To indulge in corruption, one must think not twice but twenty thousand times, says Ethiopia’s President Mulatu

A delegation of seven journalists from Rwanda and Uganda was recently in Ethiopia. During their ten day tour, they got to interview Ethiopia’s President Dr Mulatu Teshome from his Palace in the Capital Addis Ababa. The New Times' (TNT) Kenneth Agutamba was part of the delegation and below he brings you excerpts of the interview with the Ethiopian President.
Journalists pose for a photo with Ethiopia's President Dr Mulatu Teshome at his Palace in the Capital Addis Ababa after the interview session. (Courtesy photos)
Journalists pose for a photo with Ethiopia's President Dr Mulatu Teshome at his Palace in the Capital Addis Ababa after the interview session. (Courtesy photos)

A delegation of seven journalists from Rwanda and Uganda was recently in Ethiopia on invitation of the government for the purpose of sharing the country’s development trajectory with a special focus on infrastructure investment. During their ten day tour, they got to interview Ethiopia’s President Dr Mulatu Teshome from his Palace in the Capital Addis Ababa. The New Times' (TNT)  Kenneth Agutamba was part of the delegation and below he brings you excerpts of the interview with the Ethiopian President.

Thank you, Your Excellency for this opportunity. My name is Kenneth Agutamba representing The New Times newspaper, of Rwanda; I will make the opening remarks on behalf of my colleagues, here, who also represent various major media houses. We have been here for now a week during which we have   seen some really impressive investments in several infrastructural projects including in housing, transport, manufacturing and energy; could you put all these in the context of Ethiopia’s development trajectory?

From what I have been briefed, you are all trying to understand the development trajectory of Ethiopia and how the countries in this region can learn from each other and adopt best practices to transform the lives of our people by ending poverty. By now I am sure that you have an idea regarding Ethiopia’s GDP growth and national transformation plan. The current transformation plan of Ethiopia started in 2011 and it’s now complete and we are now embarking on the second phase of the growth and transformation plan. This is all about the structural transformation of Ethiopia from being a rural and agricultural led economy to one of high productivity and industrial led.

We have analysed our comparative advantage as a country on which we believe this industrialization will be founded and will easily lead to benefits of majority especially employment creation. We shall be focusing on developing the manufacturing sector for example, to not only create jobs but also put Ethiopia in the global value and supply chain. By the year 2025, we shall be in a position to be called a middle-income economy. In the past, Ethiopia has been known for overriding poverty, for instance, in the year 2004/2005, 56 percent of our population was living below the poverty line; through our efforts, we have been able to drastically decrease that number to about 21 percent. However, we still have a big number of our population still under poverty and it’s our commitment that through the transformation second phase plan, we can reduce that number to at least 15 percent.

How shall we achieve this? And this is the context of all the projects you have visited, so far. It shall take the physical and economic infrastructure including roads, railways, energy and all those inputs that we deem necessary to achieve our ambitions.

Like I said, our industries shall be founded on areas where we have the most comparative advantage and these include textile, leather processing, agro-processing, pharmaceuticals and many others; these are the ones we are paying much attention to, giving them special incentives to attract foreign investors to get involved. The reason for this is simple, we have absolute comparative advantage in these sectors not only in Africa but worldwide. We have access to cheap human labour, the cheapest electricity in the world, a wide local and regional market and internationally, we have many regions where our products can enter duty-free.

We are also investing in human infrastructure to develop the skills required to support an industrialized economy. Twenty years ago, Ethiopia had only one university plus about three colleges, today, we boast of having about 37 universities and by the year 2020, we shall have over 50 state universities plus different technical training colleges and we are also encouraging the private sector to be part of investment in human capital.

Question from NTV-Uganda:…You have invested quite a lot in energy production and with the completion of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD); you will have an additional 6000mw, that’s too much electricity for this region’s standards, what are you going to do with all of this resource?

Ethiopia, with a big population of over 95million people and huge ambitions to industrialize; the amount of electricity we have today is about 2300mw, but soon, another project will add 1850mw-this is already completed, and then we have other smaller projects, which if added together, we are in the range of about 5000mw; in two years’ time, when we complete the GERD, Ethiopia shall have an installed capacity of at least 10000mw. We have also projected another 7000mw to be produced during the second phase of transformation plan, this means we shall have about 17000mw by the year 2020.  So, to put this in perspective, we have 2300mw now and in 5 years, we are looking at 17000mw; now, this may sound ‘too much’ for Ethiopia but as a matter of fact, it’s far from adequate given the kind of industrial ambitions we have set.

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President Mulatu during the interview last week. 

Interjection: Why is that?

Countries with more or less the same or smaller population as Ethiopia, such as Turkey with a population of less than 80million people and quite industrialized has  a generation capacity of about 60000mw, yet it’s still not enough for them. So to answer your question, 17000mw will not be enough for Ethiopia especially given that this is a resource we have promised to share with our other fellow African countries. We have already connected to Djibouti, Sudan, Kenya and that’s showing solidarity of Africa rising together by sharing what we have in line with Ethiopia’s commitment to regional integration. In summary, with industrialization, both in Ethiopia and elsewhere in Africa, the demand for electricity is going to be higher and we can’t say that now we have enough, for us and our neigbours.

Follow-up question from TNT: Your Excellency, I know that Rwanda and Ethiopia have had a conversation regarding the exportation to Kigali, 400mw, what’s the progress of this plan?

I think that’s a sorted matter, whether they’re 400mw or more, as long as there’s a transmission line between the two countries, we are more than ready to deliver the supply; we are not rationing. This electricity we are producing has a market and if we sell 400, 800 or even 1000mw to Rwanda, we are going to earn hard currency. Such a transaction has to be celebrated on both sides, your country will benefit and Ethiopia, will too but before we get there, we have to work hard to get connected through the transmission line. The transmission lines for 400mw are not simple, it requires between 450kv and 500kv; that’s an expensive investment that all countries involved have to think about.

Qn from TNT:  There’s a bit of ambiguity surrounding the Financing of the GERD; we have been told it’s being completely funded by local resources mobilized from Ethiopians; yet I have also gathered that the project was shunned by multilateral organisations such as the World Bank because of unresolved geopolitical squabbles regarding the use of the Nile river; what can you say to this?

Yes, it is true that Ethiopians are funding works on the GERD, 100 percent. The biggest source of financing is taxes (government revenues) and domestic borrowing through the sale of short-term bonds to Ethiopian citizens or borrowing from local banks. So basically, if there’s will to do something, I don’t think financing can be a problem no matter how big the budget could be. There has to be the will and determination on the side of the government of a country and the citizens. If the people and government move together to execute any ambitious project for the benefit of the nation, then anything is possible.

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Journalists tour one of Ethiopia's infrastructure projects. 

TNT Interjection: How about the geopolitics…especially Egypt’s concerns on the likely effects of the dam on the flow of the River Nile?

The bilateral relations between Egypt and Ethiopia are much better than they were a few years ago and we have reached a stage where we understand each other. The flow of the Nile, downstream to Sudan and Egypt, will benefit from the regulated flow of the waters. For instance in the past when the rains were too heavy, Sudan would be flooded, with the dam, this won’t happen. Secondly, which is very important is that Ethiopia is going to invest a lot in watershed management; soil that was previously eroded and taken to the dams will be no more and this is good for both Sudan and Egypt.  Thirdly, both Ethiopia and Sudan are going to be beneficiaries of the electricity generated from the dam. Therefore, the politics that you might have sensed, for us, is not such a very serious issue.

Question from TNT: You’re Excellency, Africa is rich and every country has the capacity to invest in the kind of projects Ethiopia is undertaking, yet many studies have indicated that billions of money is lost to corruption and embezzlement of public funds, what advise can you offer on combating corruption in East Africa?

It’s simple. Countries must create societies that don’t tolerate corruption. In Ethiopia, I can say that we have successfully been able to create that kind of society where people actually say no to corruption. And for those found to be corrupt, we have acted. We have thrown in jail not only mid-level officials but also ministers, this should give you an idea how Ethiopia is serious about combating corruption. Corruption is something that citizens of every country must reject. This requires educating both society and the bureaucrats about the dangers. But education by itself is not enough; you need strong laws to deter the behaviour.

This is not to say that we are 100 percent corruption free. But at least I can say that in Ethiopia, before someone attempts to indulge in corruption, they have to think, not twice, but maybe 20, 000 times. For instance in China {where I had a chance to live both as a student and later as an ambassador}, I have witnessed what they do to someone found guilty of embezzlement, stealing public resources-they are executed! Yes, in Ethiopia we don’t execute but we give hard enough punishments for those found guilty. So this is really down to choices of how different countries decide to fight corruption. Where there’s serious corruption, believe me there can’t be development because someone has stolen the resources. 

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Agutamba (L) interviews Ethiopia's President Dr Mulatu Teshome from his Palace in the Capital Addis Ababa. 

Question from East African Journalist: Ethiopia is Africa’s centre of diplomacy yet your government has in place some stringent Visa rules that make it hard for Africans to come here, is there a plan to ease these rules?

No, I don’t think so, I don’t think so; visas are not meant to create obstacles to our African brothers and sisters who want to come to visit Addis; they are first and foremost meant for the security of the country and everyone living here. You have to screen who is coming in who is going out for the peace and security of the country and for the peaceful environment in which the African union and other agencies that are headquartered here in Addis, they have to be secure. Don’t forget that we are surrounded by countries that have problems; we have Boko Haram in North Africa, we have Al-Qaeda and Al-Shabab in our backyard. As long as there are 54 different flags in Africa, I think the issue of stringent visa rules is not going to change very soon.

 

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