In connection with the celebration of the 12th Nations, Nationalities and Peoples' (NNPs) Day Hebre Biher Magazine held an interview with Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn on what the day represents and a number of other pressing issues. Here follows the first part of the interview. Excerpts:
Question: Building a single political and economic community is one of the aspirations set on the FDRE Constitution. How is the effort going in terms of achieving it? And what is the direction taken to realize this ambition?
PM : First of all, I would like to note that our Constitution is a progressive one that brought considerable changes in addressing all prominent political, economical and social problems. The Constitution is a modern and grand document that incorporated international principles, especially the principles set by the United Nations.
Based on this, the NNPs of Ethiopia have stated their conviction to create one political and economic community as they share common values.
There are fundamental issues that are put in the articles of the Constitution which explain the rights guaranteed to all NNPs of Ethiopia, and enable them realize their commitments.
I believe that the political system is just like an establishment of a share company where all members have equal rights, responsibilities and take part to establish a strong company that benefit all. And the journey of Ethiopians to establish political and economic community has the same goals.
The Constitution has vividly stated that NNPs have a common project that treats all equally, ensure equal participation and benefits, and respect the rights of Ethiopians. Most importantly, it has created an opportunity to develop their language, history and culture.
Besides, the people have singled out poverty as the major enemy that impoverished them for years. And to eliminate poverty, they have vowed to consolidate unity and intensify their struggle to build a strong economic system.
In general, the very motive behind creating one political and economic community is the conviction among NNPs to build a strong unity based on equality and freewill.
As the NNPs have come to realize that their efforts in isolation would weaken and get them nowhere, they have chosen to create competitive country where they can play their due role.
In this context, the activities carried out over the last 25 years are a living testimony towards the noble cause of creating one political and economical community. NNPs have carried out enormous activities that attest their pledge to the document; so, the Constitution is in the right path. States and areas where administrative structures are put in place are enjoying self-administration.
NNPs are now not only proud of their language, culture and history, but are also developing them. They do believe in common values besides their peculiar ones.
These days, the Constitution has offered ample opportunities to fix the ill relations that existed among the peoples, and to increase the peoples' participation in their respective states’ development undertakings, which in turn has also helped the country to register fast economic growth over the last 15 years.
Once the economic community is fully created, it would not only enable the country to garner economic growth, but also to ensure equal and mutual benefits for all. It will also facilitate the country to break free from abject poverty, and to sustain rapid economic growth. And it is proven successful in this regard.
Thus, in real terms, the NNPs of Ethiopia have come a long way in building one political and economic community. But it does not mean the way has been smooth. Understanding the challenges that exist in building such community in a poor country that strive to transform its economic structure, they have persevered.
One of the challenges is the fight against rent-seekers, who always look for unfair advantages as the economy grows. Though it has been tough, the people are fighting hard to overcome such sentiments.
Obviously, the participation of NNPs in the democratization process is not at the desired level. They have been addressing issues that hamper their participation, and they still need to intensify efforts in fighting anti-democratic approaches.
In all the fronts, the role and contribution of NNPs has brought tremendous achievements. However, there are a lot of pending issues that need to be addressed. Though the project aimed at building one political and economic community is moving at a promising pace, there are still remaining tasks ahead of us.
In fact, the struggle to eradicate poverty takes long time. The recent United Nations report on Sustainable Development Goals set 15 years to bring the people who are living under poverty to zero. Similarly, we can defeat poverty in 15 years time. Until then, the people need to employ strenuous efforts to fight poverty as it has been singled out as number one enemy of the country.
Certainly, the NNPs of Ethiopia are now on the right track to realize a single political and economic community. It is imminent that we would achieve impressive victory. Therefore, I believe for better outcomes, we need to step up our efforts more than ever.
Question: In last year’s deep renewal process, various problems have been sorted out. How do you evaluate the government's efforts in tackling those problems?
PM: The deep renewal is not a new thing as we have already undertook similar program successfully 16 years ago.
At that time, we evaluated that we have come a long way in building strong political system that creates enabling environment in the fight against poverty, while our effort in building strong economic system and in identifying challenges as well as the sense of urgency in addressing them was weak.
As a result, the deep renewal process we underwent has enabled us to register tremendous achievements over the last 15 years. However, the commitment to fight against rent-seeking mentality had been lenient, and the existence of anti-democratic activities has undermined the democratic participation of the public – both of which are an obstruction in ensuring rapid and fair development.
Thus, the people should consolidate their participation, and ensure the transformation agenda. Despite the improvements made, the government has singled out anti-democratic practices among the public and leadership as a potential threat.
It is quite clear that in undemocratic practices, transparency and accountability is unthinkable. Rather corruption, rent seeking and impropriety would be rampant. Regardless of its magnitude, we understand that the public does not get service at the desired level due to offices due to corrupts and rent seekers in lower government structures.
Besides, problems of good governance and gaps in various economic activities have been getting worse.
Some sectors which generate huge amount of capital like tax, land and trade administrations are exposed to corruption. As there are responsible taxpayers, there are also tax evaders, who conspire with officials in their illegal ways.
Similarly, there are people who are willing to dirty their hands for personal gains in the aforementioned sectors. Though it is known that land is a potential resource for a country’s economic growth, there are gaps/bottlenecks in distribution and development, and our trading system still suffers from illegal actors (contraband traders).
The government has also identified lack of expansion of infrastructures as a hurdle to rapid development. To end this, the government is aggressively developing power, transport and other infrastructure sectors.
There are corrupt practices in contract administration, bid process and related businesses. We have also come to realize that the more we go through our deep renaissance process, the more we can overcome these challenges.
Within the last year of the deep renewal process, we have achieved considerable changes. We made a huge stride in the fight against corruption and rent seeking. We have also launched activities to reform working systems.
We have already waged war against undemocratic behavior within the political leadership. And if this fight is effective, it would give the impetus for the fight among the wider public.
With this in mind, we have organized public conferences, discussions and activities to engage the public actively in the renewal process. And in this regard, we have gained some success.
Despite the successes, we still have not yet brought fundamental changes. We took note that the deep renewal should bring basic changes. And to that end, we are planning to scale up the results achieved from the deep renewal.
Therefore, it is safe to say the deep renewal is not at the level we desire. For sure, it is a long time process and would continue in a sustainable manner. So primarily it is a must to address our own problems.
For instance, we believe that the conflicts in some parts of the country would be overcome mainly by attitudinal change and action. The recent chaos and violence in some parts of the country and problems in youth are incidents that enforce us to bring basic changes.
In fact, we have to note that the role and contribution of the youth is decisive to pull out the nation from the quagmire of poverty. We have to create political platform where the youth actively participate. We should also work together with the youth to address their economic issues. In this regard, the government has launched activities, and is working to bring fundamental changes.
Along with the stated problems, there is also attitudinal problem. The youth need to be duty-bound and ethical as well as responsible and democratic in dealing with their concerns. In any democratic country throwing stones and destroying private and public properties would hardly bring any benefit; rather it hurts the youth themselves and the country as well.
The youth need to understand and obey the constitutional system, rule of law and supremacy of law. In the absence of rule of law, there would be chaos and violence that hurt the entire public. They must present their questions through legal and peaceful manner. They must believe on discussion to fix problems. In recent time, among university students one ethnic discriminates the other and one expresses superiority on the other. After all, they are there in universities to learn and equip themselves with knowledge. They should not waste their valuable time on such trivial and backward sentiment.
The government has understood that there have been some gaps in terms of instilling the spirit of the Constitution to the students, and have taken note to rectify the problem during the deep renewal.
There are many issues to be raised. Currently, we are in a demanding situation not only to ensure fast and fair growth but also to transform the economic structure. We have to settle all the challenges impeding the structural change advancement.
We believe that addressing the hurdles is central. The deep renewal is just launched, and we have a lot of work ahead of us. However, as there are auspicious situations, it is important to note here that we have to nurture this promising climate.
Question: There are conflicts here and there. What is the reason behind and what would be the solution?
PM: The Federal Democratic Republic has embraced nine state governments. When we establish these states, their border among them is the administrative border not countries’ boundary. They are important for the states to manage, provide service, and mobilize the community for development in their respective areas.
These administrative lines are not walls. More importantly, nations and nationalities living along these borders have strong bond. They speak the same language.
Therefore, border demarcation between states is not sound argument. However, the issue of administrative lines should be resolved on the basis of identity, people’s freewill and agreements. Though we have carried out various activities in this regard, because of the ill perceptions about these administrative lines, they turned out to be a source of conflicts. This is what we observe these days.
We lost many of our citizens. Properties were damaged, and considerable numbers of people were forced to leave their villages. This is really a great loss and big mistake that never should have happened. In this regard, we believe that we should ensure rule of law in the country by holding accountable those who were behind these bloody and costly incidents.
Besides, the rent seeking political economy has disguised the reality on the ground. The sentiments for personal gains have fuelled the situation, triggering conflicts among the public. Using this confusing situation, some forces have been hurting the people.
After the incident, people in the conflict areas have expressed their solidarity in public gatherings. They said time and again that there was no problem among the people. We have come to understand that the conflicts were triggered by the state structures and those who look for their own personal gain. They have been inciting conflicts and harming the public. Thus, if the root cause of this problem needs to be addressed, we have to correct the attitude and practice of the misleading forces as well as put them in the right direction.
The administrative lines should be done with genuine and common understanding as well as cultural values. We believe that we should take measures to address this issue for good.
Returning displaced citizens to their villages, especially those displaced in the Oromia and Ethiopian Somali states border conflict is a pressing issue that we are now engaging in.
Concerning this, there are issues to be done together with the two respective states and the federal government. It is important to fight properly and correct the attitude of some forces who still adds fuel to the ailing situation.
We should foil the activities of anti-peace elements within our structures and from outsides to restore the peoples’ love and interaction as well as further consolidate their relations.
One of the issues singled out to be addressed through the deep renewal is the case of administrative borders. The jobs we need to do in those areas include restoring peace and consolidating peoples’ unity, eventually implementing joint development project for mutual benefits.
Translated by yared Gebermedin