Prime Minister Hailemariam briefs journalists

Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn held a press conference with local and foreign journalists on Monday (February 10) answering questions on domestic economic issues, international relations and regional peace.

The Prime Minister noted that Ethiopia had witnessed robust economic development over the last decade, producing double digit growth. Commenting on the projections of World Bank, IMF and other international financial institutions on Ethiopia’s economy growth, he said that there was always a difference between their projections and the reality on the ground. However, he stressed that they did agree that the actual performance of the economy had been one of substantial growth, of over 10%. He said the economy was expected to continue to grow at the same level this year, an average of 10 or 11%.  This growth, he said, could be maintained because of the rapid and unprecedented growth in the agriculture sector in which the returns from oil seeds, grain and irrigation were included. He also indicated that the current rapid growth and investment inflow to the industry sector would help the country‘s economic transformation continue to accelerate. In addition, he added, the expansion of the service sector would make an enormous contribution to translate this year’s economic plan into reality and help reduce the number of people suffering from poverty. The Prime Minister said that with the growth in the agriculture, service and industry sectors he was confident the country would continue to be able to achieve high rates of growth and have a major impact in reducing poverty.

Speaking on the issue of energy, the Prime Minister clarified that power generation was open to the private sector but, he said, the government alone would be involved in the process of transmission and distribution. He said investors were welcome to engage in power generation, noting that Ethiopia has enormous potential for renewable energy production. The Prime Minister emphasized that Ethiopia had shown its consideration and determination to work for the mutual benefit of the lower riparian countries within the mindset of the 21st century in its consultations with Egypt and Sudan over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). He said Ethiopia had repeatedly demonstrated its firm belief on the need to promote mutual benefit among Nile riparian countries and eradicate poverty from the region. He pointed out that the International Panel of Experts had conducted studies on the impacts of the GERD on lower riparian countries at Ethiopia’s own instigation. Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan had now held three rounds of discussions on implementing the recommendations of the IPoE and Sudan and Ethiopia were agreed that Egypt’s request to set up a new International Panel of Experts was unnecessary. (See following story).  He added that although the meetings had failed to meet their objectives, he believed that the discussions would resume since dialogue and discussions were a necessity for an acceptable solution. “I do not have any doubts that talks will resume because this is the only way to resolve the differences and to have a win-win solution to this issue.” He stressed that the Ethiopian government’s stand over the Dam remained the same and that the construction of the GERD would continue as planned. Responding to the suggestion that Egypt might try to take the issue to International Criminal Court or to other international bodies, the Prime Minister pointed out that there was no international court that arbitrates water issues and such a move would have no result.  As for Egypt taking the case to the United Nations, he stated that this would be a political issue, and if such a political dispute surfaced, then Ethiopia would come up with a political response.

In response to questions over claims that Ethiopia had signed a new border agreement with Sudan, he said that the Government of Ethiopia had not signed any new border agreement with Sudan. Agreements had been signed, he said, between the Governments of Ethiopia and Sudan during the reign of Emperor Minelik and had been reviewed later by Emperor Haile Selassie. The Derg Regime had sent a team of researchers to the area and had declared those agreements in force. Consequently, the EPRDF regime had also accepted and endorsed them. There was no land that was been given to or taken from Sudan, he said. The Prime Minister explained that the recent Ethiopia-Sudan High Level Joint Commission summit in Khartoum had focused mainly on assessing and strengthening bilateral cooperation and partnership between the two countries and on political issues. He said this was an issue that was raised every five years when it was one of those questions brought up when elections were approaching.

In answer to questions about Ethiopia’s relations with Eritrea, the Prime Minister emphasized that Ethiopia wished for peace to prevail in the region. He recalled that Ethiopia had out a five point peace plan in 2004 designed to normalize the relationship between the two countries. Eritrea, however, had consistently refused to consider this or to participate in any dialogue despite repeated requests. In addition, the Eritrean regime had continued to play a destabilizing role in the region. With reference to Ethiopian forces joining AMISOM, he pointed out that following the request of the Federal Government of Somalia and the help eliminate Al-Shabaab from Somalia and support the Somali government.  He added that the bilateral defense agreement signed with the Somali Federal Government recently would create the opportunity for Ethiopia to train Somali national forces and provide them with logistic support.

In fact, the Memorandum of Understanding on Defense Cooperation signed at the beginning of the month by the Defense Minister of Somalia, Mohamed Sheikh Hassan, and the Defense Minister of Ethiopia, Siraj Fegessa, is intended to enhance and deepen bilateral military training cooperation, allow for exchanges of security intelligence and work jointly for peace and security. The MoU will allow for Ethiopia to provide basic military training for new recruits and existing soldiers, including officers and others. It also allows for joint operations against Al-Shabaab and any other armed groups that threaten peace and security and for peace support operations in either country. It reaffirms the principles of mutual respect for sovereign equality, territorial integrity, interdependence and political independence, and also underlines the intent to promote bilateral relations and strengthen friendship between Ethiopia and Somalia. Among the areas of cooperation it also notes working together to support IGAD and the East African Standby Force, as well as detailing other possible areas of cooperation in technical assistance, exchanges of visits and of information.