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Ethiopian prime minister seeking investment in Paris


It was hard to imagine, a few months ago, the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed received by President Emmanuel Macron under the golds of the Republic, so much the image of the former winner of the Nobel Peace Prize deteriorated during the Tigray civil war, which has ravaged northern Ethiopia for the past two years. The fratricidal conflict in the province of six million inhabitants would have caused at least 600,000 deaths, according to estimates by the African Union. The United Nations, in several reports, have spoken of possible “war crimes” And “crimes against humanity” committed by the Ethiopian armed forces.

Received at the Elysée by the French president on Tuesday, February 7, Abiy Ahmed hopes to take advantage of the momentum created by the peace agreement signed between his government and the insurgents of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (FLPT) on November 2 2022, in Pretoria (South Africa). The agreement, hailed by the entire international community, puts an end to two years of hostilities.

The Prime Minister is now embarking on a vast operation of diplomatic and economic reconquest. Before arriving in Paris, the Ethiopian leader traveled to Rome, where he obtained aid of 182 million euros from the government of Giorgia Meloni. After a long embrace on the steps of the Elysée, the Ethiopian Prime Minister thanked, on Twitter, his ” friend “ Emmanuel Macron, ensuring that “French companies are very warmly welcome in Ethiopia”.

Assess needs

“The key word is standardization at all costs”, assures a European diplomat stationed in Addis Ababa, according to whom the Western chancelleries are active in supporting “a peace agreement which is not yet fully implemented”. During a visit to the Ethiopian capital in January, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna spoke of “progressive re-engagement”announcing investments of up to 28 million euros from France to Ethiopia, on projects for the reconstruction of electrical infrastructure and food security.

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In a delicate economic context, the second most populous country in Africa needs the support of European partners to work towards the country’s recovery. Infrastructure, hospitals, roads, schools and universities in the north of the country have been ravaged by the fighting. The special envoy for the Horn of Africa to the African Union, Olusegun Obasanjo, estimates the total cost of the reconstruction of northern Ethiopia at 25 billion euros.

“France supports the return of peace to Ethiopia and stands by its side for economic reconstruction”, wrote on Twitter the Minister Delegate for Foreign Trade, Olivier Becht, after a meeting with representatives of the Ethiopian Ministry of Finance on Tuesday. A delegation from the French Development Agency notably went to Tigray after the peace agreement to assess the needs there.

In Paris, Abiy Ahmed also wanted to advance another burning subject, that of the Ethiopian debt. Suffocated by the lack of foreign currency, the country of 115 million people has requested debt relief under the common framework put in place by the G20. Support from Paris would be welcome because France co-chairs, with China, Ethiopia’s creditors’ committee and it could favorably advance the Ethiopian file.

But the Elysée is walking on eggshells when it comes to normalizing its ties with Addis Ababa. The recent peace remains fragile in Ethiopia. The problem for Paris is that [les autorités françaises] want to resume cooperation but [elles] are wondering how to cut corners on human rights, whispers a Western aid worker in Addis Ababa. They must give credit to transitional justice projects [après la guerre au Tigré] which only exist in name for the moment. »

‘The abuse continues’

Could political normalization be achieved at the expense of transitional justice? If the peace agreement signed in Pretoria between the belligerents provided for investigations into human rights violations, no concrete mechanism has yet emerged. The scale of the abuses that have been committed in Tigray is a matter of concern. The head of American diplomacy, Antony Blinken, had notably denounced “acts of ethnic cleansing” .


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“Although a cessation of hostilities agreement was signed (…)it is too early for business to resume as normal,” says Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch, Laetitia Bader. “Justice for war crimes in Ethiopia today remains out of reach and abuses continue”she concludes.

Most recently, on September 7, 2022, the United Nations Commission of Experts on Human Rights in Ethiopia (ICHREE) established “that there are reasonable grounds to believe that violations such as extrajudicial executions, rape, sexual violence and starvation of the civilian population as a method of warfare have been committed in Ethiopia (…) and in several cases, these violations constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity”.

In response, the government of Abiy Ahmed was content to condemn four federal soldiers for crimes and rapes. In addition, he has tried several times, in vain, to deprive the commission of experts in Geneva of its funding and has also expelled manu militari the representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sonny Onyegbula, in 2021.

These shortcomings could slow down the resumption of the full partnership between Paris and Addis Ababa, sealed during Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Ethiopia in 2019. At the time, the two newly elected rulers, all smiles, had shown a perfect agreement.

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A defense agreement had been signed, in which the French army promised to train the Ethiopian navy. Suspended during the Tigray war in 2021, military cooperation was also on the menu of discussions between the two heads of state, France being in favor of its resumption, according to several military sources.