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Exclusive: An optimist until proven wrong

Ambassador Greg Dorey has just finished a four year term as the UK’s Ambassador to Ethiopia and Djibouti, his second ambassadorial posting after Hungary. While in Ethiopia Ambassador Dorey was also his country’s envoy to the African Union (AU) and to the United Nation Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). A few days before his departure to the UK, Ambassador Dorey sat down with Addis Standard’s Editor-in-Chief Tsedale Lemma for his last interview. Below is the excerpt from the interview that touched on topics ranging from Ambassador Dorey’s effort in implementing the UK’s statecraft, to his reflections on Ethiopia’s record on human right and rule of law issues, to his personal engagement with Ethiopian tweeps, among others.


Addis Standard – Thank you Ambassador for giving Addis Standard magazine what could possibly be your last interview before leaving Ethiopia.You have been here for four years and you were, as a diplomat, deeply involved in many things than few. If I can start this interview by asking you what it is that you are taking with you, as an experience, when you leave?


Ambassador Dorey -Well I am taking away affection for Ethiopia and a hope, an expectation that things are going to be well for it in the future. I had family here in the 1990s, my sister-in-law and her family lived here,(in fact she is staying with us at the moment and her sons as well), and they came away really quite inspired by what they had found here in terms of their interaction with the people and in terms of what they had seen in the country. Having been here myself I can understand why people who come as tourists to Ethiopia go away with a wish to stay engaged in some way. It is very hard to define why exactly it should be that way but it is. All countries are unique but there are very special things about Ethiopia that are not quite like anywhere else in the world that I have been in the past. Yes there are problems and difficulties of all sorts but I do go away feeling very much an optimist about what is going to happen in the country. Of course progress will not be linear but from what I have seen already I feel more optimistic than I might about other country’s situations.


Greg W1

“…it is very important not to get too depressed by specific details of things that didn’t go so well”

Tell me if there was a time in the past four tears when you said to yourself ‘I should have not come here’; if there was a time you have regretted being here?

I have never felt that I was sorry that I had come here. I have always been glad that I had come here. Some days are more productive than others and you face frustrations occasionally in the bureaucracy or in not being able to achieve investment contracts that you had hoped to achieve. But overall I think it is very important not to get too depressed by specific details of things that didn’t go so well. I think what is importantis to be able to stand back and look what has happened in the past four years and be overall on balance. As I have been making farewell calls people have spoken about the strategic relations with the UK. I think over the past few years it has really become a much more varied and rich relationship. I mean historically it goes back a very long time but in terms of the extents of the activities in sectors and subjects in which we engage…it has become a much more mutually beneficial modern relationship. And I feel that I have been part of having moved it in that direction and you tend to see it.

I have [also] been trying to improve the trade and investment scene here. On the investment side we have seen a few big investments from the UK in my time. The overall level of investment is definitely moving in the right direction. I am far from being complacent about it because there is a lot more to be done. But I do feel I have been instrumental in helping some companies get here, brief them on the scene in Ethiopia and help them to understand how they need to manage their business. So I’d claim a degree of credit for that.

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Let’s talk about statecraft. How you have played the‘how’and the ‘what’ of your country’s foreign policy in your engagement with Ethiopia. What was it that you have been doing that helped you implement that statecraft? I am asking you this because in your engagements with Ethiopian tweeps, for example, I see a lot of frustrations because many of those who engage with you feel, rightly, that the UK remained quiet in the face of some of the worst human right violations that keep happening in Ethiopia. What’s it that drives UK’s statecraft and its engagement with Ethiopia and how were you able to implement that?

Greg W2

“I don’t mind you putting the word ‘disappointed’ in my mouth because we would have liked to have seen some more opposition in parliament”





We have a government in the UK at the moment that is emphasizing the importance of working with Africa in a much more clear cut way than has been the case for some years and indeed we are starting the process of consultation on Africa strategy, a document in consultation with African countries but other stakeholders as well which actually sets out the range of what we are doing and what we are trying to do. I think it would be clearly articulated when that comes out. Also, there is much more emphasis with this government of what we tend to call prosperity. But that is partly trade and investment. We are dealing with some of the root causes of the problem whether it is poverty or piracy or terrorism or what might be; but ensuring that you work on prosperity issues because they are fundamentals to peace and security.


There is a very clear perception that things that are happening in Africa just matter to the UK because we have profound interests in Africa, which we do but also when things go horribly wrong these can directly impact the UK.Things like terrorism but also pandemic disease, migration which is a political agenda; all these issues make us pay close attention to Africa. And within Africa, Ethiopia is a very important partner. The fact that it is the headquarters of the AU, the political seat of Africa, matters, too. It is a place where a lot of engagement on African issues and regional issues happen. So it is important in that regard but it is also important because it is the second most populous country in Africa and continues to be. These are important factors which help put Ethiopia on the map. And we don’t have a colonial relationship that we do with other countries, for better or worse. It is a reasonably positive factor because it means we know each other extremely well.


It’s an interesting point. But by many standards the government in Ethiopia is known as an authoritarian government. It is a government that has just won a 100% of the last national election, to your disappointment, if I may say so. I want to know where things overlap or match, if at all, when it comes to issues that your government gives greater emphasis to, such as human values. What is that balance?


I don’t mind you putting the word ‘disappointed’ in my mouth because we would have liked to have seen some more opposition in parliament to articulate a different view because we think having that sort of debate is valuable and creates better policy as a result. I know within the ruling party there is a lot of kind of self-criticism, and even though this is criticism which is contained in certain parameters there is always a risk of some sort of groupthink emerging. Having opposition members to whom ministers and leaders have to respond to makes for sharper, better policy in the longer term. We are in principle pleased to hear the ruling party expressing its wish to work more closely with the opposition outside parliament since they are not in parliament at the moment and obviously that is a work in progress. Of course we are impressed by what has happened in terms of social and economic rights in Ethiopia. On the whole I think there has been a lot of progress in the past two decades let’s say. Yes we do see, and we have said it before, something more of a deficit when it comes to political and civil rights; we would like to see more progress in that area. I think the government often points out it is not perfect in this regard and they would like to see better realizations of civil and political rights in the longer terms. So the dispute is more about the time frame in which that might happen rather than the end goal. We do have a pretty frank and open discussion with the government, which we can because of the strategic relationship I mentioned, and this is going to continue to take place behind closed doors. Sometimes we feel we have made some progress. There are other issues where it is a work in progress because the improvements we would like to see have not happened. Sometimes we speak out or we publish concerns; our [last] human rights report, for example, was about freedom of speech within Ethiopia. And the reason we do this is because we certainly believe in the longer term fuller observance of civil and political rights is actually a stabilizing factor. We do not want to see Ethiopia destabilized by some sort of dysfunction occurring because you have got lots of people in the country with new aspiration.


Obviously you haven’t seen a progress as much as you would like to for the last four years, especially when it comes to establishing a principled relationship based on common human values that you would really like to see between the two countries. As we speak for example students in Oromiya regional state are protesting against the Addis Abeba Master Plan and the same thing that happened in April-May 2014 is happening. What does that make you feel?


Sometimes you have to manage your own expectations; not all of what you want to happen will happen, or it won’t happen as quickly but if you have got important priority goals, and that would include human rights in Ethiopia, then you have got to continue to push and try different strategies and continue to keep the subject on the agenda.You can’t afford to feel despair about specific instances because you have to keep on working to achieve those end goals.


I want to turn your attention to your relationship with opposition parties here. Of course we know the state of the opposition in this country particularly since 2005. But I want to see if you personally, and most importantly your government, feels engaging with the opposition as an important part of its foreign policy. What are the basis (and the terms) of your relationship with the opposition?

We have direct contact with the opposition. It varies over time. It is not just me. It is also other colleagues in the Embassy as well and there have certainly been occasions in the past and there will be in the future where visiting British Ministers and senior officials get engaged with opposition groups as well. It is not practical to engage with every single opposition group so in practice we need to pick and choose a bit. The aspect is whether there are difficulties and what they would like to see in the future including in terms of any support we are able to give. Last week I called on the leader of the Blue Party, and the leader of MEDREK came here. We had a discussion. My deputy sees them more frequently and we encourage the government to engage with them and we encourage the opposition parties to engage, but also not to come up with impossible demands that the government cannot agree to for whatever reasons. I also have a few occasions here at the residence where we have invited government ruling party people and opposition people to come to the same event, to come together because we had the impression that they don’t often see one another but we were able to create discussions and conversations which we think in the longer term maybe beneficial. But we are ambitious and in that sense not everything works out quite as we would like but we do feel we need to keep trying to achieve this.


How do you see the role of the opposition not in the past but from the current point of view? What would that tell you about the future of opposition politics in Ethiopia?


Well I think the opposition need to continue to make but also strengthen their case for why certain things should be done differently; they do need to be able not just oppose everything in principle but to articulate some sort of alternative vision that might appeal to people; without that it is difficult to see why their membership should to grow much more than it has already. I know compromise is a difficult term here in Ethiopia but the fact is politics globally is about compromise.So I do think this is kind of a two way process people need to engage with. The other thing is I don’t know what scene will be around the next set of elections but you have an election system in place here, the first pass the post system, and if the opposition, whatever it is made up of, is so divided as perhaps it was during the last election they are not going to be in a position to change that. [The opposition] may not like the system but it is the system that exists until they get into the government. They really need to make more common cause than has been the case recently. And they need to look for other parties which have similar views.


Let’s get back to the issue of diplomacy. There is a big perception, you may correct me on that, that the language of peace and stability has slowly but surely replaced the language of strengthening democratic governance and political space because countries, including your own, are more focused on the idea of peace and stability than anything else in authoritarian regimes such as Ethiopia. Ethiopia, for example, provides just that as a country with the strongest army that is also ruling its people with an iron fist. Is your country part of that changing perception?


Greg W3

“We do not want to see Ethiopia destabilized by some sort of dysfunction occurring because you have got lots of people in the country with new aspiration”



Things have changed dramatically. I do see peace and security must be, to a degree, a precondition for creating a really healthy democracy; it is very hard to foster democracy in a war zone. You just can’t do it. But having achieved a degree of peace and stability (most people would say that Ethiopia as a whole is a stable country, although I know there are some troubles in parts of the periphery, but Ethiopia as a whole is perceived as a peaceful country which is one of the reasons investors are coming here in significant numbers) should be a fertile ground for growing democracy in the direction which has been recently articulated by Ethiopian leaders. I think because of all of these big socio economic changes I mentioned a while ago, it is absolutely essential that it happens in order to meet some of their aspirations.Yes Ethiopia is still predominantly a rural country, a rural economy but you have got lots of other new groups emerging onto the scene and they will want to have a say.


But obviously there is a big difference between what the regime wishes to see happening and what is happening in reality. We know that the government wants a multi-party system; it talked of that for the last 20 plus years but all we have seen is quite the opposite.So where do you think is the hope for Ethiopians to hang on to? Why should they believe what the regime says any more than what it is doing? What should make Ethiopians hold on to that promise?

I think from examples elsewhere around the world where it has taken a long time to embed democracy but has happened in the end; for example, in Central and Eastern Europe where people were having not dissimilar difficulties for a long period of time but have seen the emergence of democratic systems. I think people need to keep articulating what it is that they want to see. The media has a very important role to play in this particular regard. We are not going to see change overnight. We haven’t seen change overnight. But we need you to keep pressing for it to happen and I think the political imperative, as the economy evolves, is going to be quite a powerful factor in this. The political space is going to need to grow and evolve as your economy becomes more complex, more sophisticated, people become wealthier and they want other things for their children. I think there are people within the government and the ruling party who are genuinely a bit embarrassed about having no opposition members in the parliament. One needs to work with that embarrassment to move this forward and not be put off by the fact that the recent experience has not been so good in terms of building a democratic system.


Tell me how you reflect on the justice system in Ethiopia. I have seen you attending several hearings around the court such as the trial of Zone9 bloggers and the three journalists. You have also been dealing with the case for Andargachew Tsige, which means, I assume, you have seen our justice system at work up close and personal. I want to know how you reflect on that.

We do have a convention of not criticizing other people’s justice system. But I would certainly agree with commentators who say that there are problems with the justice system including capacity. Before I go to the specific points you mentioned, the area where there is a particular deficit at the moment is civil justice where you have got foreign investors pouring into the country and there will be court cases from time to time around – labor cases or land cases or whatever it might be – and you do not at the moment have a court or judicial capacity to deal with these cases or even the necessary skills and experience because you have been educated in criminal justice but not in civil justice. There is a particular case for example where a British citizen, who is a frequent tweep, or his lawyer has been told to appear in court, I think for the 90th times now. Now we are talking about a couple of court cases, dispute over ownership of a vehicle something like that, but this is taking a huge amount of time and effort and he turns up to court and the judge isn’t there or it is a new judge, somebody might be sick or gone or isn’t qualified to hear the case … it has been elevated to the Supreme court then brought back down to the court of first instance or whatever it is called. This is just crazy. I mean I used this as an example of where by any common standard there is something wrong here. And I think it is important, and this has been acknowledged by the government here, you do need to quickly build up your civil law capacity to deal with such problems. On the cases you mentioned …where do I begin? With Andargachew I have now seen him six times in a period of about 18 months. So we have been given consular access. There is quite a lot I can’t say to you in terms of the details we talk to the family. If the family chooses to release the info we pass to them that is really up to them but we don’t make the decision to talk about what his health condition, whatever it might be, in public. And we do need his specific permission to do that. There is a limit to what I can frankly say on this subject.


What does this tell you about the criminal justice system in this country?


Well the first issue we particularly concentrate on and it is not just in this case, because we have other cases in this category, is consular access which we would want irrespective of any legal dimension to such cases. Ethiopia is not a signatory to the Vienna Convention to the consular relations. We would very much like Ethiopia to sign up and I am not sure why it wouldn’t sing up; I don’t know what they see as particularly problematic when one sees that the world as a whole and how many countries signed up to the Convention. But they are signatories for the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that sets out a number of consular related responsibilities to do with, for example, access to a lawyer, not being held in solitary for an unreasonable amount of time, human rights issues which overlap with what we call consular rights and relations. So a lot of our focus is in trying to normalize consular access because we don’t see why consular officers going in a reasonably regular, but not so frequent as to make it a burden on the prison authorities,is a particular problem


How many British citizens do we have here in prison?

There are a few at the moment; not a huge number. We also have responsibility for some citizens of other countries who are not represented here, or common wealth citizens. That makes the number a little bit bigger but it is not a huge number. And I should say that consular access has not been a particular problem up until a year or so ago and consular access to people who are not charged with offences under Anti-Terrorism Legislation, again, that doesn’t seem to be problematic.


You mentioned about lack of capacity when talking about miscarriage of justice; the government often says that too. But does it really convince you as an Ambassador?

I think yes. There are capacity issues – having enough judicial skills and having enough courts to manage cases. But there is also a kind of dysfunction between the criminal justice and civil justice. Some of the things which we see are hard to explain in terms of lack of capacity; we don’t have full visibility of what is going on but some of it seems to be down to other factors. So lack of capacity doesn’t explain everything but it is a real issue here.

The UK is one of the largest development partners to Ethiopia but it is not without criticisms. Your cooperation in building the capacity of the police in Ethiopia, for example, has come under severe criticism by your tax payers back home because the police in this county have remained to be what the police have always been – always reacting with excessive force whenever there is slightly suspicious activity by citizens of dissent, as we are experiencing it right now with the Oromo students’ protest in many cities. What’s your reaction to that?

I don’t think it exists; we have seen these reports in newspapers. I don’t say we have never considered doing such things, but there has never been agreed policy with these issues. We did have these projects, for example, a couple of years ago which was about improving the standard of custody in police stations and as a result of that we have a booklet which sets out international standards with the previous commissioner of the Police. He was quite enthusiastic about this. It was rolled out all over the country with some training. There should be more training. This is not controversial in itself. You could say it is about building the Police’s capacity but it is not. I don’t think it is something people argue with. I am not fully aware of everything we have done over the entire period which is some 20 years or so in development assistance to Ethiopia but we have not done any significant capacity building in the Police. Well take out the word significant. I am not aware of any work of that kind that has been done.


You have been involved with Ethiopian tweeps with your hashtag #AskGreg. What was the best experience that came out of that?


I found it a very useful thing; it’s about a two way thing. It is partly about putting our message out. Because I don’t believe relations between countries are government-to-government relations anymore. It might be the case once. It is actually engaging with civil society in the broader sense now. And the only way you can begin todo that – you can travel around,you can talk to people of course – but actually you do really need social media to broaden the audience. But also hearing from people what their concerns are and try to respond to them because if I don’t have coherent answers to sensible questions people are asking me there is something wrong and I need to develop a good answer to explain why we are taking certain approach, why we have a certain policy, why we are spending money on this or other.

As you are preparing to depart in few days, tell me where you see Ethiopia going into in the next few years? Say five to ten years from now?

Well I think the aspiration to be a middle income country by 2025 is a realistic aspiration from what I have seen. It won’t be easy but it is within Ethiopia’s grasp. And to do so with zero net carbon growth, which is the whole ambition, is again achievable given the policies that have been put in place. So I’d hope and expect that is where Ethiopia will be as a country by those measurements by 2025. Over that period I will hope to have seen progress in civil and political rights and democratization in the country. We have a very stable environment here which is going to encourage more and more foreign investors to come. I don’t think it is a place for every foreign investor; we need investors with patience and a long term vision, not for people who want to profit overnight. So I see foreign investors coming here in greater variety of sectors as the economy opens up. It is going to open up more than it is planned. The government has said that it doesn’t want to open up financial services or telecommunications for the foreseeable future. That is its decision. I think it will find the economic penalties of not doing that become insupportable at some point. AndI think there is a risk Ethiopia will miss out on establishing itself as a regional financial services center if it waits too long. I hope that within a few years we will see Ethiopia as a member of the WTO; there was a target for the end of 2015 which clearly is not going to be met. But I think Ethiopia is going to have to be in there, and if it wants capitalizing on the work that has been done to create such as manufacturing, those massive industrial zones, then it is going to have to become a more fervent advocate and leader on freeing up trade, opening up barriers between counties in order to benefit from that fully. At the moment there is a bit of a gap between what perhaps it should be doing for its own best interest in this area.

I am also hoping that we will see in that period a more peaceful neighborhood with Ethiopia’s help by economic and political development in Somalia, the end of Al Shabab, stable situation there, and stable situation building in South Sudan. I hope that Ethiopia and Eritrea will be talking within the time frame. And all of this will encourage economic growth, stability, and social development in the region. I think more and more Ethiopia has to become a world leader because of its size and because of its influence. I will therefore continue to be an optimist until somebody proves me wrong, which I don’t think will be the case.


All Photos: Kalkidan Yibeltal/Addis Standard

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