In a noteworthy gesture signalling its commitment to international peace and development, Germany has sealed an ambitious deal with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The agreement, amounting to 10 million euros, is earmarked to support peace initiatives and aid in rehabilitating war-ravaged northern states.

Ambassador Stephan Auer, a venerable figure in the world of diplomacy, elucidated Germany’s position, highlighting its drive to bridge divides between the federal government and the Tigray Provisional Administration. Despite critics pointing out a potentially delayed intervention, the Ambassador steered the discourse towards forward-looking solutions.

Stepping back into his early days of the 1980s, Ambassador Auer recalled a world where faxes symbolised the pinnacle of communication. The contemporary diplomatic landscape, bathed in the glow of digital screens, demands real-time responses. Yet, lurking behind the speed are growing concerns about the shadows of misinformation. The Ambassador expressed disquiet over Russia’s media portrayal during the Ukraine conflict – a stark reminder of the thin line between rapid information dissemination and distorted narratives.

Addressing the rapidly evolving digital realm, Auer’s analysis was marked by guarded optimism. While he lauded the unprecedented access to information, benefiting global populations, he underlined the risk of exploitation and the pressing need for moderation. While beneficial in many ways, the digital age is also replete with challenges – from the rapid spread of misinformation to the need for genuine, accurate information dissemination. Auer’s critique of Russia was explicit, juxtaposing Moscow’s global offerings of mercenaries and arms with the inherent dangers these carry.

Germany’s dedication to the principles of the United Nations is hardly new, a fact Auer emphasised by invoking Berlin’s UN membership since September 1973. The dark chapters of Nazi-era crimes continue to influence Germany’s contemporary commitments, urging it to champion human rights, territorial integrity, and conflict resolutions peacefully. While addressing Russia’s incursion into Ukraine, the Ambassador did not mince words, denouncing it as a “clear breach” of United Nations principles. The international response to the Ukraine crisis was varied. However, Ambassador Auer candidly expressed his bewilderment at the reluctance of some African countries to rebuke Russia. He discussed potential reasons, such as the ripple effects on fuel and fertiliser prices, which he said are issues overlooked.

Despite critiques of the post-World War II global framework, the Ambassador stressed its intrinsic merit: safeguarding the vulnerable against powers that equate might with right. Auer’s answer about the broader “West’s” adherence to these tenets was clear-eyed. He would only speak for Germany, but was unequivocal about its principle-based approach, which refrains from double standards. Diplomacy, as Ambassador Auer described, is undergoing seismic shifts.

Auer’s lens also casts light on Africa’s response to the Ukraine crisis, subtly hinting at perceived inconsistencies. He optimistically envisioned an Africa that does not just respond but proactively shapes its economic future. Yet, Germany remains committed as the calendar inches closer to 2030 and the United Nations suite of Sustainable Development Goals. Auer championed Germany’s innovative thrust, particularly in energy, all while carefully navigating relations with global behemoths like China. With its vast demographics, Ethiopia occupies a critical position in Auer’s geopolitical assessment. He emphasised Germany’s initiatives, including the “Compact with Africa”. The EU’s position on human rights, especially about Ethiopia, was presented with nuance, balancing advocacy with the intricacies of geopolitics.

Speaking with our Managing Editor, Tamrat G. Giorgis, Ambassador Auer mapped the horizon of German investments in Ethiopia, highlighting potentials in energy, packaging and agriculture, all contingent on favourable business environment.

Fortune: You signed an agreement with the UNDP last week, amounting to 10 million euros. What do you hope to see achieved from the fund you provided?

Ambassador Stephan Auer: We want to encourage the peace efforts undertaken by the government of Ethiopia and the Tigray Administration. The Pretoria Agreement, signed almost a year ago, clearly demonstrates that conflicting parties have chosen the path of finding a political solution. They demonstrated that there is no military solution to the conflict. But there needs to be a political solution. We want to support this, providing resources to the UNDP Peace Support Facility.

We want to see the people benefit from peace, with a quick and fast peace dividend, following the political and not the military track.

Q. Do you share the feeling that efforts such as this have come a little too late to make much difference? Before the war broke out, there were clear signals that the country was getting into trouble. Could you not have done something similar back then?

Germany, the European Union (EU) and other member states always champion a political solution because we do not believe in a military solution. You can always argue that we could have come earlier. But it has come nonetheless, and that is the main thing. We have to see that the cessation of hostilities agreement is implemented fully.

Q. You have been in diplomacy for two decades. When you started, it was a time when there was no mobile phone, Internet, or digital connectivity. There was no social media, either. Today’s world has changed because you have almost everything at your fingertips. How do you see diplomacy evolving and being challenged in this era of hyper-connectivity?

Diplomacy has become much more fast-paced; we have a very dynamic diplomacy. We must adapt to the new possibilities and opportunities through social media and the Internet. Consider that the fax machine was just introduced when I joined the Foreign Office in 1988. Slowly but surely, the Internet was introduced.

Almost 33 years later, we are in an era where we communicate every minute with the Foreign Office in Berlin, other member states here, the European Commission in Brussels and other partners, including the Ethiopian government. What relate to and reach out to many more people than before. We can communicate much faster. The challenge is that you have to be quick and fast; you have to adapt to it.

There are also some disadvantages with a lot of disinformation and misinformation in social media that can be used for hate, increasing tensions between ethnicities, parties, and partners. Unfortunately, we have seen quite a lot of disinformation, mainly coming now through the Russian media, about the Russian aggression of Ukraine. We must counter this with objective information, proving it is wrong.

Q. Are you worried about the disruptive capacity of the virtual world? Or you are excited about the opportunity it presents.

I am excited about the opportunities because they can contribute a lot to inform people about what we are doing. But at the same time, we also have to see that it is not abused. We have to strike a balance.

Q. Can you reflect on the five-decade presence of Germany in the United Nations and its experience in this fast-changing geopolitical landscape? Considering its history, how do you see Germany’s ambition and its responsibilities to the world?

In September 1973, we joined the United Nations with the second German state at that time, the German Democratic Republic (GDR), which existed until 1990 before joining the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). We are one Germany now in the United Nations.

Germany used to be considered the enemy state after the Second World War. Under the Nazi regime from 1938 to 1945, atrocities and crimes were committed on German soil. We are and will always stand up to our responsibilities. That also applies to us that we are committed to fighting for the principles of the United Nations, particularly its Charter. It is a sort of responsibility which we would like to give back to the international community in defending the principles of human rights, territorial integrity, sovereignty, and peaceful resolution of conflicts. This is why we were particularly appalled by the blatant violation of these principles by the Russian attack on Ukraine to change borders violently using military means. We cannot accept it, and we have to fight.

We need an effective United Nations system, and we support the membership of Africa in the Security Council, where we feel it is underrepresented. We also support a better representation of Africa in the multilateral systems, and we are happy to see the African Union (AU) join the G20 as a member. We would be delighted if Africans would support the G4, where Germany, Japan, Brazil and India aspire to join the Security Council as permanent members.

Q. You explained Russia's aggression of international laws and sovereignty against Ukraine. But when you look at several African countries, many are reluctant to denounce or outright support Russia. What do you think informs African governments and leaders not to be as forceful as you are in condemning Russia’s war in Ukraine?

As a German diplomat, it is difficult for me to say what drives African countries not to condemn this violation of the United Nations Charter and its principles. I can only say that we have an obvious and blatant violation of the principles corresponding to the principles the AU upholds: territorial integrity, sovereignty, non-interference in internal affairs, and the protection of human rights.

What surprises me is that many African countries are not addressing the implications of all crimes perpetrated by the Russians in Ukraine and against Ukrainian citizens. The impact of this war on their populations, such as the rise of fuel and fertiliser prices, is the consequence of the Russian aggression and the ending of the Black Sea Green Initiative by Russia. After Russia ended this Initiative, prices are rising again, to the detriment of all populations in the world.

Q. Do you not want to see it as a reflection of frustration by many African countries and others in the least developed world that the global order established after the Second World War is not working in their favour? There is this growing sense that it is rigged against them, thus reflected in not being very vocal in denouncing Russia’s involvement in Ukraine.

I would say that this world order is very much in favour of the weaker countries and states. It protects those vulnerable against those who believe "might is right." We need to see that this rule-based international order is maintained and protected because it defends the weaker ones. If you uphold principles, you must do it when it comes to aggression against a sovereign country, whether in Africa, America or Asia. Principles are universal; and you cannot just say, “Well, we don’t take a position.” The West may employ double standards, but the principles are not to be violated. If you do that, then, of course, you risk being accused of using double standards.

The international order may not have benefited Africa. But it helped a lot of other countries on other continents, such as South Korea, Singapore, and the Asian Tiger countries. All have developed into major industrial countries under the international order.

Q. Do you believe the West is faithful to uphold these principles?

The question is always, “Who’s the West?”

Q. The West is about the transatlantic, essentially the United States and Europe.

I can only speak for Germany. We have principle-based policies. We do not apply double standards in our foreign policy.

Q. One of the promises by the international community, and by the advanced economies in particular, to the least developed countries is the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will expire by 2030. Do you hope the 17 goals listed will be achieved before the deadline? From the look of things, it is halfway through the decade and very unlikely.

I hope the SDGs adopted in 2015 will be achieved. We all know that it is midterm through 2030. I hope it will be fulfilled because 90pc of all global problems will be addressed if we do.

The 17 goals can address many issues, from poverty and hunger eradication to gender equality and climate change. I want to highlight the SDG-16, which promotes peace, stability, justice, and the rule of law. This is the basis for development and one of the structural deficits of the previous Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It does not make sense to build a bridge that violent conflicts on the following day would destroy.

Q. How do you demonstrate Germany’s contribution to achieving the SDGs?

Unlike the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the good thing about the SDGs is that they are valid for everybody. Reaching every goal may be a tall order. But we are trying to transform our energy system and help our economy phase out fossil fuel in the medium to long term. We have ambitious climate goals, replacing fossil fuels with renewable energies like solar and wind. We are trying to reduce our carbon emissions by 80pc in 2040, and to be climate neutral by 2045. We are expanding our renewable energy production, already achieving over 50pc. By 2030, we want to accomplish over 80pc of our electricity generation through renewable energies.

We also help other countries transform their energy systems and economies. We partner with over 30 countries worldwide, including Ethiopia, in the climate and energy sector. Ethiopia has a lot of potential for renewables - wind and solar - but also for hydrogen, produced with solar energy. A vast market can be built up with enormous possibilities of added value here in Ethiopia and Africa.

Q. It could be a tall order to adapt to climate issues. But countries like Ethiopia are not there yet. One of the arguments is that it is possible to leapfrog and reach the level attained by advanced economies. Do you think this is a possibility?

I am not an expert in this, but for instance, in the telecommunications sector, we have gone through all the phases of establishing telecommunications for each household with fixed lines. Today, you no longer need fixed lines; you use your mobile. Nobody has it anymore in Germany. Yes, you can do it [leapfrog]; but, you need to have the technology and know what and how to do it with the support of those who already have it. Hence, the importance of partners willing and able to transfer the technology. You would also need to create the legal framework to attract these investments, without which they cannot finance.

Here we are with the problem of climate financing. I agree that the international community has not lived up to its responsibilities and promises. I can assure you that Germany is one of the most significant contributors to climate finance. This will be one of the major issues at the next COP-28 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Q. In an ever-evolving geopolitical situation where the world is moving from a unipolar to a multipolar order – the confrontation is between the liberal world and the illiberal countries championed by Russia and China. I struggle to understand where Europe lies. The EU may not have a common foreign policy as in trade, but you have shared values. How do you see Europe’s position in this dynamic, fast-changing, and precarious global reorder?

We will always uphold the principles adopted after the Second World War - striving for peace and security, human rights protection and promoting a free and open economy. There are some drawbacks to the market economy, but it is the best system we know - a social market economy, as we call it in Germany.

Although we know these principles are challenged, we will continue promoting them. We have China as a growing superpower, but it is a partner when it comes to the economic cooperation front. It is also an adversary or sort when it comes to the political system. We have adopted the “China Strategy” in Germany to tackle our challenges. China should be interested in the world’s stability because its economy prospers when it can trade with other countries and regions. This is something where we can work closely together with our Chinese partners.

Russia has nothing to offer besides weapons and mercenaries with which African countries can further destroy themselves. The mercenaries come to exploit the minerals and support authoritarian regimes. The problem is not only that these mercenaries cannot be controlled; they are turning against the regimes that created them, as we now see with the attempted coups against the Putin regime in Russia.

We believe that in the long run, human beings are very interested and in favour of a free and open society, not controlled by the state. We believe in the self-determination of the people and nations. We believe that our political and socio-economic models are attractive. We see it through many migrants who try to come to Europe and not going to China or Russia.

Q. When you started your career as a diplomat, the Cold War was coming to an end. The global order installed immediately after is shattering, and the world is entering a different phase. Do you feel that it is sleepwalking into a silent cold war?

We, unfortunately, are already in a pretty tricky place. We see now in Europe the violation of principles we adopted after the Second World War to establish a new security order. We had thought that war would no longer be possible in Europe after Germany had many suffer. We felt that we had learned the lessons of the two world wars. We see now that there is a country, an authoritarian country, which is trying to change the borders with weapons. Our answer to that is to uphold the principles and regional integration.

The process of political and economic integration is the way forward. Friends surround Germany, which was once the initiator of two world wars; we only have friends around us. Thus, we support the African Union integration process as the biggest bilateral donor to the AU.

We also want to integrate Russia into our economic system. We have imported a lot of Russian gas; we depended on it, thinking Russia would have the economic interest in keeping it.

Q. Do you consider this as Madame Merkel’s miscalculation and Germany’s failure of strategic foresight?

It was a miscarriage. During my previous posting, I also worked in that area before coming to Africa. I was convinced that this approach ensured peace and security in Europe after the Second World War. The European Union was rightly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But there are limits to what you can do if you have a leader who thinks about power politics and does not think about his population and even less about the implications on the populations of neighbouring countries and the African continent.

Q. How does Ethiopia fit into Germany’s broader strategy for Africa? Is it happy with the way things are unravelling here?

I think nobody can be happy with what is happening in this country at the moment. We are very concerned about the conflicts going on. However, we are also encouraged at the same time by the efforts of this government to solve the problems politically. Although it has been stalled lately, the Pretoria Agreement encourages us, and we hope it will be fully implemented. The first round of talks with OLA encourages us, too. We hope the conflicts in the Amhara region will also be resolved politically.

We are interested in Ethiopia as a peaceful, stable and prosperous country. With over 120 million inhabitants, Ethiopia is the political and economic powerhouse in the region. If Ethiopia is stable and prosperous, it can become the region’s political and economic anchor of stability. We have doubled our humanitarian assistance, helping to have the peace dividend. We are trying to foster the economy through the promotion of direct investments. Under the German G-20 presidency, we initiated the “Compact with Africa” Initiative, where 12 African countries, including Ethiopia, are members.

Q. You seem passionate about upholding human rights worldwide when referring to Russia’s aggression on Ukraine. How do you reconcile this with the fact that the EU, and many member countries, including Germany, were not as enthusiastic to see the Commission the UN established to investigate human rights violations and crimes against humanity committed in Ethiopia continue its term for another year? You did not provide as much support as you were expected.

I do not see it as a contradiction. When the Commission was established, it was right after the start of the war. We now have the Pretoria Agreement and a joint report released by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the Office of the High Representative for Human Rights. This report has some recommendations, amongst other things, for establishing a transitional justice mechanism. In the many talks we have had with them and in public, the Ethiopian authorities expressed their commitment to establishing a credible and inclusive transitional justice mechanism. They have established a working group to work out the principles and mechanism, which will then be presented to the Cabinet.

We have the commitment from the government to bring the perpetrators of human rights violations to justice. It is a development we need to recognise and acknowledge. It is much more critical that the government and the people bring human rights violations, war crimes, and crimes against humanity before their own courts. It is the ownership that matters. We hope that the Ethiopian government stands up to its commitments. However, it does not mean that this issue cannot be addressed, again, in the Human Rights Council at a later stage if things do not develop in the way the Ethiopian government has committed to do.

Q. The head of the UN Commission said the national transitional justice process is not credible because the government is to be held accountable.

We will see whether a transitional justice mechanism is credible and corresponds to international standards.

Q. Many are terrified of the conclusion of the Commission’s report. Do you share this anxiety, particularly about the part of the conclusion that says signs are there for Ethiopia heading into human rights abuses, crimes against humanity and genocide?

We know the concerns about the human rights situation in this country that the conflicts will not alleviate the situation and will continue exacerbating human suffering. But we need to address the root causes of the conflicts. I am encouraged by the transitional justice mechanism which will be established. The national dialogue process also equally encourages me.

Of course, we understand the vast challenges the national dialogue faces, which should have begun long ago. But it is very challenging given the conflicts we have here. It has to be inclusive from the beginning. The national dialogue needed to be set off in an inclusive, credible and transparent way to address the root causes.

Q. How do you respond to criticisms that the West, mainly Europe, is willing to trade its principles of upholding and defending human rights to see countries like Ethiopia have a stable state containing the possibility of migration? Europeans are no longer concerned about ensuring mass atrocities never happen again, but keen to see states contain a possible flood of people to their borders. Has Europe traded its moral high ground for realistic, practical migration concerns?

I do not see this because we are still upholding human rights. A recent example is the 10 million euro support package for the Peace Support Facility, where we are not only supporting economic development and livelihoods but also social causes and the protection of human rights. We support the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, under the fantastic leadership of Daniel Bekele, who is doing an excellent job there.

I do not see a trade-off between human rights and migration. The migration routes do not go from Ethiopia primarily to Europe. They go to the Arabian Peninsula first and Southern Africa. The third route goes to Europe.

Q. You said earlier that Germany wants to see the Pretoria Accord fully implemented. One of the main issues with the Pretoria deal was the absence of political dialogue to address the very causes of the conflict that led to war. Is it your government’s position to see the resumption of political dialogue?

Absolutely. This is why the national dialogue is so important. We think you can only solve these problems if you address the root causes, and the national dialogue is there to do this. It is up to the Ethiopians to decide what should be discussed at the national dialogue. What we are doing in Germany and Europe is to support this process, offering expertise and resources.

Q. But I am sure you are aware that the National Dialogue Commission is a subject of intense controversy, criticised for not being inclusive. The Tigray provisional authorities recently issued a statement rejecting transitional justice under the federal government and the Commission.

The most important thing will be to see how the national dialogue will be carried out and whether it is inclusive. We heard in the beginning that several opposition parties were reluctant to participate. But more are joining now. I hope that in the country's interest, in the end, we will have all parties around the table at the national dialogue. Equally important is for civil society representatives of the different regions to come together and talk about the problems of this country.

Q. One source of conflict is the desire to centralise power and the aspiration to ensure that power remains decentralised. Although it is a contestation between various political forces, many non-state actors are in the middle. To what degree is Germany interested in supporting these non-state actors in navigating this maze of conflicts?

We work very closely with humanitarian NGOs. When it comes to human rights, we work with NGOs that defend and protect human rights. We are aware and willing to contribute to a lively civil society because we believe they contribute a lot to a vibrant political and economic order.

Q. Germany exports machinery and pharmaceuticals to Ethiopia and buys primary goods like coffee. But what do you think would incite German investors to invest in Ethiopia, a country where it is complicated to repatriate their profits?

We have a lot of small and medium-sized enterprises. Although we have big companies, the backbone of the German economy remains with these enterprises. They are risk averse because these small and medium-sized enterprises can easily face bankruptcy if an investment goes wrong. Their advantage is that if they come, they are interested in establishing added values, creating jobs, training people and transferring technologies and expertise. They would come here to stay. But, for them to come, you need a safe environment and that there is peace and stability. It would help if you also had to protect their investments with the rule of law and fighting corruption. And this is a challenge at the moment.

Q. I am sure you have too many German company representatives complaining that they cannot take their money out after making profits.

The forex crunch is not only for companies that want to take out the profits they made, but also to refinance investments. If they want to build up a company here and they have to import the machines, they cannot do it with the national currency. They need foreign exchange because they have to pay in euros. This is why we hope the Homegrown Economic Reform 2.0 will be implemented soon. Entailing bold reforms, we hope it will address the problems of the forex crunch.

Q. Which economic sectors or industries do you consider attractive to German investors?

The energy, packaging, and agriculture sectors have massive potential in this country. If the legal and business environments improve, I can imagine that many companies would be interested in investing in Ethiopia.

Q. How about the electric automotive industry? German companies have invested in Rwanda. Do you see that happening here?

It depends very much on the business environment and the potential here. We have had folks who are interested over here recently. They have shown their interest in working with Ethiopian companies to establish a training unit for mechanics and eventually establish a manufacturing assembly line.

Q. Much of the economic reform agenda in Ethiopia depends on the negotiations with the IMF and external creditors over debt restructuring. Although Germany is not one of the biggest creditors, you are part of the conversation. Not much is moving on in this respect.

Germany is very conscious that there is a lot of debt problem in many countries, particularly in Africa. The COVID pandemic has aggravated the situation. The G-20 countries have adopted the sustainability initiative for debts (DSSI). They further improved the conditions for indebted countries by adopting a common framework for debt treatment.

Germany has always supported these, and we think the G-20 framework and the Paris Club are instrumental in alleviating the burden for the heavily indebted countries. We encourage a flexible approach to treating the debts of these countries. But of course, Germany is not one of the biggest creditors, and there are limits to what we can do.

Q. The developing world demands the Bretton Woods institutions (the IMF and the World Bank) to be reformed. Russia and China in the BRICS are proposing their version of multilateral institutions. Where do you think this will lead? How do you envision the reform prospect of multilateral institutions?

We are in favour of reforming the international financial architecture in a way that further helps developing developing countries. We have to address the issues African countries face. But they have to clearly define what they want. I have not seen a proposal showing what African countries want to see in reforming the international financial architecture. If we know what Africa wants, we can address it.

Q. Perhaps the restructuring of the voting pattern.

We will see what we can do. We are also interested in how Africa will be represented in the BRICS Development Bank.

PUBLISHED ON Oct 21,2023 [ VOL 24 , NO 1225]

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