Prime Minister confident in the government’s ability to deal with problems

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Prime Minister Hailemariam
Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn on 30 August 2016

Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn, in a press briefing on Tuesday this week (August 30) made it clear that the government had the responsibility to carry out its mandate to maintain law and order and that it was ready to deal with its weaknesses and carry out necessary reforms as a matter of urgency. He referred to the wave of demonstrations and clashes that have recently taken place in the Oromia and Amhara Regional States. The government, he said, would never abrogate its responsibility to maintain peace, law and order. It would not allow the illegal demonstrations, violent clashes or criminal attacks on property that have been disturbing the peace of the country, to continue.

The Prime Minister also expressed his confidence in the ability of the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) to resolve problems quickly. The Prime Minister’s press conference followed the conclusion of last week’s meeting of the EPRDF Council that evaluated the party’s 15 years’ journey on the path of reform. The Council decided on the necessity to consolidate reform so as to curtail weaknesses among the party and government bodies. The Prime Minister said the meeting of the Council was fruitful and it “recognized the need to resolve the problems and ensure partiality to the public.” The Prime Minister emphasized that the government and the party were ready to address challenges facing them. He said the “government is ready to address its limitations; we will resolve our limitations through the current reform path that we pursue.”

The Prime Minister said the central issue discussed at the Council meeting had been abuse of government power for personal gain. Recalling that the party’s ultimate objective had always been to work for the benefit of the public, he said the current situation showed this had not been happening. This was what made reform so important, the need to rectify such tendencies and meet the expectations of the public and improve the situation. The Council meeting had agreed on the necessity for power to be used properly to serve the public. Rectifying any tendency to misuse of power would provide the opportunity for the party to get back on track for future development as well as resolve other problems, he said. The Prime Minister said “the EPRDF is a party with a capacity to deal with such challenging times by resolving problems.”

The Constitution, of course, guarantees the right to hold peaceful demonstrations but any demonstrations have to meet the required procedures. These include acknowledgement of responsibility by the organizers and agreement with local administrations over the proposed time and place. Legally, any demonstration must agree to remain peaceful, refrain from violence, the use of force or arms, and avoid disrupting day-to-day public activities or civic engagement. In the absence of these, any demonstration are unauthorized and illegal. In a number of cases these demonstrations have been accompanied by wanton destruction of property and unnecessary violence. Even worse, this has lives being lost. This is totally unacceptable. The government deeply regrets any loss of life that has occurred during the protests. As in similar situations in the past, it will make sure that those responsible for violence or illegal acts during the protests, or responsible for any undue use of force, will be brought to justice. The outcome of any investigations will be made public.

Ethiopia, today, is using a democratic developmental state model to deliver a socio-economic transformation to the country. This has significantly enhanced the country’s resilience as has been demonstrated by the success in dealing with the serious droughts in 2011 and last year. Equally, there are legitimate public concerns and genuine grievances over a lack of good governance in certain areas and a perception of widespread corruption. The government and the party have been slow to respond to the criticisms. Another problem has been the failure to provide all the services and improved facilities that the country’s development has led people to expect. A common concern across the country is the shortage of jobs for youth particularly in urban areas and a belief that regional administrations are affected by corruption and nepotism. There have been concerns that relate to a lack of awareness and understanding over the details of the federal arrangements in the Constitution.

The government, at both regional and federal level, is already responding to many of these issues. It has been conducting an extensive series of consultations with the public, holding discussions with youth, community elders, religious figures, teachers, civil servants, urban residents and members of rural communities in affected areas, and other elements of civil society. It has been conducting a series of peace and development conferences across the country, particularly in areas affected by recent unrest. It is making major efforts to improve and reorganize government bodies and structures, and their operations, to make them more effective and responsive, and ensure transparency and accountability. As the Prime Minister noted in his press conference, the government is planning to hold further discussions for revised youth employment opportunities to benefit a majority of the younger unemployed. This was emphasized by the Prime Minister in a face-to-face discussion with youth drawn from across the country on Thursday this week (September 1). The government is also launching independent investigations into the causes of the violence.

While there is plenty of scope for constitutional demonstrations and protests in Ethiopia, the recent illegal demonstrations show clearly that some of those involved have come from political organizations with extremist aims. They have twisted legitimate concerns over inclusivity, lack of good governance or issues of self-administration, into a framework of ethnic exclusivity and encouragement of violence. This had led to violence and lawlessness, and encouraged the involvement of criminal activity, leading to loss of life and destruction of property.

In fact, irrespective of the cause of the protests, the situation provided fertile ground for those, wanting to destabilize the country or push it in different directions. The Prime Minister himself said foreign elements who do not want to see Ethiopia use its natural resources were distributing huge amounts of money to extremist Diaspora groups. In fact, this is not confined to those organizations which are given arms, money and support by the regime in Asmara, and which, like “Patriotic Ginbot”, make no secret of their aim to overthrow the government by force.

Those taking advantage of the situation include critics of Ethiopia or supporters of Eritrea like Bronwyn Burton at the Atlantic Council who organized a roundtable in Washington on Wednesday this week. This offered two opposition politicians the opportunity to discuss the current state of political affairs in Ethiopia without contradiction, allowing them to hold forth on what they claimed had been “primarily peaceful demonstrations”, the cost of living, lack of employment opportunities and a restrictive political and media environment. The meeting offered an entirely uncritical platform for opposition, ignoring government efforts to respond to legitimate grievances and the reforms that have been and are being introduced. It also ignored the evidence of widespread criminal activity and violence among the demonstrators.

The New York Times Magazine Newsletter, similarly, produced a long, effusively flattering, if seriously misleading and exaggerated, panegyric of an opposition politician this week. Berhanu Nega, head of an organization based in Asmara, is openly dedicated to violence and terrorism, trying to overthrow the government in Addis Ababa by force. The author makes no effort to question his subject’s comments and claims about Ethiopia’s development or question Berhanu’s own activities, though he does appear slightly uneasy about Berhanu’s decision to turn to Eritrea’s “dictatorship for support”. He quotes Berhanu saying “Here is a country that was willing to give us sanctuary, a country that had once been part of Ethiopia. I look at any of these people, I talk to them, and they are just like me, they are as Ethiopian as I am. Why should I not get help from them?” Berhanu says Eritrea is not corrupt, that the UN report describing crimes against humanity is an “exaggeration”, adding “I don’t want to butt into their personal issues, they’ve always been nice to us.” Yes, indeed!

Far too many of the reports about Ethiopia manage to ignore the positive and accentuate, frequently exaggerate, the negative. In part this appears to be a simple lack of effort to keep up to date. Equally, it can indicate a desire to push an agenda as they often appear to search out areas to criticize. It is an approach that leads to the sort of headline in the UK’s Financial Times on Monday “Ethiopia has to loosen its grip on the economy: the authoritarian development model is running up against limits.”This is an all-too-brief article that manages to over-simplify both the problems and the developments in the country. The article fails to substantiate its headline which makes a specific point in support of an agenda, in effect that Ethiopia should open up its economy to outside control. Accurate reporting, fair comment is always acceptable. Support for an external agenda is not. (Source: MFA Ethiopia)

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