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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)

Finnish delegation finds Ethiopian successes and opportunities

High-level decision-makers and opinion leaders from Finland visited Ethiopia recently, and said they were very impressed that Finnish projects and ongoing development activity are making a difference, complementing pro-poor investment in the country.

In an exclusive interview with Suomi/Africa, Finnish Under-Secretary of State Anne Sipiläinen followed a theme the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs began to develop a couple of years ago – the idea of gathering a diverse group of Finnish opinion leaders together in order to brief them thoroughly on development challenges, with sessions and seminars in Helsinki followed by visits to Finland’s long-term partner countries in Africa and elsewhere. Ms Sipiläinen said that this time she and her team of delegates had come to Ethiopia because the country has many interesting issues, which have global importance as well as relevance to African affairs. On this visit to Ethiopia, the group was comprised of parliamentarians, student leaders, media professionals, representatives from the private sector and civil society, and also key figures from various government ministries.

New prospects for an established relationship

Ethiopia and Finland have been closely cooperating for more than 40 years. There are many Ethiopians in Finland and many Finns in Ethiopia. According to Anne Sipiläinen, there will be a need for a new type of cooperation - involving deeper business contacts, knowledge exchange, and the like. There is a huge potential for mutual benefit. Ms Sipiläinen said, “Ethiopia is a big African power, and I believe it will be a very active player - much, much more in regional as well as global politics. I am more optimistic about the business potential. Wait until the Finnish private sector companies learn what kind of opportunities are available here. Ethiopia is a country of young people, and it offers many types of opportunities.”

Then, Ms Sipiläinen offered important news, that the Finnish Prime Minister will come to Ethiopia soon, for the first time ever. She added that she had been positively impressed by what she had seen in Bahir Dar as well as in Addis Ababa. She told Suomi/Africa, “I am not an expert on Ethiopia, but the changes are positive. The people in the villages we visited are not passive or desperate, even though they are very poor.”

Finnish Under-Secretary of State Anne SipiläinenThe fact is, girls and boys are going to school, and the health situation is improving as clean water and sanitation services improve. It is really important is that young people are educated better and living better lives. They have the opportunities also to get jobs - for example, in agri-business.

Also speaking to Suomi/Africa was Marianna Lampinen, a 26 year old Education and Pedagogics student, who has also been President of the National Union of University Students of Finland. Ms Lampinen said, “I am an Orthodox Christian. I share that with many Ethiopians. I have met the Ethiopian community in Finland, so I am kind of familiar with the Ethiopian culture.”

Marianna Lampinen was invited to come to Ethiopia this time because the non-governmental organisation she is working with has been involved in development cooperation in the country for many years, whilst working also on many policy sectors in Finland. In 2012, Ms Lampinen was responsible for planning two development projects for Mozambique - but she had not had the opportunity to visit the country, to see the result of her work. So, this opportunity to see project work in Ethiopia was “an exciting and an eye-opening experience” for her. She said, “I like the countryside very much. It is good and useful to see the projects in practice and also great to see that the money the Finnish government is spending is making a difference to people’s lives.”

Also visiting Ethiopia, and speaking to Suomi/Africa, was Finnish parliamentarian Riitta Myller - who has also been an active politician working within the European Union, has particular interests in regional policymaking, environmental protection and climate change. She said, “The water and sanitation projects we visited are doing well. I saw that communities are part and also owners of the projects. It is not like somebody is giving it to them. It is, rather, that they are making it happen, and that they are being supported.”

Finnish experts working in Finnish projects mentioned, during this visit, that the projects are given priority by their government, and that more money is planned for the education system, to enable more rural schooling, and to support development of the teaching system and improvements to the quality of education. Riitta Myller added the following observation on the economic effectiveness of such social development.

“I have always said that our support to developing countries needs to be effective. Nobody benefits if it isn’t. I can really tell the taxpayers that the water supply projects are helping many, and that our money goes to the right places.”

Addressing social needs in challenging circumstances

The delegation also visited AGAR, the women’s shelter for Saudi returnees. Of this, Riitta Myller said, “It is sad about what happened - but I appreciated what is being done to rehabilitate the returnees.”

AGAR is a local NGO, which provides training and skills for women coming back from Arabic countries - where they have been working as domestic workers, and have also suffered abuse whilst working. More than 90 per cent of victims are women as they are domestic servants. The women are badly mistreated, and some of them are underage. They come back to Ethiopia without any money, education, life training or a place to stay. AGAR provides shelter and help.

The big surprise: a bustling economy

Kari Karppinen, CEO of Durate, a Finnish company, said, “I am here representing the Finnish private sector. This is my first visit to Ethiopia and I am enjoying every minute of it. I am 100 per cent sure the taxpayers’ money is making a huge impact on society as well as on the standard of living.

“I didn't expect to see this much hotel, transport and other construction going on. To have rapid development you need infrastructure, education, a conducive investment atmosphere as well as transparency. Most important of all is the quality of education. But things can happen very fast, so you need to prioritise. You need to list and set the priorities. I think the Ethiopian government understands that.”

Kari Karppinen was clear that, in his mind, economic progress is already good and that Ethiopian society is benefitting. He could see, also, the massive potential for business opportunities. He said, “I am actually convinced I will find a partner to work with in Ethiopia. There are several Finnish companies already here, whom I can work with. And I can work with FinPro; it is well-established and well-connected. I will come back. We have to enter this market.”

The 18-strong delegation stayed in Ethiopia for four days - from 12-16 January 2014. The visit was organised by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, to provide the delegation with a comprehensive picture of Ethiopia and the opportunities and challenges it faces, and the promising economic growth and challenging social problems that can be addressed. The delegation were offered the opportunity to look closely at grassroots experiences and the conditions under which Finnish-funded programmes and projects are carried out in the Amhara Region. They visited Amhara CoWASH, Tana Beles Watershed, REILA (Responsible and Innovative Land Administration in Ethiopia), and Agro-BIG (Agro-Business Induced Growth). They also visited primary schools, and trade and entrepreneurship schemes. In the capital, they visited the AGAR women’s shelter and a primary school, and met with key representatives of the Human Rights Commission. They discussed democracy, equality and the equity situation in Ethiopia, and also paid a visit to African Union.

Meskerem Lemma