Denmark is by and large considered as a leader to emulate when it comes to actively contributing towards global challenges with sustainable developments.
Despite being a small Nordic country, Denmark has been very influential across the world owing to the country’s approach of understanding first the issues of a particular country and then working in mutual cooperation to combat common issues. This has led to Denmark in establishing a great rapport with numerous countries across the globe.
This great rapport is also reflected in Ethiopia’s relation with Denmark which can be traced back to the late 60s where the diplomatic relations of the two countries were cemented on the 5th of April 1967. Following this establishment, Denmark started providing aid and assistance to Ethiopia through the Danish International Development Agency, DANIDA.
Over the decades, Denmark in Ethiopia has played an integral role in smart agriculture, sustainable forest management, increase access to green energy and has significantly improved the sustainable use of water resources.
In light of Denmark’s tremendous efforts at the heart of Ethiopia’s sustainability, Capital’s Groum Abate, reached out to Danish Ambassador to Ethiopia Kira Smith Sindbjerg, for in-depth insights on the two countries blossoming bilateral relations. The following are excerpts from the candid interview;
Capital: How has Denmark’s relationship with Ethiopia evolved over the years, and what steps have been taken to strengthen this relationship?
Kira Smith Sindbjerg: The relationship between our two countries is strong and dates back many years. On the wall in my office, I have photographs of the State Visit in 1954 of His Excellency Emperor Haile Selassie to Copenhagen, meeting with the then King and Queen of Denmark. These photos remind me of the long history between our countries. But much have happened since then, and with our Ethiopian partners we work every day to strengthen this partnership. In 2004, Denmark opened an Embassy in Addis Ababa, and since 2018 we have had a comprehensive development cooperation between our two countries, supporting government partners, civil society, multilateral organisations and local communities to contribute to Ethiopia’s development goals. And more specifically to promote inclusive and sustainable growth, democratic reforms and human rights. Denmark and Ethiopia are also working closely together in the field of climate change and energy. Denmark is supporting forest preservation in Kaffa Zone in Southwest Region, and we have a long-running government to government cooperation to support the integration of renewable energy into the national energy grid.
Capital: Can you discuss a successful program or initiative that Denmark has implemented in Ethiopia, and how it has benefited both countries?
Kira Smith Sindbjerg: Denmark has been supporting Ethiopia’s Agriculture Transformation Agency – or Institute, as it is known now, ATI, since 2014. Cooperation in the agricultural sector and contributing to more efficient and commercially viable farming makes very good sense. Both Denmark and Ethiopia have large and important agricultural sectors and much can be gained from learning from one another. Another example is our cooperation in the energy sector, where Danish energy experts are working closely with the Ministry of Water and Energy and the Ethiopian Electrical Power (EEP) e.g. on energy planning and modelling. This is a close and very successful cooperation based on an equal partnership and peer-to-peer learning.
Capital: Denmark is known for its innovative approach to sustainability and green energy. How do you plan to promote and enhance Denmark’s sustainability efforts in Ethiopia?
Kira Smith Sindbjerg: The cooperation in the energy sector has inspired us to replicate this model also in the water sector. In addition to supporting Ethiopia’s OneWash strategy with 29 mio. USD over a 3 -year period, we are in the process of establishing a government-to-government cooperation on water. Under this programme, Danish water sector experts will be working closely together with Sidama Regional State, the city of Hawassa and the city administration in Dire Dawa to increase access to clean water and improve ground water management. Access to clean water and efficient water management is key for health and development, and we are proud to work together with our Ethiopian partners to achieve this.
Another example of cooperation in green energy, is the Assela Wind Farm, which is being constructed in Assela in Arsi zone. This wind farm – is expected when finished to have 29 wind turbines providing green and sustainable energy to 300,000 households. The wind farm is being built with Danish wind turbines produced by Siemens Gamesa Renwable Energy. This project is a strategic project for both Denmark and Ethiopia, to show that wind farm investments on a large scale is viable in Ethiopia, hopefully paving the way for more investments and additional wind energy projects.
Capital: What are your comments on latest developments regarding humanitarian operations and the current situation in Tigray Region?
Kira Smith Sindbjerg: While full of potential for growth and development, Ethiopia is also currently facing many challenges. One of those is the dire humanitarian situation for millions of people across the country – due to drought, floods, conflicts and displacement. Supporting the needs of the Ethiopian population is a key priority of the Danish development and humanitarian work in the country. Last year, Denmark provided 33 million USD to humanitarian assistance in Ethiopia, enabling our UN and civil society partners to save lives in the crisis situations across the country. Denmark is committed to continue providing humanitarian assistance to Ethiopia as well as to other countries in the region, having supported humanitarian assistance in Somalia and Kenya as well. Latest, Denmark has provided 7 million USD to support civilians in Sudan fleeing the devastating conflict in Khartoum and elsewhere.
The situation in Tigray and the continuing implementation of the Pretoria agreement is encouraging, and I warmly welcome the parties’ commitment to respecting the agreement that has effectively silenced the guns in Tigray since 2 November 2022. I recently visited Tigray and witnessed the many challenges this region faces to reconstruct and rebuild basic services. Further, the road of the transitional justice process and to ensure accountability will be long. But this should be a top priority for the government and we as partners are ready to support it. Only by ensuring full justice can the wounds of the conflict truly heal and Ethiopia can move on.
Capital: What is Denmark’s involvement in the preparations for the upcoming National Dialogue?
Kira Smith Sindbjerg: The National Dialogue process is an important opportunity to achieve coherence and peaceful coexistence in Ethiopia, and it’s very positive that the Parliament and the National Dialogue Commission have started the preparations. Denmark has previously supported civil society organisations in promoting dialogue as a tool for conflict resolution nationally and between communities. I look forward to the official launch of the National Dialogue process and we are hoping to support the process through our UNDP partners together with EU and other partners. I believe that a credible and inclusive dialogue process where all voices – including from women, youth and minorities – are heard and treated as equal is our main goal. Without taking inclusive perspectives into account, the National Dialogue process as such is at risk.
Capital: What is the trade relation between the two countries, and what have you been done to boost trade relations?
Kira Smith Sindbjerg: Promoting trade and investments between Denmark and Ethiopia is a key part of our work at the Danish Embassy. While there is still room for improvement, our numbers suggest that trade – both from Ethiopia to Denmark and vice-versa increased from 2021 to 2022. The Danish companies working in Ethiopia range from large and world-renown companies like pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk and water pump manufacturer Grundfos, to smaller start-up companies, such as the fintech company Jamii.One, working to bring Danish knowhow and solutions to Ethiopia. From the Embassy, we are doing our best to help companies navigate the Ethiopian market and regulations in order to promote increased investment and trade between our two countries. We believe that Danish companies – whether in agribusiness, water, green energy, tech and digital or other areas – have key solutions and knowhow that can benefit the Ethiopian markets and contribute to economic growth and sustainable development.
Capital: Ethiopian Airlines started flying directly to Copenhagen starting at the end of May. Will this help better the relations between the two countries?
Kira Smith Sindbjerg: When Ethiopian Airlines arrived in Copenhagen on 22 May it represented a great leap forward in the relations between our countries. We hope that this direct flight will lead to greater trade, and increased tourism – both Ethiopians visiting Denmark, and Danes visiting Ethiopia, drawn by your rich culture and history, amazing natural sights, famous hospitality, and not least great coffee and 13 months of sunshine.
Capital: Do you have other development assistance being implemented in the country?
Kira Smith Sindbjerg: Denmark has a broad ranging and long running development cooperation engagement with Ethiopia. Denmark’s development engagements aim to promote economic growth, democratic reforms, climate and livelihoods as well as agricultural development and human rights. We work with a range of partners and with a budget of USD 160 million from 2018 to 2024. Ethiopia is actually one of the largest recipients of Danish development assistance. Denmark is a large donor to the Agricultural Transformation Institute as well as the PSNP safety nets programme, supporting the needs of the many people across the country struggling to make ends meet and put food on the table. Among our many focus areas are also the health and rights of women and girls, as we are working with our UN partners to empower women as well as to help women who have been victims of sexual and gender based violence, which sadly has become even more acute after the conflict in the northern part of the country.
Capital: You are bidding for the UN Security Council for 2025. Can you tell us about that?
Kira Smith Sindbjerg: Our candidature for a non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council is a natural extension of our strong and longstanding commitment to the UN and international cooperation. We believe that dialogue, partnership and mutual respect are the foundation for moving the world forward together. As a small country, we understand the value of an international order, where all countries – large and small – have an equal voice based on the principle of sovereign equality. If elected to the Security Council, we will be a strong voice for small states and continue advocating for reform towards a more accountable, coherent, transparent and effective Security Council. We will also work to enhance the meaningful participation of elected members, non-members and civil society in the work of the Council. Denmark has a long and solid track-record of working to bridge divides and promote cross-regional partnerships to solve common challenges. We take pride in finding common ground. This is the spirit of cooperation that we will bring to the Security Council.