By Prince Kurupati
Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed says the country needs more time if it is to compete with other economic and political powerhouses both on the African continent and abroad. Ahmed aired these sentiments while addressing the local business community at a hotel in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.
Ahmed who was sworn into office on April 2nd said that Ethiopians need not expect much change in the short term as he needs time to correct past mistakes and injustices. Ahmed is the first Prime Minister hailing from the Oromo region where the capital is located; this is the region where most protests have originated including the one which ultimately led to the declaration of a state of emergency a day after the resignation of Hailemariam Desalegn, Ahmed’s predecessor. The Oromo region is home to a third of Ethiopia’s population of about 100 million. This region has had grievances (others leading to violent protests) with past Prime Ministers arguing that they are marginalised and excluded from benefitting from the country’s resources.
The areas that Prime Minister Ahmed will be focusing and prioritizing on first include unifying the country and helping advance the country’s economic fortunes. It’s these two areas that the Prime Minister needs more time addressing.
Unifying the nation
Ethiopia has for a long time battled with ethnic tensions and civil unrest. Though this challenge at one point looked like it was about to go away, in the last two years, it emerged showing its ugly face once again. Most of the protesters were from the Oromo region and they protested against what they saw as marginalisation by the then Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn. The pressure finally took its toll on Hailemariam Desalegn as he stepped down after nearly 5 years in power.
Ahmed knew at his swearing-in ceremony that he was inheriting a country deeply divided and on the verge of a civil conflict thus he stated, “We need to address existing inequalities that led to recent unrests.” While at the time he failed to outline the steps he was going to take to address these existing inequalities, he finally did during his meeting with the local business community in Ethiopia.
The first step that Ahmed is going to take is to root out corruption in the public sector. Ethiopia’s economy is run in the same way as the Chinese economy in which the state is the major actor. Most state enterprises are monopolies in their fields thus they were some top executives and managers who used their position to rip off citizens and syphon public funds. Ahmed said that a public sector reform is looming where the government will review the operations of all state enterprises and remove all unfit individuals.
Ahmed then touched on improved investments in education, health and the agriculture sectors. Ahmed said that his administration is going to ensure that everyone especially the youth and women does have access and opportunities in farming and also that the education and health sectors are going to be developed in order to cater for everyone’s needs.
While acknowledging that these are the top areas his administration need to focus on if the country is to move past civil unrests, Ahmed informed the public that this is no easy feat as he needs time to implement his plans thus change may not be visible in the short term.
Improving Ethiopia’s economic fortunes
Even though Ethiopia has been battling with civil unrest over the past few tears, the country’s economic fundamentals have remained in place. The country has been posting 10 percent economic growth rates each year over the past decade and is one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies. Despite this supposedly impressive economic performance, Ahmed said the country still has a huge rich-poor gap and it is this gap which has resulted in civil unrests.
To curtail the huge rich-poor divide, Ahmed said that his administration is going to tackle the foreign exchange shortage first. In his words, Ahmed said “The crisis with hard currency will not be solved today, nor in the next 15 or 20 years. There is an urgent need for more cooperation with the private sector to find a solution.” While this statement may not inspire confidence to the millions of Ethiopians on the streets of Addis Ababa and other towns, it is indeed to a larger extent true as it will take time to combat the crisis.
Ahmed said the first feasible step in addressing the foreign exchange shortage will be to encourage more remittances from Ethiopia’s diaspora communities. Ethiopia’s remittances have dwindled over the past couple of years largely owing to the unstable political environment. However, with an improved political environment, Ahmed hopes that it will lead to an increase in remittances.