Solid Foundation Being Laid Towards Ensuring Equitable Development For Generations: President Isaias (PART X and Final)
Excellency, from another perspective of global affairs the issue of terrorism seems to have become less hyped recently. What do you think is the reason for this? Similarly, the issue of economic recession is not dominating the headlines as it used to. Do you think that there is a subliminal reason for these incidences?
Everything is crystal clear. There is no need to dig deep for the reasons behind the evident trend. The fact remains that the “mind-set” of the west does not possess an appreciation for far-reaching consequences. They only make their decisions based on shallow perceptions of events in a way that furthers their goals and interests. As such they do not have any strategies. The word strategy is not in their dictionary. They say that strategy is for the naïve. Thus, they prefer to employ tactics, maintaining that the sum of tactics is more effective than any strategy. The “creative chaos” that I mentioned earlier is a good example of their tactics. Hence, they go about trying to take advantage of each situation as it develops.
With regards to terrorism, we may look at its genesis during the Cold War for better understanding. It may be recalled that the Cold War was a decade-long struggle among those who strove for social justice on the one hand and those who sought to dominate and plunder the world on the other hand. This is usually the cause for conflict in most societies across history. One party always pursues the interests of the few while the other represents the good and welfare of the majority. Of course, the western camp was not wholly representative of the west; on the contrary, it was influenced by those who were “west of the west”. And the Communist Camp led by the Soviet Union was mainly composed of the Russia we know today. However, in between these two polarizations there grew leftist or progressive movements as well as nationalist movements. The Taliban movement led by Najibullah in Afghanistan which later evolved into the Al-Qaeda grew out of the many movements which thrived during the Cold War. In the end, we observed as most of the leftist political movements or trade unions failed to achieve their objectives at the state or international level. Initially, the progressive and leftist movements had been within the embrace of the Communist camp led by the Soviet Union. However, with the collapse of the Soviet regime a vacuum was created. In its wake, the political movements which aspired for social justice were unable to achieve their aims. At that time, there were progressive movements and Arab nationalist parties in the Middle East. There were also many communist parties. Nonetheless, all of them combined could not bring about any change in the social situation of the Middle East. Similarly, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lingered on despite the various efforts of many countries, past and present.
We may draw some similarities with the Civil Rights movement in the US. A trend that is common in most societies is to resort to God in the face of troubles and tribulations. Sometimes, supplication turns to manipulation for political ends. In America the whites who professed Christianity enslaved and oppressed the black population. This endless bondage and humiliation drove the African-Americans to the churches en masse; this was especially so because there was no political movement to address the plight of the African Americans or to alleviate their situation. It is from their somber hymns in church that we get the “Blues” and “Jazz” music which reflects their frustration, helplessness and their lack of reprieve. In short, they had no other way of fighting back. That is history as it happened. Whether the problem found a solution or not is another issue.
Similarly, when the progressive and leftist parties met failure with the end of the Cold War, there was a general disposition towards religious activism and organization. Of course, we may question the righteousness of employing religion for political ends but that is going to take us into another philosophical argument. Nonetheless, the fact remains that when social grievances and misgivings persist and when there is a vacuum, then religion steps in. As this became evident, some began to view Islam as a potential instrument. This is not something without precedent. Indeed, in the 1940s Italy had enlisted the Vatican in its fight with the communists. This is a fact corroborated by declassified CIA documents. According to commentators, it was the first attempt by the CIA which used modern technique to counter the expansion of communism and the Soviet camp. In time, this technique was refined and even more experience was gleaned in employing it. Thus, they created Al-Qaeda in a situation of vacuum. Prior to Al-Qaeda there was a movement called the Muslim Brotherhood, which may be said to have had some political activism and organization. Later, this organization was financed, armed with “Stinger” missiles and provided with sophisticated communications to help bring down the Soviet Union. With time, it became, as the saying goes, “the spell bouncing back to the sorcerer”. Yet, they employed this blowback effectively to cultivate a climate of fear that would give them the width and freedom to do as they wished. The fact of the matter is that Al-Qaeda and the west are two sides of the same coin. One cannot survive without the other. The west used to know more than anyone else how Al-Qaeda operated and they may still do! Nevertheless, the organization has been used to create a terror conspiracy that would be manipulated actively or passively. Active manipulation of terror is when they covertly or overtly use it by themselves. Passive manipulation is when they try to exploit situations that are caused by terrorism. An example of this passive involvement is evident in the recent developments in North Africa and the Middle East.
It may be recalled that there were times when Al-Qaeda was used as a pretext to level accusations and to incriminate Saddam Hussein. In various places, especially those countries that are facing unrest today, there were many incidents which were attributed to Al-Qaeda. At other times, there were maneuvers to prevent Al-Qaeda from gaining a foothold, while in other places there were ostensible steps to remove Al-Qaeda. This is all a big riddle. Anyway, we should focus on how terror is exploited. In this regard the fall of the twin towers on 9/11 was a blessing in disguise for them. But after all that happened and the time that has elapsed, this seems to have been forgotten. There was much harping about the “New Middle East” as I mentioned earlier. There was talk about democratic transformation in the Middle East. There was also criticism towards Saudi Arabia as well as other regimes. However, all these were tactics which are employed and discarded at whim. When asked why the US was against Al-Qaeda even though it had historically supported the organization, Madeline Albright, former US Secretary of State said, “The situation in the Cold War is different from the situation at present. We are going with the times” Her words crystallize their policies in the past and at present.
Excellency, some are saying that the revolutions in the Middle East may be hijacked or they may fail. What are your views about these opinions?
For a short while, the uprisings may be hijacked. However, we must take into account the time factor. You can’t say that the movements will head in a certain direction after a mere four months. Of course, you may attribute the unrest to social grievances, economic disparity and other injustices. And indeed, nothing can stand in the way of popular rage and demands. If 90 % of a population cannot earn their daily bread and if the wealth and resources of a country are exploited by a minority group with foreign alliances and support, then the people cannot be expected to tolerate for too long. Every country has its own dynamics and should be seen on a case by case basis. Nonetheless, there are attempts to hijack the unrest. First, creative chaos is employed to buy time. Then the plans are set and drawn to hijack the situation to achieve interests. However, we must remember that there is no intention to find a solution to the upheavals. The hijacking may go on for a while but at the end of the day if the underlying causes of the people remain unaddressed and unsolved the problems and the unrest will continue until the desired objective is reached and the popular demands are met.
However, all these popular movements suffer from one major flaw—they are all disorganized. Moreover, they don’t have clear objectives. In addition, the opposition has taken too much time in its preliminary stage without advancing forward. But this is normal and we shouldn’t look at all the cases through a single lens.
Today, we find ourselves in an era of plunder. Thus, the west is trying to salvage some profit out of the chaos and the turmoil. The level of organization of the popular movements in North Africa and the Middle East, which is usually associated with Facebook and Twitter is prone to sabotage or manipulation by external and internal plots. Thus, the movements must be better organized and based on a much more solid foundation. Otherwise, in the current scheme of things the movements are pretty liable to being hijacked by other interests.
Other than the danger posed by external forces, are the popular movements liable to being hijacked by internal actors?
Absolutely! The fact is that today there is a lot of interrelationship between external and internal forces owing to common interests and goals. I don’t wish to delve into internal affairs much as it is none of our concern. Let’s take a little glimpse into the situation of Egypt. There the people are being intimidated with the threat posed by the Muslim Brotherhood. The aim of this intimidation is to make sure that the force that eventually comes to power is moderate and controllable, more or less in the same fashion as the party in Turkey. This is not a new revelation. There had been similar earlier attempts in Egypt itself. In the current situation, we see how the internal forces are trying to benefit from the toils of another organization. This may be characterized as opportunism. You can ask these opportunists where they were and what they were doing during the revolution and if they have the right to put labels on other movements.
Excellency, it is evident that the media has varying projection and presentation of the situation in the North Africa when compared with that in the Middle East. How do you view the obvious discrepancies and what does it expose about the press and how it works?
Free Press is a term commonly misused and abused. In the last twenty, the integrity of the free press has been eroded. The reason for this gradual attrition is because the press has been organized and syndicated to achieve certain interests. At the country level, there may be media outlets employed to voice the views of various political forces. With the continued progress in the field of information technology, these political forces have found it easier to disseminate their message. Nonetheless, we cannot say that media outlets have been uniformly employed. Internationally, the mainstream media is owned by not more than 10 large conglomerates. These conglomerates finance the media services and control the content of their coverage. Indeed, the control over media outlets has been successful as the content has not been limited to political news rather it also encompasses programs that deal in entertainment as well as other cultural and social issues. This has proved to be very helpful in manipulating and shaping public opinion. Indeed, a war is being waged through the media. Slowly, the media has evolved into an addiction for people. Continuous exposure to the media has made it difficult for people to have their own judgment. Instead people would refer to commentaries and analyses by Al-Arabiya channel, Al Jazeera, BBC, etc.
You need a set of standards or parameters for an objective perspective of the content covered in the media. For example, while watching Press TV of Iran, you notice that the channel will air a 24-hour coverage of the situation in Bahrain. In their eyes, the Shia movement of Bahrain stands above all other affairs. Thus, they try to highlight it indefinitely. This shows that the channel has interests and views that it wants to promote. This understanding can help you in digesting the news of other media outlets be they Sky News, Al Arabiya, Fox News or others. Media is not only used to manipulate public opinion but for disinformation as well. Thus, you should enhance your ability to have a clear individual and objective reading and interpretation of events.
Meanwhile, our media continues to grow stronger in its efforts to promote our interests, to present our arguments and counter-arguments, and to reflect our views and opinions. At the same time, the media should increase its capacity in terms of content and quality. It must also steer away from the manipulation and disinformation of the mainstream media. We should have a good appreciation of the subtlety in the media world today. Their operations have been very refined through experience. Moreover, we must remember that the media is driven by the interests of rich and powerful organizations and influence from certain global forces. These days any reporter cannot publish or present any piece of news in the name of free press; the material undergoes a thorough process of censorship and editing to ensure that it does not conflict the interests of the powerful.
Finally, it is not the media or the reporters that must be given lessons on the machinations of the media system today; it is the public that is in need of the tools needed to counter any attempts at manipulation of its opinion and any disinformation deliberately aimed at confounding its judgment. Otherwise, the public will continue to be a victim of the heavy doses of the news that is aired incessantly.
Your Excellency, on the occasion of the 20th Independence Day anniversary, what is your message to the whole Eritrean population inside the country and in the Diaspora and to the Eritrean Defense Forces. And what would you like to add about the Eritrean people’s continuous struggle and the political and diplomatic efforts as well as the media’s contribution to that cause.
Fortunately, the symposiums that have been conducted by all the ministries have had a significant role in portraying a very good picture of the developments not only in the last 20 years but with particular focus on the 10-year and 5-year stages. This is a good culture that must be nurtured. If the symposiums had been held before 10 or five years, they would have been very helpful in assessing our journey. Thus, the symposiums have been a very positive aspect of these vibrant 20th Independence Day celebrations. And I would like to take the occasion to congratulate the Eritrean people.
All in all the symposiums have given everyone a very good retrospective image of the developments in the last 20 years. If we add the past 20 years to the 30 years liberation struggle, we can say that we have spent 50 years in political and armed struggle. From this perspective, it is quite essential and of extreme relevance to look back over the last 20 years and retrace our each step. The struggle of the Eritrean people against all odds is by all accounts incredible and difficult to contemplate. The past 20 years have shown how the strength of the Eritrean people has withstood and prevailed all challenges and hostile plots. Indeed, the perseverance and fortitude of the Eritrean people is beyond compare and deserves genuine recognition.
Nonetheless, the success of the past should not make us complacent in the future. We must ensure that we must further strengthen our efforts in all aspects in the next 20 years. Our struggle is not a matter of choice, it is a necessity. We must struggle to survive in the face of continuous hostility, conspiracy and in the face of endless obstacles. Only then can we build our nation. We cannot farm our fields, build our roads or develop our economy without first removing the obstacles in our path. This should thus be our priority.
That being said, we must also use the experience and capability that we have accumulated over the last 20 years to increase our productivity and accelerate our development in the future. We should draw plans and plan projects in all sectors and try to implement them at a higher pace in order to elevate ourselves to a better position.
Indeed, the Eritrean people have shown their strength and their potential to achieve even more than what has already been achieved. Our assessment of the past gives us a clearer vision of the future. We must draw our strategy and everyone should do his part in implementing it. Starting from this 20th Independence Day we must march forth in the right direction with a clearer objective and a much higher pace.