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Address to students at Mekelle University

It is a great pleasure to be here in Ethiopia, at the University of Mekelle. It is inspiring to meet so many young people from all over the country. This is my first visit to Ethiopia and I stand humble in front of this great nation with a 3000 year long history. I might add that at the time you had established a great civilization, people in Norway still lived in caves.

I would like to share with you some of our perspectives on the world and our thinking about development policies. Then I will move on to talk more specifically about our partnership with Ethiopia. Finally, I hope we can have a fruitful exchange of views.

Norway has a long tradition as a donor country. We spend 1 % of what we earn, our Gross National Income, on development assistance. That puts us at the very top among donors. This is a policy that enjoys wide support in the Norwegian society. I believe that this is partly the result of a basic concept that underlies most religions and cultures; Those who have been fortunate should share their wealth with those less fortunate. Because it is fair, it is right and because an equal society scores much better in all major statistics than societies with large inequalities. Since we are at a university, allow me to recommend a book that in a fascinating way demonstrates the importance of equality. The book is called The Spirit Level and is written by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Picket. Reading it was a great experience, and I recommend you all to do the same.

For many – myself included – there is also a more politically charged perspective on the relationship between poor and rich nations. Put very simply: The world is not a just place. And injustice is not a coincidence. It is a product of power structures. Foreign aid should not be considered a charitable gift. Aid should be considered a small contribution to correcting the structures that make the world an uneven playing field.

I do believe that the possibility for nations like Ethiopia to create its own future is way much better today than it was 25 years ago. For many decades Africa, Asia and Latin-America where used as battle grounds for the struggle between the two super powers the United States of America and the Soviet Union. Few people have suffered more from the absurd logics of the cold war than the peoples on the Horn of Africa.

This is now a closed chapter. The shift of power to the east led by China’s incredible growth, the global scramble for natural resources, the emergence of new powers like India, Brazil and the African Lion Economies; all this has reshaped the world politically and economically.

It is really difficult to fully understand how much the world has changed. A few examples: The US economy is in decline. Every third dollar the US government spends is borrowed. Who would have thought back in 1982 that in 30 years China would be the US’s main creditor? That China would bank roll the US! Europe is struggling too. There are for example thousands of Portuguese with university degrees moving to Portugal’s former colonies Angola, Mozambique and Brazil. While Portugal itself is more or less bankrupt and has very little to offer in terms of work, young Portuguese find jobs in these booming emerging economies. The IMF has estimated that in 2015 seven out of the ten fastest growing economies in the world will be African. And of course; Ethiopia is in this economic lion pack.

Despite the many challenges that remain, particularly on this continent, I do believe the possibility for Africa to excel has never been better. However, there are dark clouds looming over this optimistic scenario. Let me dwell on some of them.

The fight against poverty has traditionally focused on economic growth and equitable distribution. This is the case in developing countries today, just as it used to be in Norway.

Access to natural resources and energy is essential for economic growth. In my own country hydro electric power was the basis for our transformation from a very poor and backward agrarian country in the European periphery to a relatively wealthy industrialized state. This started just around hundred years ago. The importance of hydropower in fueling development may be equally important to you, and it is therefore no surprise that one of the headlines of Norwegian cooperation with Ethiopia is Clean Energy. When we first started taming the water falls, wise politicians made sure that the private investors transferred the hydro electric power plants to the governments after a set time. Hydro electric power plants are about as close as it is possible to come to perpetual money making machines. In my view it should belong to the people. In the late sixties Norway also found large quantities of oil and gas and this has contributed to Norway being among the wealthiest nations in the world.

But development also has negative effects. Pollution and overexploitation of natural resources have put pressure on ecosystems and reduced biodiversity. It is now recognized that environmentally sound management of the natural resource base is vital for long-term economic stability.

Greater awareness, extensive international cooperation and national efforts have reduced environmental damage in my part of the world. But in many developing countries, pollution and overexploitation of natural resources are still causing serious environmental problems and loss of welfare. Global environmental problems are an increasingly important factor in international politics. Let me commend your Prime Minister for leading the way among poor nations with respect to this issue.

Let me also commend Mekelle University for its work on improving food security in cooperation with the University of Hawassa, and the Norwegian University of Life Science. The institution has come a long way since the 1990’s, when it started up under “the momona tree”with one faculty and 23 students. As Ethiopia’s role becomes more important in tackling issues of environment and development, so will your role be when you graduate and put your education into practice.

Rising greenhouse gas emissions will have a negative effect on the environment, and are thus a threat to developing and developed countries alike. It is therefore crucial that we establish an international framework to address climate change that binds the parties to the target of limiting global warming.

Both our countries are taking action on this issue: Norway has decided to give up to 60 Million USD annually to the implementation of Ethiopia’s Climate Resilient Green Economy within forestry, agriculture and energy. Ethiopia is taking the lead internationally, both in terms of the negotiation efforts and action on the ground. I welcome Ethiopia’s commitment to a strategy to limit greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change, in combination with sustainable, robust economic growth.

The greatest paradox of international environmental and development policy is that if the fight against poverty is based on economic growth that leads to climate change, it will in itself create more poverty. We have to recognize that everybody has the right to pollute. But we have to ensure that poor countries find less polluting ways to grow than the way for example Norway grew during its period of industrialization. This is at the heart of our cooperation with Ethiopia.

Thus the environmental and development agendas are mutually dependent. Focusing only on economic growth without paying attention to the environment, could undermine livelihoods throughout the world in the long term. And you in this part of the world will be the first to notice and the hardest hit.

The benefits of global growth have not been distributed in a way that benefits all. Over the last 50 years, the world’s population has risen from around three billion to nearly seven billion. In the same period, the global economy has multiplied manifold, but more than one billion people are still living in extreme poverty. In addition, the income gap between rich and poor is increasing in many countries.

I believe this is a particularly important issue on this continent. Let’s face it: For many African nations the idea of redistribution has not made very much sense. There has simply not been anything to redistribute. This is changing. The cake is getting bigger. It is extremely important that African nations find sound mechanisms for sharing the cake. To accept a life in misery when there is nothing to share is much easier than watching the few and privileged getting richer, while you remain in misery.

Ethiopia is leading the way also in this respect. I understand that Ethiopia has the most equitable distribution of income in the whole of Africa. I believe that if you are able to continue on this course, it will contribute greatly to fight poverty.

Let me also point out another key to development. I see that there are many girls here. You should do your outmost to ensure that the girls that graduate from Mekelle University will go to a job in the productive sector, not to the kitchen back home.

Before I tell you why women should go to income generating jobs and not to the kitchen, let me say that my mother was an activist fighting for women’s rights. I practically grew up in committee meetings. Hence, women’s rights are in my blood and I am still a feminist. Women are more easily victims of violence, more often subjected to discrimination, do not have the same opportunities with respect to education and work and are often paid less than men for doing the same job. This is something we have to change.

People tend to believe that Norway’s economic success is a result of natural resources like hydro power, oil and gas. That is partly right. But just as important is the fact that women are taking part in the economy to a much larger extent than in most other developed countries. It has been estimated that if the women’s share of the labour force in Norway was as low as the average in OECD-countries, the loss of production in Norway would be as big as our entire petroleum-assets, including the reserves currently in the ground. Yes, hydro power is important to Norway. Yes, oil and gas are important to Norway. But just as important for our economic success is the fact that we have established social policies that makes it possible for women both to have children and to participate in the economy.

Let me also add the importance of including women in politics. When Norway’s first female Prime Minister – Gro Harlem Brundtland – came to power her cabinet had 40 percent women. This was back in the 1980ties. Since then this has been the norm, regardless of whether it has been a leftish or conservative government

Today, I have seen the results of the fight against poverty in your own neighbourhood, with Norwegian support. People in Samre Woreda are getting a better harvest and more income as a result of this support, combined with their own impressive will and efforts to improve their situation.

Ethiopia is an old nation – but as I can see here today – also a young nation. You are the future, and your aspirations are important. Only you can build Ethiopia’s future, but Norway stands with you – as friends and as partners.

You have the most equitable distribution of wealth in the whole of Africa. You have among the very best track records in the world with respect to the Millennium Development Goals. Education and health is steadily reaching a larger part of your population. This creates the possibility for broader participation. It is my conviction that not only economic, but political participation and free expression of views are of key importance to a country`s development. And it is important in itself. You are the future also in this respect”. Thank you.


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