Ethiopia: Full transcript (in English) of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s speech at Millennium Hall

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Esteemed people of our country, invited guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,  

I would like to express the unique honor I feel to be able to convey this message standing before you, beloved Ethiopians. You have built a country feared and respected because of her patriotic children; a country that is a symbol of black people’s freedom; you have come together throughout the years, holding each other’s hands, building a fine symbol of togetherness both during times of abundance and scarcity, in times of mourning and celebration, in moments of joy and sorrow.  

Our country is, no doubt, great and its people are, with no argument, united and esteemed. Ethiopia is a country blessed with proud history and wonderful cultures; breathtaking and many natural blessings and values unshakably interwoven with the identity of our nations and nationalities.   

We  have a marvelous culture of respecting,  protecting and conserving these Ethiopian colors  and our gemmed and invaluable wealth—which are expressions of our Ethiopian identity—by cultivating them in the heart of our children and grandchildren, mixing them into our stories and folktales, cultural expressions and poetry. However, one can see that we are being challenged, in one way or another, by both internal and external voices which are being uttered or voiced repeatedly to undermine our core values, pushing us to leave them behind.

Our nations and nationalities love each other not only with absolute love, but also with indissoluble love. I firmly believe that we have the perseverance, patience, discernment, energy and sense of nationalism that will enable us to overcome not only the challenges we now face, but also any difficulty, and to walk through storms to arrive at a new height with a renewed energy.

I would like to assure you that relying on this all-inclusive strength of our people and by designing various strategies, our government will work relentlessly to build a stronger national unity.

Our problems are not only problems, they are also opportunities and solutions. Our obstacles are not only obstacles, they are provisions for our journey and they are paths we travel on.  Our cry is not only a cry, it is a time to bring to an end our lamentation and herald the era of joy or laughter. We are a strong people whose nature and life experiences have taught us how to turn our challenges into history, creating opportunities out of the most challenging fate.  Therefore, while carrying with us our psychological and moral strengths, which are stronger than iron, there is absolutely no mountain we cannot climb, no river we cannot cross and no darkness we cannot dissipate.

I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to all Ethiopians, friends of Ethiopians and partners who have encouraged me—since the recent peaceful power transfer—by sending messages of support and good wishes, and by promising to stand by my side on the journey ahead.  Those hopeful inspirations and comments coming from different directions show that we can stand united with a common goal while working together on essential national issues.

My compatriots, those of you who have been filled with hope over the last few days, those of you who have faith in brighter and better days to come, I would like to assure you that  we will work harder than ever before, in deeds and not just in words, to realize your hopes and dreams

We have made successive visits and discussions this week with the firm belief that the movements of change we have started anew –in thoughts and deeds –have to be accompanied by a strong support from the people to embark on greater practical measures.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We, Ethiopians, have strong social ties; we have family like ties—a singular bond that remains intact even when we are millions in number. In order to transform this national bond into various and all-inclusive national blessings, the government will undertake various activities.  We firmly believe that these national ties play an irreplaceable role in the economic, social and political renaissance of our people.

We have to do our homework with a sense of utmost responsibility that starts with oneself and then extends all the way to family, community and country; we are at the juncture that demands from us working together for the dignity of our country.

Subsequently, the government will make every effort to enable all Ethiopians to contribute to the development of the nation, to have an indiscriminately listening ear for everyone, to have an upright disposition that responds to everyone, to have eyes that look at everyone equally. The government should not only listen to the demands of its citizens, but also work proactively to understand what they need and answer their demands step by step by pulling together national strength.  

Although the government has implemented a lot of transformational works to strengthen its implementation capacity with the aim of bringing about national growth and addressing the growing demand of the people, the bureaucratic process and sense of public service among government bodies could not arrive at the intended level of success and efficiency.

We understand that you have been fed up with lack of efficient and just processes and the absence of leaders and servants that welcome you every day with the spirit of integrity when you go to government service-giving institutions. We would like to assure you that the government has a firm desire to produce public servants and leaders who are formed with good work ethic and imbued with the spirit of service; who understand that bribery, nepotism, benefit-based partnership and discrimination are backward cultures, and who respect their jobs and give a due respect to their responsibilities.   

Here is one of the measures that will be taken to realize this: any appointment made within government structures has to be based on knowledge, skill and merit. We will improve the implementation capacity of the government by assigning the right person to the right place.  On the other side, I would like to assure you that the government will endeavor to minimize time wasted in fruitless and long meetings by using modern technology to build a system that gives efficient service to the public, by setting up and strengthening a procedure that holds to account any government official or any institution that does not   give a response to public demand in a deserving manner. The government proposes not only to solve these problems, but also to create, in a participatory way, governmental rules that will avoid cumbersome bureaucracy.

Our nation’s economy does not depend on natural resources like petroleum; it rather depends on the toil and continuous effort of our citizens. Therefore, when the daily activities of our people are faced with a hurdle at one juncture, our full economy will be faced with difficulty.  The whole economy of our country starts to reverberate, and the economic growth and boom continues only when the peaceful activity of our people is able to maintain its regular flow.

The economic scar left behind by conflicts and instability in our country over the past two to three years is not to be underestimated. However, with one heart and like people speaking the same language,  as long as we hold each other’s hands and work together with an absolute resolve, the adequate opportunity to make up for it lies in the palm of our hands. Understanding this reality, I appeal to all of you  — farmers and pastoralists, teachers and students, the young and the elderly, etc — to safeguard the peace of the nation with an utmost sense of responsibility so that our growth may not be stopped due to lack of peace.

Walking backward or taking a step backward, does not always mean to go back.  If this return stagnates our walk, it is a defeat. But if it prepares us for a leap forward, it is a foundation for victory. In this regard, the relative freeze recently seen in our economy should be seen as a wise move of walking back to leap forward. And the opportunity to turn it into a good leap forward to reach where we want to be is still in our hands.  Everyone understands that shortage of foreign currency is one of the bottlenecks preventing us from realizing the Ethiopia we dream of, and from coordinating our economic activities as we wish. Particularly, since recent times, shortage of foreign currency has become the cause for weak commercial activities, deteriorating trust among investors and inflation.

At this point, shortage of foreign currency is expected to occur since we are extensively engaged in infrastructure development. We will strive to implement a reliable import and export trade system and to export agricultural and manufacturing goods in quality and quantity so that the problem does not run out of control and to fundamentally solve it. In this regard, in order for our trade system to be tuned in such a way that it encourages domestic producers than importers, we will encourage Ethiopian investors to invest their money while advising them not to move their money out of the county. I would like to assure you that special attention will be given to creating a conducive administrative environment for local investors to enable them to become international competitors and encouraging the proliferation of local enterprises.

On the other side, in order to reduce wastage of foreign currency, I would like to assure you that by focusing on sectors that are vulnerable to this problem, especially on huge projects run by the government, we will carry out direct follow up and assessment so that they could be finalized as soon as possible.  The government, in collaboration with the people, will take corrective measures.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Building democracy is hard work that requires a common effort. To the extent that it gives freedom to all of us, it should not be forgotten that it is also a system that limits the action of the powerful, the wealthy and the despots; it keeps in check the unrestrained desire of man and makes every citizen equal before the law. It is a system that is both a process and an end by itself, whose perforated holes cannot easily be filled. In order for a meaningful democracy to flourish, not only EPRDF, but competing parties should also be strengthened. In this regard, I would like to assure you that we will start working together from now on so that the next national election would be trustworthy, that it would take place on a just field of competition and will be an arena in which a real competition takes place and various ideas are entertained.  

It is known that institutional and professional capacity of a justice system is one of the main indicators and yardsticks of a true and strong democracy. We will do everything necessary so that the bodies of the justice system – which have been a source of our people’s disillusionment—would work in such a way that their independence and professional capacity will be ensured, that they can be held accountable in accordance with the constitution, and in a way that will enable us to take necessary measures to bring about change in the justice system.

Law and democracy are instruments that enable the facilitation of justice and democracy; they should not be a tool for procrastination of work.  

We will work hard to stop discrimination and injustice being perpetrated under the guise of law and guidelines. In order that the people can obtain just verdicts, in order that the rule of law will be ensured and human and democratic rights are respected, the justice system will provide politically impartial and uncorrupted services.  Laws that have been the cause of human rights violations and injustice will be assessed and amended as deemed necessary based on inputs obtained from the public.

We will work closely to make the security and intelligence institutions free from political partiality, so that they may become our national pride, safeguarding the constitutional order and national sovereignty. With low payment and a spirit of love for their country, the security forces are making the highest sacrifices in the trenches and the wilderness. While we admire their love and unique respect for the flag, we will strengthen a system to develop their professional efficiency that enables them to accomplish their mission, whereby they would act in accordance with the law and be accountable to the law upon transgressing the law.  

To resolve once and for all the problems of mistrust and clashes that have occurred between them and our people in some areas of the country, we would like to assure you that we will work with a determination and in collaboration with the people so that the wounds could be healed and the fears can be addressed.

Since democratic institutions are essential to ensuring a constitutional and democratic system, I would like to assure you that we will take key measures based on research, so that they could be strengthened, be free from partiality and be loyal to the people.   

Ladies and gentlemen,

In order to realize all the good things we want to happen in our country, and to concretely realize our dreams and aspirations, the role of media in our country is very high.  Nevertheless, the role of the media sector in terms of bringing about prosperity and democracy in our nation at this time is not enough.

The government has a conviction that what the social, broadcast and print media will do for our country in the future will be  far greater than what they have done to date. I call upon all media institutions, journalists and all media professionals, leaders, owners and others striving to support this nascent industry, to work with the utmost sense of responsibility and understand that your role in nation building, generation formation and in ensuring peace and development is very high.

Religious institutions,

I call upon religious institutions to form a generation that is industrious, has love for its country and a generation that disdains theft and can assume responsibility.

I appeal to artists to inculcate Ethiopianism, love and a winning psychology and dignity of work in the heart of the new generation in the form of poetry, artistic writing, fiction, film, theater, music and comedy.  

Dear teachers, it has to be known that you are the owners of an esteemed profession that can bind our history with our future aspirations; your role is irreplaceable.  I appeal to you to inculcate in the hearts and minds of our children education that can produce goodness and hope, to work hard with a sense of patriotism to build not only physical infrastructures but also to form the mind—which, by itself,  is wealth that creates more wealth.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Shortage of quality education has resulted in weakness in service delivery, lack of justice, lack of basic changes in health, agriculture and other sectors and problems observed in shaping and forming the generation.

In the next government structure reform, we will give a big emphasis and priority to improving and implementing the blueprint of education in a way that improves quality of education.  

We will give due attention to the agricultural sector to bring about a fundamental change, to convert our deserts into paradise and to increase product and productivity by implementing irrigation works extensively and in a coördinated manner, by investing intensively in pastoralist and semi-pastoralist areas and developing regions.

In the area of diplomacy, we will set up principle-based, good relationships with all nations, especially with African nations, with whom we will continue establishing strong ties in all sectors. We will continue playing a constructive role to bring about peace in the Horn of Africa.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Every generation needs a hero; a hero to remember, a hero with a dream for tomorrow. A generation without a hero cannot be built on a strong foundation. We have to play our respective roles so that our children could learn patriotism and love for one’s compatriots from our common heroes.

Our country needs and indeed aspires for contemporary heroes, who fulfill all the criteria for modern heroism – heroes of peace, development, change, courage, prosperity, love, unity, reason, forgiveness and  respect.

Although all heroes are not perfect and without blemish in all areas of their lives, we have to take only the fruits from the plate of our history and talk about the weeds and the chaff only for learning purposes.  

As one French philosopher said, “From the altar of history, we should learn to carry the flames, not the ashes.”  

In order to create modern heroes today, our culture of celebrating yesterday’s heroes should be strengthened all the more, because yesterday was a foundation for today, as today is a foundation for tomorrow.

Heroes of the present day are young people.  Just the way we give respect to our heroes from the past, we should not deprive the youth of the respect they deserve, for they are struggling for change more than anyone and anything. The youth are powerful agents of change.

Because we haven’t been able to take care of our young people with love and tenderness, we see them being faced with migration and different forms of tribulation. Many young people are jobless, or they live on a minimum income in constant confrontation with poverty.  One of the main threats to peace and security issues is lack of youth participation and benefits. Unemployment is pushing our young people into crimes, addictions and migration. I would like to assure you that the government will work with special attention to change this situation.

Dear young people of my country,

Youth is a fire age. Certainly, in being youth, there is the nature of fire and flame. Use this fire to melt iron, to channel rivers, to bring down mountains, to build factories, to build bridges, and above all, use this fire to save lives.

A famous Greek known as Euripides once said, “Youth is the best time to become rich and again youth is the best time to become poor!” Both options lie in your hands; please choose the best one.  If you have hope, we will all have hope. Our nation also will have hope. I would like to appeal to you with humility to hold each other’s hands and work together, without disdain for any type of job and to use your energy to create wealth so that we can realize the Ethiopia we aspire to see.  

Ladies and gentlemen,

The issue of our disabled sisters and brothers is an issue we should give an emphasis to as we walk down the path of change.

Our many disabled fellow citizens, whose disability was caused either by nature or by manmade factors and whose contribution in nation building is as huge as their number, need to be given special attention. Several disabled people have shown us that disability is not inability, that they are people endowed with very high intelligence. If we do not exhaustively use their potential in nation building, our effort will have no full national image. By encouraging them to take part in every political, social and economic matter, we will work hard to make sure that they will be the beneficiaries.

In general, when we ensure the prevalence of the rule of law and justice, when economic benefit of the citizen is fostered, when democracy flourishes, our peace will be ensured. Peace and prosperity are the sum total of all these factors. If we implement these key issues as one people and one nation in collaboration with each other, I have no doubt that under the Ethiopian sky, tomorrow will be better than today.  We are the ones who can create this betterment. We are nothing without each other. Therefore, through our efforts we have to create a future in which we will not see the divisive distinction of ‘’we’’ and ‘‘them’’. If we do this, no matter how hard the journey will be, the time it takes us to arrive at our greatness, I have no doubt, will be short.

Taking this opportunity, I implore you with the utmost humbleness to continue demonstrating the positive spirit of togetherness and partnership we have seen over the past two weeks, with love and forgiveness, leaving behind the negative, adding up all the good, to build together our beloved country.

May Ethiopia live forever, respected and revered, through the effort of her children!

May God, the Creator, bless Ethiopia and her people! Thank you!

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