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Reflections on Strategy for Sweden’s Development Cooperation with Ethiopia

By Ghelawdewos Araia, PhD
Tigrai Online, Ethiopian News,June 2, 2016


This paper intends to systematically analyze Sweden’s development cooperation with Ethiopia (2016-2020) in the context of the multivariate facets or component parts of the Strategy and in conjunction with Ethiopia’s role in the transformation process and overall development agenda. First, however, I like to present a brief synopsis of the distinctive history of Sweden that ultimately led to the Swedish Model.

Sweden is one of the most fascinating, prosperous, and peaceful country in our planet earth; and this is not a mere historical accident or coincidence. What makes Sweden one of the most successful and best countries in the world has to do with its long tradition of peaceful resolution to conflicts and its rich political culture in social democracy; admittedly, however, Sweden was engaged in wars with Denmark, Russia, and Poland in the 17th century and it even became a regional power in the Baltic zone in the same century. Nevertheless, after Sweden lost war with Russia in 1709 and its subsequent last war in 1814, the country pursued a peaceful non-aligned foreign policy. The country was not involved in WWI and/or WWII and it did not join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Also admittedly, Sweden was involved in acquiring overseas sphere of influence or colony by purchasing tiny St. Barthélemy in the Caribbean from France in 1784 but sold it back in 1878, and to its credit Sweden set free the African slaves before it abandoned the island.

With the above historical background of Sweden, thus, it is not surprising that Sweden became a peace advocating progressive nation and a quintessentially strong bulwark in the development-aid package, mostly manifested in the mission and objectives of Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA). The latter agency, by and large, follows the overall social democratic culture of Sweden and the country’s advocacy for human and civil rights; and now, before I delve into the Strategy for Sweden’s Development Cooperation with Ethiopia, it is imperative that I dwell on the Swedish Model.

When I was a graduate student at Columbia University, I read Kurt Samuelson’s “The Swedish Model and Western Europe 1945-1988”, in which the author argues that “Sweden’s economy was modern and efficient enough to withstand the increased competition from…West Germany.”1    Most importantly, however, it is Samuelson’s characterization of the Swedish Model that is relevant to our present discussion. “The model is not merely this or that policy,” argues Samuelson, “The model is not the Swedish welfare system, even if that is an important part. Historically, and foremost, the model is defined not by the material content of specific policies but by Swedish political behavior itself, in the interrelations between government, industry and unions. Relations between different political opinions and parties are also important; you may call it the political climate or the political culture. During the 1930s, and even more so during the 1940s and the end of the 1960s, these relations were characterized more and more by cooperation, consensus and an ability to have reasonable checks and balances.”2

Justice and equality are the kernel and/or embodiments of the Swedish Model and it is no wonder that the Strategy memorandum underscores ‘democracy’, ‘human rights’, ‘gender equality’ etc.  The Strategy has three component parts: 1) A better environment, limited climate impact and greater resilience to environmental impact, climate change and natural disasters; 2) strengthened democracy, gender equality, and greater respect for human rights; 3) better opportunities and tools to enable poor people to improve their living conditions.

The Strategy for Sweden’s development cooperation with Ethiopia memo, of course, critically examines the country context and evaluates Ethiopia “as one the world’s poorest countries” but it acknowledges that Ethiopia’s economy is growing rapidly. The Strategy also candidly argues that “the scope for political participation is limited and women have a subordinate position in society. …Respect for human rights in the country is neglected, in particular with regard to democracy and women’s rights.”

However, the beauty of the Strategy memo is that it is well balanced in its critical examination of the Ethiopian country profile. It is neither condescending nor mere critical appraisal; on the contrary, it gives credit to the positive development progress Ethiopia is making. This is how it puts it:

“However, in other respects, Ethiopia is moving in the right direction. Poverty is steadily decreasing and several social indicators are moving in a positive direction. The country has presented an economic growth of around ten percent annually for several years. The manufacturing industry is developing steadily and is attracting more and more foreign companies, several of which are Swedish. Considerable investments are being made to improve the infrastructure including access to electricity. However, workers rights remained neglected.”

“There is a strong driving force in the Government regarding the implementation of the second national development plan (Growth and Transformation Plan, GTP II) that runs between 2016 and 2020. The plan focuses on economic growth through increased productivity in agriculture and the manufacturing industry, continued investment in infrastructure and the promotion of environmentally-friendly industry and energy sector through the strategy ‘Climate Resilient Green Economy (CRGE, adopted in 2011)”.

GTP II, like its predecessor GTP I may score some achievements in the development of the foundational economy but it could meet major challenges beyond the policy matrix. The main reason for the challenge is the level of economic development of Ethiopia itself; despite promising economic growth trends, the country is unable to make a transition from agriculture to export-led manufacturing industry. Moreover, the country is far from creating environmentally-friendly industry. The many tanneries throughout the country have now become the major cause for the pollution of hitherto pristine streams in their respective neighborhoods. A good example of these polluted waters is the Qebena River in Addis Ababa, which was clean and fresh but has now became very toxic due to unfettered pollutants poured unto the river.

Pollution, of course, is not a uniquely Ethiopian phenomenon; all major industrial countries, in one form or another, have polluted water and air in spite of the plethora environment protection protocols. However, if diligent policies are pursued and governments exhibit some commitment, pollution could be minimized or even controlled, and it is in the latter spirit that I have proposed the following with some caveat:

“The Ethiopian government in general and the MOA [Ministry of Agriculture], in particular have a mammoth responsibility to reverse the imbalance of the ecosystem in Ethiopia, not by simply enhancing agricultural production but also by maintaining the ecosystem at the same time. For instance, clearing trees and shrubs for rice agriculture in Gambella (south western region) could exacerbate the imbalance of the ecosystem, and flower farm near Lake Zuwai could disturb and kill marine life because the chemical fertilizers and insecticide sprays, that apparently enhance fresh cut flower industry, could find their way into the Lake.”           

The Swedish Strategy ought to make an in-depth investigative field work research on Ethiopia’s agriculture, industry, and the environment in order to meet its goals and by default place Ethiopia on the right track, especially with respect to modern agriculture, the new industries and their impact on the environment.

The Strategy also credits Ethiopia for implementing “major initiatives in health and medical care” and acknowledges that “good results have been achieved.” On top of this, the Strategy recognizes that “Ethiopia serves as a stabilizing factor in the Horn of Africa, where, in various parts of the region the political situation is tense with several ongoing conflicts, resulting in considerable refugee flows. Ethiopia pursues a relatively open and generous refugee policy, which has contributed to the country hosting one of the world’s largest refugee population totaling 720,000 individuals from mainly South Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea.”

The last part of the Strategy reiterates the question of democracy and human rights that we have already discussed above, but it is not clear whether Sweden will make it a precondition to its aid-development in Ethiopia, or simply engage in the implementation of the Strategy while at the same time Swedish personnel on the ground lead by example and monitor the various projects and make sure they are implemented in the context of the Swedish Model and Ethiopian reality.

The concluding part of the Strategy clearly stipulates that “the forms to be used for follow-up are described in the Government’s guidelines for strategies. Evaluation is to be seen as integral part of continual follow-up and is to be conducted when necessary. Various methods for results monitoring are to be applied, using both qualitative and quantitative results information. A balance between short-term and long-term results in the contribution portfolio should be sought to ensure that aid contributes to fair and sustainable development.”

In the final analysis, however, qualitative and quantitative data; evaluations, guidelines etc could be fine tools in the policy spectrum, but they could face daunting negative encounters given the lack thereof of good governance and wide-spread corruption in Ethiopia, although the country is on the right track as mentioned above and its overall development progress is promising.


  1. Kurt Samuelson, “ The Swedish Model and Western Europe, 1945 – 1988,” Journal of International Affairs, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University, Vol. 41/No. 2, Summer 1988, p. 364
  2. Kurt Samuelson, Ibid, p. 368
  3. Ghelawdewos Araia, ETHIOPIA: Democracy, Devolution of Power, and The Developmental State, Institute of Development and Education for Africa (IDEA), 2013, p. 179 


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