By Mohammed Taha Tawakel
Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said that Ethiopia is seeking a "win-win" relation with Egypt, saying that his country was seeking good relations with Cairo.
In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, Desalegn said that Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi is committed to relations between Egypt and Ethiopia.
The Prime Minister also praised "excellent" relations between Ethiopia and Turkey, saying that relations between the two countries have been gathering momentum.
The Ethiopian Premier also addressed several issues during the interview, including the activities of the Somali militant group Al-Shabaab and South Sudan's peace talks.
Anadolu Agency: Your Excellency Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, what does the elimination of Al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane mean to Somalia and the region?
Prime Minister: I feel that, you know, terrorism is a global problem. And therefore, the death of the leader of Al-Shabaab, Ahmed Abdi Godane, means a lot to Somalia, to the neighboring countries as well.
It is simply because this man was instrumental in destabilizing and terrorizing the Somali people as well as the neighboring countries. So now there is a chance for the Somali people to get peace and tranquility in Somalia and establish a strong Somali state, which can co-exist with its neighbors in a peaceful, friendly and neighborly manner, so that we can cooperate together having a very strong Somalia as a country.
So this is very important for the Somali people at first and then to the region also – and to the continent and to the global community. So we see it as a strong achievement.
AA: Can this be taken as the beginning of the end of Al-Shabaab in Somalia? How confident are you that Somalia constitutes a functioning state?
PM: First of all, this shows the beginning of the end of Al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab becomes the weakest organization. And, besides, the Somali people will get a chance to liberate from the yoke of Al-Shabaab.
Al-Shabaab has forced the Somali people to stay under the yoke. This is a chance for the people of Somalia to be free from Al-Shabaab. The Somali people will institute a functioning state from now onwards.
You know there is a plan in 2016 that the Somali people have to elect their own leaders. In order for this election to take place, the weakening or elimination of Al-Shabaab is important so that the people of Somalia will get a chance to elect their own leaders.
We will support strengthening of institutions of the government of Somalia. So I think this is the beginning of the end of Al-Shabaab influence in Somalia.
AA: Regarding South Sudan, the country's warring parties are currently in negotiations that have proven to be very slow. What is the fundamental issue that is slowing them down?
PM: First of all, the process of the negotiations is slow. But the region, IGAD and member states have tried their best to bring this negotiation to an end as quickly as possible so that there will be peace and tranquility in South Sudan.
But we still have hope that the leaders will have commitment, strong commitment. What is lacking now is strong commitment from the leaders' side, and especially from the leader of the opposition party.
We see that there is a lack of commitment. So I think that is an important issue to be addressed, because the people of South Sudan need peace and tranquility and they need stability. They need a good livelihood; they have been suffering for the last many, many years, and now the war has to stop.
And with that belief, we still urge the parties to the negotiation to complete the negotiation as quickly as possible.
AA: Do you see light at the end of the tunnel? I mean, could this problem in South Sudan be resolved any time soon?
PM:I think there is hope that this problem will be resolved as quickly as possible. But that needs strong commitment from both leaders – specifically, the rebels, because they are the ones who have not signed the recent protocol agreement.
AA: Ethiopia and Egypt are enjoying diplomatic rapprochement, which climaxed with the Malabo meeting in Equatorial Guinea between you and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi. How are relations now?
PM: First of all, the relationship between Ethiopia and Egypt is a longstanding relation. We want to continue building on our good relations.
There has been, you know, misbehaving practices in previous regimes, like the Mubarak regime, the Morsi regime. They were, you know, trying to destabilize Ethiopia using rebel groups that are supported and nurtured by Eritrea.
And I think that was a failure. These leaders were wrong, because that harms the good relationship between Ethiopia and Egypt. But they failed. They could not succeed in their will to destabilize Ethiopia through various means.
Any government who tries to destabilize Ethiopia in a proxy, from a distance, they will fail – like Mubarak and Morsi failed.
Currently, in my discussion with al-Sisi, he is committed to relations between Ethiopia and Egypt. I myself am very much committed to having good relations. We have ….to have win win-win from the common resource, the Blue Nile River.
That common resource is common to all of us. Ethiopia has to benefit, and Egypt also has to benefit. I think we have no reason to harm Egypt and Egypt has no reason to deny our right to development.
AA: You accuse Eritrea of being the regional black sheep, although Egypt maintains good relations with Eritrea; the Eritrean president recently visited Cairo. What do you say to this?
PM: As far as the relationship between Egypt and Eritrea is concerned, they are two independent countries and they can have a relationship. The only thing we would not allow and feel that should not happen is if Egypt nurtured rebel groups in Eritrea to destabilize the region.
That kind of approach would be futile. As far as countries' relations are concerned, it is up to countries to have relations. For instance… Sudan is a friend to Eritrea and also to Ethiopia. We do not panic when countries have relations with each other.
The thing we do not help useful is supporting to destabilize. This is our principle and we will stick to this principle. Any country that wants to destabilize another country will be by itself a process or an action which is unlawful. We do not support this kind of action and Ethiopia is always ready to have a strong Egypt, even a strong Eritrea, which lives with its neighbors in a peaceful manner…
Because people live, but regimes might go. So our focus is to have friendly, neighborly relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia. The thing is, now the regime led by President Isaias Afwerki is a regime which is destabilizing the region.
Look what is happening now with Djibouti. They are still continuing to destabilize Djibouti. And Djibouti has appealed to regional organizations, the Arab League and many other international bodies. You can see how destabilizing Eritrea has been to the region.
So they are continuing to wreak havoc. Egypt should understand that this [Eritrean] regime is a destabilizing regime.
AA: Eritrea says Ethiopia has been plotting a change of government in Asmara and that your government is collaborating with Djibouti and the U.S. to this end.
PM: This is baseless. As you know, Eritrea has always been supporting terrorist and extremist elements in the region with the aim of destabilizing the region. It is true that Djibouti is a strategic partner and ally of Ethiopia.
AA: Eritrea and Ethiopia are in a no-war, no-peace situation, while Eritrea is also engaged in destabilizing and harassing Djibouti, which is of course a strategic neighbor of Ethiopia.
PM: First of all, we in the region as IGAD [the Intergovernmental Authority for Development, an East African regional bloc] countries, we have appealed to the international community that Eritrea is destabilizing the region, destabilizing Ethiopia, destabilizing Djibouti, working with Al-Shabaab to destabilize Ethiopia through Somalia and destabilizing Somalia by supporting Al-Shabaab…
We have the right to go to the international community, the UNSC, and the UNSC has passed a strong resolution on sanctioning Eritrea.
I think the international community has to understand this regime has not changed its policy of destabilizing the region.
This is what we have done and we will push it forward. Similarly, we, as close friends to Djibouti, Ethiopia is ready to support Djibouti in any way that helps the stabilization of the region.
So I think we are very close to Djibouti, and our relations – economic, political and people-to-people – is strong… we see that we are supporting each other and continue to support. That is very clear.
AA: Ethio-Turkish bilateral relations are at their highest level. What contributed to these excellent relations? Former Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu has become prime minister. Do you think his leadership will contribute to enhancing Turkish, Africa and Ethio-Turkish relations?
PM: First of all, these are the leaders who have been working very hard to strengthen and foster the relationship between Africa and Turkey, and specifically Ethiopia and turkey...
These are the leaders who made the relationship to be strong. I have been working with all my capacity… Earlier as foreign minister and deputy prime minister… Ahmet Davutoglu, now he is the prime minister and we work very closely to nurture the already excellent relations between Turkey and Ethiopia.
Similarly, the former prime minister who now becomes the president was the one who spearheaded the work of consolidating the relations between our two countries. And that is why our president was there to attend the [Turkish] inauguration ceremony… to deepen our relations.
We know that Turkey wants to make us the headquarters of its relations with Africa… So we will be supporting this initiative. Your existence, the regional [Anadolu Agency] bureau, is also testimony to the fact that relations between Ethiopia and Turkey have been gathering momentum.
AA: What kind of progress has been made in terms of construction of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam?
PM: The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is a dam of great economic significance… It is so not only for Ethiopia, but also for other countries – Sudan, Egypt and other African countries as well.
The power to be produced is a renewable power; it is a green energy, and you know Ethiopia is working very hard to have climate resilient green growth strategy…
Therefore, we feel this dam is very useful to all of us. And the construction of the dam has reached something like 40 percent, and we will continue as per plan. And early [electricity] generation will begin sometime soon.
And Ethiopia is to get some power from the dam. I think this is one of the plans we are working on… We do not face major challenges as far as we are concerned. But the process of engaging downstream riparian countries, Sudan and Egypt, has already been started.
We will continue working with them because we feel that this dam is common and beneficial to all of us. With that spirit, I think we can settle the issue of the downstream impact of the dam when it is completed, so I think I do not see major challenge at this time.
AA: Some say the dam could halt the flow of the river.
PM: For that matter, this is a natural flow. A natural flow of river cannot be stopped. I think this is baseless, unscientific fear... This is a river which always flows. You cannot stop it at all…
We will have some time for filling the dam without stopping the water. We will see how we can scientifically fill the dam. Once the dam gets full, how can you stop the river flowing? The water goes through the turbine and back to its course.
It is not possible to stop the natural course of the river. Therefore, it is baseless fear on the side of the Egyptian people because the politicians and their media were giving them the wrong message. Therefore, we should avoid this by telling them the facts on the ground.
Leaders of both countries are working to achieve the best interest of the people of their respective countries. Ethiopia's position is a win-win strategy for all. It works to ensure the benefits of all parties.
AA: Do you think relations between Ethiopia and Egypt will have an impact on Ethiopia-Sudan relations?
PM: The relation between Ethiopia and Egypt will never impact our relations with Sudan, which is Ethiopia's real partner. Sudan is playing a positive role, not only between Ethiopia and Egypt, but also among the three countries.
Ethiopia has strategic relations with Sudan. We have bilateral relations and cooperation agreements with Sudan. Ethiopia is striving towards a balanced relation with Sudan and Egypt as well.
AA: A lot is being said concerning your meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. What is expected from your next meeting with the president?
PM: We will meet in the near future. Both of us have given directives to our respective pertinent bodies so that they work together.
AA: Ethiopians are about to take part in national elections. What preparations are being made to ensure the integrity of the polls? What's your general assessment of multi-party democracy in Ethiopia?
PM: We want to send a message to the international community and to all parties who are involved with us in this process that democracy for Ethiopia is not just a choice. Democracy for Ethiopia is an existential matter.
Without democracy in Ethiopia, we cannot have a peaceful and strong Ethiopia. So we need democracy as an existential matter. First, we are multi-ethnic, and in order to accommodate the interests of all, we need a democratic process. Without it, it will be chaos.
Number two: we are multi-religious. The major religions of the world – Christianity and Islam – have been coexisting in Ethiopia. They will continue to co-exist if we are democratic.
Our constitution gives the right for all religions to be equal, and in that sense I think we should have a democratic country and a democratic system.
Thirdly, this is a country with a young population – 80 percent of the people are below 30 years of age. Young people, you know, are dynamic. If you lead them in a democratic way, they are assets for development.
If there is no democracy, then, they become threats. You know there are a number of revolutions taking place in the world by young people because those systems are not democratic…
Our neighborhood is very fragile. If our neighborhood is fragile, we should have a democratic system at home to resist the fragility.
Fifth, it is a global process – you cannot have an undemocratic system to co-exist with the global community... That shows you that we have ample reason to become a democratic country; without democracy, you cannot sustain life as well as the system in the country.
So for that reason, we need to have a democratic system. Therefore, elections are one of the manifestations of democracy… One of the pillars of democracy is elections, so we should have fair, free and just elections and also democratic elections.
We have to abide by this and abide by the law of the land, which is the constitution.
You know elections are something you do it at home and we have opposition parties at home. And you need to be registered to become an opposition party member. We have more than 90 opposition parties registered legally and they are eligible to take part in the elections.
But those rebel groups that take up arms, they do not need elections because they choose to get what they want through armed means. The way you treat legally registered parties, so those that opt for illegal means to change government, so the government will have a right to defend itself militarily, not democratically.
We do not know an opposition party member who has been registered in the country and residing abroad. If anyone wishes for any kind of democratic process, they should come back home, register legally, get the license to become a legally registered party and they can proceed to contest [elections].
AA: And concerning political prisoners?
PM: We do not have political prisoners. We have rebels who have been arrested. They cannot be regarded as activists when they rise up in arms. They choose to take what they want through armed means. They are terrorists.
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