Ato Hailemariam Desalegn, previously Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, was sworn in as the new Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia on Friday (September 21st). An extraordinary session of the House of People’s Representatives approved the nomination of Ato Hailemariam by the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which had elected him as chairperson of the party last Saturday. Taking the oath of office, Prime Minister Hailemariam said: “With the decision of the EPRDF and the parliament, I am very happy to take the responsibility of being prime minister.” Education Minister, Ato Demeke Mekonnen, elected last week as deputy chairperson of the EPRDF, was elected Deputy Prime Minister, taking over the post from Ato Hailemariam.
Following the swearing in, Ato Hailemariam thanked Parliament for the honour they had done in asking him to serve as Prime Minister. He was, he said, taking office at a time when Ethiopia under the wise and farsighted leadership of the late Prime Minister Meles had “turned a corner to become one of three fastest economies in the world”. It was very different from the possibility of utter disintegration that it had faced 21 years earlier. “Thanks to the unreserved self sacrifice of our great leader as well as the immense efforts of the peoples of Ethiopia, despondency has finally given way to hope; and darkness to brightness.” Ato Hailemariam said his responsibility would be one of ensuring the continuity of the process that the party had put on a solid basis under Prime Mister Meles’ visionary leadership; to work on the basis of collective leadership to ensure the continued implementation of the policies and strategies laid down and further enhancing and strengthening of the results already achieved in economic development and democratization. Ato Hailemariam referred to the late Prime Minister as a brilliant generator of ideas, the embodiment of self-sacrifice, a true man of the people and a rare specimen of hard work and dedication who relentlessly championed the cause of the poor, leading his party in the successful fight against poverty and backwardness. So the first order of business and his responsibility as the new prime minister was ensuring the continuity of these policies and of honouring his legacy.
Ato Hailemariam noted agricultural development was the central element of the Growth and Transformation Plan and a significant driver of economic growth. The efforts made to modernize agricultural practices and improve productivity would be expanded with further work towards changes in attitude and developing skills through increased adult education processes and the introduction of more advanced agricultural practices. There would be intensive efforts to expand irrigation, and measures to enhance the role and the share of the private sector in the expansion of commercial agriculture. Government efforts to improve the status of pastoralists and agro-pastoralists would continue with encouragement of settlement in villages to allow for the provision of access to water and other amenities, the introduction of techniques of modern animal husbandry and the development of crop production. Ethiopia, of course, has the largest number of pastoralists and agro-pastoralists in Africa.
The new Prime Minister noted the importance of tapping the country’s large youth population and of improving their educational and entrepreneurial skills. The youth, he said, “will indeed be the solid basis on which our future prosperity and development will depend.” The important role of universities, research centers and professional associations in building a democratic culture was underlined. He also spoke of the need to increase the role of mathematics and science in educational curricula, and the importance of increasing the participation of women in development, emphasizing the need to expand mother and child health protection, and provision for people with special needs.
Ato Hailemariam stressed that the vision of the party and government was to become a middle income economy within a decade. Industrial and manufacturing growth would be pivotal in ensuring the necessary growth of a middle class to help achieve this. The government would continue to support foreign direct investment but also give special emphasis to nurturing domestic private sector involvement. It would hold public-private consultation forums to encourage the development of the private sector; it would also address the various bottlenecks that had stifled private sector participation. The government would make every effort to speed up development and expansion of micro and small-scale enterprises, and facilitate housing, railway and road construction projects to resolve urban housing and transport challenges. The new Prime Minister noted that the rate of inflation was falling but said more measures were needed to bring it down to “healthier levels”. He hoped the better rains of the past rainy season would contribute significantly to this. The Prime Minister said the expansion of the economic infrastructure was the key to ensuring growth of the productive sectors of the economy, and the government would redouble efforts to speed up the timely completion of the road, railway, hydropower, telecom and transport infrastructure projects laid down in the Growth and Transformation Plan. He said Prime Minister Meles had given maximum priority to the realization of the construction of the Renaissance Dam, and added: “we will do everything in our power to make sure the completion of the dam, if possible ahead of schedule.”
Ato Hailemariam spoke of the need to address the corrupt practices of the rent seeking political economy and of mobilizing the public to help deal with sources of corruption which he itemized as the “land and tax administration system, public procurement procedures and the inefficiency of our trading system.” He said the government would create an environment in which people could play an active role in meeting these challenges. The reform movement, already underway in public institutions, would be further strengthened to improve good governance and ensure civil servants had a real sense of public service. He spoke of the importance of the justice system to ensure the protection of basic freedoms and establish a competitive free market system. He said the police and courts will expand their ongoing reform programmes to meet expectations. Drastic legal measures would be taken to put a stop to corrupt practices, and the supervisory measures introduced by Parliament in recent years would be increased.
At the same time, the government would continue to provide support to strengthen human rights and democratic institutions to help develop a democratic culture, working with the Human Rights Commission, the Office of the Ombudsman, the National Electoral Board, legally functioning press and media institutions and opposition political groups. The Prime Minister noted the government was ready to work closely with independent civic organizations, professional associations and other mass organizations which had, he said, “an indispensable role to play in developing the nascent efforts to build a mature democratic order.” It would, however, take all necessary measures to deal with any forces that attempted to engage in political and terrorist activity under the guise of religion.
The Prime Minister said the government would continue to maintain the influential voice that the late Prime Minister Meles had developed in regional, continental and international fora. It would continue his efforts to provide for peace and stability in the Horn of Africa, working for a successful end to the negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan, and in Somalia. He noted the immense contribution the defense forces had made to peacekeeping. This would continue. He said the National Defence Forces were firmly committed to defend the constitutional order from any internal and external attacks and they deserved admiration for the way they discharged their missions so successfully. They and the people would continue to guard against all those trying to carry out acts of terror with either internal or external support. Ethiopia, he said, “will remain as a stable and democratic nation within the Horn of Africa.”
In conclusion, the new Prime Minister asked everybody to intensify their efforts to fully and successfully implement the aims and vision of their late great leader; he hoped that the new Ethiopian New Year (2005) would be a year of success and of exceptional progress.