Solid Foundation Being Laid Towards Ensuring Equitable Development For Generations: President Isaias (PART VII)
It has been said that the Government of Eritrea views family politics and the oppression of the majority by the few as being the essential reasons behind the unrest in North Africa and the Middle East. And a clear consequence of this trend is the disproportionate distribution of wealth. What are the characteristics of family politics and inequitable distribution of wealth? What is your take on the positive correlation between the power emanating from the flow of money in a single direction and the wealth that is generated by power?
These are points that I have frequently raised in various occasions. The greatest problem in undeveloped countries has been the dominance of families and minorities over the majorities. Indeed, where these situations prevail it would be difficult to refer to them as countries per se; they are more like the dominions of a family, clique or faction. The rights of the people cannot be respected or guaranteed in such places and nor can there be any equity. The absence of basic social rights emerges in a rather inconspicuous process that is driven forward by the political forces that seek to establish a New World Order or a unipolar world. These forces come under various guises and chant countless slogans be they about democracy, human rights or any other agenda with the singular aim of creating vertical polarization within a society. This is a deadly weapon as social division along ethnic, tribal or religious lines is very difficult to remedy. It is not a problem that can be solved by a constitution or any political philosophy. Unity is a culture that should be cultivated in a society over a period of time. Only when a people ensure their unity, identify common interests and recognize their rights and work to maintain them can there be genuine security in the country.
In some countries, there would be 80 political parties and all of them would be organized along clan or tribal affiliations. Those who join these parties foster the illusion that their clan is benefiting; however, it is the chief or the family that heads the clan or tribe that ultimately benefits from this political structure. Furthermore, in this polity, the stronger clan would dominate the weaker clan; one religion would impose its objectives at the expense of another religion. In a nutshell, the advantaged perpetually lives off the disadvantaged.
If anyone claims that one clan or tribe has benefited, then that claim is false as any mentionable gains are made by a singe family or a few individuals. To preserve the status quo, those at the top of the hierarchy forge alliances among themselves and form cartels. To lend a semblance of legitimacy to their acts, they would hold sham parliamentary elections where they ensure that their hired representatives would win. So in effect, the family buys a seat in the parliament with its money to secure its power. The inner workings of this process have a spiral relationship with dialectic explanations.
While this phenomenon is very common in Africa and other undeveloped countries, commentators attempt to distort the real picture with claims that these countries have vibrant democracies and exercise commendable respect for human rights. These claims only help to destroy the country politically, economically and culturally. Thus, indirectly, the regimes in power in the undeveloped countries are only working to seal their countries’ doom.
Apart from the abuse of power, the issue of wealth distribution is also another important point in this regard. In the case of undeveloped countries, the whole wealth of the nation would be possessed by no more than 1-2 % of the population. Cronyism and nepotism mar all business and trade practices in those countries, whereby economic benefits are secured only for members of the political elite and their immediate families. Consequently, these economic benefits are used to further consolidate the control over the power apparatus. In the process, they employ the services of the media which has become an indispensable tool for the purpose of misinformation and the manipulation of public opinion, a lesson that has been earnestly learnt from the experiences of western powers and their media outlets. However, the corruption of the economy is not merely perpetrated by domestic powers alone. External powers also dip their hands to take their share of the spoils in complicity with their local partners.
The dialectic behind this phenomenon can be crystallized as the consolidation of political power for economic gains and the exploitation of those purloined gains to further entrench your control. It is with this in mind that we should contemplate the mind-numbing reports of leaders pilfering billions and billions of dollars. These leaders have only been able to amass these personal wealths by mastering the ‘art of deception’. They would hold phony elections and stuff the ballot boxes to give people an illusion of democracy while they go about securing their individual interests. This has become a routine phenomenon in many places to the point of becoming a refined art.
The Western powers and particularly the Security Council has taken varying and often conflicting stands on the recent revolutions in Libya, Bahrain, Egypt, Syria, etc. To what do you attribute these vacillations?
Definitely, it is in their nature. You cannot change their shifting ways. These developments have served to teach a lesson to everyone about the wayward western policies in the last 20 years. Those who wish to establish a New World Order have tried to disguise their motives by enlisting or controlling international and regional organizations that come under various names such as the “International Community”, the “UN”, the “Security Council”, the “OAU” or “AU” the “Arab League” and others. Typically, an abstract or non-existent problem would be put forward to the Security Council –with 5 permanent and 10 non-permanent members- for measures that would be sold to the public as enjoying collective support. This has become a customary practice but its flaws are not hidden from anyone. This is untenable and the situation must be changed.
How and when the change will come about is another matter. Already, there is much discussion about UN reform and readjustment in the organization of the Security Council. This is not the occasion discuss the mechanics or modus operandi of the Security Council in detail but it is important to note that the decisions are always one-sided and reflect the interests of a single party. Even when a specific issue is said to have been discussed, it has most probably been engaged and guided by no more than two or three countries, the participation of other permanent or non-permanent members notwithstanding. Thus, the events are dictated according to the interests of the members.
What is important is that the Security Council must not make decisions or take steps at whim. What does the Security Council want? Does it want to change regimes? Does it want to replace monarchies with republics or does it want to instate monarchies in the place of existing republics? Does it want to set up emirates? On what basis are governments categorized as dictatorships and consequently deposed? Or is it the rights of civilians that the Security Council wants to protect? How do they distinguish between civilians and non civilians?
All in all, the Security Council must have legal precedents and legitimate standards from which all its decisions and measures must emanate. Otherwise, there will continue to be discrepancies in the way they handle issues; one country would be the victim of aerial bombardment while other countries are referred for further investigation before any decision is made. Intervention would be recommended in some cases, while indifference prevails in others. Some parties would receive counsel while others would be estranged. These incongruities in the Security Council’s dealings have become crystal clear to even the most naïve person. We all know now that there are no international norms that serve as a platform for the actions of the international community, the UN or the Security Council in the face of conflicts. The differing responses that have surfaced in the wake of the problems in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Egypt and Tunisia should be condemned.
However, we cannot forever point our fingers at external intervention. Every people, every country, every neighborhood and indeed every region must try and solve its problems through cooperation. Otherwise, the problems will continue to present opportunities for the policies of creative chaos. Expecting justice and ascription to legal standards from the current world order is only wishful thinking.
So far the western powers have been concealing their guiding hand in African affairs by putting superficial responsibility on the AU and then pretending to join any initiative or effort on a secondary basis or at the behest of the regional organization. Similarly, the affairs of Middle East are handled by proxy of the Arab League. They would try to legitimize their actions and evade any accountability by seemingly operating under predetermined ‘recommendations’ by the Arab League. The regional organizations or willing countries would be set up for photo ops and made to release statements that would then lay the groundwork for full-fledged western intervention. Similarly, the decisions that are made and the measures that are taken under the auspices of the Security Council should not be considered any differently from the instrumentation of other organizations by western powers.
Beyond any doubt, there must be a uniform set of laws to govern the world. There must also be an organization that protects these laws. There should be a UN; there should be a Security Council; there should also be other mechanisms that uphold international law. In short, there must be a global mechanism to ensure that international relations are based on acceptable legal foundations.
Thus, the impunity and the unilateralism of the last 20 years cannot continue. The situation must be remedied through reform in the UN, the Security Council and other regional and international organizations. The desire for change must not be confined to domestic or regional circles it must be promoted internationally. However, the change will not be effected by mere good wishes and the fact remains that the world will not experience peace without it.
Excellency, what do you think will be the effect of the recent uprisings on the Horn of Africa and particularly on Eritrea? And with the exceeding strategic importance of the Middle East, how do you think the uprisings will feature in the international global arena?
We need not count our blessings as a nation in light of the recent revelations in North Africa and the Middle East. From a long time back, even before 20 years, we have fought corruption, promoted equality and justice and worked to strengthen the unity of our people. We have followed the right path towards rebuilding our nation and we can boast that we are not loyal or subservient to any external powers or interests. At the same time we aspire for the stability and security of our neighborhood and region because it would be equally beneficial for all parties. Yet, despite our virtues and our good will, we cannot say that we are unaffected by developments in the region at large. That is why we appreciate the significance of ‘constructive engagement’ with our neighbors. Unfortunately, this policy has brought hostility and animosity against us. Our neighbors do not wish to complement our policy of constructive engagement and instead they make alliances with external powers and align their interests with remote agendas, most probably because they intend to conceal the fact that they have abused their power to pilfer and to plunder.
If there were no social divisions in the countries in our neighborhood; if the wealth was not concentrated among a few individuals; and if each country and people had secured their independence and sovereignty, then the picture would have been much different. These realities push us to work much harder to improve our situation internally. Nevertheless, we do not harbor any illusions about creating an isolated island of stability in our country regardless of the situation in our neighborhood. Therefore, we should further push our attempts at constructive engagement in a practical manner.
When there’s a fire at your neighbor’s home, at least you will feel the heat. This common sense makes it imperative to try and solve problems not only at the domestic level but at the regional level as well. Our policies may not be attractive to many quarters, but they must understand that there is no alternative.
We cannot bring any change by reaching out to those who are beyond our reach. The practical scope where our constructive engagement can be of consequence is the Horn of Africa. If we collectively try to address the impending dangers and carve a correct path, we can overcome all the problems of the last 20 years. Of course, our constructive engagement needs to take different approaches in consideration of the variances and circumstances in the situation of each country whether Sudan, Egypt or Yemen and its effect on our own situation. Once we have a full appraisal of that effect then we can chart the strategy and the specific plans to go ahead with our engagement.
Your Excellency, you may recall that, 5 years ago, in a speech you gave to commemorate the 15th independence day celebration you had ventured your speculation that “the balance of power was shifting in a gradual process and that the dynamic transformations in the global economy and the public’s nascent awareness and aversion to unipolar domination and its disregard for human rights would result in a revival of political equilibrium”. Not long after your speech, there was the advent of the global financial crisis and economic stagnation. Meanwhile, the general opposition to the neo-colonial or neo-imperialist policies has increased in intensity. In the US, sentiments have emerged that blame the crisis on bi-partisan politics. What is the validity of all these revelations? Can we really expect the reversal of the unipolar world and the emergence of a redrawn global political picture?
Of course, it all depends on your interpretation. To accurately interpret the events, you need to grasp certain fundamental tenets. Since primitive times, when the first societies were formed and even after that in the modern era, people have been subject to rules that govern their co-existence. Co-existence was predicated by mutual interests and this has always been the fact wherever you go. However, there would always be one, two or three, who found themselves at odds with the mutual interests. These diverging or conflicting interests would then provide the fuel for instability and turmoil. These threats to co-existence have been the source of conflicts faced by peoples, nations and civilizations across history.
If we look back at events far back in the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries and up to the buildup of the First World War and even recently if we recall the events in the last 20 years we would notice that when factors arise that attempt to unhinge collective interests, chaos necessarily ensues.
We can associate the causes for revolutions to this fundamental basis. Why do protests gather momentum? Why do people become restive? The source can be traced back to elements that disrupt the natural balance and harmony or societies. When some try to exploit others and try to take advantage of the misfortune of others, necessarily there will be imbalances. There can be no justification for exploitation or asymmetry in the distribution of wealth and resources. But in the event that these occur, then conflicts are inevitable.
At the international level as well peoples and nations have established laws that dictate their relationships and harmonize their interests. In that regard we may mention the raison d’etre of the UN, the Security Council and the international community. Nonetheless, international relations are also prone to problems arising from destabilizing factors. We may point to World War I and World War II as well as the situation during the Cold War to illustrate the shape which international relations can take in the presence of diverging interests and destabilizing factors.
In the past twenty years we witnessed the unexpected disintegration of the Soviet Union in what may best be described an accident in history. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the ideologies, organizations, and movements that advocated social justice were weakened or totally disappeared. The end of the Cold War set the stage for a dangerous era that prevails to this day. Those who considered themselves victorious at the end of the Cold War or in other words those who came out on the winning side of the unexpected end to the Cold War had a “misconception” about the fundamental rule of co-existence. The victors sought to establish their control over the whole world. Their aim was to plunder the resources of the world via their oil companies.
Perhaps in the early 20th century the development of the industrialized countries and their economic, political and cultural forces were a product of effort. However, in the last century and particularly after the Second World War, the governments have depended on manipulation of the financial markets and speculation to boost their growth. Development or economic power can be achieved by real industrial output and technological advancement to the highest levels of space engineering. It can also be achieved by enhancing agricultural techniques and increasing production to gain a surplus. However, time has shown that financial institutions such as banks changed the manner in which they operated and the services they provided changed as well. They started engaging in unscrupulous practices of speculation rendering worthless pieces of paper valuable assets with their prices shooting as bids and offers were wildly placed. This culture that was cultivated in the developed countries nurtured a tendency to consume and an aversion to saving. At the micro or individual level the system allowed a person who has no income or employment to carry 10 credit cards in his pockets and purchase at will, all the while accumulating huge debts.
You may argue that the developed countries have strong economies and considerable wealth but their riches have been accumulated by plundering other countries. America may be a rich country, with its own oil resources, and industrial power; we may refer to it as the most powerful economy since the 20th century. However, all that power does not emanate internally. It is fundamentally based on the enterprise of US oil companies who have acquired interests all over the world. Even the wealth spawned by the oil companies is not genuine as it is entrenched in the unscrupulous practices of the international financial system. This has further deviated economic growth from a basis of real production and output towards an illusion of wealth accumulation or what is referred to as the economic ‘bubble’. Slowly, the economic bubble overshadowed and dwarfed the real economy. Meanwhile, those who stood to gain from the speculation that created the economic bubble inflated it to global proportion controlling other economies along the way.
After the end of the Cold War, there was a predominant illusion of invincibility and omnipotence. Overestimating, the actual power of its economy, the west sought to use its perceived financial and technological clout to control China, India, South America, Africa and partially the Middle East. Their aim was purely economic domination. They sought to exploit the resources and wealth of other countries through the introduction of various instruments like “privatization”, “free trade”, “market economies” and others. To implement this strategy they had the upper hand or advantage. They would infiltrate a country and acquire land or make investments and then control the economy of that country at its buds. They would then establish governments that served their interests and beef their military power to dispel any competition. Their approach was multi-pronged and took all sorts of forms from technological manipulation to cultural invasion through the likes of “Hollywood”.
All these seeming advantages further propelled the illusion or delusion of perpetual domination and hegemony over the world. Consequently, the fundamental rules or bases for co-existence were ignored and disregarded. The gap between the rich and the poor further widened and the disparities between the economically developed countries and the developing countries were further accentuated. On top of that, the western powers followed a policy of deliberately creating instability and chaos in order to further their interests instead of resolving conflicts peacefully. However, this cannot go on forever. They may be able to buy time and they may desperately try to cover up their ill deeds but at the end of the day the situation will be surely be different. The perpetuation of their destabilizing policies will only strengthen opposition towards them. This is not only because they are tampering with the basic human rights of people but also because they are affecting livelihoods.
We have witnessed the opposition in Afghanistan and Iraq; there have been protests in the streets of Europe and the US. At the same time, we have been observing the various means devised to obstruct and suffocate the opposition. But apart from the few unscrupulous and misguided individuals who are perpetrating this instability, everyone else with a sane head cannot accept this prevailing situation. Any imbalance to the rules that dictate co-existence cannot be acceptable. The perpetuity of the unipolar system is a delusion that special interest groups have not been able to wear off. The picture is very different now from what it once was.