Kicking off the new Parliamentary Year and making history along the way in becoming the first Female President to address the Joint Session of the two Houses, President Sahle-work Zewde has presented the government's agenda for the coming year.
With the coming into power of the new administration headed by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) - ushering in a wave of new reforms - hope and fear was in abundance in Ethiopia over the course of the past one year. In his turbulent year in power the new administration has really seen the good, the bad and the ugly with regard to Ethiopia's political culture. On top of that, PM Abiy and his economic team have overseen one of the worst macroeconomic conditions for Ethiopia in its recent history.
So, the new parliamentary year as well was reopened on October 7, 2019, with griping challenges, both in the national and international political arena, and debilitating economic problems still testing this fragile nation. Accordingly, in her address to the Joint Session of the Houses (the House of People's Representative (HPR) and the House of Federation (HoF)), President Sahle-work has once again outlined the major plans and implementation activities of her government for the upcoming year.
The 'State-of-the-Union' like Speech, which gives a general and in some areas, specific ideas as to what the government plans to do in the next budget year. These includes bills expected to be endorsed by the House, economical and developmental projects, prioritized works to be undertaken in various sectors as well as major reform activities in areas of politics, justice, democracy, governance, security, and diplomacy.
Bearing in mind the government's plan and the impact it has, and the fact that Ethiopia is still under the governance of 100 percent EPRDF parliament, The Reporter has reached out to some of the leaders of the opposition political parties in Ethiopia for their views.
The fluid concept of Medemer
One of the issues that the President raised in her landmark address to the joint Houses is the concept of 'Medemer'. 'What does 'Medemer' actually mean?' 'What does it connote?' Were some of the questions which started to surface after the calming down of the so called Abiymania.
The President started off by highlighting some of major political events in the previous year, during which time, reform work on improvement in the areas of equitable redistribution of resources, democracy, the justice system, economic activity, and the politics has started. However, the shortcomings in those areas have not yet been fully addressed, Sahle-work believes. According to her, some of the shortcomings were due to institutional deficits, and naturally fixing problems in such conditions would require time.
While expounding on the ongoing reform activity, she noted that it was being undertaken based on PM Abiy's brain child 'the Medemer philosophy.'
According to her, this philosophy has rested on three main national objectives, specifically: Preserving and broadening political and economic activities that are deemed to be positive; Redressing mistakes committed in the past; and Ensuring the interests of the future generation considered to be beneficiary.
Even though the philosophy, at its core prescribes harmony for its citizens across the country; it has however, raised eyebrows in the political sphere - over the legitimacy of thought and applicability - when the president raised it before the Houses.
Following Monday's opening of the parliamentary year, several groups and political analysts have begun directing their criticisms against the plan, and posed serious questions as to why the president has raised it, while this philosophy has not yet been defined well enough or whether if it is a political ideology or just an individual person's motivational tool.
"Frankly speaking, since the beginning, I did not understand what Medmer is all about," Chairman of the All Ethiopian Unity and Democratic Party (AEUO), Mamushet Amare told The Reporter.
He further said that he wondered why the president incorporated it in her speech while she was supposed to present the government's plan, neutral from any political party.
"We have been hearing of this Medemer discourse, since PM Abiy assumed the premiership role. But, it has always confused me; what concrete role it can play in bridging our divided society. Ok, what are we looking to add by coming together? What are we seeking really? the sum of what?" Mamushet asks, adding, "They [the ruling party officials] claim that no quarrel exists among the people. But, we believe that the existing politics has contributed to, and made the people quarrel with each other."
Going a bit further, an outspoken political figure Yilkal Getahun (Eng.), Chairman of the Ethiopian National Movement Party (ENMP), dismisses the 'Medmer Philosophy' which he rather brands as an "immature and Childish" philosophy.
"There is no ideology termed Medemer or something close to it in the world," Yilkal said adding that he even was caught by surprise when PM Abiy, on his state visit to Tokyo, talked about it with the Japanese President last month.
"I could not see it as a strong and important philosophy, in respect to political philosophy. Looking at the depth and complexity of the challenges in the country, I don't see the ruling party capable enough to resolve the country's painful problems by any means, let alone using such kinds of immature and childish philosophy or what so ever you name it," Yilkal told The Reporter.
Noting the positives it has, Wasihun Tesfaye, Party Affairs Director at the recently unified, the Ethiopian Citizen's Social Justice Party (ECSJ), appreciates the very idea of Medemer. However, he also shares the similar questions raised by the two leaders of the political party's regarding the legitimacy of this less understood philosophy to be counted as government's philosophy and be presented before the legislature.
"This philosophy can be seen in good faith in which the PM has brought to fore with an aim of ensuring unity and harmonization among our people. But, it has not yet been well-defined. Whether if it is the ruling party's ideology or the ideology of his party, the Oromo Democratic Party (ODP)?" He said to The Reporter adding that, it should have not been included in the president's speech as if it is guiding principle of the Ethiopian government.
The question over the core objective, aim and significance of the Medmer philosophy has been widely debated even among the wider range of the society. The PM has also been asked by the media in various occasions, in what it entails. Recently, he told local media that he has written a new book, explaining what Medmer is about, and that it is expected to be published the coming week. Speculation abound that, Abiy's party ODP will begin discussing the Medemer issue and will be presented before the ruling party (EPRDF) soon.
Highlighting the major achievements made by the reform initiatives in the political and economic fields, the President said that, building the reforms on firm foundations, making upcoming election free and fair, controlling illicit trade and inflation, as well as boosting agricultural productivity are part of the government's plan.
Praising the efforts made by the federal and regional governments in repatriating Internally Displaced People (IDP's) to their homes, Sahle-work said that it will be the government's assignment to return the rest of the 100,000 IDP's remaining; and rehabilitate them.
It can be recalled that due to internal conflicts and drought, the number of IDP's once reached well over 2,000,000 people. However, the number has since then declined to 100,000. The president indicated that works will be done to make the current relative peace durable through building the capacity of security organs and the defense army.
Addressing the House regarding the concerns of the upcoming election, she said that, the government will put all its effort, in partnership with stakeholders, to make the upcoming election free and fair and widen the political space.
Laying out the plans for the year, the government has planned to improve the justice sector, correct macroeconomic imbalances, boost export performance, create more employment opportunities, increase tax revenue and investments. She further went on to say that, due attention will be given to power projects, including expediting the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) to increase power supply and meet the local demand.
Touching up on all sectors, Sahle-work said that attention will also be given to irrigated agriculture. Ethiopia has harvested 316 million quintals in the 2010/11 production season, achieving 78 percent of the target of 406 million quintals, increasing the overall production by 4.29 percent compared to the previous year.
Business as usual
Though the government, persistent over the implementation of the plans laid out for the New Year, opposition leaders are not impressed; questioning the ruling government's capacity to implement them with its current shape and ability to execute such big project plans.
For Mamushet, the current state of the ruling party does not allow the government to bring any change, let alone resolve the prospective challenges the country will face ahead of the year.
"I have carefully listened to the government's plan, on the day the President made the opening remarks. Honestly, I found no new thing from her speech. They have presented the same type of government plan that we have noticed in the past 27 plus years. Like we saw in previous years, nothing will come in effect apart from feeding an ambition," Mamushet said. "If you ask me any new issue I have found in this year's parliament opening session, there is nothing I can tell you, except it is business as usual," he said adding, "They only offer us (opposition representatives) to attend sessions. It is a good step for the government to invite us, however, it is not enough."
Furthermore, Mamushet highlighted another issue that he thought should have been addressed in the speech. He said that the lack of inclusion of the demands of the opposition groups with regards to the recently endorsed electoral law has left him bewildered, even though the speech included bits on the upcoming election.
As it can be recalled, a few months back, the HPR endorsed the new election law before the end of the parliamentary year. However, the opposition cried foul and complained that their inputs and recommendations were not included in the law. To press the government into compliance, some 70 opposition groups recently released a statement entailing, they will stage a hunger strike if the parliament does not reconsider the already endorsed election law.
House in disarray!
Asked of his opinion on the plans of the government, Yilkal responded in frustration as to how capable the ruling party is, in undertaking its duties, when they themselves suffer from internal rifts and possibly split among its four members.
"How can an organization fix the country's vast and prolonged challenges, when it is unable to fix its own internal problems?" he questions.
Yilkal is also wary of the plan that specifically highlights the restructuring and reform of the national intelligence and security apparatus, stated in the presidential remark.
Furthermore, the opposition groups, advice the government, to focus on pressing issues with the level of their respective urgency, especially in the cases that are identified as urgent public demands.
"For me, there should be a priority given to the rehabilitation process of the internally displaced people even before the election," Mamushet urged, adding that the ruling party should also first resolve its internal problem before trying to fix other issues in the country.
The same sentiments are further echoed by Wasihun of ECSJ, saying "The internal problem that is swelling among the ruling party's members and ensuring rule of law in the country should be seriously dealt with before anything else, to meet the desperate need of the public and the nation as a whole."
More than anything, the upcoming election has become a concern. Fear and uncertainty among the public has been prevalent even though the government has pledged to strength the law enforcing activities to enable free and fair elections.
Critics argue that the government of PM Abiy Ahmed has lost significant public support, over arrests of radical ethno-nationalist groups - especially those found in the Oromia regional state - with some viewing it as a political move.
His government is also criticized for its inability to maintain the rule of law in the country.
The Oromo Democratic Party (ODP), which PM Abiy chairs, has now emerged as a dominant party in the ruling coalition, despite talks of the coalition party transforming itself into a single unified party before the next general election.
ECSJ, in a strongly worded statement issued on Tuesday, went against the usual norm of supporting the government.
ECSJ was established in May of this year, after seven parties merged together. It has, in its leadership, prominent political figures like Berhanu Nega, who was the leader of Arbenoch Ginbot 7, and Andualem Arega who was secretary of Unity for Democracy and Justice, among others.
In its statement, it states that things had not turned out like expected; especially with the way the alleged "reform" is going. The issue of Addis Ababa and the security situation in the Amhara region of Ethiopia are among the issues raised. With regards to Addis Ababa, acting Mayor Takele Uma's (who is one of the central committee members of ODP) move to organize a special police force for the city is hasn't been taken lightly.
"The city has its own police force and the federal police force is also in the city." Therefore, said the statement, "the formation of a special police force in the city is not acceptable." It has also called on the Addis Ababa City Administration not to implement a new police uniform, recently introduced and ceremoniously inaugurated. ECSJ condemned what it called an effort to erode the city's constitutionally-guaranteed autonomy.
On the issue of conflicts in the Amhara region, the party called for the Broadcast authorities to take measures on those media outlets that are aggravating the situation in the region. However, the statement did not name the names of the media.
Sahle-work stressed that the government, in its part, will work aggressively to strengthen the security institutions, to change the "relative peace into an absolute one."