(Brief summary of interview with Fana Broadcasting, transmitted on the 23rd of June 2021)
In a wide-ranging interview with state-run broadcaster Fana TV, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed talked about various issues, including elections, his government’s performance over the last three years, border issues with Sudan, and the war on Tigray.
It is to be remembered that this interview was scheduled to be aired before the 6th national elections held on 21 June 2021 but was “banned” by the National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) on the grounds that “political parties, including the governing party, are not allowed to campaign during the four days preceding the Election Day.” As a result, the interview was aired the day after the election. We will briefly summarize some of the main points raised.
Asked what was fundamentally different about the 6th national elections, PM Abiy stressed that the main change is the independence of the NEBE. It’s a truly independent institution. The government hasn’t had any influence on the decisions made including the decision to postpone the elections last year according to the Prime Minister. He went on to state that the postponement was actually against the wish of his government which wished to hold the elections as initially scheduled. He argued that this was evidence the proof that, unlike in previous times, this time around the board is truly independent.
Calls for a Transitional Government
Asked about calls for a transitional government, Abiy claimed to have determined that this was not a plausible option because of political polarization and no way to determine representation. Therefore an election was the only way. He suggested that only parties and interests which have been elected as representatives of specific constituencies in these last elections can be considered legitimate partners for future dialogue.
Asked why there was a perception that Ethiopia is experiencing multifaceted challenges, the Prime Minister replied that retrospectively the country has faced several challenges and come out the other end. He argued that current issues were being unnecessarily amplified by “our enemies” who fill the air with negative news although they are aware that the national journey to prosperity cannot be turned back and that Ethiopia will remain an anchor for the region. He went on to list what he considers to be current successes including the GERD and military reforms. In relation to military reforms, Abiy claimed that there is now a more disciplined and “Ethiopian” military. It is to be remembered that tens of thousands of Tigrayans have been purged from ENDF in the last few months. The PM also here used a football match as a metaphor for rules of military engagement, noting that a team (army) had three options to win the game: 1. Win with superior skill; 2. Sabotage the other team out of the line of sight of the referee and 3. Commit a foul in full sight of the referee and leave it up to the referee to handle it as he may.
Border Issues with Sudan
Asked about ongoing border issues with Sudan, Abiy stressed historical ties and cordial relationship with the Sudanese people and claimed that his government has chosen to address the issue diplomatically as a result.
Asked about the War on Tigray, the PM persisted in referring to it in the past tense. He also reiterated the largely discredited claim that Eritrean troops were only at the borders and that they were not actively supporting the Ethiopian Army. Abiy claimed that Human Rights abuses reported in Tigray were not as extensive as is being reported and that a few breaches “here and there” were mainly collateral to the war. He stressed that there were active efforts by the junta (Tigrayan forces) to win a propaganda war, having already lost the war on the ground.
Asked about allegations about man-made famine, the Prime Minister said that this has not been proven by data. He denied that his government was weaponizing hunger. Abiy also claimed that calls for unfettered humanitarian access and/or a humanitarian corridor had an ulterior motive. He claimed that during the famine in the 1980s aid agencies had made use of a humanitarian corridor to strengthen TPLF, strategically, ideologically, militarily, and with resources to overthrow the Dergue regime. He declared that these same parties were now operating with a similar plan and this will not be allowed to happen.