On May 12, 2021, Addis Zeybe, with support from its media development partner, Free Press Unlimited, under the ‘Together for reliable information' project, successfully held a debate at Sapphire Addis Hotel between three political parties that are due to take part in the upcoming Ethiopian election on June 5, 2021.
While Dr. Dereje Duguma, State Minister at the Ministry of Health, represented the ruling party, Mr. Tesfa Belayneh, a party candidate from Hiber Ethiopia Party, and, Dr. Tilahun Gizaw, a party candidate from Balderas for the Genuine Democracy party, took part in the debate.
They were asked to elaborate their policy outlooks to address the challenges and hindrances due to the new normal, and their respective plans to bring an end to the related socio-economic problems the Country has experienced thus far. The two hours long intense debate was moderated by Addiszeybe’s Content Editor, Michael Getasetegne. The conversation was also attended by guests in various areas, including medical professionals, lawyers, and other people of different backgrounds.
The debate began with a brief synopsis of Ethiopia’s experience with COVID 19 starting from the time the first case was registered on March 13, 2020, the public’s reaction, the restrictions that were imposed then after by the government, leading up to the latest rates of virus contraction as well as fatalities the Country has witnessed.
As the party in leadership, the Prosperity party presented what the government has done so far to address the pandemic, and the policies it has adopted with the participation of crucial stakeholders in diverse fields. Several questions and challenges were raised to the Prosperity Party representative, Dr. Dereje Gutema, a state minister at the Ministry of health-Ethiopia.
Among the questions, the Party’s inability to effectively slow down the rates of COVID-19 transmission was amplified. In this respect, the competing political parties forwarded questions which they deemed showed PP’s negligence to implement its policies and weaknesses to be found therein.
Specifically, the parties mentioned instances where government officials were seen without face masks, and public support mass gatherings were called out in support of the government without due respect to COVID 19 precautions. The questions raised (by the Hiber Ethiopia Party representative) also include issues concerning the enormous amount of expense COVID-19 patients are required to pay when admitted to private hospitals and if the government was aware of it.
In his response to the quests raised, the government representative, Dr, Dereje Duguma mentioned that, even though some gaps can be identified, in general, the efforts the government made so far are not negligible and one that deserves recognition.
When it comes to hospital expenses, he said that “the government can not control the payment patients are willing to pay to private hospitals because they want to get their privacy. We can not dictate that like a socialist country”.
The representative mentioned that moving forward, the government has planned to strengthen further its COVID response by bolstering prevention, and vaccination efforts through cooperation with international partners. He mentioned that “we will work hard on prevention methods especially on decreasing infection and vulnerability”. Dr. Dereje finally indicated that “...prosperity is not only the party’s name but represents the vision the party is planning to give to the public''.
Similar questions were raised to the competing political parties specifically on how they can better address the pandemic in the Country and related socio-economic hurdles. Balderas for Genuine Democracy representative, Dr. Tilahun Gizaw, mentioned that the party is doing its best to control the spread of the virus. For instance, when holding their campaigns, they are taking all COVID-related restrictions into consideration. The representative also indicated that they are raising public awareness as much as possible. In his response to the question raised by the moderator, if they will declare complete lockdown of the Country, he said “if we are elected, we will impose partial lockdown, and ban public gatherings for public mitigation and controlling purposes”.
In response to the questions raised, Hiber Ethiopia representative, Mr. Tesfa Belaynehe, said “Our plans on COVID are focused on boosting prevention at all costs. We will not base our policy outlooks on a pessimistic ground.” The representative also mentioned that, unlike the current administration which is not aware of public concerns, “...we are working to create a Country that has a recognizable place in history.” In response to the possibility of declaring complete lockdown of the country, the representative said that this will be impossible to foresee given the Country’s socio-economic condition and ramifications this may have on the public. He mentioned specifically that “If we are elected, we will not impose a complete lockdown. We will make a proclamation of a wider caution”.
In conclusion, the debate was able to raise a serious concern that Ethiopia is currently facing. By requiring contending political parties that are due to take part in the upcoming election to present their COVID 19 policy outlooks, the forum has successfully unpacked a non-political matter to be a major point of discussion. Thus the debate was able to show the fact that the pandemic has all-encompassing effects that can threaten the Country’s political, economic, and social foundations if the right health policies are not formulated.
In order to give a full insight into the debate that took place, We will upload the video into Addis Zeybe’s YouTube channel soon. Stay tuned!