Q: You have told the foreign media in the past that
you have had enough of this office and would like to
be relieved. But at the same time, you have told the
local media that you are a soldier for the EPRDF,
and wherever the party deploys you, you will
continue to play that role. This is kind of mixed
signal. Is it a deliberate act on your part? What is
your stance at this moment?
I do not think there is any conflict between the
two. My personal feeling is that I have spent enough
time here and I have to move on. But I am here
because I am a leader of the EPRDF; and I want to
leave this position without leaving the party.
Technically, it is possible for me to say "thank you
very much, goodbye, and no matter what you say I am
out" and tell the leadership to decide whatever they
want. In that case, I would have to leave not only
my government position, but also my party one
because I cannot be a member of any party.
My hope and expectation is there will not be any
conflict between my desire to leave and the party's
opinion. If, in the end there is a conflict between
the two, I will have to make a decision as to
whether to accept the party's decision, or to
leave. I will have that freedom when the time
comes. My preference, however, is to make sure there
are no conflicts; if there are, my hope is they will
be ironed out using civilized methods of resolving
Q: You could explain democracy in a number of ways;
one of them is it is a system where there is limit
to the executive power. Considering the fact that
the Ethiopian executive is more powerful than the
legislator, do you think you have any limit to your
I would not necessarily agree with you that
limitation of power, executive power, is necessarily
a democracy. If that was the case, Somalia would
have been the most democratic state in the world.
But, indeed, rule of law requires that everybody's
power is limited; not only of the executive, but
also of the legislator because they cannot legislate
about anything and everything. For instance, they
cannot change constitutional mandate without
following certain procedure that is beyond the
normal majority vote.
Limitation of power also concerns the judges because
they cannot make judgements as they wish; they do so
on the basis of the law. Limitation of power is at
the centre of democratic exercise, including
limitations of the power of the executive.
My power is limited by many instruments. The first
and most important instrument is the constitution,
which says exactly what I can and cannot do, as well
as what happens if I do what I am not supposed to
do. That is a very powerful constraint on executive
power. The second limit on my power as leader of the
executive is Parliament; they have to approve all
legislation and the budget, and we serve at the
discretion of Parliament. When Parliament feels like
it, it can dismiss this government anytime; they do
not need election to do that. That is the limit of
my power as far as the legislative control is
concerned. Of course there is also the judiciary; I
cannot detain anybody unless the courts say so.
These are the constitution limitations of power in
any democratic society; they are here, functioning
Q: Let's talk about your interpersonal relationship
with Sheikh Sharif Ahmed Sheikh. When you met [last
week] what assurances did you give him that you
would not re-enter his country; and what assurance
did he give you he would not return to his Jehadist
Of course, the new President assured us that his
intention is to promote peace within Somalia and
with its all neighbours. We are happy that we have
got such reassurance. But, it would be foolhardy to
base state policy on some statement, at some
particular time, by some particular individual. You
do not work on the basis of trust by individuals, or
lack of it thereof. As a state, you operate on the
basis of assessment of capabilities and desires of
I do not think anything Sheikh Sharif says can be
taken as a final guarantee that there won't be any
lapses. The reassurance that I seek is of the
fundamental type; it is not for Sheikh Sharif to
give. The reassurance I seek is from a political
process in Somalia, but not from one particular
outcome of Somalia, but the underlined political
processes. These underlining processes have a number
of positive aspects to them. The major clan group,
which had been the main support base for Al-Shabab,
is now fighting them more effectively than anybody
else. This group is seeking our support; in doing
so, we are providing what we can.
Sheikh Sharif and his friends had distanced
themselves from the terrorists before he became
president. His visit to Ethiopia during the AU
Summit was not the first contact we have had with
this group; as a government, we have had contact
with them for quite sometime now. We are reasonably
confident that this is not some idiosyncratic move
on the part some individuals, but a major political
trend among the so-called moderate Islamists.
Irrespective of specific guarantees we have got from
Sheikh Sharif, I think these are the most important
reassurances we have.
Can Sheikh Sharif give me assurance that Somalia
won't revert to total chaos?
No. Even if he wanted to, I would not believe him
because there are counter-bearing trends, which
include enumerable fights among sub-sub-sub-clans.
This has the potential of undermining any government
My reassurance to Sheikh Sharif; I doubt whether he
needed one from me to that extent about our
re-entering Somalia. Our government reserve our
right to hot pursuit, for every country reserves
that. But, we have no intention of going back to
Somalia, and try to stabilize Somalis. We believe we
have done quite enough; we believe we have been
successful; and therefore, we have no need to
Q: The new chairman of the AU visited your
counterpart in Eritrea, and he offered to restore
the friendship you once had with Issayas Afeworki. I
wonder how you feel about this offer; do you take it
seriously, or do you perhaps feel Mr. Gaddafi could
be a prejudiced mediator?
Of course, we very much welcome such initiative and
his offer to help. I would not mind even if the
person who is taking the initiative is from Mars; so
long as he does the job, I will be very happy with
it. And our Chairman is not from Mars; he is
chairman of the African Union (AU); he knows the
problem; he understands the issue; and it would be
appropriate if he tries to resolve this problem.
Do I expect a radically different outcome as a
result of his efforts?
I have no reason to believe that, not because the
brother leader will not devote a lot of energy, but
because the Eritrean government started its dance. I
do not believe the President of Eritrea has changed
his colours. The only way out is what we have
indicated; the two of us need to get together and
discuss to iron out the issues, including the issues
of delimitations. There is no issue as legal
demarcation and legal delimitations. We are eager to
discuss the practical issues and about the
normalization issues of our relations. We would
welcome any person who could help us resolve the
Q: People doubt the capacity of the current chairman
of the AU to assume the role he is given. What do
you personally feel about it as a leader of a member
All I can tell you is that I voted for him.
Q: Your country is being seen as caught between
capitalism and socialism. Which one do you prefer?
We are not sitting between one of the other; we are
seated in the middle of capitalism. This is a nearly
white capitalist country. The EPRDF talk of the
developmental state is to develop the economy and
become a mature capitalist economy. The role of the
state in a capitalist economy can vary from close to
zero to high level of involvement. That does not in
any way undermine the fundamentals of capitalism.
What we are building here is a nearly white
capitalist system and we have no illusion about
building any other system here.
Q: Many were appreciative of your leadership skill
prior to the 2005 election; some of them still
believe that they cannot imagine the current
government without you as a prime minister. What do
say to these people before making a decision?
If I have done something good it is primarily
because I belong to a very good party. Whatever good
I might have done could be expected to be continued
by the party, because the party is the source of
whatever good I have done.
Q: This year marks one more year that you have
stayed in power in Ethiopia than the previous leader
of this country. What would you think as your single
most important achievement over the past 18 years?
I cannot separate my achievements from what can be
considered as the achievements of the ruling party.
Whatever achievement there might have been, it does
not exist independent of that party.
The two most important were successfully managing
the transition from the military dictatorship of
Mengistu regime to an emerging democracy without
collapsing, like many similar countries did, such as
Yugoslavia and Soviet Union. That was a major
challenge and I think I have done better, with all
its pluses and minuses.
The second most important achievement was for this
party to rekindle hope through the renaissance of
this country; particularly over the past five to six
years. There is hope and optimism now that this
country will ultimately get out of poverty. I think
it [the ruling party] has charted that course of
optimism. With its pluses and minuses, again, the
dynamic of continued economic stagnation for several
decades has been reversed. We have now entered into
a trajectory of fast economic growth; and we have
now joined very small and elite nations that are
fast moving in terms of economic development.
I consider these two fundamental achievements of the
party over the past 18 years; and to the extent that
I am involved with this party, I share both the
responsibility of failures and of successes.