Estonia continues development cooperation with states neutral to Russia war

Former President of Estonian Kersti Kaljulaid at the Paris Peace Forum in November 2019.
Former President of Estonian Kersti Kaljulaid at the Paris Peace Forum in November 2019. Source: VPK

Estonia has continued its development cooperation with Uganda and Namibia since the start of Russia's full-scale military invasion of Ukraine, despite both countries having repeatedly abstained from UN votes to condemn Russia's aggression.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Estonia's activities aim to achieve long-term positive change in these countries.

The African countries which Estonia's development cooperation focuses on the most are Kenya, Botswana, Uganda and Namibia. The latter two countries have, on more than one occasion, abstained during UN General Assembly votes condemning Russia's aggression in Ukraine. In contrast, Kenya and Botswana have both voted to condemn Russia's actions.

"First of all, I would like to underline that Namibia and Uganda have abstained in UN votes, rather than directly supported Russia," Mariin Ratnik, undersecretary for economic development affairs at the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told ERR on Wednesday.

"Secondly, we are involved in development cooperation with these countries, in education and digital governance, not just providing funds. Development cooperation is a long-term activity aimed at achieving positive change in society. One of the outcomes of this could be that in the future these countries will become more like us, think and act more like us. This is also the reason why we are not yet ready to make swift changes at the moment," Ratnik added.

"We have always stressed in our meetings with representatives of these countries, including myself during my visit to Namibia or in my meeting with the Ugandan minister, that it is also important and beneficial for these countries to condemn Russia's actions and respect international law," Ratnik explained.

Mariin Ratnik. Source: ERR

"As our development cooperation has long-term objectives, the question also arises as to whether an abrupt termination of that cooperation might not lead to unwelcome changes," she said.

"At the same time, conditionality when it comes to development aid is also now increasingly on the agenda."

Finland changes direction

Finnish Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Ville Tavio announced on Monday that Finland will no longer provide development aid to countries, which support Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine.

"In both national programs and long-term development cooperation, we will focus primarily on those countries that are taking their citizens back, abide by the rules-based international order and do not support Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine," Ilttalehti reported Tavio as saying.

According to the paper, this is a major change of direction, as the previous Finnish government, led by Sanna Marin, had wanted to continue providing development aid to countries that have not directly condemned Russia's aggression against Ukraine.

Last April, Ilttaheti wrote that Finland was providing development cooperation or aid to a number of countries, including Ethiopia and Syria, as well as to Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam, which all voted against Russia's expulsion from the UN Human Rights Council at the UN General Assembly.

Of the countries that receive large amounts of aid from Finland, Nepal, Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya all abstained, Ilttalehti reported.

Estonian aid in Africa

According to the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs' press service, Estonia's bilateral development cooperation focuses on priority partner countries, with its primary interest being in the European Union's Eastern neighborhood. For this reason, the ministry has also prepared development cooperation strategies for Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.

At the same time, Estonia's development cooperation is increasingly focused on Africa. According to Estonia's Strategy for Africa, which was adopted in February 2021, development cooperation with African countries focuses mainly on supporting digital transition, good governance, education, and healthcare, as well as support for entrepreneurship and innovation. When it comes to developmental cooperation and aid in Africa, Estonia has a heightened focus on Kenya, Uganda, Namibia and Botswana.

The priority areas for Estonia's development cooperation with Uganda and Namibia are in education, e-governance, health, the green turn, entrepreneurship and innovation. "All these priority areas have digital literacy and the rights of children and women as key themes," said a Ministry of Foreign Affairs press spokesperson.

Uganda and Namibia have received nearly €3 million

According to data provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the total amount of development cooperation and humanitarian aid funding Estonia provided to Uganda between 2006 to 2023 amounted to €1,959,435. Between 2009 and 2023, Estonia also gave €709,877 in funding to Namibia.

According to the Estonian Center for International Development (ESTDEV), there are currently six projects underway in Namibia, via which ESTDEV is supporting Estonian businesses and organizations. Within the framework of Namibia's "Nam-X" e-government interoperability system, the projects aim to help develop the country's e-governance capacity and start-up ecosystems including in the areas of green technology and circular economy. They also assess the country's digital maturity and enhance the digital competencies of Namibian businesses as well as help develop digital skills and entrepreneurship among young people in the cultural heritage domain.

Estonia is also involved in five projects in Uganda, mainly focusing on the uptake of e-learning solutions, digital literacy and youth entrepreneurship.

Estonia's development cooperation with Uganda began 2013 and with Namibia in 2021.

"The main priority of Estonia's foreign policy is Ukraine's victory in the war initiated by Russia. Accordingly, we always raise the issue of the war with every country, including African countries. Estonia has no plans to change its development cooperation in Africa," the ministry's spokesperson added.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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