Solid Foundation Being Laid Towards Ensuring Equitable Development For Generations: President Isaias (PART I)
His Excellency President Isaias Afwerki conducted an extensive interview with national media outlets that was also transmitted live via websites alenalki.com, eastafro.com and hornofafrica. com regarding Eritrean integrated development and plan, political, security and diplomatic issues, as well as regional and international developments, especially the prevailing situation in North Africa and the Middle East and their prospects. First part of the interview follows.
Our first question will be on local issues. During one of your interviews you said “Giving priority to the less privileged members of the society, providing equal opportunities to all, establishing inclusive political system and through that ensuring political stability, national harmony, economic and social progress and guarantee social justice and cultural progress are our nonflexible priceless objectives that we struggled for long.” Your Excellency, during the 20 years of independence all government institutions and the Front have been striving to realize the objective you mentioned. Give us your insight on the national objectives with their measurements to develop the foundations for developing a nation and nationhood.
It is wise to think and ask the objective of our long years of struggle. What was our end goal? We could not deviate from the basic objectives and values under any condition. Generations come and go but the bases would not change. When we talk about independence it is not only waving fl ags. This is an issue often being raised. Societies could be displaced because of natural or historical phenomena or because of manmade activities. The country belongs equally to all. If we believe that all citizens of the country are equal then it would be meaningless if some get better services and others not, some to progress and others to remain behind, some getting the opportunity of education, training and skills and others to remain behind, some getting better health services and others denied. I say this not for the sake of talking. If the country belongs to all it has to belong to all by all standard.
This way of thinking did not emerge within these last twenty years; it is not something invented within these twenty years. Within these twenty years we worked hard without losing our sense of direction to ensure that this country belongs to all. However, working to ensure that the country belongs to all is not an easy task. It is easy to make it for the few privileged. It is easy to build skyscraper buildings for showy reasons. One can do every glittering thing in one city while in the villages and remote areas people are denied the basic things for living. With this situation no one could claim the country belongs equally to all. So it is not an easy task to realize this aspiration in real terms. It is not an easy task to realize equal level of development in all surroundings and regions.
The measurement of development within these twenty years should be made on the basis of equitable distribution of resources sector by sector and region by region. In this country we have three development zones, namely the Eastern Escarpment with the coast line, the Highlands with similar characteristics and climate and the Western lowlands. Hence, when we talk about equal distribution of infrastructure, health services, education, agriculture and all developmental programs we should think in terms of these three zones. There should be equal distribution and opportunity. If we look to equal distribution in terms of transportation and communication facilities, electricity distribution, provision of clean water is a challenging task that could take some time. This is if the task is executed and implemented in a measurable way. For example we could talk about roads. We could talk about all dirty and asphalt roads. How many asphalt roads we should build replacing the dirty roads to satisfy the demands of the inhabitants? This is what we call ideal. If our goal is to build such roads we should plan on how many roads, the distance, the service they will provide to the society and their impact on the development of the economy of the country.
We could perceive this topic on three dimensions. The impact the development of one sector could have on the second and third sectors. Let us say we have 20 sectors, economic sectors or social services, we should look at the practical feature and distribution and plan their implementation on yearly basis. We should also monitor their implementation in the said developmental zones. The progress we made within these twenty years should be measured with this standard. Currently symposiums are being conducted by different line ministries and local administrations. And ministers, administrators and concerned officials are presenting detailed facts about the achievements they gained within the last twenty years. The sum of all the presentations should give us the overall deep and analytical picture. Within this perspective we could conclude without exaggeration that we didn’t achieve 10% of what we aspire to reach. It is very important to appraise the synergy that it will take to reach to our set goal. What impact would the developmental programs will have on the lives of the people which we believe should have equal opportunities. The implementation of the programs is very intricate that inquire time, energy and resources. The programs we tried to implement within the last 20 years with all the challenged we had are good indicators for we are on the right track.
10% of achievement within twenty years is a lot. Building a nation means nurturing culture. The concepts we often raise such as national harmony, tolerance, responsibility, and helping one another are values that should be nurtured within the society. These values are not something which emerged within the last twenty years. The foundation was there. To build the wall and roof on the existing foundation takes time. Looking to what we have achieved so far in terms of time we are on track.
Different economic speculators are heard including Eritrea with those countries expected to register fast economic development growth in the year 2011. How do you evaluate the speculation? What would it look like comparing with our long and short term development programs vis-àvis regional and international measurements?
I would say talking about development, nation building and economic progress has become fashion these days. It has become common for economists to speculate development based on inflation, GDP. On my part I think the speculation arises from the direction we are pursuing. You might have natural resources, opportunities, there could exist accidental economic development here and there. But sustainability is determining factor. The economic development should serve generations to come. The foundation that we establish should be solid that stand firm to challenges. Such speculation could be based on the sustainable economic, social, cultural and other development endeavors that are changing the lives of the population. The speculation could not be compared with that of “Wall Street” and “Stock Market” that fluctuates hour by hour and day by day. In this country we are putting in place an economic foundation that serves for posterity, not for the sake of boasting but practical.
As I tried to explain, our economic development is not vertical; but an economic development with equitable distribution and growth. So the speculation could be based from this reality. If we are going to claim over whole GDP growth of 7% or 9% like that of China, we should ask has it sustainability? Is it sustainable? Could it sustainably register 9% every year? This has to be taken into consideration. You should also comprehend its measurement and distribution. The global economic recession and economic crisis is the result of unsustainable economic development.
When we come to our situation, with the uncovering of natural resources and basically with the foundation we put in place the speculation that is being made is below the standard. The synergy of the economic development goes parallel with the strength of the foundation that is put in place. If the foundation is weak the aspired economic development could not be realized. And it could not have sustainability. It has to register steady development; from 2% to 2.5% and so on. We are well aware on how the attitude was of those who are speculating to date. Before two-three years the attempts to curb the economy were countless. What makes our economy more real is because it is home grown and being achieved free from external support and dependency? Generally speaking if we are going to talk about qualitative aspect of the economy we could only talk whether the speculation is below or congruent with the standard.