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“If there's anyone who threatens Ethiopia's existence, we‘re ready to fight, not with a pen, but with Kalashnikovs”

“If there's anyone who threatens Ethiopia's existence, we‘re ready to fight, not with a pen, but with Kalashnikovs”

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD)

Ethiopians were filled with high hopes and expectations when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) came to power. To his credit, Abiy (who is seen seated next to House Speaker Tagesse Chafo) ushered in a slew of reforms that compliments the  expectation and would change the political landscape of the country. However, the excitement has somewhat cooled down due to deeply entrenched ethnic division that has become a bone of contention.

Ethiopians were filled with high hopes and expectations when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) came to power. To his credit, Abiy ushered in a slew of reforms that compliments the expectation and would change the political landscape of the country. However, the excitement has somewhat cooled down due to deeply entrenched ethnic division that has become a bone of contention.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) and House Speaker Tagesse Chafo before the session started
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) and House Speaker Tagesse Chafo before the session started

 

Deadly clashes have erupted time after time and clashes between armed groups often resulted in the uprooting and displacement of many innocent civilians. In addition, just last week, the country’s army chief of staff and the president of the Amhara Regional State were gunned down as a result of what the government labeled as a “failed coup attempt” leaving people in utter disarray and fear. Adding insult to injury, the slow economic performance caused by the instability, shortage of hard currency, and poor export performances have made matters worse

Amid the ongoing deep-rooted problems, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) appeared before the House of People’s Representatives (HPR) on Monday, July 01, 2019 to present his government’s report. This same session was first scheduled to take place on Monday, June 23, 2019 but was postponed due to the tragic assassinations that took place in Bahir Dar and Addis Ababa. The incident took the lives of the President of the Amhara Region, Ambachew Mekonen, Ezez Wassie, advisor, and Migbaru Kebede, the State Attorney General.   

A few hours later in the capital, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's army chief, General Seare Mekonnen, was shot by his bodyguard in an act the government says is linked to the Amhara region assassinations. Along with Seare, a retired military official, Geza’e Abera (Maj. Gen.) was also killed.

After the country went through national mourning, accompanied by a weeklong internet shutdown; the PM appeared before the House on Monday to deliver his report. Several questions were raised by MPs ranging from the security crisis to the economy and political issues.

Nomenclature debacle

Presenting the updated version of his report that was meant to be disclosed a week or so ago, the PM responded to the question whether the June 22 incident could be termed as a coup d’état. Commenting on the recent killings, the PM re-echoed the official government position condemning the act as an attempted coup.

Some academics, analysts and political figures argued that the incident should by no means be considered as a coup.

Nevertheless, the government stood by its position arguing that the killings were not just assassinations but a highly organized coup attempt.

While highlighting last month’s tragic incidents, PM Abiy told MPs that his government will not tolerate any actions that puts the people and the nation at risk. He also asserted the government’s full capacity when it comes to ensuring rule of law and curtailing the destructive activities of anti-peace elements that may make an ill attempt to control public power through unlawful means.

In his remark, the PM stated that the government has taken unprecedented measures to widen the political landscape by allowing people with diverse political points of view to entertain their ideas and release thousands from prison.

Despite the government’s good intention, some anti-peace elements killed their comrades and engineers of the reform in the Amhara State capital, Bahr Dar city, in a bid to secure public power using chaos, he told lawmakers.

“Hours after the killing of Amhara’s State leadership, the Ethiopian Defense Force Chief of Staff and his comrade were shot dead in Addis Ababa by the army chief’s security guard,” Abiy said.

According to the Prime Minister, the National Defense Force and Amhara State Security Forces foiled the coup and inquiry teams were established to investigate the incident while the police continue to hunt the suspects at large.

Taking a more aggressive stand on the growing threats of various groups he accuses of inciting the public, the PM elaborated on several coup attempts that were made including the march by the National Defense force to the PM’s offices.

Furthermore, the Prime Minister told MPs that there were other attempts to overthrow the government, but refrained from disclosing the incident.

Having pointed out other deadly clashes including what happened in Jigjiga, capital of the Somali State, where churches were burnt and individuals were killed by state-sponsored security officials as well as the displacement of millions of citizens, PM Abiy said that the government has remained tolerant. However, this came with a stark warning that his government will not tolerate any groups if they should try to challenge the government unconstitutionally, stating; Only ballots can remove the government. Bullets will never bear any good results.  “Any attempt to seize power through guns and not the ballot box will take Ethiopia a hundred years backwards,” he said.

“If there's anyone who threatens Ethiopia's existence, we will fight them with a Kalashnikov, not with a pen,” Abiy told MPs.

Constitutional amendment vs. the quest of regional autonomy

Another important issue that was raised by MPs was the issue of constitutional amendments and the recently growing submission of request for regional autonomy.

While addressing these and related issues, the PM told the House that the 1995 Constitution can be amended by inclusive public consensus but not through threats.

He further said that political parties can take part in elections and operate legally only by accepting and abiding by the constitution.

Abiy stressed that political parties have to live up to their commitment and respect the constitution.

“Whereas asking for constitutional change is a constitutionally guaranteed right, but threatening to change the constitution is unacceptable,” he said.

Ailing economy

The Prime Minister, in his report, highlighted the country’s efforts in carrying out successive reforms that aim at stabilizing and restructuring the economy in a bid to achieve the country’s economic goals.

The consistent growth Ethiopia has registered in the past decade seems to be slowing down due to the past couple of years’ political and social problems.

He, however, pointed out that priority has been given to restructure the macroeconomic imbalance in the current fiscal year and despite a minor slump in the export performance for the past 11 months, the overall economy is healthy and projected to grow by 9.2 percent, in this year.

Despite the pressing challenges and macro-economic stresses, he insisted that the economy has managed to generate over one million jobs annually. He also noted that the country has currently over 11 million unemployed citizens and two million new entrants to the labor market, every year.

 “The newly-established commission has become fully operational and a plan is set to provide three million jobs both at home and abroad; whilst 1.4 million jobs were created during the past 11 months of the current fiscal year,” Abiy said.

Regarding the government’s revenue, Abiy highlighted in his report that around 178.5 billon birr was collected during the reported period while the figure surpassed last year’s performance, in the same period, by 10 percent. It is expected to collect 189 billon birr till the end of the budget year and the figure exceeds last year’s performance of 176 billion birr.

According to the PM, despite the unsatisfactory export sector’s performance, the country has secured USD 21 billion during the past 10 months of the reported period from public and private remittance, Foreign Direct Investments, loan and other sources.

The total amount of money deposited in both state-owned and private banks surpassed the mark by 22 percent compared to the same period last year, while the total amount of money banks disbursed also exceeded by 35 percent.

In addition, loans distributed by banks increased by 35 percent, and 65 percent of the stated loan was disbursed to the private sector, while the remaining was meant to finance the public sector.

Concerning inflation, the PM pointed out that the government has setup a plan to keep it at a single digit and it was managed to reduce it from 16.8 percent from the end of last budget year to a lesser 12 percent until May 2019.

He said that as a measure to address the inflation, he pointed out that the government is investing billions of birr to subsidize major items and services to contend with the inflation from surging to a far worse level. Furthermore, the PM accused of some business organizations of inflaming inflation by hoarding goods and eventually creating artificial shortages of goods and consumer items.

He also disclosed that a new task force has been setup to investigate and hunt those businesses that engage in illegal hoarding at the cost of their poor fellow people.

Telecom and sugar projects at the forefront

In a bid to grow the economy and increase services, it can be recalled that the government stated the sell off some state-owned enterprises; the Prime Minister said that the government is working exhaustively to partially and fully privatize state-owned enterprises.

Hence, Ethio Telecom and sugar development projects are the two sectors that will be up for bid first, followed by power generation, railway, logistics, industrial development, and lastly, Ethiopian airlines.

According to him, extensive activities are underway to partially and fully transfer state-owned strategic companies to private capital, and the government has put in place three phases for the privatization. In this regard, Ethio Telecom and Sugar Corporation are identified as the first to be transferred followed by energy generation plants, Railway Corporation and logistics firms while industrial parks and Ethiopian Airlines are in the last row.

“To breathe new life into the economy, the government has agreed to privatize state-owned enterprises, in a bid to attract foreign investment. Ethio-telecom and sugar development projects are scheduled to be privatized first, before investors can be welcomed into power generation, railways, logistics, industrial development, and the prestigious Ethiopian airlines,” he told MPs.

Prisoners released

As a means of widening the democratic space, more than 10 exiled armed groups were welcomed home, over 45,000 benefited from amnesty, more than 100,000 prisoners were released from all regional states, above 260 media and web sites were allowed to function and rejoin the free market, the Prime Minister noted.

Regarding diplomacy, more than 15,000 citizens were released from prisons abroad and over 76,000 citizens with terminated contracts were repatriated.

Institutional reforms

Questions were also raised to the PM as to how much institutional leaders were supportive in realizing government’s ongoing reform activities.

According to Abiy, the Defense Forces, Supreme Court, National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE), Human Rights Commission, Information Network Security Agency (INSA), National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), federal police and prison administration were reorganized in the spirit of the national reform.

Furthermore, it was learnt that about 17 proclamations and laws are reportedly either under revision or revised.

Some 48 people suspected of terrorism, 799 people instigating ethnic conflict, 34 engaged in economic crime, 235 for trafficking in firearms, 63 for money laundering and 51 human traffickers were apprehended, he expounded.

Prime Minister Abiy explained that his government will work on sustaining peace and security, building democratic institutions, modernizing agriculture, environmental protection, tourism development, and encourage private sector engagement over the next fiscal year.

Is the refugee crisis over?

The Prime Minister in his report stated that efforts have been undertaken to widen up the political space, rehabilitate internally displaced communities and ensure the rule of law across the country.

He reported that there were 2.3 million IDPs in the country, of which, about 1.1 million were displaced during the reform period and 400,000 by climate change, but over 2.1 have been repatriated and rehabilitated.

According to the PM’s report, before the political reform, the country announced a year ago, there were significant numbers of IDPs which boost the number to a total of 2.3 million IDPs.

“94 percent of the IDPs have been returned to their villages,” the PM said adding that, “Efforts are being made to return the remaining IDPs.”

The displacement, according to the PM, is attributed not only to conflicts but also to bad weather conditions in which 400 thousand people got displaced.

The report also said that out of the total 2.3 million IDPS, 1.5 million are displaced within their region, while the remaining 800 thousand IDPs are displaced from their region to another region. 

He said that to ensure peace and stability, suspected individuals and groups have been detained so that the rule of law of will be maintained. In a move to ensure rule of law, the PM reported that so far 48 terrorist group, and 799 individuals and leaders and security officers suspected of launching ethnic based attacks have been detained. The PM also noted that 64 individuals, who are suspected of smuggling money, and people are under control.

Hailing the efforts carried out under his administration, the PM praised Muferiat Kemal [Minister of Peace] in front of her peers for her leadership during the repatriation and resettlement efforts.