Orderly transition in Ethiopia, business ties with India to grow : Envoy

Manish Chand

New Delhi, Aug 30 (IANS) There will be orderly transition in Ethiopia despite the the death of its long-time leader Meles Zenawi, the country's envoy has said, and assured that robust business ties between India and the East African nation - India is the second largest foreign investor there - will continue and get even stronger.

"In the last 21 years, Ethiopia has built strong institutions and a robust parliamentary system. There is an orderly succession plan in place, whereby the deputy prime minister will succeed the deceased leader," Ethiopia's Ambassador to India Gennet Zewide told IANS in an interview here.

Rejecting speculation of a coup in some sections in the Western media, the envoy said emphatically: "In our system, the military will always be subservient to parliament and the civilian government. This is not going to change."

Zenawi, 57, was Ethiopia's prime minister for 21 years till he died of illness Aug 20. He is widely credited for shepherding the transformation of Ethiopia, once known for famine, disease and poverty, into one of the fastest growing economies and a stable democracy in the Horn of Africa.

Ethiopia's acting Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn will be sworn in after Zenawi's funeral Sunday. He will run the country till elections in 2015.

Striking an upbeat note on the future of India-Ethiopia ties, Zewide said the strong foundations laid by Zenawi, who visited India four times, will only get stronger in days to come.

"The prime minister (Zenawi) had a special affection for India. During his tenure, India-Ethiopia relations scaled new heights. The new leadership is equally committed to deepening this strategic relationship," Zewide said.

"The policies, strategies and vision of our leader will be continued. There is no uncertainty and there should be no anxiety on this front. Business will go on as usual," she added.

The envoy identified agriculture, textile, infrastructure and technology as key sectors where Indian investments in Ethiopia will see a major upsurge.

"We expect more Indian companies to invest in agriculture. To make it easier for investors, the Ethiopian government has embarked on a new policy whereby we clear land, build access roads and provide power so that investors can start their operations as quickly as possible."

In the last few years, India has emerged as the second-largest foreign investor in Ethiopia, investing around $5 billion. Bilateral trade between India and Ethiopia is estimated to be $660 million. The two countries are looking to scale up Indian investments in Ethiopia to $10 billion by 2015.

Amid accusations of land grabbing by India, the envoy quoted Zenawi, who was fond of saying that Indians don't come to colonise but to help develop the nation. In the textile sector, she pointed out that a host of Indian companies were planning major investments to set up yarn factories in Ethiopia.

In a condolence message, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said India's close and friendly relations with Ethiopia acquired greater substance under Zenawi's leadership.

Minister of State for External Affairs Preneet Kaur will represent India at the Sep 2 state funeral of Zenawi.

(Manish Chand can be contacted at manish.c@ians.in)