UNDP Resident Representative on the International Day of Democrcay at the House of People’s Representative

Sep 15, 2014

UNDP Resident Representative Eugene Owusu addressing parliament on International Democracy Day

Honourable Abadula Gemeda, Speaker of the House of People's Representatives

Honourable Kasa Tekle-Berhan, Speaker of the House of Federation

Heads of Democratic Institutions

Members of the Press

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

Today is the International Day of Democracy, an important event on the United Nations calendar, which is marked around the world. I am pleased that this Day is being commemorated here, and I thank you for inviting me to this House to engage in a dialogue on the future of Ethiopia. 

Last Thursday I celebrated by fourth Ethiopia New Year in this wonderful country. What is important about New Years is that they are times for reflection, for new beginnings, and for making resolutions to improve how we do things.

This coming year is an important one for Ethiopia. It will see the launch of the successor to the Growth and Transformation Plan, and, pertinent to today’s celebration, it will see national elections in about eight months’ time. Ethiopia will therefore be in the international spotlight, and it should be an occasion to shine brightly on the African stage.

Today’s event is therefore an excellent occasion to discuss Ethiopia’s evolving democratic journey, and in particular the role of the youth in deepening democracy in this country.

I use that word “journey” specifically. If we look at countries North and South, East and West, we know that democracy is not an end point, nor is it a finish line. Democracies are imperfect, and require ongoing commitment from all elements of society, to continue to improve how to make Government, and indeed society as a whole, more inclusive, more accountable, and more responsive to citizens.

The theme of this year’s International Day of Democracy - Engaging Young People on Democracy - highlights the importance of ensuring that young people can meaningfully contribute to and benefit from a country’s development and decisions which affect their lives. This theme is especially relevant here in Ethiopia, where nearly half of the population is under the age of 15.

The future of Ethiopia and indeed all nations depend on the investments made in their youth and younger generations. The foundations of every nation are the education and the quality of character of its youth.

I commend the efforts being made by the Government of Ethiopia to increase youth participation in political processes. Still, challenges persist, especially in the rural areas. These challenges, to be sure, are not peculiar to Ethiopia. Across the world, too many young people remain at the margin of the political, social, and economic mainstream. 

Ensuring credible, free and fair elections next year is so important to restore among young people a strong faith in politics; to encourage their participation in elections and a range of political activities in the future; and to inspire young people to be active in civic organizations and volunteerism in their communities.

Excellencies, colleagues, as Ethiopia strives to deepen democratic governance, if we look around the world, we know that there is no single model of democracy, and no single path to success. Democratic transitions are a process. Ethiopia is no exception. And it is important that the transition underway in this country is owned and shaped by Ethiopians.

At the same time, we also know that democracies share some important common features – such as regular credible, free and fair elections; equality before the law; the management of diversity; and crucially the values of tolerance and compromise.  At the heart of democracy lies the competition for ideas, and Parliament and parliamentary discourse are crucial in this regard.

As we look around the world, from long-established democracies to new ones, we see the importance of exchanging ideas, of diversity of views, and robust and healthy political engagement more broadly.  Typically in developing policies or programmes of action, there is no one right or one wrong way to do something, even if it may seem like it to impassioned politicians.  The best policies and programmes are developed in the open through a healthy exchange of opinions and an exploration of different options.  And in this regard, I wish to use this opportunity to congratulate the Government on its consultative approach to the framing of the Growth and Transformation Plan, and its successor that is presently under way.

Excellencies, in UNDP’s continued bid to support the process of democratic consolidation in Ethiopia, today’s event is a timely reminder of our common but differentiated responsibilities to help support the inclusion of Ethiopians in the political process and in decisions which affect their lives.

UNDP, together with the Government and its development partners, is developing a programme of support to help Ethiopia prepare for and conduct next year’s national elections. We are very passionate to see that this programme is successfully implemented because for us at UNDP, we see democracy and good governance not as important ends in themselves. They are also important means to improve and secure development.

After all, good governance is not just about building capable institutions, as important as those are. It’s also about people being empowered to engage with institutions and hold them to account. Governance in this broader sense, based on the rule of law, and principles of inclusion and participation, is so vital to ensure success across all dimensions of development.

As we enter the New Year, let us use today’s event to re-dedicate ourselves to working together to build a bright future for all Ethiopians.

Let us re-dedicate ourselves to ensuring that the impressive development progress we have seen over the last decade – high economic growth coupled with significant human development gains – is sustained and indeed improved over the next decade, so that Ethiopia can achieve its ambition of becoming a middle-income and carbon neutral country.

And above all, let us all re-dedicate ourselves –  Government, the citizenry of this beautiful country, the UN, and international partners - to work together in support of Ethiopia’s democratic journey. Let us work together to support next year’s election to ensure that we have a peaceful and successful elections. Let us work together to engage and politically empower the youth, who represent the future of this country.  On this International Day of Democracy, let us all work together to deepen democratic governance to secure a bright future for this country and all its citizens.

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