On Oct. 4th this year, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn briefed journalists based in Ethiopia on a wide range of issues mostly on the domestic economy and regional peace and security. PM Hailemariam also entertained questionnaires from journalists attending the briefing on variety of issues ranging from the continuous religious tension between Ethiopian Muslims and the government, to traffic inconveniences created by the ongoing light railway construction in the city of Addis Ababa. Addis Standard’s editor-in-chief Tsedale Lemma had a chance to ask him four questions, of which he answered the first three and left out the last question which was about the 400, 000 br (a little over $20,000) monthly house rent fee allocated to the outgoing president GirmaWoldegiorgis. We have also decided to add a question raised by journalist Aman Sethi of The Hindu, referring to a cover story published by Addis Standard magazine in its Sep. 2013 issue. Excerpts:
AS – Regarding the negotiation that took place in the end of August here between the Somali government and the Jubaland administration representatives, as a result of which Sheik Ahmed Mohamed Islam was assigned to be the leader of the Interim Jubaland Administration. He is a person with a murky past including being a senior member of [the Union of Islamic Courts] in Somalia. Some people express their reservations now including officials from the Somali government that he is likely to switch sides with al-Shabab leadership, increasing the threat of the expansion of al-Shabab in the area. But Ethiopia played a major role in bringing this negotiation to the table. I would like to know what you feel about the person being in charge of the Jubaland now.
PM Hailemariam- As per the negotiation between the federal government of Somalia and the Jubaland administration, that has gone in a right direction and they have agreed and signed the agreement. We are there to facilitate, we are not there to dictate them or direct them to this and that. It is up to them to conclude the agreement [and] they signed it, all of you saw it. I think that is a great achievement as far as we are concerned as IGAD and as Ethiopia. As far as what Ahmed Madobe is going to do in the future no one can say anything about it. If you see Sheik Sheriff [Ahmed], he has been in Islamic Court and has become President of Somalia. The thing is what we want to see is how the people are responding now at this time: do they denounce? Do they fight al-Shabab or not? What I know is Ahmed Madobe is fighting al-Shabab with tooth and nails. So what we see is he is fighting al-Shabab now, and he is saying that al-Shabab is not our alternative, al-Shabab is a terrorist organization, that is what we see. We cannot forecast what Ahmed Madobe is going to say tomorrow or the day after tomorrow; not Ahmed Madobe, even the president of Somalia, we cannot forecast anything. The thing is now he is there to fight al-Shabab, and he is fighting in a real terms on the ground. So we cannot go to prophetic saying that this man can do this or that in the future. What we see is right now what he is doing at the moment and this is the right time when we have to work with this guy who fights al-Shabab. Anyone who fights al-Shabab is our friend because al-Shabab is a common enemy. We are not negotiating in terms of the ideology anyone [is] having because that is their right. What we see is we have an objective in the region; the objective is fighting al-Shabab to defeat it in Somalia and elsewhere.
AS – On the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, a report filed yesterday by Bloomberg claimed to have a statement from the Panel of Experts expressing their concern regarding the foundation of the dam. What is your response to that? Would you continue constructing it or would you consider their concerns?
PM Hailemariam – I think we should not focus on what some people say from their pocket. What is important is what did the Panel of Experts say who are composed of Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt, including renowned experts of international caliber who worked to give as the report at the end of their investigation. They have [un]equivocally confirmed that the dam is safe. By the way, dam safety is major concern of Sudan, because if the dam collapses the first country which is going to be washed away is Sudan, not Egypt. Why don’t ask Sudanese whether the dam is safe or not, they will 100% tell you that the dam is safe, and therefore they are content and they are supporting the GERD. So anyone who is spreading any information from his pocket cannot be the source for us to base our rationalization. We should base on the results of the Panel of Experts who have done rigorously for more than a year or so, and they have studied it carefully and they have reported it. Of course we have not negotiated it with all parties but that report has been given to all the three countries. And I think that has no meaning at this time.
AS – Regarding the right to visit by prisoners’ family to some prisoners, particularly those who are arrested under Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism law, there was a report last week that some of them have been denied access to their imprisoned family members, is there anything you would like to say on this one?
PM Hailemariam – As far as the rights to visit those who are in prison, whether they are arrested in terms of terrorist law or any criminal act including petty issues, I think they have constitutional rights to do so; we act according to the constitution and the law of the land. Anyone who goes against the law of the land and constitution should be accountable. But the prison administration has its own internal regulations. When the prisoners themselves are misbehaving then they have internal regulations to adjust those guys who misbehave; may be it could be because these guys are misbehaving in the prison itself, then they have a mechanism, a law, I mean a regulation, and a directive to correct those guys who are misbehaving in the prison. Apart from that I think we act according to the constitution and the law of the land. So that has to be taken in such a way.
Aman Sethi from The Hindu
Q – Based on reports in the Addis Standard where there was talk about how leaders of the Muslim community say that the Muslim community has been targeted under the guise of fighting terrorism. What was your response on that particular subject?
PM Hailemariam – As far as leaders of Muslim community is concerned, what we know as leaders of the Muslim community is the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Council, and I haven’t got any this kind of report from these leaders. If you say there are some extremists, they have their own leaders; if you are targeting those guys it means that these are the ones… but these guys are not representing the Muslim community; the first thing you have to see is they are not Muslim leaders, they are leaders of their own extremist groups. So you have to distinguish between the mass Muslims and the extremists. If you confuse these things I think you will end up in a wrong conclusion. Muslim community in our country is around 32 million, they have their own leaders they have elected from the grassroots up to the federal level. These leaders are working very closely with the government to work together without interfering with each other, to support each other in anyway. This is the fact on the ground. As far as the extremists are concerned, they do not represent the Muslim community in Ethiopia, they represent a very small group and extreme ideology; that is the danger for Ethiopia, a danger to the Horn of Africa and a danger to the global community because extremism finally generates in to terrorism, so we have to fight extremism as much as we can and that has no compromise at all; this is against our constitution, against the laws of the land. I think you should appreciate the government’s stand in fighting extremism and terrorism to the maximum possible because Ethiopia is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and diversified country; any miss up in this regard will end up in chaos and Ethiopia will no longer be a country. We have to be very careful in this regard. The constitution has given the right for any citizen and beyond to exercise religious rights, speech rights and expression of views, and exercise whatever religion and they can get together and warship whatever they like to worship, that is a right in the constitution. Beyond that if you force somebody to accept your religion, kill somebody to accept your religion or make somebody disable to accept your religion, and impose your religion on somebody else then that is extremism; that will end up in a chaos in this country. It is a very sensitive country and we should be very careful in this regard and the government is cognizant of this fact, we are working very carefully in handling this issue. We will not tolerate any extremism and terrorism in this country, and when it get out of your hand it is very difficult to recover it so we are very careful and we continue to fight for the future as well.
Photo: Addis Standard