Africa has been in a constant state of tension in the last few decades, owing to intra and inter conflicts which has caused social, political and economic quagmire in the region. In this interview with OMONU NELSON, the Ethiopian Ambassador to Nigeria, His Excellency Solomon Abebe Tessema said Ethiopia is once again, engineering enduring peace.
Your country has been in the news over what is considered the dividends of the effective leadership of your Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy's , Is this media attention just a fluke ?
I will like to inform you that Ethiopia is going through waves of change, developments are happening on all fronts, for example, our economy has grown double digits in the last two decades and this has also been confirmed by IMF and other bodies.
In the past, Ethiopians were considered hungry. Some western journalists capitalised on the fact that a lot of people died . Today, Ethiopia has one of the fastest growing economies, not only in Africa but the world at large. This is confirmed by different international bodies.
What are the sectors that have experienced Major changes?
If you take agricultural sector, we can boast of development policies . Ethiopia first gave attention to rural areas . This was basically because the vast majority (80 percent), of Ethiopians live in the rural areas. The government of Ethiopia paid priority attention to agriculture. If you take extension workers for instance, before they live in cities but now they live among the people (the farmers). In every village, there is agric extension officer to teach the people how to farm in the modern way; how to plant their crops in the modern ways, and how to control plant diseases. These steps have robbed off on the development of Ethiopia and the income of the people. When the agriculture sector grows, it starts feeding industries. The government is also working on the development of industries. Now we have 10 big Industrial Parks.
These industrial parks are bringing investment to Ethiopia, for example, the Awasa Park is already full, very big one, investors from other countries are there, and they produce one of the best products, world standard, they come to invest in Ethiopia because they are advantages for them to do so.
First, cheap labour and two: tax free.
If you produce in Ethiopia, it is free of tax. You can produce anything in Ethiopia and take it to the European and Indian markets; sell free of tax, Australia, Canada etc. Other advantages of doing business with us is cheap labour.
What is the role of peace in the investment flow in Ethiopia?
Ethiopia is a very peaceful country because we have a new Prime Minister, who is working for reconciliation among the people. Prior to his emergence, some groups in Ethiopia were fighting the government, but the new Prime Minister, Ahmed Abiy, is working for reconciliation and peace and has called all opposition parties to a roundtable discussion on how to solve these problems.
The government of Ethiopia is working very hard to create a level playing ground for every opposition party to participate in the election. There is discussion going on and election is going to hold in May 2020 and it will be very democratic. In fact, PM Abiy has proposed limiting prime minister's term to just two.
Before now what was the term limit?
There was no term limit, as far as your party is elected, you are going to be prime minister for as long as your party stays in power. Now there is a limit. Everybody is happy from north to south from east to west, supporting this new government because it is a democratic government which really stands for change.
What about the hydra-headed conflicts in the horn of Africa?
Our region, the East Africa, supports the idea of this new prime minister of Ethiopia. There was no war, no peace situation between Eritrea and Ethiopia after that war. After the war in 1995, at that time there was no peace anywhere. Families were divided, father at one side and children at the other side. The reformist prime minister took courage to work for peace and now Ethiopia is peaceful. The East African governments have agreed to work together for peace. So, now you smell peace in the Horn of Africa. The outcome of that would be strong market for East Africa.
In recent times, women in your country seem to be having it good. What are the push factors?
Women are half of the population, so, if we neglect them, our quest for sustainable development will be in vain. You cannot get development without the participation of the women. Women participation is very vital and important in the quest for development in any country. History has proven that, if women are given the chance, they don't work less than men: in fact, they do more.
Take Indira of India, Angela Merkel of Germany, and Hilary Clinton of US for example out of the countless women leaders making their marks around the world. Come to think of it, women are less corrupt than men because they are mothers. To shape the family women are vital, father is away most times and it is the mother who is at home with the children. Women are mothers, sisters and they are the ones who shape the society. So, to shape the majority of the population, women participation is very essential. That is why in our cabinet 50 percent are women. And this is really exemplary, and the new president elected in Ethiopia is also a woman.
We can talk about Ethiopian-Nigerian relations now?
In the near future we are going to have an industrial led economy. These also go with social development. To achieve development, education is very important. During the military regime, there were only two universities in Ethiopia, Addis Ababa and Adamayu universities.
The intake capacities of these universities were just 3500. The people in the rural areas suffered to get education they had to walk kilometres from their villages. But now, there is elementary school in every village in Ethiopia and many new high schools were also built, so that, education is disseminated to all the country.
There were only two universities as I said before but now there are more than 45 universities. Along with that, they are more than 100 private universities, with the intake of about half a million. Our educational policies are now 30-70, that means 30 percent for arts and 70 percent for science and engineering. This strategy is to get educated people for our industries. As investment is flowing in, there will be no lack of required manpower. Now, Ethiopia turnout half a million graduates, yearly. As we know, development comes with its own problems. If you have a lot of educated people without jobs, it creates social upheavals.
Ethiopia has introduced extension workers system: in health and agriculture. Now the health extension workers are living within the people, teaching them how to prevent diseases. We use to have high incidence of people suffering from malaria, but now, because of the activities of these extension workers, the people now know what to do, to prevent malaria.
Ethiopia is almost done with malaria. There is real time development taking place in the country. There are new roads being built all over the country. We have electric train, electric buses in the city of Addis Ababa, transporting people. We also have electric railway from Addis to Djibouti. Still, our government plans to construct a railway from the north to the port and from the west to the port, with some already under construction.
When you are working for industrialisation power is very important. We believe in clean energy, Ethiopia has the capacity to produce 45,000 megawatts from hydroelectric power and now we are building the biggest dam in Africa on the Nile River, which is about 70 percent complete and it is the 10th largest dam in the world. It is on the border of Sudan and Ethiopia.
This can generate 6,450 megawatts of electricity when completed. This gives power not only to Ethiopia but Sudan, Kenya, Djibouti etc. For example, we are selling electricity to Djibouti and to Sudan. We are also extending 500mega watts to Kenya, the power lines is under construction. What Ethiopia gets benefits its neighbours and what the neighbour gets benefits Ethiopia. We are working to build our neighbours, with whom we are tied economically.
What's Ethiopia's relationship with Nigeria like?
Ethiopia and Nigeria enjoy an excellent relationship. We have had long standing relationship, and we work together and consult each other on AU issues and international matters. Our ex-prime minister visited Nigeria in 2014, there was JMC (Joint Ministerial Commission) conducted here in Nigeria and many agreements were signed and we are working to achieve those agreements.
Ethiopia and Nigeria share similar issues and the two governments are working together to strengthen the bilateral relations. That is why I am here and I will work towards those bilateral relations that we have. And the economic relations are also good. Alhaji Dangote invested in Ethiopia, he has a very big cement factory there. He is a big, reputable investor in Ethiopia. Adorable and We appreciate it.
Can we put figure to the trade volume between Nigeria and Ethiopia?
I cannot now because I don't have any real figures. I think we are going to do it in the future. Ethiopian airline is in five regions of Nigeria, this is as a result of good relations. Ethiopia airlines flies into Abuja, Lagos, Enugu, Kaduna, Kano on daily basis, Abuja and Lagos seven times a week. Ethiopia and Nigeria have history together. They are Pan Africans, bothered about African issues.