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Ethiopian PM: 'It's not proper to stay in power for long'

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed

Editor’s note: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed gave his first interview to a Western news organization when he spoke to the Voice of America’s Horn of Africa service reporter Eskinder Firew, in Addis Ababa, in Amharic. These highlights from their conversation have been edited for brevity and clarity.

For the past year, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has led Ethiopia through dramatic changes. Entrenched ethnic tensions and complex regional conflicts have posed ongoing challenges to the young leader’s reform agenda, but he remains resolute in his desire to make the most of his time in office. Abiy spoke to VOA’s Eskinder Firew about Ethiopia’s relationship with neighbor Eritrea, judicial reforms and the imprint he hopes to leave.

On the occasion of your first anniversary as prime minister, you said, “I am only planning to elevate Ethiopia to high standards, awaken the public and lift up a country that is hanging its head. I don't have any other ill intentions other than that.” What did you mean by that?

I don’t believe that it’s proper to stay in power for long periods of time. And as long as I have power, I believe that I should use that to change people’s lives. But within my efforts working to bring change, there may be errors — but all of my intention and action is aimed at elevating Ethiopia.

My agenda is not to use certain groups. To attack certain groups. Or to push specific groups or oppress people. What I am working on is work that elevates Ethiopians. That’s what I want, and that is what I do.

I can confidently say that I will not be involved in killing people or benefiting by illegal means by taking away from other people’s pockets as long as I am in a position of leadership.

In your message to the government and people of Eritrea on the occasion of Eritrea’s Independence Day, you expressed Ethiopia’s readiness to remain committed to jointly addressing all outstanding issues the countries face. What are these “outstanding issues”?

If we take the problem between Somalia and Kenya, we want Eritrea and South Sudan, along with Ethiopia, to help one another and provide support to solve these issues. We know that any problem between Somalia and Kenya can spill over toward us. Because of this, we would like to work together to solve it.

There is a wide-ranging issue as it relates to South Sudan. We don’t think that Ethiopia alone can solve the problem, and the same when it comes to the problem between us and Eritrea.

And there are also problems between Eritrea and other countries, too. So this is a region that has a lot of problems. But additionally, this is also a region that wants to move in the direction of integration.

The border closing between the two countries (Eritrea and Ethiopia) has continued until today. What is the situation currently?

When the peace process started between the two sides, we saw the borders were widely opened on both sides. We can say that people were moving to and from — not like foreign countries, but movement similar to what happens within a country. There weren't strict controls.

And many people came from there to here, and from here to there. But that was not the only thing. Ethiopian opposition members who were based in Eritrea returned to Ethiopia, and Eritrean opposition members based in Ethiopia returned to Eritrea.

There needs to be a system where there is control and a custom-check system. And we need that capacity so that it would be possible to know what people are bringing in and out. There is a concern that if we leave the borders opened uncontrolled, that it would be difficult to prevent problems. We want to ensure that, if people are going from Ethiopia to Eritrea or from Eritrea to Ethiopia, it has to be for peace, development and tourism.

Regarding change in Ethiopia and legal reforms, some people say that, if the measures taken are enough, we would see the results. But because the measures taken aren't enough, we see continuation of some things. What’s your response?

Everyone should get equal treatment in the face of the law. It should never be used as a tool for revenge. When we respect the rule of law, it should be in accordance to that.

So, when a government takes action, there are some who say that this decision was made by someone from my ethnic group or my community. But unless this thinking is gone or is depleted, it threatens the possibility of protecting the rule of law.

Within just this past year, there are so many people that could be jailed or face detention. Thousands are in prison charged with national security, corruption and displacement, etc.

There is no need to put so many people in such a situation, because we want to reduce crime and not add prisoners. But we still have people undergoing these legal processes through the federal and regional levels.

But this is not because we are not taking action, it is because we are in the process of focusing on clamping down on crimes that are serious. On the other hand, if we don’t think that the law doesn't apply to all equally, we can't have a sustainable future.


+1 #11 Lakwena 2019-06-01 18:06
Quoting kabayekka:
You know some of these African leaders even say they are rich enough to even be doing politics.

They should be in the beautiful African countryside looking after farm animals and not people.

They insist with all their hearts, mind and family that their fellow black Africans need them most to stay put in state power.

In other words Kabakayeka, like invalids and/or thieves, people who are incompetent and not in control of their personal lives, often try at all cost to control others.

That is how and where all the bullies, dictators, tyrants and fascist (criminals) come from. And whoever is not controllable is either imprisoned or crushed (destroyed).
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+1 #12 Omuzira Ente 2019-06-01 18:07
I have always argued that President Museveni is more democratic that Mao in his DP and Akena in his UPC and this explains why President Museveni who fears competition feels very comfortable with them in IPOD because he knows they are worse than him.

Listening to Lord Mayor Elias Lukwago today on Top Radio it became very clear that DP under MAO is worse than NRM which atleast uses Govt structures to pretends to have structures that are functional and more independent in choosing their leaders at least at grassroots level leave alone the top .

MAO and Akena whose wives work in state house are just confusing the public and showing Dr Besigye and Gen Muntu as working for NRM when they are the one working for NRM.

Ugandans need to shy away from the likes of Dr.Bwanika and Hon Mabike who have started asking Hon Bobi for positions instead of going down and stand as MPs are equally very dangerous characters who should not be listened to
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0 #13 Akot 2019-06-01 20:46
kabayekka, understood but,

Don't forget Museveni is a conqueror with no land attachment to the Uganda & can his children can live any where in the world with tax money he steals, as Amin did!

Ugandans are maintain Museveni in power through the tribalsitic system that chaines them to tribal belonging, without common opposition leader to lead them to Independence!

Museveni is the only one not from a tribal land in the country that is accepted by ALL;

- tribal leaders maintain the tribalsitic system & subjects are happy with it,

- he owns tax money & distributes as he wishes,

Ugandans will be in more trouble with themselves when Museveni dies, as he will leave his place to his family member!
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0 #14 Akot 2019-06-01 20:55
Engola Patrick, well stated, but,

It's the people who have the power, through UNITY as & when needed, to make their stand or dictators/useless rulers say on & tell the world they are the only ones to occupy the top place!

EU election resulst said NO to old politics! Europeans, especially the young, woke up, know the future they want is not what has been built up to now!

Ugandans will have a start as to what governance they want after their UNITY brings an end to Museveni!
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0 #15 Akot 2019-06-01 21:01
Kumakech, agreed, but,

Change of leaders is brought about by the people & not otherwise!

Even Congolese woke up to UNITE against Kabila otherwise, he would never have left!

Ugandans are no exception, their situation is worse as they hold on to the tribalistic system, even knowing without it, Museveni has no land to stand on in the zone!

Why are Ugandans so afraid of themselves & prefer Museveni?

Ugandans do know no outsider will blame Museveni as long as our people maintain the tribalistic system, right?
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0 #16 Akot 2019-06-01 21:06
Lakwena, agreed.

This is why Museveni brought Ugandans to NOTHING in order to bully them as he wants, while using his tax money to buy off who ever he wants!

What a pitty Ugandans are their own enemies making Museveni their life time ruler, then what when he will be no more?
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0 #17 kirya 2019-06-01 21:40
m7 loves the lime light and the goodies that come with the position.

History will be laid out and show the worst human being ever to occupy the state house.

The most corrupt the briber the looter the killer and a pretender of all times.
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