Addis Ababa is centre for African diplomacy
Finland’s Ambassador in Addis Ababa Outi Holopainen says that while her daily life is sometimes tense in Ethiopia, it is also extremely rewarding. Addis Ababa houses the African Union’s headquarters, which in a way makes it the centre of African diplomacy.
How would you describe the current situation in Ethiopia?
Life is fairly normal in the capital city Addis Ababa, while a conflict has been raging in the northern parts of Ethiopia for two years already. Positive steps towards peace have been taken in recent weeks, but the situation remains delicate.
The security situation is now much better than a year ago, when we had to send embassy employees and their families back to Finland for a while.
Unfortunately, the conflict in Northern Ethiopia has affected the mood and attitudes of locals. We can feel it in the capital, too. Sometimes on the streets, you can hear people calling out that foreigners are not wanted here and that Ethiopia can sort its affairs itself without outside help. Certain parties seem to want to fuel negative attitudes towards the West.
How is Finland cooperating with Ethiopia?
Finland and Ethiopia share a long history. The development cooperation started already in the 1960s, and the long-term efforts have been productive. It is in Finland’s interests to support Ethiopia towards stability and economic and social development.
Rural development is a central part of our cooperation. More than 70 per cent of Ethiopians still get their living from agriculture.
In Ethiopia, all arable land is state owned, but it is important that farmers have land-holding rights. Finland has helped Ethiopia develop a digital land register, and we have created a well-working system of registration.
In practice, it means that farmers have a stronger position and an interest to develop their own livelihood. The digital register makes it possible for farmers to use their land-holding right as a bank loan guarantee, among other things.
Another priority area for cooperation is water supply and sanitation. It is important to get the local communities committed to the upkeep of their water points and toilets. The COVID-19 pandemic accentuated how topical it is to develop water supply and sanitation.
The third pillar of our cooperation is the education sector and, in particular, making it easier for children with disabilities to get an education. I have heard local partners praising Finland, saying that without our help many children with disabilities would not be going to school. Inclusion of people with disabilities and the rights of women and girls are crosscutting themes in our cooperation.
How do you see the future of Ethiopia?
Ethiopia has a lot of potential. Its population is young and some are highly educated. It is rich in natural resources and there is a lot of interest to develop renewable energy generation. The first priority is to bring lasting peace and stability to the country. Ethiopia was taking many steps in the right direction before the conflict flared in the northern parts of the country and before the COVID-19 pandemic. Now we are trying to return to the path of positive development.
What has uplifted you personally in Ethiopia?
I am very impressed by the persistence and effort of Ethiopians. I have heard some inspiring life stories. People have sprung from very modest beginnings to great deeds and success in different spheres of life, such as business, arts, science and sports.
What can we learn from Ethiopians?
We could learn from the Ethiopians’ serenity and persistence in adversity. We could also learn from their sense of proportionality and complain less about petty things.
In this series of articles, Finland’s ambassadors tell news from countries that are key partners of Finland’s development cooperation.
Text: Karoliina Romanoff