Back in December, a month after the war in Tigray region and the capture of Mekelle city, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) appeared before the House of Peoples’ Representative (HPR) and briefed members of the parliament about the victory. At that particular moment and session of the parliament, many Ethiopians were all ears to get some detailed account of the war and the victory. During that regular session of the parliament, apart from briefing lawmakers about the war in Tigray, the PM went further to discuss many issues including some previously unheard personal stories at the early stage of his tenure.
Since he appeared after the victory over the rebellious TPLF forces, the PM spoke confidently that the group has gone historical. However, he also highlighted that the legacy of TPLF might continue and impact the nation for years. He accused the former member of the ruling party of creating chaos and mistrust among various ethnic groups in the country.
Fast forward three months and the PM appeared before the parliament once again on March 23, 2021, during the 6th year 11th regular session of the HPR. This time around, however, the questions raised by MPs were not only about the war in the Northern parts of the country; rather the PM was challenged to address some complex political, economic, social and security related issues and unresolved challenges that put the country at cross roads.
People were also not interested in the detailed accounts of victory in the North but on the disturbing security issues that have risen as threats to the country’s very survival. The PM’s latest appearance at parliament coincided with popular frustrations over the PM’s handling of the sky rocketing cost of living, the unabated killings of civilians in Oromia and Metekel zone of Benishangul Gumuz regions, the involvement of Eritrean troops in Tigray and the Sudanese invasion of Ethiopian territory.
Beyond the frustrations and challenges that the Ethiopian government has been facing at home, the pressure from Western governments as well as international rights groups has also mounted as reports of atrocities, rape and other human rights violations in Tigray region have proliferated.
The fact that the PM’s appearance at the parliament came a day after OLF-Shene’s deadly attacks in Ataye, Shoa Robit and other neighboring towns of the North Shoa zone of Amhara region also left many anticipating a showdown between MPs and the PM. Pictures of OLF-Shene’s modern and heavy artillery also spread suspicion that the incumbent party could be secretly backing the group.
Following the multifaceted questions the PM received from MPs in his latest appearance, his response was also a major talking point among citizens and the international community. His admission that Eritrean troops are in Tigray, especially drew the attention of the international media while his comments on cloud seeding technology received a lot of attention locally. The PM also addressed the following major issues:
The crisis in Tigray and the Sudanese invasion
Responding to questions raised by MPs on the Sudanese invasion, the PM explained that both countries have enough problems to sort out. “Sudan has its own problems. So does Ethiopia. Faced with these difficulties, both need not go to war. It’s, therefore, better to solve the border conflict through dialogue,” he pointed out. The PM further stated that the border conflict is not new. A border committee led by the Deputy PM from the Ethiopian side and a Ministerial committee from the Sudanese side was established last year to solve the problem.
The PM called for peaceful dialogue as he insisted “we know the damaged caused by war.” Concluding his comment on the issue, the premier noted that resolving the conflict peacefully and through dialogue is better. That process has started and would hopefully solve the problem.
Regarding the war in Tigray, the PM recalled the purpose of the law enforcement operation and said that it “is to bring criminals to justice, release hostages and return looted weapons, as well as secure the country’s sovereignty by facilitating opportunities for the people of Tigray to vote. That is what we did,” the PM underscored. Furthermore, the PM acknowledged human rights abuses such as sexual violence against civilians but pointed out “reports of violence are extremely exaggerated. However, the government will hold those involved in such acts accountable,” The PM concluded.
Amhara Special Forces as foreign invader?
During his latest appearance, the PM was bold enough to defend the role of the Amhara Special Forces in the war in Tigray. “The Federal government reserves the right to deploy forces, including Amhara Special Forces or any other to any corner of the country where support is needed and threats exist. To assume or treat these forces as external & apply misplaced pressure is erroneous,” The PM lamented.
The presence of Eritrean troops
It was in his latest appearance that the PM admitted, for the first time, the presence of Eritrean troops in Tigray region. After months of denial by the government, the PM told MPs that Eritrean forces crossed the border after it became vacant following the TPLF’s attack on the Northern command of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces.
Cutting the crippling debt burden
Despite all the troubles and impeding factors against the country’s economic progress, the PM told the house that the country has strived to reduce its debt burden down to a manageable level. “The amount of bilateral and multilateral debt Ethiopia owed to foreign creditors is small compared to amounts owed by other African countries. But in terms of debt-to-GDP ratio, it is one of the highest,” The PM told the house.
His statements came to be in sharp contrast with various international rating agencies that previously hinted Ethiopia’s foreign debt left the country in the Red-zone. It is to be recalled that Fitch Ratings downgraded Ethiopia’s credit ratings to CCC after the government announced that it was looking to make use of the G20 Common Framework for Debt Treatments beyond the Debt Service Suspension Initiative. Ethiopia’s current debt is said to have been surging as some sources claim that the country owes foreign creditors USD 29.7 billion.
According to the PM, though being challenged by “locusts, floods and widespread conflict,” Ethiopia could make a turnaround of the debt distress situation in the next three years. “In 2018, Ethiopia joined the list of high-debt distressed countries,” he said, adding that his administration launched wide-ranging activities to reverse the situation through expanding capital projects domestically and boosting exports.
MPs also raised questions about the surging inflation and other economic issues. They also deliberated on non-economic reasons used by merchants to raise prices of essential commodities such as edible oil, teff, onions and cement.
Election and election pace maker
The PM also pledged to exert the utmost effort to make the upcoming general election peaceful, fair, and democratic. According to the premier, the government would make sure that all interested political parties are engaged in the election and treated equally and fairly with the view to making Ethiopia emerge as a winner.
The focus of all should be to conduct free and democratic elections that will make the country a winner, rather than a party or parties, he added. “The ruling party will welcome legal and peaceful transition of power to the winner, if not elected by the people,” the PM promised.
“Our success is to make the election free and democratic. It should be Ethiopia’s victory. I have personally tried to ensure that eligible parties take part in the election. No matter how fair and healthy an election is, it does not guarantee democracy except providing a foundation for democratic rule. Democracy is a process that takes years,” The PM highlighted.
He, however, blasted the growing complaints and allegation reported by opposition political parties ahead of voters’ registration. Various opposition groups have been crying foul before and after candidates’ registration. “Parties need to leave the old tradition of being an escort and start competing as there is no better time to do so. The election will take place as the Ethiopian people must vote and move past bottlenecks,” the PM remarked.
Sticking to schedule in filling GERD
Another critical issue the PM addressed was the contentious process of filling the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in accordance with the schedule set by the government while he also reiterated that the Ethiopian government is ready to negotiate on other issues. Ethiopia will proceed with the second phase of filling the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and is at the same time ready to negotiate with downstream countries, he affirmed to the house. The PM told the house that Ethiopia can’t afford losing USD 1 billion by not filling the dam this rainy season. Stressing Ethiopia’s position regarding cooperation, the PM said “Ethiopia has no intention of harming Egypt and Sudan.”