By Joe Bavier
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) -The African Development Bank (AfDB) will “immediately” withdraw all its international employees from Ethiopia following an assault on its staff members by government security forces, the institution said on Wednesday.
The AfDB lodged a formal complaint with Ethiopian authorities last month, calling the physical assault and hours-long detention of two of its employees on Oct. 31 a “very serious diplomatic incident”.
The bank sent a high-level delegation to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on Nov. 22 to meet with the Ethiopian government and bank staff, Wednesday’s statement said.
The delegation’s assessment was that the situation had not been resolved, AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina said in the statement.
“It also does not provide full confidence that all the African Development Bank’s employees feel safe and secure to carry out their duties and move around the country without fear of harassment,” he said.
Adesina added that the bank was particularly concerned that the Ethiopian government had not shared any report, or details of investigations into the matter.
Ethiopian government officials did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment on Wednesday.
At the time of the formal complaint last month, the AfDB said the Ethiopian authorities had promised to investigate, and Ethiopian state finance minister Eyob Tekalign said his government regretted the incident.
The AfDB’s ongoing portfolio in Ethiopia comprised 22 projects totalled $1.24 billion as of Sept. 30, it said in the statement. Its office in Addis Ababa will remain open, and the decision to withdraw international staff will not affect locally recruited employees.
Adesina said, however, that the bank’s continued operations and future presence in Ethiopia “could be negatively affected if the incident is not fully resolved”.
The AfDB has publicly provided few details about the incident.
In an internal memo from Adesina distributed to bank employees on Tuesday informing them of the staff withdrawal, he said the decision related to an “assault by Ethiopian security forces on two of our international members of staff”.
“Specifically, on 31st October 2023, two Addis Ababa based staff were unlawfully arrested, physically assaulted, and detained for hours without charge or official explanation,” the memo, which was seen by Reuters, said.
“This was a gross violation of their personal diplomatic immunities, rights and privileges under the bank’s Host Country Agreement with Ethiopia,” it added.
(Additional reporting by Rodrigo Campos in New York and Dawit Endeshaw in Addis Ababa; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Andrew Heavens)