His excellency President Isaias Afwerki conducted an extensive interview with the local media from 27 to 30 of December, 2011, regarding global, regional as well as local issues. Excerpts of the ninth part of the interview follows:
It has been economically forecasted that from now onwards the Eritrean economy will grow faster. Accordingly, the demand for skilled manpower and laborers will increase. In this case, the coming back of those Eritreans residing in the Diaspora would have a positive role. Furthermore, it is felt that many young citizens who left the country for different reasons want to come back home. However, such young people fear about what may happen to them when they come back home. Mr. President, your comment on this?
In our case, this problem [the emigration of young people] is partly associated with the economic challenges the country is facing. Actually, as it is often reflected in different media outlets, due to the economic crisis such countries like Portugal, Greek and Spain are experiencing, many individuals harbor the inclination to emigrate. Think of the origin of those migrants who were sunk along with their ship on their way from Indonesia to Australia. Such a problem is mainly linked with the cost of living emanating from the inability to achieve development goals. Young people are often very ambitious. And this becomes a source of worry for many as the economic problems they face may cripple their ability to live up to their ambitions. This problem prevails until an enabling environment is created in a society. So this is very natural and we should not be shocked by it.
When it comes to the case of Eritrea, war has been declared against our society – we are fighting against all odds. It is not a simple one. As it can be verified from the documents of the enemies linked with this problem and the events associated with such conspiracies, there are clear intentions to have this nation deprived of young people. The ultimate objective of this conspiracy in this case is to weaken the country and to make it servile so as to eventually surrender. Why does the National Service Program in Eritrea become a headache for these actors? Why do they try to weaken and criticize it as if it is not practiced else where in the world? The simple reason is that such a program strengthens and makes Eritrea a sovereign nation. This is associated with perceived threats about Eritrea and the perceived threats are clearly linked with the weaknesses and problems of the forces that conspire against Eritrea. As a result of the perceived threats harbored in the mind of these forces, the young people in Eritrea are the targets for eventually weakening Eritrea.
It is very natural for people to move from one country to the other because of certain reasons related with the cost of living. Sometimes this can be advantageous when it is associated with educational and other similar opportunities. Is it that problematic when a person attempts to emigrate from Eritrea trying to get better opportunities else where? This is not that worrisome. What we consider futile and shameful is the attempts designed for weakening the country by misleading the youth; the intentions of the forces that want to have Eritrea weakened is to have the young people disempowered so that they cannot be productive for themselves and their society. Stated differently, making the young people have no sense of direction in their life is the intention of these forces. And we consider this a serious war.
In fact, the problems associated with the war situation in this country have forced the young people to be enrolled in the army. The reason in this case is that we all have the obligation to defend the nation in such a situation and this responsibility should not be abdicated.
The young Eritreans who are living in the Diaspora cannot indefinitely have a bright future there. I am not saying this just to persuade or dissuade these people. Every Eritrean citizen’s future has to be defined and linked with the opportunities in the country. Eritrea has abundant opportunities that are enough not only for its citizens but there are also opportunities that can be used by foreign investors. At this moment of our history, this does not mean we have enough job opportunities that enable an individual to generate enough income. This is to mean that the said opportunities are not readily available. This is a time when we are required to bear the sacrifices associated with such a stage of developing the economy. When one hopes to save or establish an enterprise, they need to sacrifice either their lunch, dinner or some other expenses. What the nation is facing can be also looked at in a similar manner. Eritrean citizens are required to bear the sacrifices associated with this stage of our development.
Those who are not able to live up to this requirement are expected to learn from their mistakes. What is basically considered a problem is not committing a mistake but the inability to learn from or correct your mistake. In this case, those Eritreans who have emigrated from their country should come back to their Homeland so that they can make use of the potential opportunities here. The young people should not be misled by the aforesaid conspiracies and the ambitions associated with being a young person. I strongly feel that all the young people who left the country regret what they have done. If there are some who do not regret, such people are very negligible in number.
Anyway, we should not be that preoccupied with making these people accountable for what they have done, that is, with punishing them simply for illegally emigrating out of the country. Rather we should be more obsessed with how to make these people more productive when they come back home. In such a situation, the central concern is: do we have the ability to do that? What have we done that can potentially attract or pull them back? In the first place, we need to create job opportunities. We need also to take into account their qualification. Do they have transferable skills to be placed accordingly? How can the state enable them to come back home? What is preached in connection to the need to punish or pardon these individuals is just part of the propaganda designed to frighten and further mislead them.
The young Eritreans living in different parts of the world need to sensibly decide as regards for how long they will stay in the foreign countries they happen to reside and how to make use of the time they spend there. They should do their best to acquire new skills and experiences; they need to educate themselves if they are to be productive for themselves as well as for their society. More importantly, they should save more than they consume so that they can invest back home. This will help them to have well established life when they come back. In other words, they have to plan and act proactively in order to be productive when they come here.
What can be done if these citizens try to come back to Eritrea in an unplanned and unorganized manner? It would be much better if the things associated with their return are well researched in advance and preparations are made accordingly. But this does not mean we need to postpone the process of their return until we are done with the needed preparations. So we warmly welcome those who want to come back home whenever they want to do so. I would like to reiterate that the excuses associated with what may happen to them when they arrive in the country are useless. This should in no way prevent them from coming back to the country. In this case, even the general public, and especially youth movements and mainly such associations like the NUEYS, NUEW, NCEW, the Eritrean communities in the Diaspora and the families inside Eritrea should have a considerable role to play. Letting them know that their country is their future and encouraging them to come back is not a task that is left to the President or Ministers and other government officials. We all need to share this common responsibility. Failure to do so can have far reaching social consequences that affect the society as a whole. Earning money for a living is not enough to have a satisfactory life- life has much more important dimensions other than making money. For an individual to have a stable life, he or she must secure home, and needs to have a well-established family, family values and values associated with his own society. You can hardly be provided with these things in the Diaspora. So is it possible to have an emotionally stable life being in a foreign country where you are not culturally connected? Can we enjoy social life and benefit from it when we happen to live in an alien environment? Can we feel culturally warm being in an unfamiliar environment? Is life all about earning money? What is the future of an individual lacking all these life ingredients? Accordingly, we all need to be very much concerned about this issue.
Mr. President, How do you assess the political activities undertaken thus far in terms of nurturing well organized and compatible youth? What plans have been set forth for the times to come? And it would be insightful if you could tell us programs made to reinforce participation of women?
The recently conducted youth conference had discussed various topics regarding organization, contribution, productivity and so on. It wouldn’t be far from the fact to say that the youth encompass majority of the population statistically. If we look at our 30 years of freedom struggle for instance, the leading force behind it was the youth. It is basically their responsibility to contribute to their people whenever there is a call for national duty. Of course the youth need to be well organized and become aware what is needed of them. Every national never expects an order from his superiors or execute their tasks for monetary benefits. But then again, such values emanate from the awareness of the population. The youth should be well aware of these values and raise their understanding in accordance. What we are calling here popular awareness is also a part and parcel of other national duties such as education, health, public works, agriculture, as well as the national rebuff. Awareness is the core ingredient in this case and that is why we need to promote the educational domain. If the youth is to be productive, it requires awareness to nurture this value. What are the states of affairs the youths are living in? What are the challenges they need to overcome? What should be the qualities they need to be equipped with? These are the questions which need to be answered through raising the awareness. Unremitting efforts should be exerted to intensify the knowledge of the youths. Someone with the required skills or knowledge should be responsible in transferring their know-how to the young generation. We cannot simply sit and let them learn from their own mistakes. But either ways, the knowledge of the youth is the primary issue which should be worked upon and that is when we start working on their organization. There are various organizations such as the NUEYS, NUEW, NCEW and of course the population within the country and abroad has been organized into communities. The youths should be the active players in the respective organizations because awareness alone could not guarantee the intended goal. Especially at this particular juncture in our history, the questions our organizations rely upon are what are our challenges and chances? What choices do we have? How do we achieve efficiency of our plans? And the founding question is, how do we organize nationals within the country and the rest of the world for a common goal?
What comes afterwards is how well the youth are equipped. Knowledge is a tool, skill is a tool and of course accessibility of the needed technology is a tool. Indeed, there exist clashing situations. The people’s capacity for all rounded rebuff is heightening. The people are well aware of the ordeals being tailored to torment Eritrea. We are rather doing well and growing stronger by the day. But what should the youth do at times like this? And various other related inquiries do also exist. Hence, efforts should be reinforced to nourish the knowledge and understanding of the youth.
Personally, I have been to various places and the performance of women is outstanding. It is by far commendable fact to see women active in various sectors including social, cultural, political, diplomatic and various other activities. Of course, it shouldn’t be confined there. At one time, women were enrolled in machinery operation training in Sawa and their performance was similar with their male counterparts. However, we don’t see them anymore and their enrolment in that field faded. This should be addressed appropriately. There shouldn’t be any excuse to expel them from education. They are equally capable of undertaking any national duty. They even qualify more than the males in some particular duties. It is a cross-section which needs to be interrelated with the activities of other organizations. The Nakfa conference was a transition for further growth. And it has been scheduled to hold an even bigger conference in summer 2012. The Nakfa conference might be a good step for a big breakthrough in the issue of the youth.
In your address at the 20th Independence Day Anniversary, you had defined independence as an evolving process. I will ask you a two-dimensional question Mr. President: do you feel any remorse at not having accomplished any of the projections made to lay strong foundations for true independence on one hand? And which makes you proud, on the other?
Well, this can be looked at from different perspectives. When we said we wanted to build friendships with the peoples of Ethiopia, Africa or the world; that only makes us proud and not feel any sense of regret. But when that goodwill meets misperception, you grow more determined and stop being naïve. It is something unparalleled for our independence and sovereignty, amid all the challenges, to get to its present status. But at times, you stop and ponder on whether all the hindrances were in fact really necessary. One of the gratifying things is to be able to do whatever it is you want to do. But that’s not easy. To wish is one thing, and to do it is quite another. So if you ask me, such things could be a nuisance. You think about the lost opportunities.
Let’s look at the Horn of Africa for instance. If one were to look at the map and identify each chain of events in the past 20 or more years, one would say “was all this really necessary?” But on the other hand, would these people have become as strong and determined if all those things didn’t happen? It was that scenario that resulted in the high level of awareness that people at home and abroad have gathered or this same people’s determination to build this country and preserve it sovereignty. So, like I said, you can look at it from two perspectives.
Eritreans as a people never worry; they are always optimistic and hoping for the best. They have very enlightened values and never retreat when faced with challenges. One could wonder “where would have Eritreans reached, had everything turned out the way they wanted?” But in general, Eritreans are really a very strong people.
Mr. President, you seem to regard the term “dignity” with great respect. How would you define it within the context of the people and the government?
Dignity is not a big thing really. It is something that begins from oneself. And you should not only respect yourself but others as well. That’s something that has been in existence for centuries. And it becomes significant when it gets adopted like a national value or taken up as civilization; not only for us but for other people as well.
In our case dignity is a value that we have been a part of for long. Therefore, yes the Eritrea people are dignified people. I don’t believe the term or concept of dignity stands only for one character or nature. I associate dignity with the people. The majority of the people knows and has dignity. It’s not easy to nurture such a culture. What is of concern is however the African dehumanization. One thing that colonization left on Africans is the downgrading of oneself, which is something that has never been witnessed among our people. There could be a few exceptions but dignity in this nation stands for country, people, civilization and resistance. Personally, I would say that dignity in this country exists in its highest standard than anywhere else.
In the end, Mr. President, on the occasion of the New Year 2012, we would like to give you an opportunity to extend your good wishes to Eritreans at home and abroad and their Defense Forces.
I hope and I am confident that we will work hard to reach a higher stage in 2012. What we have registered in 2011 is not also simple, but we need to work more and harder. But the driving force is always the people. When I welcome the New Year, I do so knowing what the Eritrean people can do. I wish the Eritrean people to achieve the true reward of its hard work and sacrifices. I also wish that the New Year we are beginning with hopes, we also get to finish it with even higher hopes. And I have no doubts we will.
Once again Happy New Year Mr. President and thank you!