Ethiopia’s Prime Minister in his own words

Abiy Ahmed. Full translation of first press conference.

(Editor’s note: This transcript from Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s Aug. 25 press conferencein Addis Ababa has been organized thematically and is therefore not in chronological order. Amharic to English translation is not an exact science, and there was also room for interpretation when I was editing the translated English. If any readers have suggested corrections or improvements to this transcript, please make them in the comment section below the article, and I will amend the transcript as I see fit. Thank you.)

Security
Law and order

Addis Standard: Do you believe that your government has regained the monopoly on violence? What kind of impact did the reforms make on military and security institutions, and also on regional security institutions, which are very dependent on these federal institutions? For example, some emerging regions didn’t have the capacity to protect their citizens from violence. We can see this from what happened recently.

Addis Fortune: You repeatedly mention about love and forgiveness; what is your stand on those who commit crime?

EBC: After the reshuffling of the EPRDF leadership, unrest has been seen across the country. A wide variety of conflicts are going on, and there are people who say that the federal government is not capable of handling them. On the other hand, there are people who assume some groups are creating these conflicts, so that people will doubt the government. Now people are in fear. So, what is the government doing in terms of making those involved responsible and putting the rule of law in place?

Abiy Ahmed: On the stand of the government to maintain the rule of law vis-à-vis the medemerphilosophy and forgiveness, a citizen who does not respect the rule of law and a government who does not guarantee the rule of law both have no grounds for survival. A part of the social contract that the government has with its citizen is the ability to take measures by law through the consensus of the people. The government has the power to use force in an organized way and it can acquire that power through law, which is obtained from the people. So, one of the main reasons why the law is necessary is to help an individual identify his rights and duties. It is impossible to live together in a modern state unless someone stands to protect his rights and discharge his duties. Let alone human beings, animals have their own law, the natural law. For example, when it is cold in Europe they migrate to warm areas in other parts of the world. What law means is to know beforehand in which area and circle I have to move and work under its umbrella. If I come out of that I should be accountable on the basis of the law. So, a government who could not make that law respected would not be a government.

Abay FM: In Ethiopia, when one leader substitutes the other, they neglect what the past leader has done, and try to build by starting from scratch. Since you came to power, this trend is being seen in the community. How do you see this issue? Especially since it may disappoint those who say ‘we worked for the country tirelessly’.

AA: If we start from our history, what has been a trend is that as a government changes people start to have hope, because of the thought that change will come. But most of the changes mean renewed revenge and hate, and they reduce the hope of the people very soon. Most of the regime changes in Ethiopia and the changes that came through them indicate this reality. When we look back to the 1974 revolution, it was considered when a glimpse of democracy was seen in Ethiopia. But the approach the then government followed to suppress dissidents by force resulted not only in the sacrifice of many lives, but also stunted democracy. In Ethiopia we have missed such opportunities many times.

So, it is not to compromise the rule of law, rather it is to follow different approach, and work as much as possible on things which can unite and gather us together. Hence, the rule of law is unquestionable. If we are not able to do this, it is impossible to have the full meaning of government. We don’t want to rule by law, rather by rule of law. We consolidate this in the future also. What has to be taken seriously is what is called rule of law and rule by law. Rule of law and rule by law should be separated. Rule of law is a law that both the government and the people know equally and neither of them trespass it. It is not to invent law to promote your interest at the expense of suppressing the other. It needs to be cautious, because it is impossible in such a way to enable democracy to grow and flourish in our country. There are ups and downs because of this change, but I would like to express that the rule of law is unquestionable.

OBN: There are individuals who have committed crimes and hidden themselves among the general public. What is being done so that the public will not to be a hiding place for such criminals?

AA: There are criminals who are hiding out, but it is impossible to hide forever after committing a crime. It is a matter of time. Suspecting criminals and having tangible evidence about the crime they have committed are two different things. It is better to gather information and let the public know the crime they have committed, and then it will be easy to find them from where they hide, and bring them to justice.

Semegnew’s death

(Unknown media): There is a concern of the society, which is that after the election of Prime Minister things are changing very quickly, but we also see that many things have not been concluded. For example, after the June 23 bomb explosion, you immediately expressed your condolences and you also 

explained that it will be followed-up and the solution will be provided; you also even called for assistance from abroad to push the case to the conclusion. But after those words, as with many other similar issues, there has been no information about what progress has been made. We know about Engineer Semegnew’s death, people need answers about his death, but there is no answer, yet it is many people’s concern. In the beginning, you were doing things quickly, but after that many issues that were many people’s questions are stuck without being concluded. So, we need answers to such questions. How long do we have to wait to get answers? Or will they be left out like before, will they be covered up and left?

Ahadu Radio: We hear that people are connecting your comments with Engineer Semegnew, and it was also said that information does not have to be disclosed. If this is true, because the energy minister was giving various comments with regard to this, is there any development? And where can the truth be found?

AA: In general, it is expected that the experts will release the finding of the incidents very soon on the death of Engineer Semegnew and the incident of June 23. They will also publicize the evidence they have gathered on other issues. You all know the ramification of publicizing such incidents beforehand without clearly investigating and identifying the problem. First it needs to be supported by experts and must be accurate and truthful. The information should not be changed every time. So, we delayed publicizing the result of the incident because it is better to be restrained and wait patiently until the findings of the experts will come out.

As you all know the death of Engineer Semegnew was heartbreaking. Engineer Semegnew had been serving his country skillfully with passion. So it is shocking for all of us when such incident happens. The first reaction to such an incident is shock and it is later on that you can investigate how and why it happened. At the time of the incident I was out of the country and I heard the news with bitter sadness. After I came back I have been following the case seriously to ensure that law enforcement is conducting the investigation into the incident rigorously. Amidst this, the problem that has happened in the eastern part of our country diverted our attention and took us a long time, almost two weeks, to deal with the justice issue of Engineer Semegnew and the June 23 incident. Recently the experts clarified to me that they have been finalizing the investigation and they will publicize it soon. So it is better to leave such things to the experts.

Criminal reform

AA: If you ask what is the government’s capacity to immediately identify crimes and serve justice, the approach is different to the past. Previously, law enforcement agencies have a culture of detaining many people at the same time on suspicion of a single crime to try and identify the perpetrator. Then they conduct investigations and release suspects when they found them innocent. Such activity has brought serious damage. At this time we take a different approach as part of our reforms to investigate the problem as much as possible and then apprehend the criminal, unless the crime is a very serious one. So, the activity takes time. For example, in the last two months we were able to recover a lot of foreign exchange. It took us a lot of research and time to achieve this. We have also found a lot of SIM cards as we conducted investigation into telecom fraud, almost a quintal of illegal SIM cards. We have taken a lot of time to investigate these things. Regarding firearms, we have obtained about 2,000 pistols. We need to know, follow, and control the material that is intended to be used for crimes. We have the aim of bringing people to justice with tangible evidence. So, the failure to make these things clear in such a way hinders us in making a quick response.

As you all know, concerning such incidents there is no magic bullet that can identify and show when someone kills another and tell overnight that it is Mr. X who killed Mr. Y. People are hiding themselves not to be disclosed and fall under suspicion when they kill people or commit other crimes. It is only bandits in the forest who do such things in daylight. The other issue is our institutional capacity to verify the identity of the perpetrator by gathering forensic evidence when a problem happens. So, it is difficult to take measures immediately through identifying the problem quickly. There is a need to build our capacity for the future.

Mekele airport incident

Nahoo TV: It is about the anti-terrorism federal forces that were arrested in Tigray region. At that time when we called and asked about their arrest, they said no one was arrested. But after that the Tigray regional communication bureau said they were arrested and now they are released after discussing with each other. Can regional police arrest Federal Police?

AA: The information about the press release of the Tigray regional state and the apprehension of the Federal Police who went there was wrong. I heard that when some Federal Police were sent there for their regular duty some have raised questions due to a lack of information. However the Federal Police have returned back as they finished their duty there. What needs to be clear here is that one of the pillars in the federal and regional governments’ formation and organization are power and resource sharing. The power of the federal government is to protect federal institutions found in every regional state, to maintain the safety of the people, as per the social contract with the citizens. There are still police and soldiers who are guarding Mekele University and Mekele Airport and in other regions in similar ways. I think it is better to look into it in this way rather than exaggerating it. When little incidents happen it is exaggerated too much. It would be better to have a sense of perspective.

Internal displacement

Associated Press:Various conflicts are occurring in different parts of the country. When we ask government officials, they say that it is by those who want to make political gain and even, at some places, it is said that some people give money to create these conflicts. For example, the recent report says that there are about 2.8 million internally displaced people. So, could you put a name to these people? Who are these people? Will they be brought to justice soon?

LTV: In some places in the country, there were conflicts, and lives were lost, properties were damaged, there were also people who were displaced. And for such kinds of things where abuse of rights occurs, there are people who say that it is because forces that protect these rights don’t get to the scene quickly. We can mention what happened in Jijiga and Shashemene as examples. Even though the government is saying that it is supporting those displaced because of conflicts, those who are displaced and are on the streets in Addis we spoke to are saying that they are not getting any aid from the government. Even when the problem that caused inflation is solved, prices for goods are still not changed. Is there anything that you are doing about it?

AA: It is better to see the issue of internally displaced people in two ways. I think the comment that says the number of internally displaced people has increased in the last four months is a bit exaggerated. True, people have been displaced after the change, but this is also what has been occurring before. In Ethiopia, when this attitude of me and mine continues increasing, then the attitude of considering other Ethiopians as alien and outsiders will increase also. Even if there is regret, sadness and forgiveness following the action, it has been widely seen in the last many years that people who were instigated by their emotions have wounded, killed and chased away their own brothers and sisters. So, it will take us a long time to change this attitude. It is not only about the constitutional guarantees that any Ethiopians have the right to move from one place to another, and can work and live in any area of his preference, we Ethiopians have a long culture of mutual coexistence. Let alone Ethiopians, any individual from other country can come, work and live here, as long as he/she respects the law and constitution of the country.

There are organized groups who are conflict entrepreneurs, we have no doubt about that. But the identity of these forces is not clearly known. The kind of conflict observed in the east is different from that of the conflict in the south; and what is observed in the south differs from what is observed in the west. These forces incite conflict everywhere by triggering people’s emotion. It is incumbent upon every one of us to be aware so people do not cooperate and buy the evil ideas of these forces, and also we have to establish strong institutions that can work on the effective mitigation of the cruel missions of these forces. I hope this issue will be improved and decreased through time as our institutions become stronger, and as the awareness of our people increases.

It is wrong to relate those problems with the current change. Prior to the current change the government had been ruling Ethiopia through the State of Emergency. Even we were not able to guarantee peace by the State of Emergency. Addis Ababa was besieged before the current change, it was impossible to come into and go out of the city. There is no such case now. There is a big improvement. It needs more effort and work to guarantee the rights of people to move, work, and live everywhere. So, it is obvious that there is improvement, and it is up on every one of us to capitalize on it.

It is wrong to relate those problems with the current change

Concerning the displaced people, we are working on it by establishing a committee led by the Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen to resettle the displace people in Guji and the east as well. Now people who were displaced from different places, zones, and regions are resettling and we are also working vigorously to resettle the remaining ones also. We have observed improvements so far; especially in eastern Guji we have resettled almost all of the displaced people. In western Guji we have started the resettlement and the progress is good so far. So, we are working on the ways that people can resettle.

Regarding aid, we are trying to provide support to those who live in one area, but there are some who dispersed elsewhere. So, it is not only the government, but is the responsibility of every one, such as investors, NGOs, and individuals to be involved in the aid and rescue of the people. When manmade disasters like this happen, the government alone cannot solve the problems. Even if it has resource and institutional capacity, it needs the assistance of everyone.

Economic sabotage

BBC: At this time, various acts of economic sabotage, occurring even in government institutions, is taking place. Embezzling money, evading tax and other things are going on. We are not seeing people being held accountable. For how long will these people be forgiven?

AA: The sabotage is happening in two ways. One is when individuals amass and accumulate resources for their personal gain. The second one is carried out in an organized manner by individuals or groups who are trying to portray that the change is not going in the right direction, and they hoard the resources and the capital that needs to be pumped into the market. For example, concerning money, a huge amount that should be circulating in the market was held by individuals. In the last one month about five billion birr has been deposited in the bank. This money makes a difference when it is deposited to the bank and used for economic purposes then while it was in the hands of individuals. We are also taking some economic measure to try to solve this problem. This issue will hurt the poor unless the government and the public work together to alleviate the problem. This makes a few individuals wealthy. There are also some groups who are doing this to gain political profit from it. So, it needs to be redressed.

Somali region

AA: The situation in Jijiga has a broad scope and it needs to be looked at in that way. We have been deeply discussing the issue in eastern Ethiopia for the last ten days. The human rights violation committed there by the government, it is hard to believe that it happened in Ethiopia. It seems as if you are watching a film or reading a novel. There are a lot of shocking things done there. For example, people detained along with lion, hyenas and tigers. It is hard to believe such kind of thing exists in Ethiopia. This was a mechanism used to intimidate the prisoners to confess, not only for what they have done, but also for what they have not done. People were raped, their properties were looted, and people killed. What has happened in Jijiga also happened elsewhere. There was a need to be so cautious to make intervention because not only could it create a problem there, but also it could cause chaos in the entire region—it was designed that way. For example, in Dire Dawa, Djiboutians were attacked selectively and exclusively so as to incite Djibouti and to spread chaos in to the region. Fortunately, the Djiboutians, especially the president, are ones who closely follow the situation in Ethiopia and supports Ethiopia in many ways. If it was not for the effort of the Djiboutians to cool down the situation, the mission may have worked to spread the chaos into the region.

He and other officials who misuse their power will be judged by the law

In the future, the experts will study the case and come up with solutions on how and why the problems were created and who created it. The crime that happened was really a shame. People in power should take lessons from this so as to exercise their power on the basis of the law. We are settling the situation there. Now we have started the process to identify the criminals and bring them to justice by cooperating with the people. Therefore, other regions should take a lesson from this also.

Ahadu Radio: Nowadays, regional divisions are being seen in the local media, security forces, and in the community widely. We hear about Liyu Police many times, and that it is even being said that they have to be responsible for abuses that occurred. What is your government’s plan on this? Because it has created a feeling of questioning how many internal borders Ethiopia has.

AA: It is impossible to conclude that the Liyu police have been operating completely according to the constitution. It was a family gathering that worked to serve the interests of individuals. We will continue to consolidate what we have started in the Somali region at the federal level and also in other regions. It is easy for the government to apprehend people quickly and put them in jail, but that is not the correct procedure. We need to gather information first and then move to the process of serving justice. Of course, there are delays sometimes.

Ahadu Radio: What will be the fate of former Ethio-Somali region president? Could you explain it in connection with what has happened in the region recently?

AA: Concerning the fate of the president of the Somali region, it is the law which will determine it and we will see it together. He and other officials who misuse their power will be judged by the law.

(Media unknown): There are comments that were being given on the situation that happened in Jijiga, Somali region, which stated that ‘if the government had taken immediate action, the causalities could have been minimized’. You are also informed about the situation around there, that there were human right abuses, beforehand. According to the Ethiopian Somali People’s Democratic Party’s report, what happened there was pre-organized. Didn’t your national security get the information? The other thing is that the Defence Minister has released a report on the Saturday saying that the situation has reached a critical level. But military arrived there on Monday. So, don’t you think that it was better if an immediate response could have been made? Does your government regret not taking immediate action or do you think you have taken immediate action to solve the issue?

AA: We have really done a lot of work on the issue in the Somali region. Personally, I believe that the way we tried to solve the problem in the Somali region was superb. If we had not solved the issue the way we have done it would have cost us too much. So, our patience has paid off, even if it has its own cost. Had we been quick to take action, it would have exacerbated the crisis more. So, our patience has helped to be successful in the end.

Uncouth youth

OBN: Qeerroo, Fanno and all other youths of the country have paid great sacrifice for the change that has come and they are the ones that get the credit. But now, emotionally or deceived by some groups, we see these youths being involved in mob justice. What do youths have to be to abstain from such kind of deed?

True, the youth need change. When they need change they need it in a continuous way. They always want new things. They need to maintain the change. They should assist the law enforcements by providing information. They should refrain from mob justice. So, it is necessary to teach and advise the youth.

Reform
Election 2020

VoA: Election time is approaching, the reform is still on the process, so there are those who say it should be postponed. What is the government’s view on this?

AA: For me the idea of postponing the coming election is not the right thing to do. It is only if I win the next election that I want to serve Ethiopian people. So, I am not pushing for the postponement of the election and want to rule the county through the way I am in office now. Our interest as a party is to ensure democratic elections in Ethiopia. If a genuine and democratic election is held in Ethiopian and EPRDF is able to win the election it can be able to implement its policies. If it loses the election, the party should accept the election result without hesitation and ensure democratic transition. My dream and interest is to bring real democracy in Ethiopia. So we are trying to automate the registration. If we are able to succeed we want to automate all the election processes. The mistrust of the ballot box should be eliminated. Serving without being elected is meaningless. We have to organize an election board in which every part is confident in it. There should be an election board in which EPRDF and the opposition believe in, because our goal is to ensure democratic elections. Personally I don’t prefer the postponement of the election.

EPRDF

Addis Standard: Within the EPRDF coalition, all the four national parties have equal number of representatives in the Executive Committee, Central Committee and Congress. For example, those who represent Oromia region with a population estimation of 40 million, Amhara and South with 20 million and Tigray with six million have equal voice in EPRDF. Doesn’t this show structural undemocratic practice within the party? Why would regions with large populations vote for you in the coming election, knowing that their vote is being systematically weakened?

AA: EPRDF is a coalition of four parties. When the parties negotiate to form a coalition, if one party is superior and the other is inferior it would be impossible to form a coalition and to establish institutions together. There is proportional representation of different parties based on their populations practiced in the parliament and Council of Ministers and also in the legislative, executive and judiciary. But when it comes to the party, every party has an equal number of representatives with equal vote. They came together to create a front with the consensus to deal with each other in a democratic culture and system. What is a problem is not the number, which is 9 or 45, it is a point about the party knowing its jurisdiction and so not intervening in the government. That is why we say the party and the government are two separate bodies. If the party decisions influence the government, that would cause problems. So far the party makes decision through discussions and consensus, not by a vote. So the numbers didn’t affect anything. Now EPRDF is aiming to become a single party.If we are able to become a single party those problems would not be an issue.

Concerning the party line, there is no change made so far

EBC: How are EPRDF sister parties getting along, especially related to TPLF, since many people have doubts about their relations?

(Media unknown) In the EPRDF Executive Committee report, they used the term ‘during this tension’. The committee had discussed the differences between the regional parties in the coalition and has also passed a resolution to solve the difference. So, what is their difference, and what kind of resolution was it?

AA: There was no contradiction in the press release of the EPRDF following the recent meeting. We were discussing different issues deeply and reached a consensus and put the way forward. We have held the discussions in a democratic way and people were raising any issues they wanted. But it doesn’t mean there is no difference. The regional parties have the right to speak out about what they feel and also have the right to oppose what they don’t like, as long as it is done in a democratic way and wouldn’t harm the unity of the country. So, you don’t have to generalize that the EPRDF has no difference. There are fierce debates among us always. As of my understanding, the recent meeting was a meeting in which we have discussed on issues in a good sprit and concluded with consensus. There is no problem as long as the ideas rule and we govern our emotions and debate based on facts. So, the recent meeting was successful in which we put working directions. I think the expectation of the people was different and it is why they hesitate to accept the press release.

BBC: There are two views going on in the society: some say that EPRDF has changed its policy, such as planning to change names, programs, and the like. Others say EPRDF is following its established policy. What do you say with regards to this? Is there any change?

AA: Concerning the party line, there is no change made so far. EPRDF has reformed itself before and now has made a deep reform. When we say a deep reform it means that the party is saying, ‘now I am aged, rusted, and hence I want to change.’ Then it starts with itself, and moves to widen the democratic space. Widening the space of democracy means it is unnecessary to take up arms due to ideological differences, and it is not right to harass people because of harboring different ideas while there is the means to fight idea with idea and win one over the other.

As you all know, different parties mushroomed during the 1970s and almost all of them were communist. EPRP, Meison, Derg and TPLF were all communists. It was not the ideology difference which divided those parties to kill each other. It is not because of ideological difference that Ethiopians are killing each other. The problem is one has magnify itself and belittle the other. Such attitude should be left behind. The new generation especially encourages those who fight with ideas and shuns those who kill due to differences in idea. Most of the Ethiopians who took up arms to topple the government by force are now coming back to Ethiopia. We have to welcome this with excitement and joy, because if we continue killing them it is our citizens who are dying and if they kill and won, they won by killing their citizens. We can beat each other through ideas, beyond killing each other. So, when we widen democracy and the change is coming fast there are some people who will be scared.

The lasting solution for Ethiopians is making all Ethiopians believe in the ownership of their country. This attitude of ‘I am a better Ethiopian than others’ should be corrected. Many people have been thinking that way. But Ethiopia has existed so far and she will also continue to exist in the future. So to ensure this there should be participatory process. EPRDF has been renewing itself to lead the changes happening in the country. There was a communist party until 1991. When the cold war was over in 1991 and the capitalist ideology won the party has also changed and abandoned communism, which was not easy to do. There many policies and ideas the party outlined during the first renewal. There were some people who were unhappy when new ideas came and such kind of people also exist today. As long as we exist, we never cease creating and inventing new ideas, because this is natural. We have to continue our journey growing and adding new ideas, because these days the demand of our people is increasing and knowledge is expanding more. If we are stagnant, and the society is ahead of us, we will not be able to rule. So we need to change ourselves in order to lead the people. So far, there is change in ideology. Concerning the ideology, as I always say, the base of ideology is idea. The political scientists say people have an idea and when they are able to narrate that idea in a well-organized manner then it has become an ideology. So, if we have the idea for development, peace and democracy, accepting such an idea and implementing it is important.

EPRDF has no party that embraces the change 100 percent, and no party that did not embrace the change 100 percent.

Concerning the question of whether all EPRDF member parties are equally accepting the current change, EPRDF has no party that embraces the change 100 percent, and no party that did not embrace the change 100 percent. It is based on individuals. For example, it is wrong to have this perception that in OPDO every member has fully accepted and embraced the change 100 percent and that TPLF is on the opposite side, this is wrong. In OPDO there are forces that are in wait-and-see mode and who are also starting to embrace the change slowly, and it is the same with ANDM also. There are also similar cases in TPLF and SEPDM. There are people who came to the fore and support and stood on the side of the change, while there are forces who are against the change. It is impossible to categorize all in to one.

For example, senior officials of the Tigray region support the change sincerely from their heart. They want to support the change so as to bring peace, development and democracy to the region. So, it is wrong to exclude these forces and consider that they are also against the change. That is a kind of campaign that is wrong. Maybe there are people who are a few individuals who want the old system to continue. TPLF and the Tigray people need the change because they need peace, development and democracy, and hence it is necessary to understand it this way. We should not widen the differences between the parties due to little incidents, but instead narrow it and increase the numbers that want fast change. It is a mistaken view to consider the TPLF as a party that is against the change and the one who doesn’t want to embrace the change. As there are some who didn’t embrace the change in other parties, there are also some in TPLF

Mengistu pardon

Associated Press: Recently many people were pardoned, including those whose cases were being heard. Right now various community members are expecting that Colonel Mengistu will be pardoned and allowed to come back to the country. How do you see this issue?

AA: In line with the current reality, Colonel Mengistu would not come back to Ethiopia, unless there is a constitutional amendment in which people of his type who perpetrated the Red Terror are allowed amnesty. The current amnesty proclamation doesn’t include people who were involved in the Red Terror. Regarding your concern about what should be done to institutionalize the current reform, as you all know we have now started to open the door and windows to let the suffocated rooms that we all have been in to be filled with a fresh air. So when the rooms that have been closed for many years and stagnated are open ajar it is inevitable to experience bad smells. It may cause many problems. So, it is necessary to understand that change has come with such characteristics. It is not true that everyone always welcomes change. But what we have to be confident of now is that the change is becoming fruitful and touching the ground. So, as it is grounded it brings many people to it, and the number of people who are against the change will dwindle. And it is expected that the number of the people who support the change will increase through time.

Rebel reintegration

(Media unknown): When exiled political parties with armed wings return to the country, will their fighters be merged into the national army, like other countries? Or what is planned?

AA: The armed groups who are going to participate in the political process will be disarmed. They won’t come with their weapons; that is not the principle. Now they need to arm themselves with books and ideas. If they come carrying their weapons their arrival has no value. We have almost completed our study to establish a demobilization organ at the federal level in which the armed groups will be disarmed and join the field of their interest. So, they cannot engage themselves in the peaceful political process while they are an armed group at the same time. Their coming has no value if they come with this idea that they disarm if they win election, or else they will continue with their first idea if they lose the election. So, our discussion with these groups is to disarm them and have them join the political struggle through the peaceful process in which they battle with their ideas.

 

Economy matters
Privatization

ESAT:We know that you have formed an advisory council on privatization consisting of 21 Ethiopians recently. I think the main aim of this committee is that the privatization process is transparent and executed responsibly. But, the privatization process is complicated, hard and deep; does it not need experts? For example, experts who know about finance, accounting, valuation, and trade law are needed. In addition to this, we expect that they are those involved in secondary capital market, but from these 21 council members, except from some, most of them don’t have these requirements. Though these advisors are ready to serve with honesty, they don’t have what it takes to do it. And this is the people’s concern. What kind of comment do you have? What are you planning to do?

ESAT: According to Transparency International, millions of dollars are taken out of Ethiopia illegally. What kind of steps are being taken so that this illegal money will not be invested in this privatization? Do these 21 advisors have the capacity to stop this?

AA: Concerning the privatization, we have organized an advisory council, which is a body composed of different members of society and which is guided by a clear plan and which can ultimately make decisions transparently. This is not to make the government is the only decision-maker.

It is not mandatory that each member needs to be an expert. That means there are technical teams in different sectors. For example, if it is the telecommunications which is to be sold it needs experts with deep experience in the field. If it is in the logistics sector that is to be sold, it also needs another expert in the field. So, the advisory council’s role is to provide advices and comments which help as an input on social, economic and political issues to create trust between the government and the public after it listened to the results of the studies presented by field of experts both from inside and outside of Ethiopia. So, their role is to create transparency between the government and the public, but not to make decisions.

Why this is necessary is because even if the enterprises are owned by the government, they are established using public’s resources, and therefore there is a clearly inform the public about the transfer of these enterprises so it is free from suspicion. Most African countries have done this, but it lacked transparency. So, to avoid such problems, and to prevent theft, these advisory councils, who are recruited from the political parties, from different social sectors, provide advice to the government and information to the public. They are not experts. There is a macro team who discuss and work together. Their procedures will be disclosed and when you find something suspicious you have to investigate it and let the public know and also assist the procedure so it does not face obstacles. Participatory process should not be confined to professionals.

With regard to the illicit money stashed in foreign accounts, we need countries to cooperate with us to bring back the money. We need help from everyone on this. Our main target is to get all the money back. The problem is this issue is raised here only for media consumption, but no one will to help the government when the government is determined to start to work on it. There are a few countries that show an interest in cooperating with us and there are a few who are hesitating. It is our primary interest to bring back Ethiopia’s resource and money from any country that was earned through theft, and we are aggressively working on it now. So I want to call up on you also to share us the information you have on this.

Foreign exchange

Capital:It is obvious that in the past three years, there was a problem of hard currency in the country. For example, manufacturing industries didn’t get any foreign currency in the past one year. Manufacturers only produce at 10 percent of their capacity. On the other hand they have feared that their employees will lose their jobs. Manufacturers were afraid that after employees lose their job, they would damage the firm. It is being said that, because they are not producing according to production cost and economic scale, products have become expensive and the only one benefitting are importers importing finished goods. And when it comes to importers, getting foreign currency is based on favoritism with banks. Is there any new strategy the government is planning to use to stop these?About black market and contraband, though it was weakened in the past two weeks, now it is increasing. What is the government doing to solve the issue permanently?

AA:Concerning foreign exchange and the black market, when we see the economy of Ethiopia in the past years we have registered a huge success in some sectors. But our performance in terms of widening access to foreign exchange was low. We are generating very low amounts of foreign currency compared to what we could have been able to generate. We faced foreign exchange shortage because of the imbalance between our exported and imported goods. One of the reasons which caused the shortage is the growth of contraband in which individuals control most of the imports that should go to the public and the government. So, the solution for this is for the government and the public to work hand in glove to decrease the contraband activities.

The second one is increasing our export capacity through increasing products and productivity, which helps us not only for our consumption but to widen our alternatives to generate foreign currency. So, it is better to use this way. This is a problem that developing economies are facing these days and it inevitable to face foreign exchange shortages even in the coming years. Because this is not something we can solve in a few years.

The third one, the income we obtain from tourism and remittance is also affected by contraband. This is why we are asking our Diaspora to send their money through legal transaction. It is better to understand that we can solve this problem when we are able to manage our resource and use it in a proper way by clearly knowing our revenue and expenditure. But the primary solution is to focus on increasing our products and productivity so as to increase our export capacity.

(Media unknown): Most of mining in the country is stopped. For instance, we can mention Shakiso. The reason why I mentioned Shakiso is because it is gold issue, and it was said that there was a problem that the gold mining project brought on the community. Won’t this kind of problem be solved quickly and the project restarted? Or is there any progress on the issue?

AA: The sector is one of our resources that we are aiming to utilize. We have to use it to solve the unemployment problem and to generate income as well. The approach we have been following in the mining sector was not right. The local communities were not beneficiaries from the sector. There is a system in other African countries, like in South Africa and Uganda, where the local communities are protected. But we didn’t do this system in our case. So we have to get the investors and the local community to work together on the basis of mutual benefit.

GERD

Abay FM: After you became PM, many political changes have taken place. But the economy of the country is not that much spoken of. So what is the situation of government mega projects, such as GERD, industrial parks, sugar projects and the like?

AA: There are two problems that explain why we were not able finish on schedule. The first problem is project management, which is implementation of the project according to the plan, time schedule and the allocated budget.

The second problem is design, which is a problem in the construction sector, both government and private. It is not only with the GERD that we have had the problem of finishing our projects on time. There are also similar cases in sugar projects, roads, and even including condominiums. The main reasons for this are twofold. One is a lack of experience and the second one is our work culture. This needs to be corrected. It is impossible to believe that we have started the GERD with full preparation, knowledge and skills.

It is not only with the GERD that we have had the problem of finishing our projects on time

The other problem with the GERD is how we contracted out the work. It was a project that was supposed to be completed within five years, but not a single turbine is operational yet. Most of the work has been undertaken by MetEC. This company was established by people who have an interest to develop and transform the country on the basis of developing with our own capacity. But there is a problem in the approach. I have visited GERD before a month to assess its progress. It is a project which bears the fingerprint of all Ethiopians and it is a ground for us to show the world that we can dream and execute our plan. So, if we fail to finish GERD, it is a disgrace for us. After I took office, I established a team who could conduct a study on the progress of GERD, and provide feedback on the way forward. Based on the results of the finding, we cancelled the contract with MetEC, and outsourced it to other experienced companies. Salini has demanded compensation because of the delays. I haven’t met Eng. Semegnew after I visited GERD. After I returned from USA, I telephoned his family and consoled them.

Media
Official access

Washington DC Ethiopia Radio and TV program: It is hard to have access to information from abroad about the situation in Ethiopia. When we call officials for information, most of the time they respond saying “I am in a meeting, call me later”. Since Ethiopians living abroad get information from social media, which is not credible, what is your government planning to do solve such problem?

AA:It is true that there is a problem of accessing information, but this doesn’t mean that there is no improvement yet. There is a huge improvement in this regard. What the journalists are asking for is to directly forward their question face-to-face just like now. The fact is that I have been on the media in the last four months and we have been also updating you on Twitter and other outlets. Some journalists directly call officials and ask questions even without introducing themselves and also record the conversation without the consent of the officials, which is ethically wrong.So, officials are not required to give information when a journalist calls and ask question abruptly without the preparation of the officials, therefore the officials hesitate because journalism in its nature is investigative, provocative, and sometimes fault-finding. Because of this people restrain themselves so as not to make mistakes. On our part we will work to strengthen the office and we will update you on Twitter, Facebook and through our spokesperson. We will have a meeting together in the near future and discuss on the way forward.

(Media unknown) When reporters report, most of the time we say, “according to EBC”, “according to ENA”. Our involvements in the country’s issues are so weak. For example, while we were invited to the airport when President Isaias Afeworki came, except from looking from afar, we were not allowed to enter the VIP room to listen to the press statements made by both you and President Isaias. Why don’t you arrange opportunities that allow us to say “according to the PM” instead of “according to EBC, ENA, Walta”?

AA: As you have said, I have been responding to issues directly related to me as much as I could. The journalists and the public have the right to ask what they feel and I have the duty to respond to their questions while I also have the right not to respond to every issue raised, as it is an obvious approach to avoid some. So, this means our rights are respected on both sides.

Most of the press briefings I have given so far were not planned and intended as this one today. They were a spontaneous occurrence when incidents happened that I gave such briefings, either at an airport or somewhere, and hence I was not successful in those cases to invite all of you to participate. As was the previous trend, there is also still sometimes handpicking of journalists. I hope this issue will be addressed and corrected as our cultural revolution slowly progresses and we come to understand that all media are equal and all have the same rights to get information.

But I don’t think that I have to meet all of you and brief you regularly. Because there are media personnel at the Office of the Prime Minister who are doing this job to inform and update the public and other concerned bodies. At times we will meet and you can ask me and I can brief you when it necessary. The problem is there is interest to ask questions wherever I go. Every media wants to ask. This makes me indulge myself with media work and set aside my primary jobs. So, we can handle it professionally, as it is also done in other countries. But this does not mean I am closed to media. You can ask whenever you meet with me and have also the right to get answers.

Media support

Nahoo TV: Private media organizations are competing with media organizations that are financed by government budget. For example, out of three print media organizations, one has dropped out because of a budget issue. And there is no such thing called duty-free status for media organizations. What is the plan to subsidize private media organizations?

AA: It is only the government media that is supported while the private media is lacking and because of this particularly the print media are not able to be competitive in the market. The first support needed for the media is freedom. The first support that we can provide to any media is to speak, ask and write freely. We have taken a major stride in this regard. Those who are working on conventional and broadcast media based in foreign countries are now allowed to come and work in the country. We have unblocked hundreds of blocked bloggers. We have also tried to encourage writers to write freely. In the future we will work on how everyone can access information to assure the right to acquire information. We are studying how to add the number of people who can read and write. One thing I want you to understand is today is not like the previous times when it was necessary to establish a media house with a huge budget to disseminate information…because individuals can disseminate information every time as a citizen journalist which will put organized institutions to the test because these citizen journalists can disseminate the information before the media institutions can do it. So it needs to be synchronized, clear and professional. Citizen journalism does not need much resource and professional skills. So, we need to discuss how these individuals can disseminate information without affecting media institutions. We want to see an increase of print media. We want an increase of people who read them. We can respond to what needs to be done based on our studies. I think we took the first step by opening the venue for every one of you.

Social media

DireTube:For conflicts that occur, social media will be held responsible. So, instead of seeking for solutions, the focus is only on social media’s negative impact. What is the government’s intention in this regard? How can the government decrease the negative impact of social media, maybe at institutional level by using good practices of other countries? For example, due to the conflict in Ethio Somali, Internet access was fully blocked in the region till yesterday. And this practice was what we were experiencing under the past ‘system’. Even WiFi was blocked in schools, and in hospitals. And these have affected the community, and the government itself. Is there a plan for how you are going to solve this problem and is there any guarantee that it is not going to be blocked anytime something happens? And also the revenue Ethiopia loses from doing this in a day is big, so what are you doing in terms of this? Since Ethiopia is moving towards digital technology, how can we fight the issue before it causes a serious tragedy in the country while enriching its positive effect?

AA: Social media is everywhere these days and is used by people who are responsible and those who are not. Some people write and post their personal feelings as if it is simple as sharing it with his friend with little responsibility. It is difficult to identify such people because they use fake names and photos and disseminate distorted information. So, social media can benefit us and at the same time it can cause conflict among us. We have experienced this many times. It is incumbent upon us to teach our citizens to use social media responsibly. Shutting down the Internet is not a lasting solution for the problem, because you cannot control the problem by restricting access to technology and information. But it is not bad in certain cases to shut off the data so as to save the lives of the people. I hope it will be solved in the future with the maturity of the people. As I have said, it is impossible to bring lasting peace by shutting off data. Rather, it is better to identify potential problems in advance and control the situation that way.

Foreign affairs
Eritrea

Kumneger Magazine: For the past 20 years, governments of many countries tried to reconcile Ethiopia and Eritrea, but did not succeed. Subsequent to those efforts, one higher official from Ginbot 7 said in a meeting in Toronto, Canada that you requested Ginbot 7 to negotiate with Eritrea and through G7 mediation they became reconciled. Could you explain about the reconciliation of Ethiopia and Eritrea?

AA: Concerning the rapprochement between Ethiopia and Eritrea, everyone has been trying their best to bring peace between the two nations. I hope most of you here have also written on this issue. Every Ethiopians wants to solve the problem and has played their role in the process. When the problems were solved everyone claim success, which is no problem. The main thing is the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea have solved the problem together. Whenever I met with the African leaders, I raised the issue of Eritrea to them and everyone has done his best and the result is the success of all. The main point is it is the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea who played a great role, because when the time came both peoples woke up from their sleep and said enough is enough and brought back their peace. The next question will be not about who contributed how much to the peace deal, it should be on how to keep and sustain the peace, because the peace needs to be maintained. So, all people have to work together to sustain it.

Strategy

FBC: There are many developments going on in terms of diplomacy with different countries contrary to national security and foreign relations policy. How could you reconcile with these policies? Doesn’t the policy need to be amended?

Concerning foreign policy, it needs to be revised. So, the concerned bodies are studying it. Our foreign policy has always centered on national interest. We want to have foreign relations that befit the honor of Ethiopia.

Sudan border

Amhara TV: What is your government’s plan to permanently resolve the border conflict between Amhara and Sudan, which is resulting in death of many farmers?

What is your government plan to form a multinational region?

In the coming year, it is being said that new government structure and authority will be formed. What do you say about it?

AA: Concerning the border between Amhara region and Sudan, this border issue has not been settled since the previous regimes on both sides. This issue has flared-up and people on the border have been affected. We have discussed the issue and reached a consensus to move the army back from the border on both sides and establish joint operations to protect the area so that farmers on both sides could cultivate their land safely. The land on the border is claimed by both sides, but it needs time to discuss the issue through negotiations. The problem is what has been there for many years and it is not what happened in the last 20 years or four months.

Miscellaneous
Al Amoudi

Ahadu Radio: Is there any development regarding Al Amoudi?

AA: We have been trying for his release. When we asked Saudi Arabia to release our citizens who were in prison it was including Sheikh Al Amoudi. Saudi Arabia is one of the countries who released our prisoners. The Saudis have not only released the prisoners but also covered the air cost. The Saudis have promised us to release Al Amoudi. We are closely following his case. And I hope we will see soon if we succeed. We pressurized the Saudis to release him, but we don’t have the power to tell them to release him tomorrow.

Education roadmap

Addis Standard: The place that the new draft Education Roadmap gives for languages is for one language to be used as the medium of instruction in the country. So does your government believe that identity and language differences are issues that will be solved, instead of taking them as values of the country?

AA: Concerning the education road map, it is open for discussion now. It is studied by a field of experts. Intellectuals and the society can discuss it and recommend what they want it to be. That is why it is presented for discussion before the decision is made. Language is one of the studies included in the education roadmap to help to bring Ethiopian people together in such way that if the Amhara speak Afaan Oromo or Tigrigna in addition to Amharic in the Amhara region. So it is to create multilingual society. Multilingualism is very important for Ethiopia because people think in their language, to understand the one who thinks in their language, one has to learn the others language so as to make agreement and create common understanding. So we encourage people to learn multiple languages

Language

VoA: There was the process of making Afaan Oromo a federal working language in addition to Amharic. But now people are saying that it has been neglected. What is the government’s plan with regards to this? There are also exchanges going back and forth about whether the education roadmap, which is controversial, is drafted to block this process.

AA: There are six international languages in the world, because many people in the world use these language that cross borders. For example, Chinese is not only spoken in China, it is also spoken in Malaysia and Indonesia. Arabic is spoken not only is Saudi Arabia, it is also spoken in Egypt and Tunisia. And English as all know is called the international language because many people in the world use it.

There is precedent in having more than two three languages as a national language in many African countries. For example, even our neighbor Eritrea has two national languages, Tigrigna and Arabic. Djibouti, Kenya and Sudan have also more than one national languages. So, using more than one national language is practiced in other part of the world and in Africa as well. Politicians, activists and citizens say learning the language that is spoken by the wider community is advantageous. When they say this their convincing evidence is that Afaan Oromo is not only spoken in Oromia. It is spoken in Tigray region in Raya. In the Amhara region Afaan Oromo is spoken at the zone level. In the south many nations and nationalities speak Afaan Oromo. In Benishangul Gumuz, Gambella, Somali, and Harari.

So, people are asking for Afaan Oromo to be a national language because it is spoken almost in all regions. I take this demand positively because when Oromo says Ethiopia is my country and my language and culture should be developed and expanded, this makes me so happy. I will be disappointed if an Oromo says Ethiopia is not his country. I don’t think this demand of Oromo would disappoint other Ethiopians. It is helpful for us if we speak Afaan Oromo, Amharic, Tigrigna and Somali languages. There are no reasons why we couldn’t use more than one national languages, like Eritrea, Djibouti and Kenya. Amhara and Oromo are a very intertwined people and hence they have to create a generation that can speak the languages. It is also important if the Sidama, Silte, Guraghe ,Walayta speak Afaan Oromo and Amharic in addition to their own languages

Ahadu Radio: Ethiopians are still illegally crossing the border, is there any concrete plan for a solution?

AA: We can become able to stop migration if we build our capacity. We need to create job opportunities. There are structural problems that have not been solved yet both in the economy and politics. We have only given hope to our people to believe that they can work and live in their country peacefully. So, the current peace and hope in Ethiopia is suitable for our people to work. As we started the peace process with Eritrea, the number of international partners who want to help and support us has increased dramatically.

For example, he World Bank has not been subsidizing our budget directly for many years. But now the World Bank is to provide about $1 billion directly to us in the coming few months. This shows us the World Bank is growing in confidence that we are on the right track. In Europe there are many countries who want to support us and there are also those who supported us practically. There is good news coming from Asia as well. If we are united and work together we can reduce migration gradually, but we cannot reduce it to zero. Development alone cannot stop people from moving from place to place, because people have different interests and want to explore different areas.

Property registration

Kumneger Magazine:The anti-corruption commission was formed 15 or so years ago, but from what we know, corruption is even at its worst stage. Based on the anti-corruption proclamation, government officials have to register their properties and publicize it to the people. We asked the anti-corruption commission commissioner himself whether he has registered his property and if he is willing to disclose it to us, but he wasn’t willing to do it. So since an icebreaker is needed, could you disclose your property to us?

AA:Regarding property registration, all officials should register their properties. For me that is not an issue. The important point is preventing theft. Currently, who registers all of their properties under their own name? So, we have to create a generation of civil servant that has contempt for theft.

Addis mayor

Kumneger Magazine: There were questions in Addis Ababa about the newly appointed mayor of the city that as he is not originally from the city and he couldn’t understand the towns psychological setup, he couldn’t know problems of the city. That was the problem the city was facing. Why didn’t you appoint someone who knows the city’s psychological setup at least until the next election?

AA:There is confusion concerning the Mayor of Addis Ababa because people look at every decision through the glass of ethnicity and set agendas from this point. People are quick to criticize rather than waiting to see what people can do. We didn’t assign the mayor for Addis Ababa, because that is not our job. It is the people of Addis Ababa who should elect their mayor.

Tena trouble?

Kumneger Magazine: It was being said that recently you had health issue. How is your health now?

AA: I am 100 percent healthy now. I have not been on the media for some time and I think it is because of this that people thought that I was sick. I have never been to hospital in my life. I believe in sport. I am not sick now. In case I will be sick in the future I hope Ethiopian mothers will pray for me. So, you have to take a lesson from this that you don’t have to repeat wrong information without verifying the truth. It is the people who want me sick who disseminate the wrong information. I have also heard this rumor, but it is a lie.

Unanswered

Addis Fortune: Maybe if you have a chance to amend the constitution, are you planning to change from this system to presidential system? And if you do so for what advantage will you do it?

Capital: Many people say that this change is American and Gulf States sabotage. What do you say about it?

Daily Nation and New Business Ethiopia: My question is about investment incetives. It was being applied in past years. But from this only foreign investors and Ethiopian investors working with foreign investors through joint ventures benefitted. I have found this out from my past 15 years reporting. The investment incentive does not support local firms that have experience. For example, it doesn’t upgrade those who invest in textile, meat and shoe production by upgrading the one with 3 tellers to 10 tellers through the investment encouragement. But when we see one Diaspora or foreign investor who came with English proposal, they get this encouragement just by saying they will increase export. But their export did not increase. According to the data I got from Customs Authority last year, they get more than $1 billion tax incentive each year. For how long does such imbalance continue between local and foreign investors? Doesn’t this imbalance negatively affect local investors for African free trade, which is to make the industry be independent, and competent? Don’t you think that local investors that are in promising sectors should get more than tax incentive, such as protection mechanism, and for instance, if cheap Chinese products are imported and dumped on local market, how can they be competent and sustain their employees? Have you thought about decreasing tax on some goods which are considered luxurious goods like cars and allowing people to invest on other things?

Tecno Addis Media: Based on the current brightness of Ethiopia, what should we expect in 2030

Abay FM: It is being said that security forces that work in prisons are saying that their reputation is ruined and for this reason they are losing the motivation to work. What is your comment on this?

Kumneger Magazine: Recently various media reported that you said that your mother told you when you were seven-years-old that you will be the seventh king of Ethiopia. From which king do we start counting? Or are there kings that should not be counted?

FBC: Most of the time you mention about being Ethiopian and its deep meaning, I want to see your attitude about how to reconcile national identity and ethnic identity.

FBC: It was mentioned many times that there have to be concrete changes on manufacturing and agricultural sectors. Beyond that, it is known that the tax system is badly affecting government’s revenue, and in this sector itself it is being said that it needs substantial change. So, what is being planned for this sector?

VOA: There are questions being raised which say EPRDF is reformed only at the top level. When we go down to zones and woredas, there are various bureaucratic problems, especially when they process people’s requests. People have various complaints. There are many who say ‘isn’t it late that this reform didn’t still extend to the lower level’?

All photos: Abiy Ahmed at the Aug. 25 press conference in Addis Ababa, Petterik Wiggers

The translation by Negash Haile was paid for by the Foreign Correspondents’ Association of Ethiopia, an informal network of journalists. 

Please cite Ethiopia Insight if you quote from this transcript.

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