BERLIN (Deutsche Welle)―German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier leaves for Ethiopia on Sunday (27 January). He takes with him his government’s backing for Abiy Ahmed’s reform program. In an interview with DW, Steinmeier talks about his plans for his visit.

During his four-day trip, President Steinmeier will hold bilateral meetings with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and President Sahle-Work Zewde, as well as meet with civil society representatives, to gather firsthand information about the country’s ongoing reform process.

On Wednesday, Steinmeier will meet with Moussa Faki Mahamat, the chairperson of the African Union, which is headquartered in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

DW: This is your third trip to Africa as German president – you have previously visited Ghana, Gambia, South Africa and Botswana. How do you see Ethiopia? Similar to Gambia, which is also experiencing surprising democratic change?

President Steinmeier: It is different because it won’t be my first visit to Ethiopia [having visited the country in 2014 as Germany’s foreign minister]. I am somewhat familiar with the country although, of course, it was another time and under different political conditions.

In the past short year, Ethiopia’s people have witnessed breathtaking transformation – changes and reform efforts introduced by the new leadership that have led to a new dynamic of change. That’s why I very quickly said ‘yes’ to the invitation by President Sahle-Work Zewde and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. It’s crucial not only to honor from afar the courage of these changes in favor of democracy, but – as a European and German – to also be there on the ground to encourage the journey along this path. That’s why it’s the right time for me to visit Ethiopia.

As German president, you are returning to a ‘new Ethiopia.’ Currently, however, there are serious concerns about numerous ethnic conflicts flaring up. Multiethnic Ethiopia is now facing a serious stress test. Will you raise concerns about this with President Sahle-Work Zewde and Prime Minister Abiy? 

We are coming with great curiosity but we are not naive. Because we recognize what challenges the prime minister and the president have faced: making peace with neighboring Eritrea, the archenemy, opening borders that have been closed for decades, decriminalizing being in opposition, releasing political prisoners, planning legislative reform to change laws used to harass the civilian population, and, an equally courageous step, cutting the numbers of positions in the Cabinet and populating it equally with men and women. These are quite revolutionary decisions for Africa.

And, of course, these changes aren’t the end of the process. It requires perseverance to create successful change in such a large country that is still marked by old rivalries and where divisions have yet to be reconciled. It requires people to be patient – it needs time before the process bears fruit for everyone. I hope the population is patient and I hope the political leadership maintains its perseverance.

Prime Minister Abiy is the symbol of Ethiopia’s democratic change. Many Ethiopians express concern that such huge expectations are concentrated in a single person. Instead, they call for the strengthening of institutions and – given Ethiopia is a federal state – the regions. With Germany also having a federal constitution, what experiences can Germany, as a long-term partner, bring Ethiopia?

In Europe and in Germany, we understand the differences between reform efforts and harvesting the fruits of the reforms.

Continue reading this story at Deutsche Welle 
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