ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, March 18, 2005 (IRIN) — Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is one of 17 commissioners who last week released a report by British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa. In an interview with IRIN in Addis Ababa on Friday, Meles explained his views on the report, and its role in fostering greater development in Africa. Here are excerpts from that interview:
[IRIN] The report was launched in Africa Hall [in Addis Ababa], where the founding fathers launched the organization of African Unity in 1963. What do you think they would say if they saw the state of Africa today, more than 40 years later?
[Meles] I think they would say that things have not gone as well as they should. But I hope they would recognize that over the past few years, and with the coming of the Commission for Africa report, Africa has been making significant efforts in moving forward.
[IRIN] What are you most pleased about with the recommendations made by the Commission for Africa?
[Meles] It is really the fundamentals of that report, based on the need for inclusive and fair globalization. That is the fundamental point based on the recognition that Africa should be in the driving seat. For me it is a new paradigm, no matter what happens in terms of the specifics. If the report is endorsed by the G8, that in itself would be an historic achievement.
[IRIN] You say the report has been infused with African spirit. Fine words, but what do you really mean by that?
[Meles] Well, as I said in my speech, it is about Africa. It is about globalization. It recognizes that in the end, Africa has to stand up for itself, and has to do what it has to do. And it is about the rest of the world recognizing that it is in their interests, and that they are closely linked to Africa doing much better than it has done before.
[IRIN] What do the Commission for Africa’s recommendations mean for Ethiopia?
[Meles] It means legitimacy in terms of our rights, and it sets [an] agenda of development cooperation which is much more productive, in my view, than has been the case over the past 30 or 40 years. It creates the right framework for pro-poor growth in this country, as well as on the continent.
[IRIN] Do you think you can set an example by settling, once and for all, the dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea?
[Meles] We will try. We have tried in the past, but as I have said, it takes two to tango.
[IRIN] What is required on that then?
[Meles] A willingness on the part of our fellows in Eritrea to talk. The outcome of the talks is open, but in the final analysis, the dispute will have to be resolved through dialogue. Talking with each other. That is not available to us right now.
[IRIN] But obviously you accept that peace and security are core themes of the commission’s work?
[Meles] Nothing good will happen to Africa unless we address the security and governance issues, and that means, in specific terms, in the case of Ethiopia, we have to rule out the possibility of conflict between ourselves and Eritrea for good. We have to recognize that this problem can be, and should only be, resolved by peaceful means through dialogue.
[IRIN] There has been concern about Ethiopia moving troops to the border and the potential problems this might lead to. What is your view on this?
[Meles] The bottom line is we will not initiate a conflict with Eritrea or anybody else. We have had enough. We believe the problem between ourselves and Eritrea can be resolved through dialogue. And so everything we do is calculated to reinforce this message; including the troop movement. The troop movement is designed to send a message to our brothers that the option of violence is not an attractive option to any side. In the end, we have got to sit around the table. There is no way round it.
[IRIN] The measure of success for the Commission for Africa is to see the implementation of the recommendations, to see real action. What specifically will you be looking for?
[Meles] The first thing, and for me the most important thing, is that the report should be addressed. I am confident that Africa will address the report, and I very much hope that the G8 will address the report. Once we have the paradigm in place, then we would expect our G8 partners to move expeditiously on improving the quantity and quality of aid, debt cancellation and the [World Trade organization] Doha round of trade negotiations that provide real and non-reciprocal access for African goods.
[IRIN] What sort of Africa do you see without the implementation of this report?
[Meles] Well, clearly either we have to move forward aggressively, or we are going to move backwards, and we have examples of both. Moving backward means going in the direction of, let us say, Somalia, Liberia and so on. Moving forward means moving forward in the direction of, let us say, Botswana. Despite the HIV/AIDS pandemic, Botswana has done very well in terms of governance and economic development, and there are many other African countries that can be cited. So either we move in the direction of Botswana and company, or we move in the direction of Somalia and company.
[IRIN] You have been in power now 14 years. In that time, I am sure, you have had a lot of promises from various countries that have not been fulfilled. Why do you think these promises [by the Commission for Africa] will be fulfilled?
[Meles] First, I am not banking on specific promises per se, I am banking on the paradigm as a whole. Secondly, despite some disappointments, we have seen some countries moving in the direction of implementing their programmes. For example, I can cite, in the case of Ethiopia - Sweden, Ireland and the UK who have improved both the quantity, but more importantly the quality of their assistance to us.
[IRIN] And realistically where do you think Africa will be in five years time?
[Meles] It may not be the case that Africa, or every African country, will have done well by then, but I think there will be enough countries in Africa that are moving more aggressively to achieving the [UN] Millennium Development Goals.
[IRIN] Is this a landmark document, a blueprint, something that people will look back on and say "that was a turning point for Africa"?
[Meles] That is exactly the case for me, and I would have thought so for every other African.