Ambassador Stephan Auer is a career diplomat. He has been in diplomacy since 1990 and has represented Germany in different countries. The Ambassador has now been in Ethiopia for half a year. Sisay Sahlu of The Reporter sat down with the incoming Ambassador and discussed various economic and political issues of the two nations and the European Union. Excerpts:
The reporter: It has been around six months since you became the Ambassador of Germany to Ethiopia. How is your start so far?
Ambassador Auer: I was always very interested in African affairs. I was born in Africa. I lived in South Africa for four years. So I chose Ethiopia to come as a new post. I was posted mainly to Europe and South Korea, Asia, and I had never been posted to Africa. So I wanted to come to Africa - go back to the roots. [It was] also to see the big opportunities of collaboration there between Europe and Africa between Germany and Africa between Germany and Ethiopia.
I think there is a lot of potential in our relations which haven't been taped yet and which we can still exploit. We have also common interest in solving global challenges. These issues include: climate change, energy security, water scarcity, eradication of poverty and human rights protection. We can only do it together, not separately. Germany can't do it alone; Europe can't do it alone; and Africa can't do it alone; Ethiopia can't do it alone; but we can do it together and this is one of the reasons why I came here.
So, this double challenge of working bilaterally with our Ethiopian friends and partners, one of our most important Partners in Africa, and also being here as the Ambassador of Germany and an observer to the African union makes this post particularly interesting.
The reporter: How is the trade and investment relation of the two nations and how do German investors see Ethiopia?
Ambassador Auer: German businesses are very interested in Ethiopia, particularly in the reform process which is being undertaken by the Prime Minister. It is very important that this continues and succeeds; the 10-year plan which has been recently presented to the public is very important as it also focuses very much on the private sector. The private sector is very important to create jobs. In Germany, the private sector is responsible for the vast majority of job creation. So this is why you have to strengthen the private sector and have conducive environment to attract investments, not only from Ethiopia but also foreign direct investments. Small and medium enterprises are the backbone of the German economy. German businesses look very carefully at a certain market before they come. So they analyze the situation, the opportunities but also the risks.
If they come to the conclusion that it is worthwhile investing in that country, they come and they stay. The good thing about these investments is that they are sustainable investments. They are not only looking for quick benefit or profits, but they come here to invest into a sustainable inclusive development. So they are interested in social protection, educating and training people. This is, by the way, one of the major assets of German companies - to train the people on the job as vocational training.
They also look into the environmental dimension. So they have this three-dimensional sustainable development into consideration when investors come to a country and they stay here for a long time. But of course they look at the pros and cons and this is why it's so important to have a conducive environment in Ethiopia to attract them.
Here I am working on that together with Ethiopian friends to create this environment so that German companies come to Ethiopia to invest, to create jobs, to create prosperity and opportunities for further development.
The reporter: Is there any interest to come and invest?
Ambassador Auer: There is some interest and we hope that they would materialize it soon. We are working also on having a delegation of the German Chamber of Commerce here coming to Addis, so that would also boost very much the prospects of German investments to Ethiopia.
The reporter: Germany, through GIZ, has done a lot in Ethiopia. What are its success stories in terms of impacting the life of Ethiopians? What are the achievements of the idea of cobblestone, and Condominium in Ethiopia?
Ambassador Auer: GIZ is a huge implementation body; it gets the money from the German government to implement projects. With regard to the Cobblestone and the low-cost housing project, this has been commissioned by Ethiopian partners. They, of course, have brought in the expertise needed to implement these different projects; one is the low cost housing projects which was commissioned around 2004 was very successful as we understand it.
It has created 50,000 construction workers who built 11,000 apartments by 2011 in 21 different sites; it started in Tigary and went to Addis Ababa and they constructed over 7 model settlements. A total of 800,000 units of housing have been built in various Ethiopian Regional capitals using low-cost housing technology. So, cost was significantly lowered and the standards and the quality of the buildings were high with reduced building time.
For the first time, housing became also available for those who didn't have much income; so if you keep that in consideration, it really was a success story.
The other one is the Cobblestone project which was also very successful. It was included in two different programs implemented by the GIZ. It was implemented throughout the entire country and it was I think over a hundred forty cities that were engaged. More than 300,000 people make their earnings from Cobblestone related activity. So it has had quite a lot of impact.
Over 3000 small and medium-sized Enterprises were trained as chiselers and pavers to get contracts not only from cities and universities but also from the private sector. So you can see this has had quite an impact on the economy and on job creation here in Ethiopia. To give you some very interesting figures, more than 2.23 million square meters that are about 223 km of Roads have been paved to beautify marketplaces, roads and walkways.
More than 100,000 workers have received on-the-job training in the various skills of the Cobblestone trade and the scaling up of these projects is very important and is a unique opportunity to do this.
The Reporter: How do you see the aid and cooperation schemes of Germany and Ethiopia?
Ambassador Auer: Regarding development aid and cooperation, we don't call it just as aid cooperation because we cooperate with one another. It is not one sided. We talk to our Ethiopian friends and ask them which areas to cooperate on. So it's a dialogue and then we came to the conclusion that there are three main areas where we cooperate. One is sustainable development of the economy and vocational training; the second is biodiversity aiming to protect and preserve the natural resources of this beautiful country, but also to use natural resources in a sustainable way. The third area is agriculture, where we are encouraging the Ethiopian agricultural industry to be more productive to ensure food security.
The reporter: How does the government of Germany assess Ethiopia's law enforcement operation in Tigray region?
Ambassador Auer: We are looking at it with some concern. We think that the military option is not a solution to problems. We also think that it is more important to discuss things and to have a National dialogue; of course that is not only in Tigray but to have inclusive National dialogue to address the Ethnic tension which exists here in Ethiopia. We are concerned about the restricted humanitarian access, although there have been some improvements lately.
These are important first steps and we very much welcome them. But I think in comparison with the scale of the humanitarian crisis in Tigray, we need much more. We need access to humanitarian NGOs, United Nations and others to help and address the needs. We are also concerned about allegations of human rights abuses, the massacres and atrocities we hear and the rape and sexually motivated crimes we hear about.
In this context, it is relevant to mention the statement of President of Ethiopia, Sahlework Zewde, and also of the Minister of Women, children and youth affairs. I think they were very important statements and this is also a matter of concern for us. We are concerned because we are afraid that this may have an impact on the reform process. As I mentioned earlier, it is an important political and economic process being effectively undertaken by the present government and the Prime Minister.
So this could lead to destabilization of the country and of the whole region. As I said, we all have always been close friends of Ethiopia and supported this reform process very much. This is why we attach a particular importance in the good and democratic continuation of this process.
The reporter: The Ethiopian government has not confirmed the involvement of Eritrean Troops in Tigray region. What is your take on this?
Ambassador Auer: This is also something we are calling for - the retreat of Eritrean troops from Tigray - because according to the reports, we get that Eritrean troops are up there and they shouldn't be there.
The reporter: The European Union has been calling for an economic sanction on Ethiopia and Germany prefers diplomatic solution. What exactly is Germany's stand?
Ambassador Auer: The EU has suspended budgetary support to Ethiopia. So they said we will not pay the budgetary support for the moment and Germany said development projects should continue for the time being because our support is for the democratic and economic development of this country. This is not supporting either side, which means we are supporting the development progress in this country and this is the reason why we should continuing to doing it and what we would like to do. But of course we also have some concerns about what is going on here and we have to look carefully into how things are progressing.
The reporter: There are some actors still calling for negotiation and diplomatic means to solve the Tigray issue. With whom do you think the diplomatic solution or agreement will be done?
Ambassador Auer: I don't see a military operation as an option. But you need to have peaceful means to solve the issue. National dialogue is one of these means to address the issue and it should be inclusive to encompass the parties who seek peaceful change. I am saying you should get together and talk, see how peacefully you can achieve consensus.
You know that the AU has sent three envoys. I think that could be an opportunity to get together and promote national dialogue. I think it is important one uses the channels that are there to try to find peaceful solution to the problems and that of course applies also to the GERD and to the Sudanese-Ethiopian border issues.
But the fact that the Eritreans are here in Tigray, and also the fact that Ethiopian refugees are going to Sudan means it is not only an internal issue anymore. This has become international.
The reporter: Regarding the GERD issue, Egypt needs any other party to meddle and negotiate the impasse which is still unsolved, how Germany is looking this progress?
Ambassador Auer: It is important to say here that it is a question of trust. I think it is important to re-establish trust between the parties and here again, I think that talk is very important and Germany, therefore, supports efforts towards talks which are being facilitating by the African Union, by the Former President of the African Union, President Ramaphosa. It is very important to continue on that track because if negotiated, peaceful solution comes out.
I think we should see the Nile as an opportunity for Cooperation, for regional integration and for economic cooperation. You know in Europe, we have had two world wars mostly about natural resources. After the Second World War, there was this idea of forming a common administration for the natural resources, particularly for coal and steel, and that was the beginning of the European Union. That was the point of the best and the only real successful peace project in the continent's history, which received the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition.
I think the idea of using natural resources or let's say energy or water to come together to cooperate on mutual economic benefits for the countries along the Nile, practically Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt, can lead to some sort of solution.
The Reporter: How about the current Ethiopia and Sudan border conflict?
Ambassador Auer: This is a very unfortunate situation because it seems like the two are locked in an impasse. The Ethiopian government says we will not negotiate before the Sudanese troops go back to the status quo, and the Sudanese say as far as I understand it, we want to delimitate the border first and then we can talk about other issues like cross-border cooperation, the Ethiopian Farmers and the Sudanese Al-Fashqa Triangle.
So the big question here is: how do you overcome the situation? We also see a role for the African union here. If we speak African solutions to African problems, we need to take measures along that line by giving worth to continental and regional organizations such as the African Union that have the mandate to address these issues of peace and security between its member state.
So, let's take the African Union and let's support it. The new chairperson who has been re-elected, Moussa Faki Mahamat, has had endeavors to find a way to bring the two parties to the negotiating table. One thing I also want to mention in this context is the border program of the African Union, which has been very successful in delimitating the borders in Africa. This border program has delimitated 6000 kilometers in West Africa. So, let's take this AU boarder program to help Ethiopia and Sudan overcome the problem. Of course, the two countries have border commissions and they could help them in delimitating the boarders because they not only deal with technical issues but also help address cross border cooperation.
The reporter: How are the European Union in general and Germany in particular assessing the unstable horn politics with regard to the refugee crisis?
Ambassador Auer: Ethiopia itself is hosting a lot of refugees already. It is the third country in Africa hosting the most refugees and we have to acknowledge this. We recognize this and we are very grateful to Ethiopians for being so welcoming to refugees. There are almost a million refugees in Ethiopia in spite of all the problems and we have to acknowledge that. So, we are very thankful to Ethiopians and the Ethiopian government for hosting them. So, it will not only affect Europe but first and foremost Ethiopia and the region. There are three main routes of migration in Africa. The first goes to the Arab peninsula; the other one to Southern Africa and the third goes to Europe. The route to Europe is very dangerous, as are the others. There are a number of problems traveling to the North, crossing the Sahara and then having to trust the Mediterranean. So, this is why we are very much interested in having a stable, democratic and prosperous Ethiopia. Again, this is why we are concerned that the conflict in the North could destabilize the country.
The reporter: Germany has been a notable development partner to Ethiopia and that trend has gone into Ethiopia's bid to host national elections this year. What sort of things have you been doing in that regard?
Ambassador Auer: Indeed the EU and Germany are the biggest donors in development Cooperation to Ethiopia. Why are we doing this? Because we believe that Ethiopia has a very important role to play not only as a populous country with over 112 million inhabitants, but also for the region and for Africa in general. It can be a role model for democratic economic transition. The idea is to use development cooperation as an opportunity for the economic and political development of a country, for technological transfer, for innovation, for job creation, for the prosperity of a country.
Another very important issue we spoke about earlier is the private sector. You have to support the private sector as this government is doing to build conducive environment to invest in the country. You need to create jobs because it will increase income. When you increase income, you increase taxes the government can use to invest in infrastructure and other sectors that help development.
This is why we are working together with the Ethiopian government to develop the private sector and create conducive environment. Training people is much more important than building hundreds of Universities because companies that come here don't want to have PhD graduates. They want to have skilled workers and this is exactly what vocational training is doing.
Vocational training is you know, for example you have a certain job, let's say car mechanic, at a certain company like Volkswagen, yes. It doesn't use employees of an academic learned with German literature. So, what he wants to have is a worker who knows how to fix machines and you learn it not in the University, but you got from vocational training school. Because you two pillars one is the theory which is being told to you in this vocational Schools and the other one is in the company.
The reporter: How does Germany see developments towards the upcoming election?
Ambassador Auer: To put it in a nutshell, we expect these elections to be the most democratic and credible elections in Ethiopian history. We still have three months to go. We are supporting the election board and we are speaking to the board chairperson, Birtukan Midksa, on the matter. We will support it because we think a lot has been done. There is a lot of dialogue going on, a lot of preparations going on and we hope that this will lead to a fair and credible election on the 5th of June.
The Reporter: What do you think of the prevailing political up and downs in Ethiopia?
Ambassador Auer: A Democratic social market economy has enabled us to prosper to find back the way to the International Community to interrelate with other countries and to live in peace for 75 years now.
So, economic, political integration and inclusive sustainable development are the recipes for our current success. We believe in it and this is why we always support Ethiopian friends, the African Union and the African integration process. We firmly believe that Africa needs to unite more. The African Continental Free Trade Agreement is very important to increase Intra Africa trade.