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Interview with Canadian Ambassador to Ethiopia, Antoine Chevrier

“Canada encouraged Ethiopia to continue to address the drivers of intercommunal conflict,” Canadian Ambassador to Ethiopia, Antoine Chevrier.

Canadian Ambassador _ Ethiopia _Djibouti and African Union
Ambassador Chevrier participating in the 7th Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) at the African Union Commission, on June 10th, 2019. Photo credit : Canadian Embassy in Addis Ababa

Borkena : Honorable Ambassador Antoine Chevrier, Canada’s ambassador to Ethiopia and Djibouti, and Canada’s representative to the African Union, I would like to thank you for your time. It is now well over six months since you became Canada’s Ambassador to Ethiopia. What is it that has impressed you most about the country and society so far – something that would perhaps impress other foreigners as well?

Ambassador Chevrier : I am of course impressed by the country’s deep and rich history and its diverse society. I feel that I still have much to learn. The depth of the ties between both our countries is also quite significant, and the importance of the Ethiopian community in Canada is an important part of our relationship. But even more than that, what impresses and motivates me is that, building on this, we have the potential to do even more.

Borkena: Ethiopian Airlines ET 302 crash near Bishoftu (Debre Zeit as it used to be called until very recently) is a sad experience, presumably.18 of the victims are Canadians. And you have visited the crash site. How overwhelming was it to you personally? And to the embassy – in terms of the consular service that you had to provide to the victims’ families and those who are affected?

Ambassador Chevrier : The crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 was a devastating tragedy that affected many Canadians, citizens of other countries and of course Ethiopia. Of course it had an impact on all of us at the Embassy, and indeed visiting the crash site on multiple occasions was difficult and moving at the same time, but nothing in comparison to what the families and loved ones of the victims are going through. There is still much that remains to be done and our commitment to assist them in the next steps is fully intact.

Borkena : let me ask you about Canada’s diplomatic relation to Ethiopia. It is older than half a century. How is it evolving in recent years? And what is that you aspire to contribute in that regard?

Ambassador Chevrier : Canada has a longstanding friendship with Ethiopia and its people. We have many similarities – diverse populations that speak many languages, and a federal system of government to name but a few. This relationship was historically centered on development cooperation (Ethiopia was the 2nd largest recipient of Canadian Development Assistance in 2017-18). However, in recent years it has become increasingly diverse. Our people-to-people ties continue to strengthen, and trade between our countries is growing.

At the political level, momentum has been building. Our Prime Ministers have had several positive discussions, and earlier this month Prime Minister Trudeau met with President Sahle-Work Zewde in Vancouver during the Women Deliver Conference. The Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association (CAPA) sent a delegation of seven Parliamentarians to visit Ethiopia in March 2019, where they had an intensive program, visiting with State Minister for Foreign Affairs Markos Tekle, Minister of Trade and Industry Fetlework Gebregziabher, Deputy Speaker of the House of People’s Representatives, Shitaye Minale, and civil society, NGOs, UN agencies, and the African Union Commission. In November 2018, former Minister of International Development, the Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau visited Ethiopia and met with both President Sahle-Work and Prime Minister Abiy, as well as Minister of Finance Ahmed Shide. During the visit Minister Bibeau announced $23 million in funding for two initiatives to advance gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in Ethiopia: Innovative Finance for Women Entrepreneurs which will help 25,000 women entrepreneurs; and, Women’s Voice and Leadership, which will support 48 local women’s organizations across four regions of Ethiopia

Borkena : Considerable, and growing, number of Ethiopians live in Canada. How do you rate its importance in Canada’s relation with Ethiopia?

Ambassador Chevrier : The Ethiopian community in Canada is diverse, vibrant and active and is an important asset and a bridge between both countries. In our increasingly networked world, these individuals help to strengthen the bonds between our countries, defying the many kilometers that separate us. They have an important skill set, understanding both Canadian culture and Ethiopian culture, and are in a unique position to build partnerships, whether through trade and economic opportunities, or other initiatives.

Borkena: In your message as Canada’s Ambassador to Ethiopia, which is in the embassy’s website, you mentioned that “Ethiopia is a country of strategic importance to Canada.” Apart from being a “growing economy” with well over 100 million people and the presence of Canadian businesses in the country especially in the mining sector, could be corrected for wrong, is there any other reason as to why Ethiopia is of strategic importance to Canada?

Ambassador Chevrier : Ethiopia is an influential and important actor within the region and across the continent. Together we can work to promote shared values including gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. Canada and Ethiopia co-organized an important meeting on Women Peace and Security in Addis Ababa in January 2019, illustrating our shared commitment to peacekeeping. Ethiopia has been a trailblazer, appointing its first woman president, a gender balanced Cabinet, and its first woman President of the Federal Supreme Court. And other countries are following Ethiopia’s example. I had the opportunity to attend the Women Deliver 2019 Conference in Vancouver, Canada, in June with President Sahle-Work Zewde, where she spoke passionately about gender equality and women’s rights.

Borkena: How are Canadian businesses doing in Ethiopia? Any red tape experiences and/or challenges in policy area?

Ambassador Chevrier : With its large market, Canadian companies are certainly interested in doing business in Ethiopia and there are sectors presenting natural opportunities for increased presence, like energy and infrastructure for example. However, while Ethiopia did increase its ranking on the Ease of Doing Business index in 2019, there is space for further improvements that would make Ethiopia a more attractive market for companies and investors. There have been recent efforts to make starting a business easier, to facilitate trade across borders, and to ensure the enforcement of contracts. These are welcome steps, as is the recently introduced Public-Private Partnership modality, where Canada has significant experience and expertise. Indeed, on June 13 at the Africa Energy Forum in Lisbon, Canada and Ethiopia signed a Memorandum of Understanding on collaboration on infrastructure development using public-private partnerships.This is an important step that will lead to new and interesting areas of collaboration.

Borkena: In November 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau congratulated his Ethiopian counterpart on what he called “ambitious program of reform” seemingly referring to some policy initiatives following what The Economist described ,in its December 2018 publication, as “a coup within the EPRDF.” Do you believe that the reform in Ethiopia is ambitious given Abiy Ahmed administration’s inability to even ensure safety and security of citizens, and while the rights of Ethiopians to work and live in any part of Ethiopia, as citizens, is compromised while refugees living in Ethiopia are given the right to work due to administrative arrangement and political aspirations of radical ethno-nationalism?

Ambassador Chevrie : The reforms undertaken by the administration of Prime Minister Abiy are ambitious and we certainly view them with optimism. As with all wide-ranging reform processes, there are many challenges that need to be addressed and it is equally important to remember that some types of reform take time to yield results – I am thinking, as an example, of the economic sphere where reforms can take time to materialize into jobs.

Borkena: Despite tangible gains out of the reform measures in a range of areas (yes, there were reports of detainment of journalists in recent weeks both in the capital Addis Ababa and outside of it), Ethiopia is living a dangerous state of existence as far as enforcing the rule of law and protecting citizens are concerned. Hundreds are killed in ethnic violence and nearly three million people are internally displaced (the government claims that it is returning IDPs to their places). Yet, there seems to be a tendency to see the crisis rather as an expected component of the “change process.” What would you say about it? And what’s its implication in the effort to make Ethiopia a democracy?

Ambassador Chevrier: We are monitoring the situation of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Ethiopia. During Ethiopia’s Universal Periodic Review at the Human Rights Council in May 2019, Canada encouraged Ethiopia to continue to address the drivers of intercommunal conflict and guarantee that conflict-displaced populations are not returned home until it is safe.

Borkena : Canada is committed to support the reform measure, as reiterated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when he met with President Sahlework Zewde this month in Vancouver where Women Deliver 2019 conference was organized. How is Canada going to support Ethiopia’s aspiration to change itself in terms of building a system in which citizens cherish freedom, equality and unity?

Ambassador Chevrie : As I am sure you are aware, Canada had a central role in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the 1940s, and the promotion and protection of human rights has consistently been a central part of our foreign policy. Respect for freedom of belief, diversity and pluralism, and gender equality are all core Canadian values that are also central to our engagement in Ethiopia. As illustrated by the President’s participation in Women Deliver 2019, and the meeting with Prime Minister Trudeau, gender equality is one evident area of shared priorities, and this ranges from sexual reproductive health and rights to women peace and security. We certainly believe we can partner with Ethiopia to achieve results including, for example, to help the country hopefully meet its commitment to end female genital mutilation as well as child, early, and forced marriage by 2025.

Borkena: From experience in the past year or so, it became apparent that ethnic nationalism posed a threat to the reform process, and possibly to the very existence of Ethiopia. This view is reflected in numerous articles published in The Economist, IPI Global Observatory, Aljazeera and what not. How do you rate the challenge to Ethiopia in that regard? Do you see a reasonable chance of success for the reform agenda without reforming supporting institutional and administrative arrangements?

Ambassador Chevrier : Ethiopia is at an important juncture, where its citizens have space to decide what type of future they want for themselves and the generations to come. Speaking from my country’s experience, Canadians have found that diversity is our strength. For any country, the institutions that support it and provide services to its citizens are of key importance. Strengthening Ethiopia’s institutions is an integral part of the reform process and in delivering on the vision of Prime Minister Abiy for Ethiopia’s citizens.

Borkena: Canada has mostly social and economic development programs in the country, and it is one of the leading development partners to Ethiopia, so to speak. Given the extent of security problem and lawlessness that Ethiopia is facing which could practically hamper any development efforts and perhaps drag the country to conflict too, isn’t it reasonable for development partners, donor countries and multilateral institutions,to realistically rethink prioritization of development areas? For example, don’t you believe that Ethiopia could benefit more, and by extension development and economic partners, from pre-emptive conflict mitigation programs rather than crisis management and humanitarian aid in post conflict situation. If so, do you know if there is possibility for Canadian Development Initiative in that direction, not just for Ethiopia, but in the continent as well?

Ambassador Chevrier : Canada delivers its official development assistance in accordance with its Official Development Assistance Accountability Act (ODAAA), which stipulates that assistance contribute to poverty reduction, take into account the perspective of the poor, and be consistent with international human rights standards. While this assistance can take the shape of activities like enhancing food security or the provision of basic services, I agree that there is always room to be more innovative in achieving results. As an example, the development of a strong economy is a key component of sustained security and prosperity. Along with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Canada believes in the need for start-up capital and access to finance to assist businesses in meeting the national and international demands for Ethiopia’s products. Canada will therefore continue to invest in technical and vocational training, youth life-skills, entrepreneurship and business development services, as well as access to finance to assist young women and men make their business grow.

Borkena: Thank you.

Editors’ note : borkena is Toronto based Ethiopian News portal. We were unable to interview Ambassador Antoine Chevrier in person in Addis Ababa as we are short-staffed and do not have Addis Ababa-based reporter. The Honorable Ambassador was very kind to allow us to submit interview questions electronically. However, we were unable to submit follow-up questions in view of time constraints. We do hope that we will interview him in person in the near future.

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