21 April 2017

Ethiopia: Premier's Responses On Current National, Regional Issues

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegen held a press conference on current issues where members of the press raised a variety of questions. Here follows the first part of the Premier's responses to questions on Human rights, regional politics and stability, diplomatic relations with Egypt, foreign currency shortage and the new administration of Somalia.

On human rights and EHRC

The capacity of the Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has been improving from time to time. Yet, it needs additional improvement. As any institution in a developing country, its capacity will continue to be built while discharging its mandates in due time. Capacity cannot be built at once.

The Commission has the capacity to investigate the recent unrest in the country. It can assign its staff to investigate the resent unrest. Hence, the Commission has exerted great effort to investigate the case neutrally. This effort has to be appreciated. The leadership in every level has also taken part in the process. Yet, the Commission needs to have additional capacity to discharge its mandate on general human rights issues.

The Commission's neutrality should be questioned based on the report and its quality. I believe that they have tried their best to gather the necessary information and include it in their report. But, this does not mean that it is perfect. The issue of human rights is the issue of our people. Hence, the government shoulders the main responsibility of respecting human rights and it is committed to do so. We are this much committed not for the sake of making foreign parties happy but the report has to bring about consensus among our citizens on the issue. Hence, the major issue has to be citizens, not the views of others. Hence, I believe that the commission has presented a sufficient report. The report, in a neutral manner, has singled out the parties that have to be held accountable, be it the leadership, the security forces or any other anti-peace element or party that committed destructive activities during the times of the unrest.

There are some parties who proclaim that the report would have been neutral if it was conducted by foreign institutions. First of all, the government of Ethiopia does not accept these parties in principle. This is because; the government has the responsibility and mandate to prevent human rights violation and respect the constitution. We have to do it ourselves because we are accountable to the people. So the idea is that we have to build our institutional capacity to investigate such cases and present the results to the people without the interference of other parties. In relation to this, such parties, for instance the United Nations' Human Rights Council, after reviewing the first report and having successive discussions with our Human Rights Commission have said that the report is appropriate and acceptable. The second report will also be sent to the Council. Thus as the report is presented to the concerned bodies, we have to build our capacity to do so in principle to properly discharge this responsibility.

Nobody interferes in the affairs of once country. Just because you are poor, no one should interfere in your affairs. Though a lot of atrocities happen in advanced countries, no one opt to make them accountable. Thus in principle, we have to investigate our own problems, and we have to be aware of it. And it has to be revealed to the public in a transparent manner. This would be vital to ensure human rights violation in a sustainable manner.

As far as my knowledge is concerned, many have been held accountable based on the report. The government will also take legal action on the rest. Thus this would improve sense of accountability. As our deep renewal is bearing fruit, if we jointly strive more, we can strengthen the hope of our people. We should not lose hope because of the challenges that have yet to be resolved. We have to solve them together.

On Ethiopia's diplomatic relations

Various discussions have been held with our Egyptian counterparts at higher and lower officials level. The major objective of the visit of Ethiopia's Foreign Minister to Cairo is to continue the discussion that began during the African Union Summit.

Media outlets which aim to destabilize Ethiopia and that are categorized as terrorists such as OMN are based in Egypt. The Ethiopian government requested the Egyptian government to take the necessary measure to curtail their activities. During the discussions, the Egyptian government pledged to take action on such forces and reported that OMN has given up all its activities which it carried out from Egypt.

They also told us that they would make such forces legally accountable as some of them have already been put to jail for their malpractice. The Ethiopian government will continue its effort to sustain the relationship between the two countries based on the principle of mutual benefit. However, the terrorist organizations might try to use institutions and harbour their ill intended activities. Hence, we vigilantly watch their activities. We also have to have successive discussions to follow up the pledge made by the Egyptian government to scrutinize anti-Ethiopia activities by terrorist elements. In various bilateral diplomatic discussions, the Egyptians have promised us that they would take actions on such forces and media outlets that reside in Egypt and work to destabilize Ethiopia. We insist that they should pursue their policy in this manner and continue to discuss these issues in our common platform.

Foreign Exchange

There are various sources of foreign currency. The first and the major one is remittance as it contributes more than what is earned from export. In this budget year, remittance has shown a 10 per cent increment from same time the previous year. The other major source of foreign currency is Foreign Direct Investment which showed 24 per cent increment. Through such mechanism, the export earnings rose by 24 per cent.

As compared to the previous year, this year's foreign currency earnings from export has decreased. Despite the poor performance of export compared to last year, it would not significantly harm the import trade, as the export earning covers only 15 per cent of the country's import expenses.

Some misunderstood that, the reduction in export earnings would harm the general foreign currency earning. However unless they look at the general picture, understanding the matter would be difficult. Nevertheless, in general, the current foreign currency earning still exceeds the previous year.

Reliance on other sources than exports as major source of foreign currency earning is not healthy and the government is working to change this reality. This is because; some 75 per cent of the country's exports commodities are agricultural products with low value. The government is doing its level best to address scarcity of foreign currency reserve. In this regard, the manufacturing sector is expected to play crucial role and accelerate structural change. So the solution is structural transformation of the economy to improve manufacturing exports and the construction of industrial parks both in regional states and at federal level is part of this initiative. This would help to improve the contribution of the manufacturing sector for export earnings.

Hence to enhance the export earnings from the manufacturing sector, the National Bank of Ethiopia has instructed private and public firms to prioritize industrial products that boost export. Private banks also engaged in providing loan for manufacturing firms. However, there is a gap between supply and demand and to overcome the problems the government is eyeing various options. Particularly registering firms that need hard currency by the National Bank of Ethiopia is taken as a remedial action.

There are some measures that the government has taken as it has to use its own policy banks. This has pressured those parities that use private banks to transfer their money to the commercial bank of Ethiopia. Being this the case, the National Bank of Ethiopia is striving to make the monitoring and assessment fair. However, in general, the foreign currency shortage would continue to be a challenge in the foreseeable future, because as the economy continues to grow, the demand would also increase.

Regional peace and stability

Apart from leading IGAD for many years, the Ethiopian government has been at the forefront of ensuring peace and stability in the Horn region. We understand well that we could not sustain the fast economic growth and realize Ethiopian renaissance in the absence of sustainable peace in the region.

We forever stand for peace. Using all available legal means, we will continue to fight against anti peace forces in the region. For a long time, the government has not left no stone unturned to bring peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea but in vain. Hence, having evaluated our policy towards Eritrea, we are right now preparing a new policy that will hopefully resolve the stalemate between these two sisterly countries. The new policy will be disclosed to the public at large after it is discussed and ratified by the pertinent body.

At this particular time, ensuring peace and stability in the Gulf and Red Sea regions has become crucial as terror threats are looming over across this region due to the recent Yemeni crisis and the presence of ISIS and al-Shabaab in Somalia. Moreover, the Syria crisis seems to get worse. Therefore, we need to understand the current geopolitical situation in these regions in this way. There are some countries that forge ties with Eritrea and Somalia unilaterally.

So, to confront such looming threats, we are working closely with countries of Gulf Cooperation Council and our neighbours through issuing timely diplomatic policy. We follow a policy that brings a win- win solution to our common problems in the region.

We still have good relationship with Somalia. Recently a new administration has come to power. We will continue our strategic relation with this administration. We will continue to make the sacrifice we have been paying to make Somalia peaceful and stable again. Our defence forces will continue to fight al-Shabaab within or without AMISOM's mission. We have also building the capacity of their security forces with whom we work closely. So does in the leadership level.

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