Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn spent a busy week dedicated to public engagement in the last week of June when he met with the business community on June 27th at the UNECA conference center and discussed issues affecting the country’s emergence as industrial success among others.
The next day he sat down for the first time both with private and state media representatives and faced questions that include his government’s macro-economic policy, recent scandals of corruption, the diplomatic rage between his country and Egypt over the construction of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), accusations of human rights violations in his country and youth unemployment among others.
In both instances, which brought him to the public one step closer, PM Hailemariam appeared composed and well in grasp of issues, but above all giving practical explanations to the questions than the ideal type of explanations which were the hallmarks of his predecessor the late Meles Zenawi.
We held back our print deadline by a day to accommodate this page, in which we published PM Hailemariam’s answer to one of the two questions asked by our editor-in-chief Tsedale Lemma. Following is the translated excerpt:
AS: In the ‘60s, 70s, 80s, and even 90s the name Ethiopia was synonymous with three words: famine, war and poverty. Now the use of these words in relation to Ethiopia is becoming rare, but is being replaced by another word which is almost becoming synonymous: violations of human rights. Voices against rights violations are getting louder both in and outside of the country. But your government repeatedly denies them. Don’t you consider it a homework for your government to make this country’s emergence as a success story complete?
PM Haiemariam: First the fact that these three words have become less synonymous with Ethiopia is a great leap for our country. We all need to be proud of that and walk with our heads held up. But we need to maximize on that, the media needs to play a great role too.
Second, we have never said that we have no problems in areas of respect for human rights. Even big nations can’t say this. They also face charges on violations of human rights. What we are saying is these charges against us must consider our realities on the ground. There are problems everywhere related of the delivery of justice. Just like big countries face charges against police handling [of citizens], we also face the same problems; our culture has its own negative influence when it comes to women’s rights. Ethiopia didn’t achieve its goals in guaranteeing the rights of women. However, knowing we have problems on the ground, we have designed a three year nationwide human rights reform programs and are working on each of them. The reason we did this is because we know we have problems that we need to address. However, just because there are problems of human rights issues don’t mean that they need to be used against us. The government in Ethiopia is working to improve these issues not to please superpower nations or a given human rights advocate agency; the government is working for its own citizens. It is the government’s obligation to guarantee the rights of every citizen because it has an obligation to respect as well as have citizens respect the constitution.
Even after witnessing our progresses to alleviate poverty in the country, there are people who still attach the image of today’s Ethiopia with that of the image from the 1984 famine. Are these people doing this because there is famine in the country and is that really because these people want to help? No. There are people who struggle to accept the progress this country has made. What we are saying is reports by these people are not objective and that they do not represent the fact on the ground. We are not saying we have no problem at all, and if we do it would mean we didn’t understand the real problems within our society.
We believe we need to work hard to alleviate these problems; otherwise it will be difficult for everything we have achieved including our development. Just like we have problems in education, health and infrastructure we have problems in human right issues. But we have designed a police and judiciary reform programs to address them; we are also working to build the democratic and human rights capacities of different institutions. In general we have designed different nationwide reforms to create nationwide movements in areas of human rights. Our problems are not similar to those who are accusing us are saying. And we are working to mitigate them based on our reality on the ground.
Photo: Addis Standard (archive)