prime minister hailemarian dessalegn, meets former peers
Prime Minister Hailemarian Dessalegn, who is also chairman of the incumbent Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), urged scholars not to shy away from politics, emphasizing the essence of plural political views for a diverse society like Ethiopia.
It is for the first time since assuming the premiership that Hailemariam, who himself was a former member of the academia during his time as dean of Arbaminch Water Technology Institute, has met with thousands of scholars from all universities and research institutions. The meeting, which was held at his office, off Lorenzo Taezaz Street, on March 15, was organized by the Ministry of Science and Technology aiming at promoting Ethiopian Renaissance. The PM, who controlled the floor for the entire day was busy preaching his administration’s five-year strategic plan and answering questions raised from the scholars.
“A multiparty democracy is a matter of survival for Ethiopia,” he said while speaking about the political plan outlined in the strategic plan. However, the current trend in the local politics is complicated and very violent with no attitude for political compromise, he said.
“Ethiopia is a pluralistic state in many aspects when considering ethnicity, religion and culture but there is no democratic culture – even in the ruling party – that could shoulder plural political views,” he said adding that it is unthinkable to build a democratic culture without having internal democracy in political parties including the EPRDF.
“We have to build this culture and open a room for non-violent plural political views. Your contribution in this regard is very essential,” he told the academics.
He also suggested that they form a political party than keeping aloof from national political agendas.
“Why no?” he questioned the attendants who looked surprised with his suggestion.
“I am frank because we have to change the existing zero-sum game of politics imposed on us by the past leftist generation. Now it is a time for this country to have a civilized political engagement,” he told them.
His assertion came 10 months after his party took full control of the parliamentary seats, which seemed ironic for any observer.
Many of the scholars in attendance admired the PM’s aspiration but they were curious on how this could be achieved while his government has been using its power to silence political dissents.
Mehari Redae (PhD) was among the scholars who has raised his critical concerns.
“The anti-terrorism law has been used to silence critical journalists, the tax and the anti-corruption laws have been used similarly to silence critical businesspersons and government employees, respectively,” he said questioning the authenticity of the PM’s call for a civilized political engagement.
PM Hailemariam, however, refuted Mehari’s allegations.
According to him, the EPRDF as well as his government do not panic on critical political views. Rather, the way it is prevailed is an issue of concern.
“What do you expect when I am told that one foreign citizen is ready to bomb Mercato (a local open market) who is caught along with his assistant who happens to be a local journalist. Do you expect me to reject and see the tragedy on my people?” he said explaining why journalists are being jailed.
It can be recalled that courts in some cases have freed journalists because of lack of enough evidences.
He said that the government has sympathy when it comes to private businesspersons but it could not tolerate those causing a significant economic damage.
“Would you believe, if I tell you that we found a businessperson who has built a private jail where he detains employees suspected of reporting to the tax authority? We couldn’t tolerate such businesspersons,” he underlined.
The PM’s meeting came less than a week after he presented his government’s six-month performance report to the House of People’s Representatives (HPR), where he – among a host of other things – admitted that the government should share the blame for the recent unrest in Oromia and other regional states.