expertise in the field of diplomacy triggered questions. Some considered the ambassadorial post as a retirement job and criticized the move as something that could hurt the country in its diplomatic engagements abroad.
The controversy was further fuelled when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) decided to recall 18 (out of the 36) ambassadors and special envoys only a year after their deployment. While presenting the ministry’s performance report to the House of Peoples' Representatives in February 2013, Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom (PhD) cited the redundancy of diplomatic representations in Ethiopian missions abroad as the reason for the decision to recall. “It was deemed unnecessary to appoint two ambassadors in one country,” the minister said.
Tedros, who was three months into his position as the country’s foreign minister at the time, told parliamentarians that the initial appointment was made “with a candid intention of expediting diplomatic missions”. 
But things began to take shape after that. For the first time in the country’s history, the legislative body enacted the Foreign Service Proclamation (No. 790/2013) which aims “to put in place a legal framework that would enable to administer the foreign service in a consistent and coordinated institutional mechanism”.  The proclamation also seeks to create “an accomplished and strong human resource”.
Since the coming into force of the Foreign Service Proclamation in July 2013, the country has sent 16 ambassadors on diplomatic missions abroad including the six appointed just last week. Out of the 16, four appointees had no prior experience in the Foreign Service including likes of Sinkinesh Ejigu (former Minister of Mines) and Ayalew Gobeze (former President of the Amhara Regional State), who were appointed ambassadors to Brazil and Turkey, respectively late last year.  
The appointment last week included two political appointees in the form of Kuma Demeksa and Samiya Zekaria, who were appointed ambassadors to Germany and Nigeria, respectively. The rest were diplomats with distinguished diplomatic careers who served the country for decades.
The shortlist was prepared by MoFA and was further scrutinized by the Office of the Prime Minister before President Mulatu Teshome (PhD) granted the appointment.
Regarding the selection criteria for the appointment of ambassadors, Getachew Reda, communication affairs advisor to the Prime Minister, says the practice in Ethiopia is not something unique.
“You will find a mix of career diplomats and political appointees,” Getachew told The Reporter. “The appointment takes into account personal qualifications and the country of deployment.”
“The political appointees are well versed in government policies and strategies. And to compliment that, they receive training in diplomacy before they are sent on the diplomatic mission,” Getachew added.
A senior official at the MoFA also argues Ethiopia’s appointment of diplomats abroad gives due weight to career in diplomacy.
“Our experience in the appointment of ambassadors, in most cases, favours career diplomats,” he said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak on the matter.
“If our main target in a particular country is engagement of the diaspora, for example, a political appointee who knows government policies might just do the job. But if the post requires knowledge of dealing with the nitty-gritty of diplomatic manoeuvring, then a career diplomat might be needed,” the official added.
He says in cities where there are multilateral organizations like in New York, Geneva and Brussels, career diplomats are preferred and if the appointment is political, career diplomats are attached to assist the head of missions.
Ambassadors as ‘salespersons’
Ethiopia’s Foreign Policy and National Security Strategy of 2001 is anchored on economic diplomacy as a basis for securing the country’s national interest. Since then, diplomatic activities are reoriented to serve the country’s economic agenda that promotes speedy economic development, democracy and peace.
“Our ambassadors are like salespersons,” Getachew said.
Hence, ambassadors converge to the country once a year where their performance is evaluated with indicators like the number of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) they managed to attract to Ethiopia.
With such measurements, political appointees such as Girma Birru and Genet Zewdie (ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to India) are credited for the recent influx of FDI from these countries. Seyoum, who was the longest serving foreign minister prior to his mission to Beijing, is also credited for the deepening ties between Ethiopia and China.
Career diplomats like Dina Mufti (Amb.), who was appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Kenya last week, knows the task that lies ahead. 
“Kenya is our key ally in the neighbourhood. We have a special status agreement with Kenya. My mission is about implementing this. We work together on boarder issues, peace and security, infrastructure development including energy. It is a wide ranging diplomatic mission which also includes engaging with the large Ethiopian community in Kenya,” Dina, who has been serving as spokesperson of MoFA since 2010, told The Reporter.
Dina, 51, started working in the Foreign Service in 1983 as third secretary in African and Middle East Departments at MoFA. His first overseas appointment was to Canada (Ottowa) in 1990 as counsellor and two years later he was appointed to serve with the same position at Washington DC which he did until 1998. He was also ambassador resident in Zimbabwe accredited to Zambia, Mozambique, Mauritius and Angola from 2001 to 2006. And from 2006 to 2010, Dina served as an ambassador to Sweden and was accredited to Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland.
Kassahun Birhanu (PhD), political science researcher and lecturer at Addis Ababa University, says appointment of ambassadors is, by and large, a political appointment.
“As a result, you see it being used as a tool for political promotion or demotion,” Kassahun explained to The Reporter. He maintains that commitment and loyalty, apart from diplomatic skills, are also very important considerations.
Indeed, the loyalty of some diplomats assigned abroad was put into question in late 2000s. Several foreign service workers on overseas missions defected with some alleging “forced mass membership by the ruling EPRDF”. A charge the ministry denies.
“An ambassador is not just a representative of the government but also of the country and the people. That is why they are appointed by the head of the state (the President),” Kassahun says insisting on the need to insulate public service from politics “as much as possible”.
He cites the distinguished diplomatic service of Konjit Sinegiorgis (Amb.) who served her country under three distinct regimes for half a century. Konjit will soon be replaced by Wahide Belay, current chief of public diplomacy affairs in Washington DC, US, who is appointed as permanent representative of Ethiopia to the African Union last week.
Striking the balance   
For junior diplomats like Zerihun Megerssa, 27, getting political appointment is a far-off shot. Zerihun, who obtained his undergraduate degree in Civics and Ethics Studies from Bahir Dar University (Kotebe College), chose the path of developing a career in diplomacy two years ago. 
He was among the 680 individuals who applied to a training plus job opportunity offered by MoFA. Zerihun and 49 others succeeded in becoming the first batch of students to land the opportunity to enrol at the newly-established Foreign Service Training Institute, accountable to MoFA, set up in the premises of Civil Service University.
Although the Foreign Service Proclamation provides for the establishment of such institute with a Council of Ministers regulation, the institution was established with no such formality being observed.
After two years of training which included an apprenticeship at MoFA, Zerihun is now a spokesperson attaché at MoFA. He expects to be eligible for overseas deployment after a year and half and aspires to follow in the footsteps of his current boss Dina and become a spokesperson.
“I am confident I will represent my country as an ambassador after ten years,” Zerihun envisions. 
Striking the balance between the likes of aspiring career diplomats like Zerihun and political appointees is regarded essential in that the more foreign policy becomes political, the less it speaks for the nation and the more it becomes the mouthpiece of the government.
The American Foreign Service Association reported in June 2014 that about 36 percent of US President Barack Obama’s ambassadorial appointments since 2009 were political in nature. The president came under heavy criticism, particularly from Republicans who accused him of giving diplomatic posts for individuals who raised funds for his campaign. Yet, US presidents are generally said to follow a 70/30 rule in favour of career diplomats in the appointment of ambassadors.
The practice in Ethiopia also shows a mix of career diplomats and political appointees. But it appears unclear whether an informal rule like the one in the US exits. And senior government officials say detailed guidelines are not expected to be spelled out to govern appointment of ambassadors.
Source: Reporter