The current leadership in retrospect
Kebour Ghenna is a businessman and former president of both the Addis Ababa and Ethiopia chambers of commerce and sectorial associations. He is also vocal on numerous political, economic and social issues in the country and writes different articles on these issues on different media outlets including social media. Among other things he repetitively writes and deliberates on issues that are related to the improvement of basic services in Addis Ababa. Neamin Ashenafi of The Reporter sat down to discuss issues regarding Addis Ababa, his reflection concerning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s (PhD) administration and pertinent economic issues. Excerpts:
The Reporter: Following the change in leadership with in the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), it has been one year since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) took over the top office in the country. What was your reaction a year ago and how do you evaluate your reaction after a year?
I have never imagined a year would go by this fast. I never expected the changes that came about. For instance, being able to practice basic political rights such as right to assembly and freedom of expressions are the manifestations of the change. I’m saying this because the installations of such systems are the bases for the development and change in a certain country.
The rapprochement with the Eritrean government was unexpected but something which is essential. It was dreadful even to try and find a political solution and to negotiate between the two sides which have so many cultural and historical ties. It is one of the major things that happened within the past one year. Hence we can say that we were in a difficult political situation before the change in leadership a year ago. The effort of the Prime Minister to unite citizens by conducting different meetings and discussions that were held in different parts of the country was also one very important mission in my view.
The changes we are seeing have come with some challenges. In this regard, some of the challenges could be addressed by devising long-term plans; however, there are some that require a quick fix or a speedy solution. Generally speaking, in my view, the reform by the PM has changed the general picture of the country.
After the PM assumed power, many were hoping and expecting that the turmoil and instability in the country would be over once and for all. To this effect, there was relative peace and stability in the first trimester; however, mob justice and some sort of anarchy were witnessed in different parts of the country. Subsequently, many were criticizing the government for its failure to provide security and stability. What is your on the issue?
I think this is the issue of ability. Basically, in some places where the government is strong such incidents were small; however, we are talking about the bigger country in terms of geographical and population size. We have to understand that the power of the government is limited to address all those matters via its police, military and security agents. Therefore, I see such incidents from two perspectives, the first one is political and the other is security. Hence, there has to be a system that should address the security issues within that framework and the same is true for the political.
These are not issues that should be overlooked or be neglected because, if it is neglected, it will escalate to another level. This shows that a lot should be done. However, this is not something that is only left to the government; it demands the involvement of the public at large. In my view, the problem in our society is overly expecting the government to provide and do everything.
Many political and economic elites repetitively stated that there should be a roadmap for the country. Do you think there is a need for developing a roadmap?
The issue of roadmap seems to be one thing that irritates the PM. It might not be seen as a big deal, and I’m pretty sure the PM understands the need for it so as to develop plans and undertake activities. It is an important tool to assess your plan and your success, and look into your challenges.
In that regard, the public need clear information on the fate of the developmental state model that was being pursued by the government. Is it going to continue or are we abandoning it? Such issues, I think, could be addressed through a roadmap and I think the demand for the roadmap from different elites is to clear such confusions. Personally, am ok if we have it, and the PM will have it at some point but I don’t consider it as something immense.
But, regardless of its naming – I mean it could be called a roadmap or something else –don’t you think it is a necessary instrument so as to measure and assess a certain plan by the government?
In fact I don’t think the public is demanding the need for a roadmap in its technical perspective. In my view, the basic question from the public’s side is an appeal to know the ideological frame of the government.
Many have stated that the country is in an economic conundrum. Some say that the principal economic model – the developmental state model – is a thing of the past. And no one is sure whether the government has abandoned it not. What is your assessment in this regard? What kind of economic model is viable for Ethiopia?
The liberal economy, which gives upper hand to the market, is unmanageable in the absence of government support and control. This has been evident everywhere. Therefore, it requires the strong presence of the government. Look at the American government. Whether we like it or not the American government is the strongest government in the world and their economy is liberal; however, the role of the government in the economy is not regarded as small.
The hands of the government are not off the market. So the question in this regard should be how we can reduce the involvement of the government and increase the role of the private sector. Citizens in countries, which apply the liberal economy, are now complaining about the system in relation to fair distribution of resources and representation. However, we don’t have to compare the two systems simultaneously with developmental state; developmental state requires a strong government that provides direction. It doesn’t say that the government has to involve in each and every economic sector.
There might be a government of such nature; however, in my view, developmental state is the direction chosen by the government to address the development demand of the public and drives the economy to such directions. Therefore, we have two worlds – the western and eastern. So which one is stronger? Which one is growing and becoming more powerful? It is not the West. Therefore, the question remains, should our direction be towards the growing and the powerful one or to the other one, which is declining?
These days, polarized ideas are being entertained in regards to the ownership of Addis Ababa. Even members of the ruling party are entangled in this baffling issue related to the ownership of the capital city. Why do you think is Addis Ababa at the epicenter of this heated political conversation?
This is a superficial bickering. If you really ask the residents of the city, what their basic demands and questions are, one thing you will realize is that it is not the ownership of the city. It has never been the question. The question of the residents of Addis Ababa is access to transportation, shortage of housing, lack of proper hospitals and education. So first and for most, we should solve these pressing problems of the residents. Those politicians who are propagating such agenda should be ignored by the public. Therefore, if the government is for the pubic and claims to address the demands and question of the public, it has to know and identify the problem primarily.
If we don’t take the matter prudently, it might obliterate the entire nation. We don’t have to allow those politicians who don’t represent the question and demand of the public to navigate through the political course of the country. The silent majority should speak out and voice their concerns to the politicians, which is not the ownership of the city but rather access to basic services.
There are two contending views in order to address the problems of Addis Ababa; on the one side, there are people who are saying that the issue should be addressed politically. On the contrary, there are those who recommend a legal solution. What is your recommendation in this regard; political or legal?
I think it requires a political solution. However, what do the residents of Addis Ababa demanded more than the politics is efficiency. The question of the residents of the city is revolving around matters of delivery of basic services and quality service. How do I get a good rate to rent a house? How do I get a piece of land to build a house on? Therefore, so long as the basic services are fulfilled, the residents of the city are willing to accept working with any politician.
Because of that, Addis Ababa should not be administered by a politician I think nonpolitical leaders should come to office through private competition and excellence than party membership. Actually, it is very difficult to say there a party in this country. Parties across the globe are also in trouble and I think the era of party politics is diminishing. Look what has happened in France for example. Parties are shattered and a new system is being built. What is that system? I don’t know it yet.
Therefore, a resident of the city, who is not a politician but is elected by the people, should administer Addis Ababa. Then we will have an improved Addis Ababa; subsequently the improvement of Addis will benefit the entire Ethiopia. We don’t have to neglect that every citizen who came from different corners of the country have contributed their own share in building Addis Ababa. Therefore, the solution to sort out the problem of the city is political.
So what should be done to sort out the polarized ideas regarding the city, which is the source of disagreements among politicians?
The solution is in the hands of very few individuals. It is not in the hands of the residents of the city. The residents of the city do not put in place any demarcation but some politicians do. That’s why I said those politicians should be out of the equation and the silent majority should join in for the betterment of both the city and its residents.