Who Can Do This Job Better Than Ethiopia?

Arguments to Ethiopia’s Bid for a United Nations Security Council Non-Permanent Seat

Ethiopia, Africa’s oldest independent country, also prides itself on being the founding member of the United Nations Organization in 1945 alongside fifty one other countries of the world. From the African continent, only Egypt, Liberia and South Africa joined Ethiopia in signing the Charter of the United Nations on June 26, 1945 in the San Francisco Conference.

Despite the fact that Ethiopia had only been elected twice as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council in the past, Ethiopia’s record is replete with stories that prove that it had always acted as responsible member of the global community under the auspices of the United Nations and continental and regional organizations such as the African Union and the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD). Ethiopia’s principled stance in its participation and role in such multilateral arenas has, at times, been costly to the country’s immediate advantages. Yet, they have gained the country immense respect and confidence in the eyes of the international community and particularly fellow Africans. In this regard, the unanimous endorsement of Ethiopia as the voice of Africa in global climate change negotiations and the joint selection by Sudan and South Sudan for Ethiopia as a sole provider of peacekeepers in Abyei, are two important but a few cases in point.

Having this shining record as backdrop, Ethiopia is now seeking to serve in the UN Security Council for a third time in its history. Ethiopia has officially launched its bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council on the 29th of February, 2016. In what follows, attempt is made to argue out on points that Ethiopia deserves a non-permanent seat in the UNSC.

Commitment to Multilateralism and Collective Security

Ethiopia was admitted to membership of the League of Nations, the discredited predecessor of the United Nations Organization, on September 28, 1923 by a unanimous vote at the League’s General Assembly. Historians argue that Ethiopia’s predominant foreign policy goal of membership to the League was protecting the country from external attack, which was in line with the promises of the covenant of the organization.  Sadly, Ethiopia’s hope for collective security remained mere political naiveté.

Membership in the League of Nations did not deter the Japanese from invading Manchuria in 1931 and the Italians from invading Ethiopia 1935 and the “collective security” envisaged by the League proved utterly ineffective both in deterring and reversing the invasion.

The League’s failure in reversing aggression had left an enduring scar in the collective psyche of the Ethiopian people regarding international organizations, yet it did not obliterate Ethiopia’s belief in the potency of the concept of collective security. In fact, Ethiopia returned with vengeance to promote collective security in multilateral forums when it became a charter member of the United Nations Organization. In the early 1950s and 60s, Ethiopia dispatched its first peacekeeping contingents to Korea and Congo, testimony to its commitment to the principle of collective security. When the tradition resumed in the 1990s, Ethiopia has sent forces to UN operations in Rwanda, Burundi, Liberia, Cote d’ivoire, Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia. Excluding Ethiopia’s contribution to the AU operations in Somalia, Ethiopia now stands first in the world with over 8,000 peacekeeping forces dispatched in different UN missions. This brings the total number of peacekeeping forces Ethiopia has posted since the 1950s to over a staggering 80,000 personnel.

Proven Leadership Role in Multilateral Fora

The defeat of Italy by Ethiopia on March 1, 1896 at the Battle of Adwa, not only demonstrated the resilience of Ethiopians in the face of great adversity, but also made Ethiopia the symbol of hope and optimism for the emancipation of peoples who were suffering under colonial rule and subjugation, in particular black Africans. And it is such glorious history of uninterrupted statehood and independence that later on helped Ethiopia play a critical role of leadership for Africa and others that were under the shackles of colonialism.

After the turn of the second half of the 20th century, single minded loyalty of Ethiopian leaders to African causes, augmented by the historical leverage the country possessed, enabled Ethiopia to play a seminal role in the establishment of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963 in Addis Ababa. Ethiopia’s role in mediating the Monrovia and Casablanca groups and articulating a common African ground was the result of the reverence Ethiopia had among fellow Africans and pure case of diplomatic sophistication.

In as much as its bilateral dealings, multilateral forums, for Ethiopia, were essentially platforms where the country promotes the fundamental interests of African peoples, and especially the voiceless.

In the country’s diplomatic history, the years 1967–1968 and 1989–1990 hold special significance as it was during these periods Ethiopia was seated as a non permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. During the first period of membership, Ethiopia was elected with 109 votes from 119 countries and Lij Endalkachew Mekonnen was the Permanent Representative of Ethiopia to the UN.

Throughout that period, Ethiopia was credited for its vibrant contributions in promoting the interests of the weak and the vulnerable, from Africa or elsewhere. UN archives attest that Ethiopia co-sponsored the resolution on “The Question of Southern Rhodesia” together with Algeria, India, Pakistan and Senegal and Lij Endalkachew presented the draft resolution representing these countries. Similarly, in 1968, Ethiopia contributed on the issue of South West Africa (today’s Namibia) where Lij Endalkachew successfully worked on raising the awareness of Council members on their international obligations for South West Africa and for the future of its people.

On the 26th of October, 1988, Ethiopia secured her second and, to date, the last term in the UN Security Council with a total vote of 144 from 157 countries. And it was then that Ethiopia and Liberia jointly took the apartheid regime of South Africa to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for its failure to administer Namibia in accordance with the relevant international laws.

Ethiopia was also recognized for taking principled positions on the crises in the Middle East during its membership in the Security Council. In this regards, Ethiopia’s stances in the Israel-Jordan crisis of the 1960s and Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in early 1990s are cases in point. Particularly, in the case of the invasion of Kuwait, Ethiopia has shown its commitment to sovereignty and territorial integrity of member states.

It is in a due recognition to these glorious achievements that the 26th Ordinary Session of the African Union Heads of State and Government Summit unanimously endorsed Ethiopia’s candidature for a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Changed Ethiopia and Changed for the Better!

Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn addressing the United Nations General Assembly
Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn addressing the United Nations General Assembly

Today’s Ethiopia is fundamentally different in many ways from what it was thirty and fifty years ago. With a population of nearly a hundred million, Ethiopian population have quadrupled since 1968 and doubled since 1990. The figures of 1968 and 1990 include Eritrea, whose independence also geo-politically distinguishes today’s Ethiopia from its past.

With a federal system in place and supreme political authority vested on its nations and nationalities, today’s Ethiopia doesn’t share much with that Ethiopia where civil wars, famine were its hallmarks under the monarchy and the military dictatorship.

However, in the past twenty five years the situation has changed and changed for the better. By every index of economic growth and development, Ethiopia has completely departed from its past predicament though the road ahead is no less challenging and requires painstaking effort to bring the promising beginnings to a point of no return.

Foreign Minister Dr. Tedros Adhanom attending a sideline meeting at the 70th UN General Assembly
Foreign Minister Dr. Tedros Adhanom attending a sideline meeting at the 70th UN General Assembly

The country’s foreign policy and relations has likewise evolved to being guided by realities at home and the conviction that diplomacy should serve the country’s main economic agenda, extricating the country from abject poverty and advancing rapid economic development. Ensuring the sustainability of this economic agenda requires Ethiopia to be committed to play a key role in the maintenance of peace and security in its own region and in Africa. Despite its location in one of the world’s volatile sub regions, Ethiopia contributes in the areas of peacemaking, reconciliation and mediation and plays in particular a leading role in working to resolve the ongoing crises in South Sudan, Somalia and Burundi under the auspices of IGAD and the African Union and is active in the fight against international terrorism.

For all the above and other betterments, Ethiopia, the diplomatic capital of Africa and the world’s third biggest diplomatic hub, is seeing its global image changing by the day beyond recognition – contributing to its dominant position in regional politics and indispensible role in continental and global affairs.

 An Elevated Role for a Noble Objective

Against this backdrop of Ethiopia’s extraordinary legacy in promoting Pan-Africanism and giving global leadership, it appears queer to learn that Ethiopia made it to the membership of UN Security Council only twice in its history. In Africa, Egypt and Nigeria have been members of the Council five times each. Tunisia, Zambia, Algeria, Ghana, Gabon, Morocco, Senegal and Uganda were each members for three terms while more than a dozen countries, including Ethiopia sat at the Council for two terms. The election of Ethiopia to the Council for a third time is, therefore, a good opportunity to correct this imbalance between contribution and representation.

However, Ethiopia’s candidature for the Council is based less on redeeming this disproportion than on a legitimate aspiration to continue contributing to global leadership and international action. In this regard, there are some issues that should come at the top of the list of priorities for Ethiopia to undertake when joining UN’s principal body for the maintenance of international peace and security.

At the forefront is the continuation of its principled position of the promotion of world peace and security through dialogue and peaceful settlement of disputes. Ethiopia, no doubt, will redouble its efforts to promote the strengthening of the moral and intellectual ideals underlying the UN Charter and devote its energies to help preserve peace and security both regionally and globally. As a major troop contributing country for UN peacekeeping missions, Ethiopia would be expected to contribute to strengthening the United Nations peacekeeping operations by way of addressing the many challenges they face in a changing global security environment. And there are issues such as UN reform. Ethiopia remains strongly supportive of UN reform, including the structural reform of the Security Council and of other UN elements.  The world is in a continuous process of change in all aspects. As a follow up, demands on international organizations are also changing. As an organization of universal membership, it is incumbent on the UN to undergo through necessary reforms in working procedures and decision making structures. Africa expects Ethiopia to give momentum to the debate that the UN system should change the rules and methods of the bygone era and reflect the new geo-political realities.

In accordance with the Ezulwini Consensus of 2005, which Ethiopia is also a party; Africans want to see reform in a manner that the continent is fairly represented in the Security Council.

Overall, Ethiopia’s historical legacy and experience accumulated through active engagement in the realm of global politics on behalf of Africa is much cherished across the continent. Accordingly, there is a huge expectation on Ethiopia to translate this diplomatic acumen into a useful tool at its disposal in promoting Africa’s interests vis-à-vis the international community.

Yet again, Ethiopia is presented with an opportunity of an elevated representation in multilateralism to affect real change in the lives of Africans. As the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, Ismail Chergui, wondered during the official launching ceremony of Ethiopia’s campaign “…who can do this job better than Ethiopia?”

Disclaimer: The views in this article represent only those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia.


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Esayas Girmay works at the IGAD and Neighboring Countries Directorate General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of EthiopiaHe holds MA Degree in Political Science and International Relations from Addis Ababa University. He can be reached via gres4000@yahoo.com.

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