John Mroz, president and CEO of EastWest Institute Established in 1984 in the United States, EastWest Institute has been working on conflict prevention and resolution, policy issues related to cyber security, as well as food, water and energy security.
The institute is a non-political and non-partisan organization working on making the world a safer and better place to live in. An American businessman, Ross Perot Jr., is the board chairman of the Institute. Tewodros Ashenafi, chairman and CEO of SouthWest Energy, is the first African board director of EastWest Institute in its 33-year history. Last week John Mroz, president and CEO of the Institute, was visiting Addis Ababa. Kaleyesus Bekele of The Reporter sat down with Mroz and Tewodros to discuss pertinent issues.
The Reporter: Tell us about EastWest Institute. How and when was it established?
John Mroz: It is an interesting story. I was asked to take a prominent Jewish business leader to Beirut during the civil war there. It was a difficult time to go to Beirut. It is like going to Damascus today. But this gentleman wanted to go there to meet Yasir Arafat, the leader of PLO, whom I knew. So I took him to meet Arafat and we had a very interesting talk. After the visit, this gentleman asked me (he was 72 years old at that time), "If you could do anything to make the world a safer and better place for my children and grandchildren what would you do". I told him I would establish an Institute along the lines of what the EastWest Institute would become. The businessman then said if you quit your job and dedicate the next five years of your life to this institute, my family foundation will allocate a million dollars each year for the next five years. After five years he said you are on your own.
That is our origin. It is very interesting. By the way, this businessman lived to be 97 and at his funeral his grandson got up and talked about how his father said that the investment in EastWest Institute was the best return on investment his father had ever made. It is a very human and interesting story. A group of different men and women from around the world come together and actually make a difference in making the world a safe and better place. What have you been doing so far? What are your achievements?
Mroz: We are well known for what we did during the Cold War, bridging differences between Washington and Moscow. Starting in 1981 we became the back channel between the Soviet Union and the United States, if you remember that time in the 1980s everything was viewed through the prism of the Soviet Union and the United States. Whether it was in Angola or Cuba it was in the prism of the Cold War. So we played a big behind-the-scenes role in bringing top military leaders together and building trust, which led to a number of positive development in the Cold War, including working on the reunification of Germany and those kinds of things. In the 1980s we played a wonderful role in helping to solve different problems and tensions between the big military powers. Of course there was a crazy arms race. And we played a major role in bringing leaders around a table for discussions and resolving issues and avoiding military tensions.
After that we became the back channel with China. We did big works behind the scenes between China and the US and China and Japan. We did a lot of work between other major super-powers as well. We did a lot of work on cyber security, even before it became a big, growing global issue. We have been working on food, water and energy. It is the nexus, where the three come together - food, water and energy - providing basic economic security for people. That is the reason why we are here visiting Ethiopia. I was going to ask you that. What is the purpose of your visit to Ethiopia?
Mroz: Several reasons. One is that Ethiopia is one of the most advanced countries in thinking through sustainability and how to develop your country, what you have done for your small stakeholder farmers is quite remarkable. The country's economic growth is very impressive but also the way you are doing the growth is impressive. You are doing it in a very sustainable way. We are here to talk to a number of your leaders on the issue of whether or not there is value added that the institute can bring to Ethiopia in terms of development in the area of food, water and energy and see how these three come together. It is a new way of looking at these issues.
So we are here to primarily look at that nexus here and the region at large. We came here to listen to Ethiopians and to get a sense of what we can do here. Tewodros Ashenafi: The institute played very big roles in policy issues on food, water and energy. The nexus is very important in going forward in the 21st century. So in this region there could be a lot of added value the institute can do because everything is interlinked regionally - water food and energy. What is the institute's engagement on food, water and energy and do you have a plan to assist Ethiopia in these sectors?
Mroz: There is a lot of talk on the nexus of food, water and energy. There are lots of conferences. It is a new thing but very few groups are actually taking concrete action in this area. How do you do it? You can have a great idea, anyone can have a great idea but you have to know how to take it into action. And our institution is known as an action institute. We are not known for writing big books. Other people do that. We change ideas into action. We bring people who do not usually work together around a table. You would be surprised at how people working on water do not work with the energy people and so forth. It is quite stunning.
Water people cannot solve water challenges with just water people. The same is true in my country in the United States. It is almost the same in every country in the world. We have very strong relations with China, Russia, India, Saudi Arabia, and the Emirates. How can we advance the idea of working together on food, water, and energy? Can we create a model? Ethiopia is the closest to having a truly successful model. What we are hearing from your officials is that this kind of role is appreciated here. We will come back in April for the Tana Forum and spend more time here following up on this issue. My colleagues who lead the water, food and energy area will come in May. The idea is to develop a partnership, to sign a memorandum of understanding and work with the government, NGOs and the private sector in addressing the provision of food, water and energy.
Did you meet senior Ethiopian government officials? Mroz: We have been very fortunate to meet state secretaries, adviser to the prime minister and we have been to lots of ministries and held impressive discussions. We also have been to the Ethiopian Investment Agency. We will keep communicating with all the pertinent government offices. We have been listening to your government officials on how we can work together. We may be able to bring something that benefits Ethiopia. Ethiopia is a regional player and we eventually want to bring something to your neighbors too. Something that surprises me is that Ethiopians do not talk about themselves.
You do not tell your cultural story. You do not promote yourself and that may be part of your culture. On the other hand, you have to promote your culture since there are people in other parts of the world that do not know your history and culture. You have done a lot in the past decade and you have to tell the world about it. Recently I was talking with a group of investors that want to go to Asia to invest. They were talking about investment opportunities in South Africa and Asian countries and I said to them what about Ethiopia. But they do not know anything about Ethiopia. That is not their fault. It is not because they do not want to know. You have to be able to promote your country. Are you planning to bring foreign investment to Ethiopia?
Mroz: We would like to find a way for investors to look at Ethiopia as a model of the 21st century dealing with food, water and energy security. You have the potential. You are close in the developing world to do this. We can cooperate with Ethiopian institutions. We can partner with African institutions like the Economic Commission for Africa and the African Union. We can look at ways that we can attract foreign investors. We are not just promoting Ethiopia as another market but as a sustainable investment area for the food, water and energy nexus. When I was born there were only 2.5 billion people in the world. Today there are 7 billion people.
But you have to think about the sustainability of the planet. We should not be wasting water anymore. Climate change is coming but what does that mean? We have to think and work on sustaining our environment. And Ethiopia can be a model for the rest of us. Tewodros can you comment on bringing FDI to Ethiopia? Tewodros: First of all, East West Institute is a non-partisan, non-political organization and it is an NGO. However, the institute has very significant partnerships with the private sector. Certainly other board members of the institute like myself are from the private sector. I think there is a way to create a forum where private investors can have the platform to look at opportunities in conjunction with various other players in terms of the right medium to pull all together. The institute can play an important role in this regard.