Hailemariam Desalegn says the key to keeping the peace in Ethiopia is a tooth-and-nail fight against poverty.

AllAfrica’s Reed Kramer interviewed Ethiopia’s prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, after a US-Africa business summit in Addis Ababa in February. These are extracts from the original interview.

Your government has made major strides in meeting the millennium development goals (MDGs) agreed among countries worldwide at the UN. Now there are sustainable development goals (SDGs). How is Ethiopia doing?

For the MDGs, we successfully achieved all except one. And we’ll continue to do this in the coming 15 years with the SDGs as well. We have made this progress because we engage people fully into the system. In health, for example, women are very active in the process. In the poverty goals, our farmers are very active – 70% of our people are residing in rural areas and depend on farming for their livelihood. If young people are engaged, then we can achieve. If we put people at the center, we can achieve those goals.

Ethiopia is in a rough neighborhood, and security is a concern for everyone. How are security issues impacting your economy?

We are expending much of our energy and time securing the country. Ethiopia is an island of stability within the Horn of Africa, which is a troubled region. The government is very active in trying to keep security at the highest possible level – not only for foreign companies here, but for our own people. Security starts from home. You have to secure your own people so that those who are coming from outside also will be secured.

Our people are very much engaged in fighting anti-peace elements and terrorism. There is tolerance within our community, Muslims and Christians living together in harmony. These traditional values we have should be enhanced. We put people at the center of securing the country. You can’t secure your country with only a security apparatus and missiles.

We believe that poverty is the worst enemy that brings insecurity. We have to fight poverty tooth and nail. It’s essential. The more you reduce the poverty rate, the more secure the country will be. It’s an internal problem – in-out, not out-in. People always think about al-Shabaab in Somalia. Yes, it is a threat. But if you are secure at home and your people are free from poverty, then it’s possible to secure the country. That’s the philosophy we’re using, and the result [to date is very good.

A related issue is political discontent. You recently had protests from Oromo people, and your government responded with force. Human rights groups report that many demonstrators were killed or detained.

The root cause of protests in this country is not politics. It is having so many young people who are unemployed. We haven’t addressed the unemployment problem in Oromia and also in other parts of the country. We have a 16.5% unemployment rate, which is very big. It’s higher among the youth, and 70% of our population is below the age of 30.

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