Solid Foundation Being Laid Towards Ensuring Equitable Development For Generations: President Isaias (PART III)
Your Excellency, what information could you provide us regarding the developments in trade, industry, construction and mining sectors and the plan on hand for encouraging external investment and cooperation?
Setting aside complex arguments, we normally refer to the term national economy in the domestic context. However, in reality, there is no such thing as a solely domestic economy. The economies of different countries are inextricably interrelated, with the mutual characteristic of complementing and influencing each other. This is especially true when we talk about trade and investment. Surely, a country that perpetually imports or consumes cannot claim to have an economy per se. But if a country is able to buy and sell at the same time, then we can say that it possesses a robust economy. In that line, the trade transactions involved would subsequently entail further growth in the economy of that country. Of course, having a trade surplus, whereby your exports exceed your imports would be an added incentive and one of the standards for economic growth.
On our part, we cannot say that we have mentionable exports. It may be possible to point to the exports of the leather tannery and textile industry; yet, it must be remembered that these are relatively insignificant. Even as we speak, the trade deficit remains rather large. Speaking from this vantage point, we cannot maintain that there is vibrant trade in this country. The situation and indeed our GDP would be much different if we could adequately exploit our marine resources and specifically if we could export fish, whether raw or processed. The potential benefits in this sector are beyond estimation. We also possess a significant advantage in livestock; nonetheless, they are limited to the domestic market with a proportionately small percentage being exported to foreign markets. There are initiatives being taken to change the situation but the contrast between our current livestock exports and the potential level remains great. However, as our economy develops, our exports will definitely grow.
We have been undertaking extensive programs to ensure food security. However, food security is not the ultimate goal; rather, it is an essential factor for the accelerated growth of our economy. We must first satisfy our domestic food demands before we can produce commodities for export. We must strive to yield surpluses from fish, livestock and other products so as to transform our economy to one that is export-oriented. At the same time, we must carefully study whether our exports will be competitive in the regional and international markets. We have been taking steps towards that end and we have explored various venues. Consequently, we have identified and targeted a range of fields in the industrial sector for development so as to invigorate our export capacity. We have especially given paramount attention to the development of tannery, textile and agro industries. We also have our sights on animal husbandry and animal products. But that is not all as the list of potential activities is very long.
With regards to investment, the government continues to promote stimulating and attractive policies. There are also varied development programs geared towards creating a conducive atmosphere for investors. All this has encouraged some small investment ventures. Currently, there may be huge investment in the mining sector; however, this is not representative of the overall investment situation in the country. The existing trend in the other sectors is comparably insignificant. To better understand the underlying causes for this situation, it is imperative to get a close look at the reality on the ground. Is the environment really conducive for investment? Undeniably, the foundation of requisite infrastructure including energy, water, transport and communications still has a long way to go before it can meet investment standards. Thus, we cannot point to any existing fundamental investment; at this stage, we can merely draw plans and express our good wishes in that regard. A case in point is the tourism sector. There are endless potentials and opportunities that can be exploited in that sector; however, there aren’t adequate air, land or water transport facilities; at the same time, there is a shortage of quality accommodation.
Inarguably, trade and investment are the main factors that fuel economic development. However, I must reiterate that we are lagging behind. Yet, there shouldn’t be any doubt that our capacity is growing in tandem with the development foundations that we are laying down. It is our sincere hope that foreign investment in tourism, agriculture and other sectors will increase, hand in hand with the government’s efforts to lay the foundations for a robust economy. At the same time, the investment must be welcomed with prudence. We live in unscrupulous times, and thus we must not welcome investment just for the sake of investment or privatization and indeed we must be not be jostled into investment by any market rumor or speculation. We must seek to increase genuine trade and investment. Without it, development, economic progress and improvement in the quality of life are unattainable.
It has been over a year since the Security Council passed sanctions resolution against Eritrea on the behest of the US. Immediately after the resolution you said in an interview that we should give it some time so that we could have clear picture on the situation. What was the clear picture of the resolutions, meaning the root cause, the background and the motive behind it? What influence does the sanctions left upon us? And the resolute rebuff on our part and the outcome? The popular, political diplomatic and media campaign conducted?
Everyone could see from the outset that the Security Council’s Resolution 1907, which imposed sanctions on Eritrea, was a duplicitous decision, lacking any solid foundations or legitimacy. You may recall that the resolution was passed at the end of 2009 around Christmas and the New Year. The timing was not arbitrary and must be contemplated with closer scrutiny in order to get a fuller picture. There was a deliberate effort to pass the resolution at that particular time when the rest of the world was preoccupied with prevailing events, and this is a clear affirmation of the insidious motives behind the Security Council’s decision. The genesis of these motives towards Eritrea can be traced back to nine or ten years before the decision. The problem should not be viewed narrowly as part of the causes behind the Eritrea-Ethiopia border conflict and the subsequent ploys to inflate it beyond proportion. Rather, it should be seen as symptomatic of the turmoil, crisis and dangerous instability that prevails in the Horn of Africa. The Eritrea-Ethiopia border conflict was inconsequential and could have been solved very easily. The greater problem is posed by the ulterior motives to sow continuous chaos in this region, which we see happening to this day.
Anyhow, it was agreed that the border conflict be settled by arbitration. A ruling was given in 2002 and we have counted 9 years since then. The ruling was final and binding and according to international law or any other legal premise it had to be implemented immediately. However, in blatant violation of the agreement, many ploys and schemes were devised to suspend implementation. There are many means commonly employed to suffocate agreements. Dialogue or talks are the most common that can be mentioned. We have also witnessed many other schemes. However, we refused to get dragged into any byways that were paved to obfuscate the cardinal issue. Yet, 9 years on the problem remains unsolved.
Primarily, it was the responsibility of the Security Council to ensure the implementation of the agreement. Then why isn’t the Security Council shouldering its responsibility as guarantor of the agreement? We can present countless reasons to explain the Security Council’s reluctance to fulfill its obligations. It may be recalled that many parties have continued to call for the reform of the United Nations on the premise that it was an organization oriented on the global order that manifested circa World War II. Other justifications have also been forwarded in favor of reform. But we must look at the constituency of the Security Council. We must question who manipulates and exploits the Security Council at will. Everybody knows the answers to these questions, which brings us to the conclusion that the Security Council would have overseen the implementation of the border agreement if it really was a body genuinely interested in maintaining global peace the neutral mediation and solution of conflicts.
Over the past 9 years, countless plots have been concocted to nullify our legitimate claims. And despite the fact that our sovereign territory remains unlawfully occupied, and in spite of the violation of the border ruling and the contravention of international law so much has been done to prevent us from voicing our grievances. Nonetheless, we have never ceased calling for the implementation of the ruling. Thus, to silence our protests and to intimidate us into a corner, the Security Council passed Resolution 1907. To prevent us from reclaiming our occupied territory and to suppress our calls for justice, other agendas were brought up. This is characteristic of the looming problem over our region. Who is behind this problem? Who stand to benefit from this prevailing agenda? And why have we been embroiled in this tangled web? How did this resolution come to pass? These are points that must register in everybody’s minds. The line of reasoning behind the distorting maneuvers dictates that the issue of border demarcation will be forgotten with the passage of time. According to that argument, other agendas would be tabled to distort the main issue and continuously place us in a defensive position, thus rendering the border ruling and its implementation null and void. However, these ploys will not succeed. But the regional crises that are arising out of their perpetuation are clear to see.
From the perspective of international law, it is not right to watch idly as the sovereign territory of a country is unlawfully occupied. In spite of increasing attempts at obstruction of the legal process, the Border Commission tasked with delimiting and demarcating the contested border employed cutting edge technology to “virtually demarcate” the border and hence settle, once and for all, the disputes arising out of it. But even in the face of this conclusive settlement that had no loopholes or scope for amendment, the Security Council has failed to implement the border decision. In light of this fact, we must ask the motives behind the Security Council’s neglect for its main responsibility and its imposition of sanctions on Eritrea. We must also ask the bases for the sanctions.
One of the main reasons that were used to prop the resolution is Somalia. But how can the situation in Somalia become justification for imposing sanctions on Eritrea? The main reason why the situation in Somalia has devolved into its present state is Washington’s misguided policies. The chaos that descended on Somalia after the fall of Siad Barre in the early 90’s and its subsequent disintegration into Puntland, Somaliland, Jubbaland, Benadirland and other ‘lands’ are all attributed to the failed policies of consecutive US administrations. Likewise, neighboring countries such as Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya have problems that are essentially related to the situation in Somalia. On top of the US’s misguided policies, the negative influence of these neighboring countries has also contributed to complicating the situation. Eritrea, however, is in no way involved with the problems Somalia is facing. So how can it be held responsible?
In any discourse on Somalia, Al Shabaab, Hizbul Islam, extremists, non-extremists and even pirates always get the bulk of the attention. However, all these classifications are meaningless and immaterial to the core problem. The real problem in Somalia is the prevailing state of vacuum. Therefore, the first step that should be taken is normalizing the situation in Somalia. The crisis and turmoil in Somalia has had a drastic impact on our region; indeed, the Somali problem has become a source of continuous worry for the Horn of Africa. But Eritrea is not responsible for this prevailing fact and it is not possible for anyone to point finger at the country. While that is the truth of the matter, many stories were fabricated and used to initiate the imposition of sanctions on us. One of these stories claims that Eritrea has provided financial and weapons support to extremists in Somalia. For general information, one thing must be kept in mind which is the fact that since the days of the struggle of independence any assistance we provide has been based on one fundamental philosophy. That philosophy maintains that we should not make the party which we assist a total dependent on our help. We never intended to spoon feed anyone. We only try to advise others to follow the path of self-reliant. Thereon, the beneficiary should initiate a dynamic of its own. This is because we believe that any external assistance cannot have any effectiveness whatsoever. This is our unwavering stance on this issue whether with regards to Somalia or any other country. Meanwhile, there are claims that we have provided anti-aircraft missiles to the Somalis. However, if anyone has a good knowledge of Somalia, they cannot believe that Eritrea’s arms support is necessary in Somalia, taking into account the endless means by which weaponry finds its way into that country. Everybody knows how the conflicting parties in Somalia obtain their arms, thus, why should Eritrea be made a scapegoat for this obvious fact?
Another conspiracy that was used to boost the imposition of sanctions was the Eritrea-Djibouti border problem. Amazingly, at the time when the alleged border dispute arose with Djibouti, the main parties concerned were not consulted. Instead, the matter was hastily referred to the US State Department, which did not delay in releasing a press statement. This was followed by a UN decision that was fraught with accusations against Eritrea. How can you level accusations at one party before examining the evidence on the ground? Even more, the case was referred to the Security Council in clear interference to and with disregard to the efforts that were being made by Qatar at that time. This was deliberately done to manipulate the conflict towards other ends. Thus, before any evidence was presented and before any settlement could be reached on the issue, the conflict was used to accelerate the imposition of sanctions on Eritrea.
The third accusation behind the resolution was that “Eritrea is destabilizing the region.” However, it should be made clear that the foremost agent of instability in the Horn of Africa is the administration in Washington. This is not a sentimental conviction—it is based on hard facts. If we look back at the records of the past 20 years, we find that there have been countless plots executed in this region. In Eritrea alone, there have been numerous political, military, and economic conspiracies appearing under varying names. If we looked further towards Somalia, we would find again even more detailed records of the perpetrators of each act of sabotage. You could easily rank those who are most responsible for this instability. Similarly, the havoc being wreaked on Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Yemen, the Red Sea, and the Gulf of Aden can be attributed to a singular source. It is this source that has caused the rise and demise of various “transitional federal governments’ in Somalia. It is also this source that switches the topic of terrorism ‘on’ and ‘off’ at whim. We have to ask if there really is terrorism in the Horn of Africa and if the current approaches being pursued to deal with it will be effective. And how is Eritrea’s involvement factored in to this equation. Apart from association with terrorism, Eritrea has also been accused of harboring and assisting opposition groups of certain countries. We will not say that we are countering their conspiracies by hatching some of our own as it is already clear who is responsible for the existing problems.
There are many other points that we can raise in this regard. But returning to the central matter, the sanctions imposed on Eritrea were based on unfounded allegations and patched up accusations that were packaged to be passed in the resolution by New Year. The so called ‘monitoring group’ also played its part in this. The main duty of this group is to collect rubbish and its mandate seems to poke its nose in other people’s business asking outrageous questions such as “How much is the revenue of the Eritrean government from the gold that is being mined in Bisha?” That is on top of the baseless reports on weapon transfers into and out of the country. In a nutshell, the parties who passed Resolution 1907 became the accusers and the investigators at the same time. They also sought to be the punishers. Taking into account the series of events that preceded this mendacious resolution, it is easy to sum up that it definitely had ulterior motives. However, in the aftermath of the imposition of the sanctions, even worse maneuvers have been made to lend credibility to the trumped up charges that prop the duplicitous resolution.
The truth of the matter remains that the accusations and charges leveled against us were conjured out of thin air, lacking any legitimacy. In the past year, it has become even clearer that the sole objective of the resolution was to silence us. But we cannot be intimidated by these futile attempts and we shall not hold our tongues while our sovereign territory remains occupied. Thus, Resolution 1907 is baseless and lacks any legal foundations or political justification. It was merely designed to put us in a defensive position, and to further plunge the Horn of Africa into a chaotic state by fuelling conflicts. The wrongs and ill-deeds that have been done to Eritrea in the last fourteen months may have intrigued many foreign observers, but they have not impressed the people of Eritrea. The Eritrean people reckoned the menace beforehand and successfully rebuffed it. Courtesy to the internet and other advanced communication technology, the people were able to mount a strong reaction to the resolution. People in Europe, the Americas and other regions of the world toiled round-the-clock in protest of the sanctions. The people loudly voiced their objections by organizing social gatherings, meetings, and seminars. The protests were not even centrally organized, they were a product of the people’s determined initiatives. In time, the protests developed and became more organized. People participated in not just tens of thousands but in hundreds of thousands. There is no government official in Europe and America who has not heard the objections of the Eritrean people and who has not received complaints and petitions to reverse the resolution.
This forceful national spirit has not only countered the sanctions but also helped to avert other plots and conspiracies; thus, we can say that we are in a much better situation at present. The situation at the end of 2009 is much different from the present situation, in all respects. There had been many attempts to isolate us in this region by invoking our name dozens of times in association with different allegations. However, they have not borne any fruit. Of course, no one wishes to experience any crisis; yet, that does not kill you only makes you stronger. On the contrary, let’s assess the situation of those who strove to corner and weaken us. Surely, their ploys have not materialized and their objectives have not been achieved. Thus, we can conclude that the incessant fabrications and allegations are evidence of their frustration in failure. On the other hand, we did not submit to the continuous pressure and we never went hungry because of it. Rather, the people’s perseverance and stance were profoundly strengthened. The external meddling only served to enrage the Eritrean people inside and outside the country. This was a cause of much concern and worry for the architects of the resolution, who had hoped that the sanctions would leave an “indelible impact”. Meanwhile, we came out of the ordeal stronger and wiser.
The architects still remain alarmed over the unexpected consequences to the sanctions. Their continued distress is driving them towards even more drastic measures like targeting individuals, the Front, the government, and individual government officials. One way or the other, we cannot be misled from the fundamental fact that at the end of the day all these aggravations are targeting the population as a whole. They have relentlessly toiled to sow discord amongst the population and create internal conflicts; they have also tried to encourage people to leave their country while deluding the youth with promises of better opportunities elsewhere; they have also attempted to weaken the economy in hope that it would lead to protests and insurgency. These are not mere conspiracy theories; these are hard facts. But we usually choose not to divulge the evidence. They opened UN offices to employ idle individuals, and gave them UN traveling documents so that they could assist in the scattering of people around the world. There is no stone they have left unturned to harm us. At the end of the day, it is the people who remain the targets of these heinous acts.
But in a further blow to their plans, even the youth who were deviously led out of their country to boost the memberships of the so-called opposition have not fallen prey to their traps. They have not betrayed their country and their people and they have not forgotten their families and relatives. Thus, the attempt to find instruments that could be manipulated against Eritrea failed yet again. The Eritrean people would never, under any circumstances, descend to their unscrupulous levels. But, there may be one or two individuals here and there who do not fit that description. At the end, their hopes of putting a wedge between the government and the people has failed to materialize and this continues to be a niggling source of anxiety for them.
As a consequence of their frustration, they have sought to ‘teach the Eritrean people a lesson’. Thus, they have embarked on a campaign to paralyze the main activists, especially in the Diaspora. They are investigating people and trying to intimidate them at meetings and gatherings in the hopes of undermining the resilience of the people. They are trying to terrorize people by breaking down their doors. In one incident, they even broke into a cultural center and confiscated money and computers. This is pure banditry and aimed to enfeeble the Eritrean people and weaken their ability to fight back and to persevere in the face of challenges. The people of Eritrea will always struggle for the sake of the country’s dignity and sovereignty. It is well known that most of our political, news and diplomatic activities are conducted by the people rather than through embassies or special delegations. This popular activism has been instrumental in rebuffing the sanctions. That is why the people have been targeted as part of the plan to vanquish Eritrea.
Especially, in the past 14-15 months we have witnessed other new plots. There has been a recent whirlwind of allegations that Eritrea has put British citizens under custody. Of course, we should not be expected to sit idly by and let hostile elements to enter and roam the country at will. We are not interested in a “Tom and Jerry” type of wild chase. The Britons entered our territory unlawfully and worse they possessed a large cache of weapons and military gear. It was we who were supposed to question why the Britons came to our country with all their sophisticated sniper rifles. Ironically, in defiance of all reason, it was the British who started accusing us of holding its citizens unlawfully and of violating the Geneva Convention. Inarguably, we have every right to prevent aggression into our territory but at the same time we do not harbor any undue concerns on the matter as we possess sufficient incriminating evidence. And we will definitely not take any steps outside legal boundaries. Meanwhile, the Geneva Convention was invoked and calls were made for embassy officials and family to have access to the people under custody. This is not the modus operandi in any part of the world. They cannot invoke any article of the Geneva Convention because it was they who first violated the treaty and threw it into the dustbin. The details of this incident would be better left for another occasion.
The plots do not stop there, and as I mentioned earlier, there have been countless attempts to abotage the gold mine in Bisha. Yet, we have never publicly acknowledged these plots to this date and we shall not do so in the future. But it must be known, that we have a dossier of the incidents with ample evidence including pictures. Some may say that our silence further encourages the perpetration of these hostile acts. Nonetheless, we have chosen not to talk about them until we see fit. We do not wish to be deviated from the main issue by other diluting events and incidents intended to serve one purpose only: to deviate us from our rightful path. Thus, we must be vigilant and wary of the conspiracies and plots that are being hatched. For us, the cardinal issue is restoring our sovereignty and our occupied territories. If there are other pressing regional issues we can discuss them on a case by case basis. However, we refuse to be deluded by these devious plots and this is not because we are uniquely intelligent but because we have learnt many lessons.