An Interview with the Ethiopian Ambassador in Sweden Mehreteab Mulugeta

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5 mins read

By Samia Jemal & Simon Thernström

The Ethiopian Ambassador in Sweden, Mehreteab Mulugeta, visited the Association of Foreign Affairs to speak about recent talks of Ethiopia’s inclusion in BRICS.

Uttryck met with the Ambassador to discuss the broader implications for local development and global geopolitics that Ethiopia’s BRICS membership entails.

Why has Ethiopia pursued the BRICS membership and what does it mean for the country as a whole?

When Ethiopia became one of the first African countries to join the United Nations when it was established after the Second World War, it showed our ambition to be a part of international organizations and multilateral organizations which we believe promotes international cooperation, coexistence and peace. We think that BRICS is an organization that is striving to have political and economic diversity and which brings cooperation among different countries, especially countries in the South as we call them. That’s why we wanted to be part of this global organization. As the second largest country in Africa, with a population of 120 million, we hope that we can bring our economic potential to the BRICS and that we can add some value to the organization. That’s why we decided to join the BRICS.

You touched on it earlier, but I’d like to hone in on this point a bit more: with so many countries applying to join BRICS and Ethiopia being one of those that were endorsed, why do you think that is? What makes Ethiopia an attractive candidate?

First, Ethiopia is the seat of the African Union with its headquarters being located in Addis Ababa. In a way we represent a political capital city of Africa. In addition, Ethiopia is headquarters to the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. Major economic decisions are made in the ECA. Secondly, Ethiopia is one of the, maybe one or two African countries, that got established in the United Nations after the Second World War because at the time most African countries were not independent. Additionally, going all the way back to Haile Selaissie’s time, countries in Africa usually look up to Ethiopia as a leader of Africa.

Also as I said earlier, Ethiopia, being the second largest country in Africa now with our population of 120 million, with a fast economic growth, with a young population, has the potential for further economic growth. In fact, almost 70% of the population is under the age of 30 years old. This gives Ethiopia potential to be among the leaders, not only in Africa, but in the world as well. We believe that makes Ethiopia a good candidate to join the BRICS.

— You mentioned Ethiopia’s potential, what opportunities will the BRICS collaboration offer for the country?

First and foremost, we have to see it in two ways: politically and economically. Politically, we are the headquarter of the African Union. This means we’re already a prominent actor in the multilateral fora. Joining BRICS will help Ethiopia gain a stronger voice. At the UN Security Council at the United Nations, for example, we have other non-aligned movement organizations, where other like-minded countries of the BRICS are represented. Through this avenue we can promote multilateralism together with these countries. 

The other one is economically. As I said, Ethiopia is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. When you are growing this fast, there will necessarily be a need for funds. As you know, the BRICS now has its own bank, the National Development Bank. From this bank we’ll be able to receive funds for our development plans. Ethiopia currently has a 10 year economic development plan — In accordance with this we are looking for actors who are willing to invest in the prosperity of Ethiopia. This can mean members of the BRICS like China, now the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and the others, they all have the potential and the means to come and invest, as well as open up trade with Ethiopia. 

It’s been suggested that the emergence of BRICS challenges the dominant influence that the United States and the rest of the Western countries has had. Would you say that the BRICS collaboration is one that promotes a reshaped global playing field and World Order, and is that in the interest of Ethiopia?

Well, we look at BRICS not as a substitute to the already existing multilateral arrangements like the UN. We look at the BRICS as a supplement to these already existing organizations.

Of course, some countries in the South sometimes face pressure when they, for example, apply for loans or funds from the Bretton Woods systems like the World Bank and the IMF. They bring you conditions which sometimes contradict your economic development plans or your political system. So having an alternative will help countries like Ethiopia resist the pressure that is coming from these unilateral institutions.

With the advent of BRICS, we will have a new opportunity and alternative to get loans for our special economic development rather than being subjected to the, sometimes, unnecessary pressure we face from the World Bank. 

What would you say to the criticism of BRICS: the fact that it strengthens your relationship with Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and that those closer relationships compromise Ethiopia’s stance on human rights or anything in that category. What’s your perspective on it?

What I believe is that every country has its own principles, its own culture, and its own history. Not every country is the same, you know, what is considered a human right in one country might not be seen as the same in another. Just because we are joining the BRICS and working with Russia or China or Saudi Arabia, that doesn’t mean that we are following their way of life or their principles regarding human rights.

We, Ethiopia, have accepted the International Human Rights Convention, we have our own constitution which guarantees the independence and individual rights, collective rights. We are joining BRICS with our own constitution intact. We are not adapting any of this constitution or anybody’s way of doing life to another existing way of life within BRICS. We believe that these rights and these principles of Ethiopia will be respected by the other BRICS members. And if possible, we will try to work together with the others, you know, to bring up talks about the common acceptable rights of humans. 

“BRICS will be an organization which will be representative of the South.”

Would you say that there has to be a distinction between promoting economic growth through these collaborations, and talking about democratic values within this collaboration and its members? 

Well, there are general democratic rights and human rights which everybody should adhere to, or accept, or follow. Of course, as I said, every country also has its own principles, its own culture, its own history. This means that sometimes you have to make a distinction because what works in, for example, the US or what works in Sweden. What is accepted as a democratic right in one of these countries might not be acceptable, culturally or historically, to countries in the South. In these cases you have to make some distinctions. You have to come together in areas where you have a common understanding of values. And when there are some differences, you have to respect those differences and try to work together. This doesn’t mean that unless you accept this, that you cannot get this or unless you follow that, you cannot be my friend. We shouldn’t follow that line of thinking, we have to respect each other’s rights or different ways of life.

Would you say that BRICS and the addition of more countries joining BRICS creates a new era of expanding representation for the global South? Does this development give them a bigger voice on the global stage?

Yes. As you know there is currently a big expansion of countries joining BRICS, and you can also see that most of them are from the South. This includes countries like Indonesia and Nigeria, both big economies and big populations. I definitely believe that BRICS will be an organization which will be representative of the South. When it gets stronger, when it has more members it will be an organization which can play a major role. When you look at the economic power of BRICS, in terms of its combined GDP, after the six new countries join it will become even more powerful than before. It will actually, if I’m not mistaken, comprise 84% of the world economy (if measured by world GDP then more in the realms of 32%), solely concentrated within these 11 countries. With all this in mind, BRICS will definitely be a very important organization where the countries of the South can voice their concerns.

By: Samia Jemal & Simon Thernström

Photography: Kelly on Pexels

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