Perspectives from Africa,
engagement from Finland

Understanding Africa

Representing Africans


Fireworks at Kansalaistori Square, Helsinki, to celebrate a century of Finnish independence (Photo: Finland 100)

Fireworks in Helsinki, to celebrate a century of Finnish independence (Photo: Finland 100)

Ethiopia’s long-standing partner against poverty and for progress

Finland has been well-known to Ethiopians since the success of the African nation’s runners at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952. But, more than this, during the 1950s Addis Ababa was Finland's gateway to southern Africa; diplomatic relations were established in 1959, and Finland’s first sub-Saharan Embassy was opened in Addis in 1965. The relationship has remained stable and generally progressive over the decades, through changing political situations as well as economic ups and downs. In 2005, after a break of 30 years, Finland promoted its relations to ambassadorial level, which indicated the importance of Addis Ababa as an ‘African capital’ in the Finnish perspective.

Finland's developmental cooperation with Ethiopia began with the work of Red Cross Finland - delivering ambulances to Ethiopia in the 1930s. This decade-long initiative created strong bonds between both countries and their peoples. There have been many Finnish married to Ethiopians – and even families with an adopted Ethiopian child. There are also a number of Ethiopian people and organisations who have strong connections with Finland - for example, the current Ethiopian Prime Minister, Desalgen H/mariam, studied at Tampere University of Technology.

Suomi/Africa recently interviewed Leo Olasvirta, the Ambassador of Finland to Ethiopia, to gain insights into the long-standingrelationship between the two countries. Olasvirta has an MA in political science, international politics, national economy and international law. For most of the time working for the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, he has been engaged in various developmental issues and working in the European Union attending various committees focused on development. Further back, he was the head of the diplomatic mission to Ethiopia between from 1988 to 1992. His second term as Ambassador to Ethiopia, beginning August 2013, runs parallel to continued work for the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

Finnish bi-lateral cooperation to date Leo Osvirta, Finland's Ambassador to Ethiopia

"Today, Ethiopia is one of Finland's long-term development partners. The current bilateral cooperation is based on the ongoing five year strategy of the Ethiopian national development: the Growth and Transformation Plan," said Ambassador Olasvirta.

"The main sectors that Finland are involved in are water and sanitation, education, land use management, agriculture-based growth programmes and empowering citizens through supporting NGOs and civil society organisations - as well as a humanitarian aid to refugees and institutional bilateral cooperation."

The main regions of operation for such with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society organisations (CSOs) are, currently: Amhara, Benishangul-Gumuz, Oromvia, Tigray and SNNPR (Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People's Region) - with wider community participation.

Supporting the objectives

The key objective presently motivating Finnish support is poverty reduction amongst rural communities; specifically, addressing the poverty levels of small-holder farmers and their local societies by enabling and supporting agricultural-based economic growth. Furthermore, Finland aims to enable the provision of equal access to educational and working opportunities, and the sustainable management of natural resources to improve the livelihoods and the economic well-being of rural populations – a vital element in the portfolio of progressive programmes, which includes improvement of access to potable water, sanitation and hygiene services, as well as the quality of teaching resources and teaching practices. Thanks to Finland's interventions, Ethiopia is encouraged to translate its development strategies into concrete actions.

How it is done, how we are doing

Water sector cooperation is aligned with the government’s main priorities. The community-based water project has provided clean water to millions of Ethiopians, especially in Amhara. The sectors registered that their best results were not only in making aid effective and available, bringing a difference at the local level, but also in having had an influence on the implementation of the government's sectoral strategy. Finland's involvement in Ethiopian water management has expanded into a comprehensive programme comprising not only water resource services, but also land management and other growth-related interventions. According to the Ambassador, the programme as a whole is coherent, due to its clear geographical focus and a balance between project interventions and policy development.

Addis Ababa has long been a key African capital for Finnish engagement in the continent (Photo: Hansueli Krapf) The educational sector is supported in two  ways: a multi-donor programme, and a  bilateral technical assistance project to raise  the quality of general education. Both have  had a considerable impact on improving and  systematising the training of teachers. The  Basic Education quality improvement project,  in cooperation with other development  partners, has provided school materials as  well as funds which resulted in thousands of  children learning to read, do mathematics,  etc. as well as integrating children with  disabilities into regular schools instead of  having them stay home- all with the aim of  ending marginalisation. Furthermore,  Finland's focused support to special needs  education (SNE) sector has been very  significant, and has ensured the sector’s  place on the government's agenda.  According to various evaluations, Finland's long-term engagement to the two main sectors of cooperation – of water and education - has made a huge impact on the country. While Finland's support through NGOs and the Local Cooperation Fund (LCF) mainly focus on themes such as disability, human rights, health issues (including HIV/AIDS and reproductive health), children's rights (to education and to safe childhood), they also promote children's rights through SNE as well as rural development, food security, democracy, good governance, gender equity, income-generating activities and, finally, environmental protection. In addition, Finland is promoting sustainability by preventing the use of unsustainable natural resources because of increased environmental awareness. "For instance, the watershed management project has decreased land degradation and desertification and hence has directly contributed to climate resilience of its beneficiaries," explained the Ambassador. In 2012, the Finnish NGO funding to Ethiopia counted approximately 2.9 million euro.

"The participation of women in decision-making, activities that generate income and the advancement of reproductive health rights, as well as the elimination of harmful traditional practices (eg female genital mutilation) and increasing equality in every aspect of life, are some of the cross-cutting objectives strongly promoted in all programmes supported by us," the Ambassador said.

In addition to these financial efforts, Finland also provides significant technical assistance to all supported programs and projects. In particular, they help with the development of education and the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector. It also promotes civil service and works towards increasing the capacity of CSOs across all development interventions to further mainstream human development and participatory approaches.

"The technical assistance is designed to bring about the transferring of knowledge providing long-term benefits to the implementers,” Ambassador Olasvirta said.

Management of programmes and projects

Most of the country's structures harmonise well with the management of programmes and projects - although some parallel structures have been put in place specifically for capacity-building purposes with both the Ethiopian civil service and with CSOs - and these are managed and implemented in cooperation with the Ethiopian Government.

“Apart from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), we are also working in close collaboration with the Ministry of Finance and Development (MoFED), the Ministry of Education (MoE), the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Water and Energy (MoWE) ,” Ambassador Olasvirta reported.

Financing innovation Ethiopian education is prioritised by Finland

Finnish finance programmes target the reduction of poverty at grassroots level. These bilateral initiatives enable Ethiopia’s financial systems to channel aid finance and resources by mainly using the government's procurement systems.

"Finland's budget proposal (the Country Strategy for the Development Cooperation) in Ethiopia (2013-2016) is estimated at 57.1 million euro - 15.7 million of which is allocated to the current fiscal year," the Ambassador said. "We certainly want more trade with Ethiopia, in private sector investments, broad awareness of business opportunities between Finland and Ethiopia, as well as more contribution to the peace and stability with its neighbours - Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan."

Monitoring management

“MoFED is in charge of monitoring the country development results through its GTP monitoring mechanism. It produces an annual progress report using its own and other sector ministries’ monitoring data, selected indicators as well as the respective baseline data, presented in a policy matrix,” says the Ambassador, while Finnish interventions are monitored by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in the Embassy of Helsinki, and by the management structures in charge of implementation. What is more, Finland receives government progress reports based on the government reporting schedule. Bilateral programmes are led by steering committees, in which the Embassy takes part as a member. Periodic progress and financial reports (quarterly and annual) are presented during the meetings based on the internal monitoring of programmes, on performance indicators and baseline data. “The projects and programmes are subject to mid-term reviews and evaluations, which provide guidance for implementation and lessons learned for the future.”

Finland and the African Union (AU)

The Ambassador affirms that Finland supports the African Union on political, thematic and practical levels - and strives to emphasise the AU’s ownership in all its cooperation. The AU Mediation Support Capacity Project, launched in 2009, has an overall goal of strengthening the mediation support capacity of the AU in order to resolve conflicts through more gender sensitive, efficient, and effective mediation interventions. The anticipated impact of enhanced African conflict prevention and mediation capacity and practices is ultimately aimed at promoting sustainable peace, security and development on the African continent. The project has now entered into its second three-year phase. Finland also supports the African Leadership in ICT (ALICT) programme, with the objective of building up the capacities of current and future leaders in ICT and the Knowledge Society in Africa. Furthermore, Finland is starting to support the functioning of the AU Disability Architecture (AUDA), a project that aims to contribute to the promotion of the human rights of persons with disabilities in Africa through mainstreaming disability into AU’s and member States’ policies and development activities. In office, the Ambassador is charged also with serving as Finland's Permanent Representative for the AU and additionally as Ambassador to Djibouti and South Sudan.

"I like Ethiopian culture. It has a fascinating history, with historical places such as Gondar and Harar. I also appreciate how easily the Ethiopians contact foreigners and greet me on the street without knowing who I am," Leo Olasvirta said. 

Meskerem Lemma