Ethiopia’s diplomacy, partnership levels

A government or an institution cannot have everything that it wants. To complement its gaps and to enhance its capacity, entities establish partnerships with other entities. There are different definitions for the word “Partnership”. For the sake of this piece, I use the definition of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

According to OECD partnership is “an agreement to do something together that will benefit all involved, bringing results that could not be achieved by a single partner operating alone, and reducing duplication of efforts”. Partnerships between governments can advance over time as priorities change or new challenges arise. Governments establish partnerships with other governments intending to enhance relations, promote common interests, and address definite challenges. Governments’ partnership levels can vary based on the specific context and objectives of cooperation.

In addition to general partnerships, governments may also establish sector-specific partnerships. It can include agreements on trade, defense, diplomacy, cultural exchange, education, energy, health, science, climate, and other areas of mutual interests and priorities. Governments may form partnerships at different levels simultaneously.

The key factors in establishing a partnership are shared interests and objectives; mutual trusts; comparative and competitive advantages; resources; political will and leadership; historical and geographic proximity; security, defense; and cultural and economic interdependence. Government can also establish partnerships with private organizations namely public, private, and partnership (PPP). Partnership can be at a bilateral or multilateral cooperation level.

The focus of this piece is on the bilateral cooperation of governments. Bilateral partnerships of governments are usually managed through diplomatic channels. These involve the engagements of “foreign ministries, embassies, and diplomatic missions to facilitate communication, negotiation, and coordination between the two countries.” These agreements can be formalized through a memorandum of understanding (MoU), bilateral agreements, treaties, joint declarations, and the like.

These agreements provide a framework for partners to work together, share resources and knowledge, and pursue common goals for the benefit of both sides. In facilitating the establishment of a partnership there can be frequent high-level visits and diplomatic interactions between the two sides. These visits can include state/ official visits or bilateral summits. High-level visits help to build personal relationships between leaders of governments.

Leaders can also start the agenda of partnership when they meet at various multilateral forums. In establishing a partnership there are different processes. The process usually begins with diplomatic engagement between countries. Such engagements help to build trust, understand each other’s perspectives, Ethiopia’s diplomacy, partnership levels discuss areas of mutual interest, identify common goals, and explore the potential for collaboration. Thus diplomatic relations serve as a foundation for further partnership and cooperation between governments. There are different levels of bilateral partnerships of governments. It can range from basic cooperation to comprehensive and strategic alliances. There are no international standards for establishing partnerships. Because of this governments use various terminology and classifications of the different levels of bilateral cooperation. Some of the common terminologies of the partnership are cooperation, coordination, strategic partnership, comprehensive partnership, alliance, and the like.

For instance, China has designated its bilateral partnership into nineteen levels. In addition to the above-mentioned terminologies China also uses the word and terms namely, ‘New Era’, ‘All-Weather’, ‘All Round’, ‘Mutually Beneficial’, ‘Permanent’, ‘Global’, ‘For the 21st century’, ‘Innovative’, ‘Friendly’, ‘Future-oriented’, and ‘High Quality’. China has signed “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership” and “Strategic Partnership” with forty one and twenty three countries respectively. In recent times the partnership level between the governments of Ethiopia and China transformed from a “Comprehensive Strategic Cooperative Partnership” to “All Weather Strategic Cooperative Partnership”.

 China has also signed a similar level of partnership with Pakistan. Even if China knew the clear differences between the two levels, the ordinary citizens and many diplomats may not know the distinction between the two levels of partnership. Similarly, the government of Ethiopia has signed various partnership agreements with other countries. In the U.S.A partnership laws and regulations can vary from state to state. Thus some partnership levels may be recognized and regulated in some states, while others may not be available or may have different names.

Most well-developed countries have developed their level of partnership. They have definitions for each level of partnership. Other developing countries do not have their level of partnership. They just sign by the designated level of partnership of other countries. Ethiopia has more than three thousand years of history. Before the establishment of formal diplomatic relationships, in history, Ethiopia had informal diplomatic relations with many ancient countries of the world.

 Moreover, Ethiopia has never been colonized by colonial powers. Because of this, Ethiopia could have uninterrupted diplomatic relations with many countries. Ethiopia was also one of the member states of the League of Nations. At this time almost all African countries were suffering by the European colonial powers. Ethiopia has more than one hundred years of diplomatic relationships with Italy, France, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and the Kingdom of Belgium. It was during Emperor Menelik II that Ethiopia established the first diplomatic relationship with Italy on 24 June 1897 i.e. 127 years before. So far Ethiopia is establishing partnerships with other countries without promulgated level of partnership by the House of Peoples’ Representatives or the Council of Ministers. Considering the historical and diplomatic relations with many countries in the world, the Ethiopian government should craft its level of partnership in establishing agreements with other governments.

The levels can be identified and designated based on research and study. Assessing the experiences of other countries can also be helpful. Based on the research, there should also be policy dialogues to frame the “Ethiopian Level of Partnership”. In my opinion, the partnership levels should be incremental starting from the Cooperative Level of Partnership to Comprehensive and Strategic Partnership levels. The levels can be five in number. Each level should be defined and a clear-cut boundary should be set. Making many levels of partnership can be difficult to understand, manage, and use. Cooperative partnership promotes the sharing of knowledge, expertise, resources, and best practices to address common challenges or achieve shared objectives.

Governments in cooperative partnerships may share data and research findings, coordinate policies, and contribute resources to initiatives and organizations. Comprehensive partnerships aim at a broad approach to cooperation between governments. These partnerships cover multiple areas of engagement including political, economic, social, and cultural cooperation. They often involve regular high-level dialogues and Joint commissions to deepen collaboration and strengthen relations between countries. Strategic partnerships may involve formal agreements, alliances, or joint initiatives, such as joint military exercises and intelligence sharing to maximize resources and capabilities. Strategic partnerships often involve long-term commitments.

 It often involves countries that share common geopolitical interests or face similar security challenges. For instance, there are strategic partnerships between the United States and the United Kingdom, China and Russia, France and Germany, India and Japan, Australia and Indonesia. Continental organizations can also sign various partnerships with countries. The European Union has foreign policy that guides its partnerships with different countries. It has signed strategic partnerships with different countries and regions around the world. For instance the European Union has signed strategic partnerships with the United States of America, China, India, Japan, Canada, Brazil and South Africa.

Similarly, the African Union has signed various partnerships with different governments and entities. These are Africa– League of Arab States (LAS), African Union (AU) – European Union (EU) Partnership, Africa–South America Cooperation Forum (ASACOF), African Union Commission– United States of America High-Level Dialogue, China-Africa Cooperation Forum (FOCAC), Tokyo International Conference on African Development,(TICAD), Africa[1]India Partnership, Africa-Korea, and Africa[1]Turkey Partnership. Unlike the European Union, the African Union has no foreign policy that guides its partnerships with other countries. In establishing the partnership, the African Union is not using similar names i.e. it uses “African Union”, “Africa”, and “African Union Commission”. Ethiopia can also take the initiative to table the agenda of establishing foreign policy of the African Union that guides partnership levels of the continental organization.

This continental body should not be dictated by the partnership levels of other countries and entities. It should have standards that show the different levels of partnership clearly and concisely. To sum up, signing a partnership agreement with other countries by itself is not a success. The implementation of the agreement is important. Partnership has its values including mutual respect, trust, shared commitment, noninterference, transparency, sustainability, interdependence, and the like. Ethiopia has a very long history of diplomatic relationships with different countries.

However, we do not have a promulgated level of partnership in establishing cooperation. If we do not have such a level of partnership, other countries will detect the level of our relationship with them. It is time to make our diplomatic partnership one step forward. Ethiopia should also take initiatives to the development of foreign policy of the African Union and guiding its partnerships with other entities. This author is a Researcher on Diplomacy and International Relations. Institute of Foreign Affairs. He can be reached at melakumulu@



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