Prime Minster Hailemariam Dessalegn said that he is content with the two plus years he has served as Prime Minister and he hopes to focus on continuing to reduce poverty.
The PM met with local and international journalists on Monday December 22, where he addressed a wide range of issues, both international and domestic.
He appreciated Kenya’s recent measure that amended a new proclamation to prevent terrorism, while he accused some international human rights organizations of trying to bend the country to accept their ideology.
He also said that the multi party system in the country is flourishing and disagreed with those in opposition who claim that the political space is narrowing.
He has also stated his view about political integration with Djibouti and other countries in the horn of Africa as the ultimate goal.
The coming election
“We have a constitutional system that makes a multi party system mandatory in Ethiopia. We are very keen to see multi democracy in the country because we have a multi cultural, ethnic and religious system where there are a lot of different interests from different groups and individuals that have to be addressed by the democratic system,” Hailemariam said responding to accusations that opposition parties claim.
He said that currently, there are more than 90 parties registered in the country and legally operating and exercising the given rule of law.
The opposition parties’ complaint is not new. After the 2005 national election, they claimed that the the ruling party that has been in power since the country has undertaken regular elections every five years, from 1995 to now, is abusing the democratizing system and narrowing the political space for other parties,.
“As an incumbent, the ruling party has an advantage over other parties in every country. But the legal system gives all the necessary provisions for opposition party members in the country. We think that even this fledgling democracy needs to be improved in everyday and every time, we have enough room for parties to exercise their rights in the country,” the PM said.
“We have some opposition party members who are legally registered amongst the leadership and there are a few who have a connection with terrorist organizations like Ginbot 7 and ONLF, OLF and Al Shabaab, which are banned by the parliament. If any opposition party leader has a connection and is working for these operations, it is an illegal act and the government has a legal responsibility to work on this issue for the safety and security of our people,” he added.
“If anyone is not connected to these terrorist groups the government is not there to arrest them. Anyone who is in prison obviously has a connection with these terrorist groups,” Hailemariam said.
The organizations like Human Rights, Amnesty International and CPJ have started campaigning against the government some 15 years ago and are continuing to do this because they have their own agenda, he said.
According to Hailemariam, one of the issues they use to campaign against this government is claiming that there is land grabbing, eviction of farmers from their land and other things.
“This allegation has been checked and proven wrong by the diplomatic community members who reside in Addis Ababa time and again, but these guys continue campaigning against the government of Ethiopia,” he added.
“It is simply because the issue of this campaign is ideologically driven and we can never and ever reconcile our ideological positions because Ethiopia will pursue a democratic developmental ideology and we cannot impress their neo liberal ideology by force. They have tried in the 2005 election to create a color revolution in this country, but they failed,” he said.
‘This is an election period and they are in the similar process of engaging themselves to create a color revolution in this country, but the people and the government will not allow this to happen because we are on the right situation,” he added.
The PM said that those international institutions will continue on their usual trend “the camel is moving forward and the dogs will continue to bark and this will continue in the future as well.”
According to Hailemariam, media usage is incumbent and “an elected government needs to use the public media to address to the people who elected it,” he explained saying that it was legitimate for the ruling party to use the public media.
He said that this has to be understood as a matter of principle. “But of course the opposition parties also have to use the media whenever they need it and when they have the occasions that need to use the media. We have media debate with opposition party members occasionally on basic agenda items of the country,” he added.
“If they want to have more engagement to use the media I think they have to work closely with the media in the future. But this is an election year and I think the statistics shows us that the media outlets that have been provided to the opposition members, usually they use only about 40 percent of the allocated time of the public media. The allegation is very incorrect, because they have never used more than 40 percent of the allotted time for their campaign during the election period. This shows their weakness and ability to work with the provided time and I think they have to improve their ability to use the allocated time efficiently and effectively. I think that is not the problem of the government at this time,” the PM said.
The opposition parties have also claimed that the ruling party is using money from ‘its companies’ that it called ‘endowment’, but the PM said that the endowments are public properties that are owned by specific regional people groups.
“During the election period the ruling party gets the money that is necessary from the private sector and its members and this is how it used to be and it will be in the coming election,” he said.
Kenya’s new anti-terrorism law
Ethiopia has been criticized by international organizations about its anti terrorism law and recently Kenya has also passed a controversial anti terrorism law. Kenyan officials have also said that their new law was modeled after Ethiopia’s. In the past few years since the country joined the African peace keeping forces in neighboring Somalia, Kenya has been suffering from serious terrorist attacks.
The PM said that not only Kenya but even the western countries have revised their anti terrorism law. He said that they have made it tighter because the global situation has changed and some of them were very frustrating even for their own citizens who have become foreign fighters.
“So this is unfolding in a way that terrorism from your own citizens has become problematic even to the western countries, they want to tighten it which usually accuses us in the same provisions and likely also some of them said your terrorism proclamation has been good but you have to be careful in the implementation of that law,” he said.
“That is a good progress and I think you need to be strong in situations that terrorists are changing their strategies and becoming threatening to all the global community at this time. Kenya has taken a proper stand where the government of Kenya has to secure the safety and security of its own people, that is the first priority of an elected government,” he said appreciating Kenyans’ measure.
Recently the country has put the first sovereign bond into the international market and it has collected USD one billion through this. During his press conference, the PM said that the new funding source for the country is not a policy shift by the ruling party or the government of Ethiopia. He added that the party held talks about the issue several years ago, and there is no difference between his party leaders.
“There is no need to discuss issuing a sovereign bond at the party level because it has already been discussed and we have a clear proclamation that the parliament ratified some ten years ago,” he explained.
“This is not a new policy that the government has pursued. It is simply because we were not able to issue a sovereign bond to the capital market because we were in the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) range where we were not allowed to do so,” he said.
In the last five years international intuitions that control this issue have allowed the countries to go in to commercial loans. “Five years ago, we were only allowed to get concessional loans, but within the last five years we have graduated to being able to get any commercial loans, including the capital market.”
“Issuing a bond is nothing else than a type of securing loan. It has nothing to do with capital account liberalization and foreign banks’ involvement in the financial sector. There is no change of policy at all,” he stressed.
There were types of loans that Ethiopia secured from multilateral organizations and bilateral loans from different countries. “Securing commercial loans does not mean liberalizing the financial sector. There is not a major shift of policy, more than usual. As far as this concern there is no difference of opinion in the ruling party leadership because this policy in not new at all,” he said.
In the past few weeks the government stated that the sectors that it will prioritize for this bond are those that can generate more export so we can favorably increase export earning and also pay back the loan. For this reason the areas which have been selected are industrial parks.
“There is a huge demand from FDI to flow into this country to have prepared industrial parks where they want to plan and play any kind of operation,” Hailemariam said.
The other area is to allocate some of the funds in to sugar plantations and sugar factories where the government can earn more from exports of sugar. “So we can secure our export earnings,” he said.
“In a technical proposal preparation of the euro bond you have to see some risks, which are academically possible that might not be to the reality like the use of the port of Djibouti. We have debt sustainability otherwise the investors who bought Ethiopian bonds are not idiots who throw away their money,” he explained.
On the prospectus that the government distributed for potential bond buyers it stated some risks as unusual.
“You cannot say that it cannot happen at all. Every country can see whether this is a possibility or not. This is an extreme case. You put the parameter but finally when you evaluate it this is very low and it cannot be the main issue,” Hailemariam said when talking about the paper that mentioned risks in the country.
He also said that the delay in the sugar factories is not because of lack of money, “the delay is simply because we have embarked on a new path of industrialization in the country when we started to have our own fabrication at home for the factories.”
“This is a new process and a new venture. When you are a beginner there is always a learning process so that takes some time; that is why we have some delays in the new sugar factories. MetEC is fabricating the factories themselves,” he added.
In the five year ‘Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP)’ that was launched after the 2010 nation election, the government disclosed that it will construct about ten new sugar factories with the goal of filling the local demand and earning hard currency from exports. None of the sugar factories have commenced production, while some of them are in the final stages of construction.
“We are now erecting those factories in Beles II and Omo Valley and the rest are in the process,” the PM said.
He said that the funds secured from the international bond market is for new sugar factories that have yet to commence in the GTP year, which will end by July 2015.
Recently Djibouti’s President Ismail Omar Guelleh, who met with journalists from Ethiopia, said that if the people of the two countries have an interest in political integration the rulers have to accept it.
“We have an excellent relationship with Djibouti. I concur fully with the president of Djibouti that we are moving towards economic integration that will ultimately bring in to political integration,” he said.
“When we talk about political integration, we are not talking about only the two countries integration but we are talking about the block as IGAD. There is already a program within IGAD that the political integration will follow the economic integration within the IGAD block,” he explained.
“The most successful block in this case is the east African community. We are working with the east African community how to bring IGAD vis a vis the east African community conglomeration. So that the whole east African block will be in the same integration course both economically and ultimately politically,” Hailemariam said.
The African Union has developed vision 2063 where there will be United States of Africa. “Before that happens I think the regional blocks have to integrate themselves in to some kind of political integration. It is a long term vision that will not come very soon.”
His two years
The PM also discussed his experience as PM.
He said that something which frustrates him is poverty. “When you come to the helm of this power you understand how much we need to come out of poverty as quickly as possible. That is the only frustration I have, but otherwise I am content with what has been done in the last two years,” he said.
“The country is moving in the right direction. The whole thing you see that is, there is a huge need from the whole society in Ethiopia to engage in fighting poverty in a way that we need to eradicate [‘maybe minimize at this time’] but eradicate poverty from this country in the coming 15 years,” he said.
“We need to achieve this objective and work very hard and that frustrates you; sometimes you need to work day and night restlessly and see that you can contribute to fight this object,” he said.