Development bank pulls staff out of Ethiopia after “serious diplomatic incident”

Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed, shown here addressing the 2019 African Union Summit, must fulfil his promise to investigate the arrests, the bank said (Office of the Prime Minister of Ethiopia/Public Domain)
The African Development Bank (AfDB) has withdrawn all its international staff from Ethiopia after two of its employees were arrested, physically assaulted, and detained for hours by security forces without charge or any official explanation.

The bank announced the decision on 20 December, calling the arrests unlawful and a “serious diplomatic incident”.

They happened on 31 October last year.

When the bank notified Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed of the incident, he ordered the immediate release of the bank staff and promised that the incident would be thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice, the bank said on 16 November.

On 22 November, the bank’s senior vice president led a delegation to Addis Ababa to confer with the Ethiopian government about the matter but on 20 December the bank said it still hadn’t heard anything.

‘Gross violation’

AfDB president, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, said the bank “remains particularly concerned that the Ethiopian government has, to date, not shared with the Bank any report, or details of investigations into the incident”.

The bank called the arrests a “gross violation” of its staff’s “personal diplomatic immunities, rights, and privileges under the African Development Bank Group’s Host Country Agreement”.

Recent AfDB-funded projects include the 209km Modjo-Hawassa Highway, completed in February 2023, and a scheme to bring electricity to 335 rural towns and villages, completed in 2020.

The bank said there were 22 ongoing projects in Ethiopia totalling $1.24bn as of 30 September 2023.

Raised concerns

Adesina said the bank remained “committed to supporting the country’s socioeconomic development”, but warned that its “continued operations and future presence in the country could be negatively affected if the incident is not fully resolved”.

He said the bank’s international staff in Ethiopia would work remotely outside the country “until the findings of the government investigations into the grave incident are transparently shared with the Bank, and full details of the measures taken to bring the guilty parties to book are made public”.

The incident had raised concerns among other multilateral development banks, international financial institutions, and the broader diplomatic community, he added.

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