In connection with the celebration of the 12th Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Day (NNPD), Hibre Biher Magazine held exclusive interview with Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn on the significance of celeberating NNPD and other related issues. Here follows the second and last part of the interview. Excerpts:
Question: Some claim that all the conflicts that have occurred in the country emanated because of the shortcomings of the federal system. What is your reflection on this point?
PM: As I have mentioned earlier, the federal system has enabled us to resolve fundamental sources of conflicts and answered the basic questions of the peoples of Ethiopia. Our country has been in [civil] war for so many years and it is the federal system that ended it.
The current conflicts could not be compared with the war at that time. The federal system is not the basic cause of the conflicts. Conflicts may not only occur due to boarder disputes. They might also result from resources such as grazing land or other economic benefits. The point here must be finding solutions after identifying the causes of the conflict. We have managed to confirm that over the last 26 years, our federal system has proven itself as means of addressing the fundamental causes of conflict and other issues. Hence, the [current] conflicts and other related issues for sure would be resolved. When the ruling party and its affiliates resolve their internal issues, the problem would be resolved.
It is a political problem which is not related with the federal system. The problem is related with rent seeking. Whether in a unitary or federal systems, rent seeking is a basic cause of conflict. In fact, the fundamental questions have already been addressed. This has been manifested through the successive double digit economic growth registered over the past 15 years. We are now the second fastest growing economy in the world.
We have sustained and ensured peace. The clashes here and there do not put the federal system in question. Our federal system is heading in the right direction. The NNPs are living together harmoniously with love and equality thereby cementing their strong unity. By any means, the federal system could not be a source of conflicts. Above all, Ethiopians do believe this reality.
Question: How do you assess the role and contribution of the House of Federation and other democratic institutions in consolidating the democratic system and unity of the people?
PM: The process of building a democratic system is related with building the culture of democracy. In the country which had for many years been devoid of democratic practices, it is tough to instill the culture among the public and build a democratic culture. It is important to start to work from primary school level to deepen the culture of democracy among the youth.
Experiences of many countries have shown that building democracy is not a short term phenomena. Even the developed countries, which have been nurturing the democratic system for 200 and 300 years, have not yet made it complete.
Of course, democracy will grow with times and develop as a culture. For this to happen, responsible institutions must be established. One of these institutions is schools where democratic practices are nurtured. Civic associations also have their own responsibilities. They play critical role in raising the awareness and enhancing participation of the public in the democratization process.
There are also Constitutional institutions such as the House of Federation, which is the council of the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of the country. It is also an institution that ensures fair and equal resource distribution as well as budget subsidy as per the federal system.
This council of nations and nationalities is established with the mandate to enhance the democratic process in the country. The House is also mandated with the task of interpreting the Constitution. Therefore, we can understand that the council has potential to consolidate nations, nationalities and peoples’ unity thereby creating a single political and economic community. It is also working to solidify the federal system through strengthening the relations between states.
By distinguishing the rights and duties of each government structure, our Constitution has put in place a system that guides the relations between the federal and state governments. In general, based on its constitutional mandate, the House of Federation is playing a role in nurturing common values and building strong unity among the peoples of Ethiopia.
Besides, the House of Peoples Representatives, state councils, Human Rights Commission and Office of the Ombudsman are also playing a significant role in nurturing democratic culture. The media is also a prominent institution with a potential to deepen the democratic system.
Eventually, these institutions are expected to create national consensus on democracy and fight backwardness to advance modern democracy.
Religious institutions have also a big role in this regard. As it is clearly stated in the Constitution, government and religion are separated. Government should not interfere in religious matters and vice-versa. It is agreeable that religious institutions should instill the very essence of the Constitution to build nationalism. Precisely, the aggregate efforts of all democratic institutions and other pertinent actors are immensely contributing towards deepening democratic culture in the country.
Question: It has been exactly a decade since the dawn of the Ethiopian millennium. How has been the country’s renaissance journey in the following decade? And what is the expectation in the following years?
PM: At the beginning of the third millennium in 2000 EC, the country has declared that the following years would be the age of Ethiopian Renaissance. History has it that Ethiopia was once among the civilized nations. Many are always asking why we could not maintain the momentum of civilization.
For instance, our countrymen had bravely defeated a well-armed foreign colonial army using their unity and courage. That shining victory is colorfully recorded in the history of the black people and honors Ethiopia as a beacon of freedom.
Having such glory in the past, the [status of the] country had been deteriorating, as it failed to accommodate differences and diversities.
Capitalizing on the achievements registered during the decade before the millennium and the promising opportunities that followed the new millennium, we have launched a campaign to proclaim the country’s renaissance by making poverty history, and getting rid of dependency and war. We just want to change the bad image of the country by making it center of civilization and progress once again. It is against this backdrop that the country’s renaissance was proclaimed.
As far as we march together with stern commitment, we can certainly achieve our aspirations. When we say renaissance, we mean getting rid of the things that caused disgrace on the country and regain its previous elevated spirit. Being proud of the past could not achieve this goal. Rather, this generation should write its own history. Over the past ten years that followed the dawn of the millennium, the country has registered rapid and fair economic growth.
We have registered 10.5 percent economic growth on average. We have achieved a lot. If we maintain this pace for additional ten years, we can become a middle income country and make poverty history. Our achievements over the last ten years have laid the foundation for the successful journey of the third millennium. In the coming 30 to 40 years, we will possibly become a developed nation.
Therefore, we should take note that we have to intensify our efforts in the coming 40 years to ensure the renaissance.
To realize this grand aspiration, we should step up our fight against anti-democratic practice, take corrective measures and ensure economic structural transformation, active participation of the public as well as good governance.
The fight against poverty must not be stopped for a second. The spirit of renaissance would give impetus to the bitter struggle to defeat poverty.
Question: We have been implementing various development projects with the aim to become a lower middle income country. Do you think it is likely achievable?
PM: Definitely, I believe it is achievable. We have registered fast and fair economic growth over the last 15 years. As we register rapid growth, the structure of the economy has also been transforming. This would help us to get citizens out of poverty and ensure the renaissance of the country. But fighting the challenges I mentioned earlier and take corrective measures would guarantee success. The public should also join hands and rally behind the government in the fight against poverty as it is not the responsibility of the ruling party alone. All actors should actively participate and own the grand project aimed at creating a single political and economical community because we do not have another country. Peace is prerequisite for everything we have to ensure sustainable peace. We will work to widen up the political landscape.
We have to work more to ensure the expansion of the manufacturing industry to enhance the export sector. Making our export competitive at global market is also central. We are also required to build our capacity with the ever growing advanced technology. If we are able to carry out all the interventions and undertakings effectively, I believe that we undoubtedly realize the vision to join the middle income economies.
Question: What should be done to improve constitutionalism? What is your message in connection with the celebration of the 12th NNPs Day?
PM: First of all, our Constitution is a document that holds a covenant. All Ethiopians should understand and respect the Constitution. It is also stated in the Constitution that this is the responsibility of both citizens and the government. Therefore, we have to discharge our responsibilities. Thus, we have to know the Constitution and the federal system. We have to tackle any ideologies or actions that contradict the principles of the constitution. As it is promulgated in the grand document, we have to respect citizens’ rights to live in any part of the country. We have invested a lot to sustain the country’s fast economic growth. We need to create enabling investment climate and avoid rent seeking.
The rights of NNPs have been respected. But much care should be taken in interpretation. I believe we should consolidate our unity and common values as far as NNPs’ rights are fully respected. We do have ethnic and national identity. We must build a country that can compete internationally. Thus, we should work hard extensively. We have already designed a new strategy aimed at deepening the values of the Constitution. I believe there is no better option that must be nurtured with peace, development and democracy than the existing federal system for Ethiopia. If we deviate from this ideology, we will instigate conflicts and clashes between the NNPs of Ethiopia. In our context, the ethnic conflicts would have a devastating consequence. Therefore, taking strong punitive measures on those who involved in such disruptive acts would help sustain the federal system. Most importantly, ensuring rule of law is vital. It is not allowed to expand illegal activities under the disguise of ethnicity.
I would like to use this opportunity to call upon the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia to protect and nurture their federal system and fight any act that would reverse the renaissance journey. Once again, I would like to happy 12th Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Day celebration to all Ethiopians.
Translated by YARED GEBRMEDIN