Interview: Ethiopian Ambassador to Khartoum Abadi Zemo

“Sanctions don’t only affect the people of Sudan-they also affect us”

Bilateral ties between Sudan and Ethiopia are hailed as a model for regional integration. Leaders of the two country firmly reiterate their commitment and determination to consolidate relations between their peoples in all fields and expressed determination in scaling up the existing bilateral ties to even higher level. Satisfying and encouraging progress has been registered so far in the areas of political, economic and social development cooperation, especially in infrastructural interconnection. For more insight, the Sudanese Media Centre (SMC) interviewed Ethiopia’s ambassador to Khartoum Abadi Zemo

Interviewed by: Salma M. A. Ismail

Q. In light of developments in the region, can you tell us about the developments of Sudan-Ethiopia relations?
A. The relationship between the two countries is very historical. When we look at the current situation especially bilateral relations between the two, we see it has reached the peak.
And we can say that this is the best time for both countries to enjoy the relationship and trust between them.
We can say that in the political, economic and security aspect, the relationship is nice and very encouraging. This tells me that the economic side is ok. When we look before 10-15 years ago we compare it its ok. But with its potential it was very low.

Q. Since you mentioned security, can you tell us about the security cooperation between the two countries and maybe some of the challenges we face?
A. When we say security in the region that we are in, the Horn of Africa is always known for its problems, crises, fighting and war. When if you look at the history of Sudan and Ethiopia, 25-26 years ago, it was full of mistrust. One trying to sort out the other. Now when you talk about security between the two, that means the countries have realized that second of interference in the politics or in the nation affects them negatively and brings them to such a low level of development. Now they realize that was the past and they have to build anew. So there is a paradigm shift. They realize that only when there is peace-internally and with their neighbors that development, economic stability could be enhanced so this is a very paradigm shift between the two.


“Use the resources.. fairly based on the needs present not by equally sharing the water”


Q. Many agreements have been signed police cooperation and defense cooperation. Can you tell us more?
A. This is sharing experiences, securing borders. The borders must be secured. The defense side, security side, the exchange of information. We have even gone to the extent of setting up a task force to make sure that the border is safe. These are some of the issues.

Q. Tell us more about the task force
A. There is a task force, which was agreed on. In the region there is the human trafficking issue, small arms smuggling, criminal gangs and cross border crime. This task force is a way to ensure that the borders are safe and secure and that these arms smugglers and human trafficking are at least reduced.

Q. There have been reports about cross border incursion, from South Sudan. Sudan also faces this challenge. How does Ethiopia deal with it?
A. In South Sudan from one part which is adjacent to Gambella, there is a consistent cross border incursion. They cross the border and take livestock and even children. This is a problem that needs to be combated.

Q. Illegal migration is a problem, that Sudan also faces. How do you view Sudan’s efforts and cooperation with Ethiopia in combating this?
A. It has to grow and it is expected to grow but they have a clear understanding that this does not benefit both countries and has to be combated. This why there is always discussion among themselves and a clear understanding on this and a consequence was setting up the task force. So the efforts are encouraging but this is a work in progress that needs to develop further.

Q. What more needs to be done?
Border development is important. It’s an issue that must be given good attention and if this is developed together, then the people there which make is secure. Economically they will benefit so they will maintain the peace and security for their benefit. Then that will go smoothly for all the people living here and there.


Q. Do you think Sudan is doing enough?
A. It’s not only Sudan, you can ask if Ethiopia is doing enough. Both started and even with the current situations they are in. I think they are doing fine. They are also realizing that they want to fill the gaps and do more.

Q. Ethiopia supports Sudan in the international arena and also with its local efforts such as the National Dialogue. How are you involved in these efforts?
A. The National Dialogue is purely Sudanese. The Sudanese want it and continue to want it to be Sudanese. So we cannot say that Ethiopia or other countries interfere in it or have a hand in it. But since this is something that can bring lasting peace to this country and lasting peace to Sudan also means peace in Ethiopia and neighboring countries.
We fully supported it. We supported it in a way, some of the rebels, like the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), Ethiopia with the consult of the Sudanese government has been engaged to make sure that they realize and understand and ensure whatever could be done so that they can be part of the process.

Q. Tell us about the cultural cooperation between the two countries?
A. Cultural cooperation is very close. There have been a number of cultural exchanges but mainly in the musical and theatrical level. There have been cultural trips from Sudan to Ethiopia and there is one within this month going there and also from Ethiopia. These exchanges have been agreed upon and they are taking place. There is a gap as in the other areas but significant improvement.

Q. What about other areas of interest. Such as agriculture?
A. Agriculture, not yet. But this is an area which cooperation has to be looked at.

Q. How will the complete lifting of sanctions affect cooperation?
A. There is no question. The impact for trade is very negative. Sanctions don’t only affect the people of Sudan-they also affect us. Especially in improving the current relationship. So when sanctions are lifted, trade and other activities will improve. The lifting of sanctions will have a positive effect and we are expecting the trade volume to grow.

Q. There is much criticism about the lifting of sanctions, that the government doesn’t deserve the lifting of sanctions. What do you say to that?
A. The sanctions are overdue. They are affecting the people and its high time that they be lifted. If sanctions are lifted that will help the Sudanese people, the neighboring countries and the world at large. Sudan with its vast natural endowment, human capital, the chances for investment are huge. There are companies and people interested in doing business in this area of the region. Sanctions have been a hindrance. One sanctions are lifted, people from the US, Europe and Asia will come invest. Sanctions are a major constraint that have to be lifted. For the benefit of the people of Sudan and the world.

Q. Can you tell us about the Grand Renaissance Dam (GERD). Some neighboring countries have some concerns that they will be affected negatively?
A. The GERD is being built for the benefit of Ethiopia, because Ethiopia wants energy and it wants to develop its industry and other sectors. So purely it is for this reason that it is building this dam. But this dam does not only benefit Ethiopia, it also benefits Sudan and others. Sudan will definitely benefit a lot.

Q. How will Sudan benefit?
A. Well, Sudan only gets 3-4 months of rainfall a year. But with the dam, Sudan will have a major reservoir. This dam will allow Sudan to have a steady flow of water-for 12 months a year. And that’s really good for agriculture.
Second, the energy that is going to be developed from the dam is also going to develop Sudan. Sudan will receive much more energy and with one of the lowest tariffs in the world. These are major benefits but are not limited to this. There’s the sedimentation, the flooding, etc
The benefits to Sudan are varied and huge. And we can say that this is not just an Ethiopian dam, it’s a actually a Sudanese dam.

Q. What do you say to the neighboring countries that are worried?
A. I know there are some concerns by Egypt. And their concerns are being addressed by the Ethiopian government so that the concerns will be appreciated and given a possible solution.
The three countries, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt, have been working together so that all concerns can be appreciated and given a possible solution.
Any country could raise a concern. At one time Sudan raised a concern-and that was the safety issue-which is legitimate.
This is a big dam and the safety has to be assured. We cannot object to issues being raised- Let the issues be raised and there are scientific answers to the issues and ways to minimize the potential problems if any are found. This is why the three governments are engaged. And this is why Ethiopia is open. Let’s just talk about it. This is an asset and it’s not only an Ethiopian one. Let’s manage it fairly and use it to its optimum level.
So that’s why when the concern was raised, an international panel of experts was set up. And this was suggested by Ethiopia; an international panel of experts and from the three countries come and took a look and produced a document. Based on the document a set of recommendations were made.
Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan agreed and the experts were deployed to study this.
So basically if there is an appreciation that this is an asset for all, and that every country should benefit without affecting the interests of another country significantly. Then there is a win-win strategy that will be followed. If one country comes and says no, you cannot use it-then that’s a problem. So we use the resources provided that no harm should be done, and we do it fairly based on the needs present not by equally sharing the water. This asset is a source of tension but there must also be a bridge and I also feel that once the dam is ready, the three countries will realize that there is no other way except working together and the relationship will grow stronger. This is my expectation and hope.


“It is not just an Ethiopian dam, it’s a actually a Sudanese dam”


Q. What is the volume of trade and investment between the two countries?
A. If you look back 30-50 years the volume of trade and investment was 2- 3 million dollars and at times it reached to 300-400 million dollars. Now affected by sanctions and other issues it has gone down to 200 million dollars. That’s why I say when you compare it to before there is improvement but with the potential its insignificant.

Q. In terms of encouraging Sudanese businessmen. Some are not so happy with the land ownership agreement. For example, with Djibouti there is an agreement that they can own land in Ethiopia. Is it possible that type of agreement will be extended to Sudan?
A. Investors are allowed to invest in agricultural activities. If Sudanese are interested in investing in agricultural activities, they can get land. We have a good mechanism, a lease process. It’s also highly encouraging. So there is no problem

Q. Leasing is not a problem but what about land ownership, that makes it easier to do business?
A. Ownership is something else. But at least they can invest. For a six-year contract and its even renewable to nine years. There’s no problem in investing in agriculture.
The whole world works like this. You go to a country where there is land available and then invest. And there is a contract. Once it expires, it can be renewed. So there are many foreign investors in agriculture in Ethiopia.

Q. Just like Ethiopia, Sudan has different religions. What can you tell us about what you have seen in terms of religious tolerance in Sudan between mainly the Muslims and Christians?
A. The tolerance is appreciable. The different Christians here get the support to exercise their beliefs.

Q. Tell us about the good experiences you have had in Sudan throughout your travels.
A. I mainly travel to the east. I enjoy Port Sudan Gedarif, Kassala. I have also been to Medani and I have seen the pyramids in Merowe. There are tourism opportunities. The Red Sea has ecotourism, there’s the different parks and Sudan has different historic sites. The potential is huge, once the sanctions and political constraints and other issues are addressed, tourism will flourish. Just like the other sectors we mentioned earlier, tourism will flourish.

Q. Would you like to add anything?
A. The relationship between the two countries, between the people and the government has been excellent. I wish the Sudanese people will meet their aspirations through the National Dialogue and they enjoy what they ought to enjoy. I hope all sanctions and constraints are lifted.