In Ethiopia, development has progressed better than before, but freedom of expression has shrunk — Minister Hautala

12 Nov

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin

Heidi Hautala (Photo: courtesy of The Reporter)

Finland’s Minister of International Development Heidi Hautala visited Ethiopia for four days from 23 October to see for herself what difference Finnish aid has made to Ethiopians. It was clear from her engagements with Ethiopian officials and from her public statement where she stands on policy:”In [the] cooperation between Ethiopia and Finland, our main point of entry is the human pillar. The main resource to develop is the human resource.”

After her return from Ethiopia, when opening a seminar on 11 November in Helsinki she compared Ethiopia’s growth and Zanzibar’s to make her point. “In Ethiopia, ” she said, “development has progressed well when measured by many indicators: children can go to school and clean water is available. But freedom of expression has shrunk and, in their own words, organisations are living in an atmosphere of fear…By contrast, in Zanzibar the atmosphere was different. Although the development targets still need work…civil society organisations were full of energy and power

The fact that human rights is close to her heart has earned her the reference: “the Grand Lady of Finnish Human Rights politics.” In her previous life, according to her webpage, Hautala was member of the European Parliament and the chairwoman of the parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights. She was in charge of the European Parliament’s human rights policy in external relations.

Her starting point in Ethiopia was, “It’s great to see the many areas in which the country has developed in recent years. On the other hand, development always needs a free civil society, and I hope that this will also take place here,” according to information provided by Finland’s Foreign Ministry.

During her visit Heidi Hautala had met with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Minister of Finance and Economic Development Sufian Ahmed and Foreign Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn. She had extensive discussions that ranged from the situation in the Horn of Africa, to Ethiopia’s development, the state of human rights and democracy in the country to Ethio-Finnish cooperation. Minister Hautala had also met with the head of the government established Human Rights Commission.

In her discussion with the prime minister, Minister Heidi Hautala is quoted saying, “With the Prime Minister, we discussed, in particular, the situation in the Horn of Africa and Ethiopia’s regional role..” adding “Ethiopia has a strategically important location, which naturally increases the international community’s interest in the country.”

With Foreign Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn, who was educated in Finland, apart from foreign policy, they discussed human rights and management of land and water. The contribution of Finnish aid has been focussing on the education sector and the provision of clean water. To see that on the field, Hautala visited project areas in Amhara region, where Finland has clean water project from 1994-2011. That project has enabled 1.6 million people to have access to clean water.

Another area of emphasis in her speech was environmental protection and proper use of resources. In that regard, she underlined both acknowledgement of foreign investments and the caution needed. She said:

    In Ethiopia, massive investments are taking place, tremendous programs happening in different parts of the country. Transformation is doubtless required in Ethiopia, improvements needed. However, we must make sure the people do not get left on the sidelines. The government has embarked on a villagization programme in four regions of the country. The objectives of ensuring access to basic services and infrastructure, increased productivity and food production are commendable. Nevertheless, the processes behind such large interventions need to be solid to negate some obvious social risks. Securing people’s right to their land requires necessary supporting systems – such as consultations, dispute resolution mechanisms and compensation schemes.

    Commercial farming encompass national, but largely foreign investors; much of this production targets the export markets. While the foreign investments can be very beneficial, we must not forget the question of the social and environmental accountability of foreign investors.

Already on 4 October 2011, speaking at the opening session of the Workshop on Human Rights and Development by the World Bank Nordic Trust Fund and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland she highlighted the following:

    “Finland believes in mainstreaming human rights, democracy and good governance into all development policy instruments, bilateral as well as multilateral ones. A large part of the Finnish development assistance is, in fact, channeled through various international organizations and actors.

    The EU is our main partner and also the biggest provider of development assistance in the world. Our aim is to ensure that human rights are included across the EU’s development policies and activities.

    The World Bank Group is our second biggest partner. The Nordic countries have introduced a strategic human rights dialogue with the World Bank. We have also set up a Nordic Trust Fund, which aims to enhance the human rights perspective in the activities of the Bank and in its Member Countries. [Finland was among the countries establishing the Nordic Trust Fund in the World Bank and has contributed funds to it, 2.2 million euros since 2006]

    The World Bank as a key global development actor and I believe that it should show leadership in promoting human rights both in practice and at the policy level. When attending the annual World Bank meeting few weeks ago, I noted with satisfaction the way in which the Bank lately has been able to move the human rights agenda forward in its work. But a lot remains to be done.

    The UN, with its funds and programmes, is also a very important partner to us – and we are actively keeping human rights, rule of law and good governance high on the agenda in our cooperation with the UN bodies.

    In addition to these partners I think that civil society is a key partner that we should engage with much more actively in the future. NGOs act as watchdogs and actors for accountability and change. They are also in general best informed about local situations and conditions and can thus be highly valuable partners in development cooperation. Increased support for the civil society should, however, not be used as an excuse for not raising human rights issues and concerns in bilateral discussions with our partner countries.”


While Heidi Hautala was in Ethiopia, The Reporter’s Yemane Nagish had an opportunity to talk with her. That interview is reproduced hereunder (

“We have to find ways that we can balance our aid with HR issues”

Heidi Hautala is Minister of International Development for Finland and was chairman of human rights sub-committee in the European Union. During her visit to Ethiopia last week, she held talks with high government officials including Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. She said that Finland will continue to help Ethiopia but her country wants to balance aid with human rights concerns. Regarding those issues, the minister spoke to Yemane Nagish of The Reporter. Excerpts:

What is the main purpose of your visit to Ethiopia and in what way is your country planning to help Ethiopia?

We want to find ways to address the humanitarian crisis. We have to find ways to equip people to be able to avoid future catastrophes and, of course, we have to help the government to meet the commitments in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). I see that Ethiopia has greatly progressed in certain sectors of the MDGs, particularly those sectors we are actively working in. I think in a country like Ethiopia, we really need to look for ways to engage people and the civil society in the development endeavor. Back home, we are drafting a new development policy platform and I make sure that we have the most participatory ways to those updated ideas on what we want to do with our resources. And when I get back, I will be more enriched with the experiences of Ethiopians in development and most people that I am talking to here in Ethiopia are extremely important to have discussions on the topic. Because we deserve to put in place up to date, modern policy platforms that helps to solve real challenges on the ground.

Is your trip limited to Ethiopia or do you have further plans to visit other African countries?

Ethiopia is one of the seven African countries that Finland is involved in. Some of them are from east Africa: Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania. It is the first for me to come to this country. I decided to start my tour in this part: Ethiopia and Kenya.

Why do you want to start in this part?

I knew that Ethiopia and Kenya are a very deeply-rooted part of the African Horn region. And at the moment there are many challenges that I have to understand better. Of course, humanitarian crisis, famine, political instability, terrorism and other problems exists in the region, especially in Somalia. Because Finland is a proponent of peace mediation, we really want to be involved in this sector. The East African region is where we want to contribute to peace building process and peace mediation. And that’s why our former president has made the decision to show up in the African Union summit in January.

Could you tell me more about your president’s visit to Addis Ababa?

He knows a lot of people here. He is also a very good peacemaker and this region needs peace and stability. He will be attending the AU meeting, talking to the Africa Union heads of state.

Is Finland’s aid in Ethiopia mainly focused on providing clean water to local people?

Yes. I think the way these results have been achieved is the most important. In my opinion development that empowers the people is the core. There can be no serious development without the people. The development endeavors will not bear fruit without the people.

How do you channel your aid to the local people? Do you have any mechanism of directly reaching the local people or do you do it through the government structure?

It is through various ways. For instance, we had a meeting this morning in Addis to see how to help children with special needs. We are very happy to see that most children in Ethiopia go to school. It is a big improvement. But the challenge remains to be how to incorporate the children with special needs and disabilities in schools. So we want to continue to work to support the rights of the disabled people because in our new development thinking we want to play a special role in helping marginalized parts of the society. Yesterday I went to some slum areas in the capital to learn how the local government is integrated with NGOs to reach to the poor people.

On the other hand, I was the chairman of sub-committee for Human Rights in European Parliament and it is important for me to see how the balance between development and HRs is kept in Ethiopia. And this has to do with the idea that there can be no development without giving people, like the disabled, the central role.

There are local and international HR concerns against the Ethiopian government. What is your take on the matter?

I think we need to find ways to support HR activities in the country and I hope that the human rights commission should become an important institution in Ethiopia. I was much interested to learn more about the human rights commission of Ethiopia. I knew that there are questions regarding its institutional independence, but my recollection of the matter, while I stayed here, is that it is trying to defend the people.

Traditionally, it has been thought that development and HR are two different issues, but I see close link between the two. For instance, I think the rights of children and women in expressing themselves are something that we have to find ways to talk with the Ethiopian government. We have to find ways that we can balance our aid with HR issues.

If I correctly understood you, your country is designing a new way for delivering development aid. Do you think Ethiopia can benefit from that?

First we have to keep supporting Ethiopia because it is our long-time partner that goes back to the 1960s. So, it should be kept in mind that it not a new relationship. But the task ahead is coordinating our efforts with other international organizations and donor countries working with Ethiopia.

So far the discussion is quite promising. And I think we need to have a strong political dialogue with the government on issues that have not been touched upon until now. Such issues include human rights. So, this has been the core of our new development policies and we want to work with others since we know that everybody could not be active in every sector.

Is it right to assume that you have serious concerns in human right conditions in Ethiopia?

I have a lot of concerns on human rights conditions in a lot of countries including my own. For instance, Finland is a country where Africans are treated very well. In Europe we have the problems of creating some kind of agitating opinions about Islam and every country has got some challenges.

So are you planning to provide aid for the famine-affected areas?

We have been providing humanitarian assistance to WFP and other international NGOs like the Red Cross in the order of some 21 million euros this year. We are a small country but we have to find out how food aid actually is reaching the needy people. But, of course, we know that the distribution of food aid is a very difficult matter in a catastrophic environment. I heard of this figure, that 50-60 percent of the food aid gets lost (a rumor) because of the al-Shabab. So, I have to find out more about that. I think it is important that we don’t only think about crises but we should work on ways to help people to be resistant to humanitarian crises. The climate change is getting worse day by day. There is no doubt that it needs adaptation. Climate change is also an important part of our development efforts. We found out that women are important to combat climate change. If woman are given more prominent role in finding ways to combat climate challenge, then we are sure that it would be more efficient. So, we are financing countries to send women’s delegates to the climate change negotiations. It should not be only the business of men.

I think you met the PM of Ethiopia. What were the main topics in your discussion?

I found out that your PM is very knowledgeable about the political and security situation of the Horn and Finland wants to support the Ethiopian effort in dealing with the regional crisis. We also want to support IGAD.

Did you raise some HR concerns to the PM?

Yes I did. We talked about the problem in relation to the detention of journalists. And I prefer to hold the details of our discussion.

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