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Ethiopia has to deal with many crises, Baerbock wants to help

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War, poverty, hunger, drought, inflation: Ethiopia has to deal with many crises. And is looking for the help of the Federal Republic. Federal Foreign Minister Baerbock promised them – with a special message.

Barbara Kostolnik, ARD Capital Studio Berlin, currently Addis Ababa

Annalena Baerbock is standing in the Solino coffee roastery in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa – white hood, white coat, high temperatures, noisy machines. There will be beautiful pictures again. Too bad you can’t smell the aroma of coffee on Instagram.

Her French counterpart Catherine Colonna has already said goodbye. The two women have agreed to travel to Ethiopia together, they appear almost inseparable here in East Africa – in talks with Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde as well as with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali, in a warehouse of the World Food Program and at the African Union.

Baerbock completes the performance in the coffee roastery and the subsequent tasting ceremony with incense, bread and popcorn alone.

Federal Foreign Minister Baerbock visited one of the few roasting plants that roasts and packages the coffee beans themselves and only then exports them.

Image: ARD Capital Studio/Barbara Kostolnik

Everything on site

Ethiopia is by far the largest African exporter with a world market share of three to five percent. Germany and the EU are the most important markets for Ethiopian coffee.

Normally, however, Ethiopian coffee producers earn very little with their product because the beans are exported green. The coffee is roasted and packaged in the consumer countries. That’s where money is made from it.

It’s different with Solino. Here everything happens on site. The workers – some of whom are trained in Germany – earn three to ten times more than conventional workers.

The boss of the roastery and most of the staff are female. With her visit, Baerbock shows in a subtle way how she sees her office: “Bringing people together. That’s the purpose of foreign policy,” she said at a press conference.

Food security is a big issue here

Ethiopia’s problems are manifold: war, poverty, hunger, drought, inflation. A crisis region that is also known as such in Germany, and not just since Karlheinz Böhm initiated long-term aid projects with his “People for People” campaign more than 40 years ago.

Germany is also very popular with the Ethiopians because of the aid it has provided in the past. In Adama, about an hour’s drive south-east of the capital Addis Ababa, the United Nations have built huge warehouses out of the ground. Up to 218,000 tons of grain and food can be stored here and then distributed further. Annalena Baerbock went there, despite the tense security situation.

Surrounded by a throng of German and French journalists, she and her French counterpart Catherine Colonna are standing in front of a wall of white sacks. Grain, wheat, is piled up meters high here in a huge warehouse. Baerbock and Colonna have someone in charge of the UN World Food Program (WFP) explain to them how bad the food situation in Ethiopia is.

In 2018, says WFP Country Director Claude Jibidar, seven million people were dependent on food donations; now the figure is over 22 million. Baerbock repeats the number with a serious expression, 22 million is one sixth of the Ethiopian population.

The Effects of the War in Ukraine

Ethiopia was not only hit by a severe drought, but also by a two-year bloody civil war that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. A ceasefire has just been agreed, it is fragile. The war has eroded Ethiopia’s economic fabric and exacerbated its food problems.

Baerbock deliberately chose the warehouse in Adama with its impressive amounts of grain – because the Russian war of aggression also plays a role in Africa. Putin uses grain as a weapon, which exacerbates the dramatic food situation because droughts have also increased.

The good news is that Ethiopia, like Somalia, gets grain from Ukraine. 50,000 tons. A wonderful gesture of solidarity that is welcomed, said Colonna.

Ethiopia as a key country for the EU

Baerbock and Colonna are also making gestures of solidarity – towards Ethiopia. Even if not entirely unselfishly. “Ethiopia is a key country for the stability of the region on the Horn of Africa and on the entire continent,” says the Federal Foreign Minister – Germany and France want to enter into and deepen a new era of strategic partnership with the country.

The German foreign minister and her French colleague want to represent “the strong team Europe” in the Horn of Africa, where others, especially the Chinese, but also the neighbors of the Arabian Peninsula, have long been in charge.

China has built a tram in Addis Ababa, and there are shells all over the capital, some of which are supported by Chinese investors. The price for this is high. Ethiopia owes China $13.7 billion, or 13 percent of gross domestic product.

Ethiopia therefore needs money, which is welcome to come from the EU. This is one of the reasons why the reception for the ministers is very friendly.

Two years of civil war – what now?

In Ethiopia, Baerbock and Colonna also focus on resource deposits and energy security. Both promote longer-term investments. To do this, however, the country must get back on its feet after the civil war.

The multi-ethnic state is a fragile structure, many ethnic groups distrust and fight each other. German foundations working on site call it a “powder keg”. The ceasefire is holding, but no one knows for how long, and what it looks like in the northern province of Tigray, where the war was raging.

The Ethiopian government has only just allowed internet and bank connections again. But the wounds left by the civil war between the Tigray rebels and the government run deep. Millions of people were displaced and women were systematically abused.

The Ethiopian government feels that the international community has wrongly criticized it for having committed war crimes. An independent human rights commission in Ethiopia is to work out which crimes are attributed to whom. A Sisyphean task.

Reconciliation is possible, say Baerbock and Colonna

The Federal Foreign Minister knows that the Ethiopian government is sensitive to outside interference on this issue. Baerbock therefore tries to make a comparison. Dealing with crimes is important, she says in the presence of Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen. Germans and French would know that from their own experience.

Reconciliation does not happen overnight, but lasting peace is not possible without it. Catherine Colonna is also present at this press conference. “After two wars, terrible wars between us,” she says, referring to Baerbock and Mekonnen, “we want to show our Ethiopian friends that reconciliation is possible. Make it possible.”

Baerbock and Colonna bring hope to Ethiopia

Barbara Kostolnik, ARD Berlin currently Addis Ababa, 13.1.2023 4:15 p.m