Addis Abeba – Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who is at the House of People’s Representatives (HoPR) to present the government’s six-month report for the current fiscal year today, found himself defending his government’s track record against tough questions raised from the floor by several members of parliament (MPs) on, among others, the rising cost of living, increasing insecurity and lack of freedom of mobility, and perhaps for the first time, a daring call from an opposition MP for the PM to consider resigning.
In his responses, the PM also indicated that there is an ongoing effort to resolve the near five-years old militarized conflict in the Oromia regional state that pitted federal and regional forces on the one hand and members of Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) on the other.
The need to resolve the conflict was raised by MPs from Oromia with two MPs explicitly asking the PM to respond if there were any efforts to resolve the conflict following recent calls for peaceful resolutions, including from the Oromia regional state President, Shimelis Abdissa.
Although the Prime Minister appeared to repeat his previous stance when accusing the rebels of not being “a united force”, he admitted that the recent call for peace from the Oromia regional state was decided at a party level with a formation of a committee. “The call is a continuation of that” he said, adding that “more than ten [rounds of] talks were conducted in the past.”
According to him, the approaches to resolve conflicts through talks have resulted in engagements with the Kemant and Agewo, Benishangul Gumuz and Gambella armed groups.
The OLA was designated as a terrorist organization by members of the Ethiopian parliament on May 05 2021 along with the TPLF after a decision on May 01 by the Council of Ministers that approved the resolution to designate the groups as terrorist organizations. Last week, Lencho Letta, a retired veteran Oromo politician and one of the early founders of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), called out on the federal government to remove the terrorism designation from the OLA, which the government refers to as “Shene”.
The PM pledged that the government is “committed to resolving it through peaceful means and dialogue.” He at the same time said that security forces were ready to secure peace and prevent further loss of lives.
Not the only one
The Prime Minister made the House to collectively chuckle when he pushed back against MP Christian Tadelle’s question on whether he should not consider to resign. Although he said the question leaving power was “a very good question”, it would be better “if we leave power” [collectively] because “the government is not just the executive.”
“I cannot be the only one who is the source and owner of all the problems,” PM Abiy said, adding “I think it would be good if we take responsibility together.”
Responding to the question on pervasive lack of peace and security in the country, the PM asserts “there is a better situation than it was six months ago” and that “a step forward” has been achieved. However, there were “a lot of work to be done to achieve complete peace.”
“Peace does not immediately come as soon as the war stops. There is pressure in the post-war context: he said, but also described the politics of “the past 50 and 60 years in Ethiopia” as either one of “transgression, conspiracy or force.” He cautioned MP that “Peace is like war. It requires bravery. No less work than war requires; it requires effort.”
He blamed that those who beating the drum of war are not on the ground but are instigating for conflict from a distance. These “war-mongering” forces are “not familiar with war, he said, but “they spread conflict from a distance and prevent people from having the spirit of peace. “These forces create conflict, plan ahead, carry out conflict, distort facts and widely report that, and call for death,” he complained and mentioned that it has become a challenge to the air of peace in the country.
On the question of lack of free movement for civilians, especially with regard to prevention of travelers from entering Addis Abeba, the PM said that migration has increased this year than the previous five to six years. According to him “96% of those who sleep on plastics” in the streets of Addis Abeba are those who came from outside of the city. He blamed that there are forces that are “trying to make Addis Abeba a center of conflict” particularly using “public holidays”. The residents of the city “should work in cooperation with the security agencies.”
Responding to an MP who complained that the media were engaged in instigating communal conflicts, and asked why the government was unable to “stop” such media organizations, the Prime Minister agreed that there were media outlets inciting violence and equivocated the work of these media with that of the act of “chopping a neck to snatch a necklace.”
Media consumers must choose and listen to responsible media outlets than those inciting conflicts, he said, and warned that Ethiopian “media should check themselves widely” and recommended that the Ethiopian Media Authority to continue the work of enforcing legal compliance by the media. The public too, should “punish them by not listening to them.”
“Best joke of the year”
On the question that his government was working to dismantle the country, the PM said that the question was “a respectable question,” however “I will take it as the best joke of the year.”
On the proliferation of illegal armed forces “here and there,” the PM admitted that there were “people being killed, looted and kidnapped,” but blamed that there were also “people who occasionally do it to themselves.”
Notwithstanding, he said that the national defense and federal police forces are deployed in most of the critical areas to prevent the smuggling of illegal weapons, and the killing people everywhere. “I have hope and faith that it will strengthen even more in the coming months,” he said.
Where the PM appeared dismissive is on questions raised by and MP on his administration’s mishandling of the increasing questions for self-rule and self-administration.
The problem with being a regional state is that politicians decide to become a region, promising roads will be built, development will come, and there is no problem, he said, but he stated as a problem the fact that “after triggering the question, a region is created, and it is immediately expanded as a zone, a district.” He compared the time when Derg fell, and the EPRDF came to power. “There were about 230, 000 government employees. Now it has reached 2.6 million.”
“Every one is creating a structure and unless he is appointed in it, the rights of the people are not respected,” he complained. adding that “this is something that I have been talking about for two or three years.”
In connection to Ethiopia’s relation with Sudan, the Prime Minister said that the border dispute with Sudan isn’t a new phenomenon and that it was there for many years unsolved, noting that the two governments have agreed to demarcate the boarder and they established a joint commission to peacefully solve the border disputes.
Inflation – “not a concern only to Ethiopia”
Responding to economic issues the premier noted that inflation is not a concern only to Ethiopia but also of the world, and that Ethiopia can only escape it by reinforcing the initiatives it has begun.
Abiy indicated that the government is working to reach the community and regulate the market price by bringing products from various areas where it is available in abundance. A standing committee has also been established to monitor this.
Yet, given the economic crisis, he said, the federal government has managed to collect 210 billion Birr in net tax thus far. The figure shows a growth of 28 percent compared to last year’s performance. Despite the growing number, however, the amount collected is considerably low and falls well short of expectations, according to prime minister Abiy Ahmed, who also said the country’s debt has been reduced from 59 percent of the GDP to 52 percent.
He further claimed that more than 1 million hectares of land are being used to grow wheat, and a significant amount of the crop has been harvested. Yet, a government-appointed commission found that traders and farmers hoarding goods were causing market disruption.
“There is no supply shortage,” he said, adding that the government “did not spend a dollar on wheat for the first time” this year. AS
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