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“Economic Prosperity Cannot Be Achieved Without the Investment of Citizens,” President Isaias

It is to be recalled that President Isaias Afwerki conducted an extensive interview on the occasion of New Year with national media outlets on 28th and 29th of December 2012. The interview focused on national development programs, political and diplomatic developments in the Horn and Eritrea’s stance and outlook on different scenarios as well as other local, regional and global issues. Fourth part of Excerpts of the interview follows:

In relation to the extensive infrastructural programs described above and other economic and business activities in Eritrea, the Eritrean economy is expected to be transformed to a different stage. Subsequently, the requirements for correspondingly adequate energy sources will also increase with the cumulative increase in investments by both the public and private sectors. However, the capacity related to this sector is not only limited but there have been also evident problems associated with the energy sources and requirements. What are the root causes of this problem? What has been planned for expanding and for further improving the energy sources in the country? Would you also please tell us about improving the skills of the manpower required for the concerns associated with energy issues?

Generally, one of the critical success factors for realizing economic prosperity is the quantity and quality of human resources in a country. In this case, a country should have the required professionals, skills and knowledge in terms of quantity and quality. In other words, this is one of the major challenges in materializing the goals associated with economic progress. Actually, budget (funds) and infrastructure are key determinants in achieving the economic progress one aspires to materialize. Of all such very important resources, the right quantity and quality of human resources is the most important one. What have we achieved so far in relation to this major concern? In general terms, our accomplishments in developing the manpower with the required skills have not been that successful to the extent we desire. There may be many reasons. Different colleges have been established in different parts of the country. The main purpose of these learning institutions is developing the human resources demanded in the country. To develop an economy, first and foremost one needs to develop the right number and type of manpower required for transforming the economy. What is the standard of our colleges? Are they equipped with the needed facilities? More importantly, are there qualified lecturers having the right quantity and quality in the colleges? Is there an enabling teaching and learning environment in the colleges? Besides, are there such facilities as adequate workshops, laboratories, libraries, books and other facilities in the colleges? Overall, are the institutions qualified? Have they acquired the experiences that enable them to supply the right number and type of human resources demanded in the country? What about in lower grades – in elementary, junior and high schools? In this case, are the right number and type of people being produced that would be deployed in different areas and sectors of the economy? The response is not at our expectations. The Vocational Training Center has been established to cure this gap. The intention is that those who are not able to join the colleges have to be equipped with some form of skills that make them more productive. By way of such training programs and other means we must help citizens to contribute in the economy in different forms. This means regardless of the level of their knowledge and their profession, citizens should be productive in the economy. In other words, we have to produce people who are equipped with simple as well as sophisticated skills and professions by way of the various training centers. This is helpful for avoiding wastage. As stated above, the Vocational Training Center was established with the intention of avoiding human resource wastage and it has contributed a lot. However, even this has not yet been able to produce the right quantity and quality of people demanded in the country.

The need to produce the right number and type of people directly influences our economic performance and achievements. How effective we are in our economic performance is proportional to the extent of our effectiveness in producing the desired manpower. We may import different dozers of machineries and other facilities. To make an effective use of these material resources, you need to have the right human resource that can effectively operate and make use of them. You can achieve nothing important without having properly trained manpower. For this reason, I feel that the manpower issue is the biggest one of all the challenges we have.

Currently, how many of those citizens who hare being trained differently disciplines, including those who are being produced by the Vocational Training Center, are effectively and rightly placed where they can be more productive? Not more than 30% or 33% – only one third. This means two third of the young people in Eritrea have not been yet placed in the right place where they can be productive and effective. This is an alarming problem. Other countries may have different options. In our case, no person should be kept idle without any assignment-we cannot afford it; everybody must be productive. We need to be careful particularly about making productive the young part of the labor force. As it has been implied earlier, with increasing economic progress, the corresponding pressing need for manpower will be much more alarming. We are working on how to solve this problem as it is not thinkable to ensure sustainable economic development without effectively managing the human resource you have. This is one of our major challenges. I am not saying we have done nothing. What I am saying is we have not achieved to the required extent. So what is the solution? There are different alternatives associated with this issue and the alternatives are being studied.

When it comes to the energy issue, we cannot claim that there are completely exhausted studies in relation to this issue. One may talk about the energy requirements or the electricity services required in all parts of the country. But such an opinion may not be that informed. But it may not be that easy to talk in terms of the megawatt requirements that can be considered for properly fueling the economy. One may talk in terms of 100 or 120 megawatt. But what are the ongoing or future energy requirements in the country? 500 megawatt- 600 or 900? How are we to meet these future demands? This has to be carefully studied. Not only the future requirements, but the existing power plants or energy sources should be also properly assessed so that their capacity and their limitations can be ascertained effectively. Further, these concerns have to be aligned and associated with increasing demands related with the increase in economic activities and an increasing economic performance. We should think on what has to be done to effectively fuel our economic performance with the help of the corresponding need for electricity. There are attempts to further improve the existing situation. However, overall this is an issue that has to be studied carefully. We may talk in terms of changing 100 megawatt to 200, 400 or 500. However, until it is exhaustively studied, we can take certain measures for addressing our current problems. We may have some separate generators that are meant for the provision of electric services in different cities like Tesenei or Agurdat as well the remote areas of the country. While these measures may be solutions for a while, all these measures are not long term solutions. Therefore, the future energy demands and requirements have to be properly studied in order to have effective long term solutions. But in this case, we should not be only preoccupied in terms of having the needed infrastructure. We should be also aware of the need to effectively and efficiently manage the issues associated with energy sources because there are operational costs and other expenses incurred as a consequence of what we do in relation to energy sources in the country. So the energy sources we need to have must be designed in a way to be used effectively and efficiently in the society – its size must be proportional to the size of our economy. In some parts of the developing world, they feel happy simply because they may happen to have their megawatts changed to terawatts. What has to matter more in this case is how much you really use it in fueling your economic performance. As explained above, it would be good to have some short term measures until the situation is exhaustively studied and until the implementation capacity associated with it is adequately developed. People talk a lot about this issue. Some complain because what they can do using computers is negatively affected or because of other things associated with power cuts. Which is better, to make the cement factory in Massawa functional or to have your house lit? Both of them are needed. But in terms of energy requirements or priorities, such manufacturing factories must be prioritized. Even these factories have not been able to be completely functional with the existing energy sources. The cement factories at Hirgigo and Gedem have not been able to produce at their full capacity due to the limitations of energy sources. One can easily see the impact of the inability to adequately produce cement on the economy. An attempt to import cement in order to heal such a problem is also equally burdensome as it has its own negative consequences. This problem must be solved. Whether it is better to deal with this problem by taking short term measures or you attempt to have sustainable long term solutions must be studied properly and the competing alternatives must be considered and compared appropriately. The demand for electric services of agricultural, industrial, manufacturing as well as those organizations engaged in the provision of different services has not been yet met in an effective way. In an attempt to solve this problem, it is not thinkable to have immediate solutions that transform the way we do things in this aspect of our life. But this does not mean that the issue has been overlooked. We need also to think and plan about the alternative energy sources in our attempt to address such a problem. We should also endeavor to develop our capacity to implement and regulate the delivery of such services. As it has been said earlier, we cannot transform what we have to do in this case in an immediate manner or in a hurry; we need to be very selective relative to our financing capability on how to use the available sources or capacity until we are done with its potential solution(s) in a sustainable manner. It is important to study the problem and its potential solutions comprehensively. Perhaps, the concerned people may talk more about this issue. But since the people who are particularly responsible for this issue have not yet finalized what they are doing to solve this problem, I would like to take this opportunity to let the people be aware of the realities associated with the matter of energy concerns in the country.

As a country situated in the Horn of Africa where drought and famine are recurrent, how do you evaluate Eritrea’s strategy of food security? What are its prospects?

When we talk about development the real issue should be about sustainable economic growth that would enable us to overcome these challenges of drought and famine. And to make this development sustainable it needs investment and commitment in our endeavors. Running after international aid organizations might provide a temporary solution, but it incurs an enduring challenges and problems that are much harder and complicated to solve. That is why one needs to have one’s own independent line. Africa’s problem fundamentally arises from its proclivity to depend on temporary solution and that is why it is in a quagmire of continuous challenges. This needs a serious research.

If our agricultural projects are to go beyond resolving the challenges of famine and food shortages, and self-sufficiency, and still be able to export, we need to find a permanent solution. Limiting ourselves in seasonal agricultural activities will not bring us the aspired result and hence the infrastructural project I raised earlier should be incorporated with an introduction of modern agriculture technologies and irrigation system. At the moment we have an agriculture that encompasses both seasonal and irrigational schemes, and in addition there are a number of medium and small size dams. These projects have contributed in securing the demand of food, while in some places the level of food sufficiency has been reached. But this is by no means enough and we need to concentrate more on irrigation. The full utilization of our water sources will moreover require not only the construction of dams but the provision of an infrastructure that also incorporates a qualified man power as well. Farmers, pastoralists as well as investors should raise their awareness in this respect so as to engage in this activity meaningfully. In comparison to other countries Eritrea might seem to have insignificant amount of water resource. But I am sure that such kinds of projects can rescue the country from chronic water shortage. What’s more, employing the aforementioned agriculture technologies can enable us not only to meet food self-sufficiency but also engage in average export. For instance we can produce cotton in a level that goes beyond meeting domestic demand and be exported.

All in all I can say that our seasonal and irrigational agriculture is going well, though we haven’t yet reached our final goal. It can be said however we are at a secure ground as far as our aim of ensuring sustainable agricultural development is concerned.

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