“Economic Development Means Promoting the Standard Of Living and Improving the Quality Of Life of Citizens” President Isaias Afwerki
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. Seventh and final part of Excerpts of the interview follows:
Your Excellency, Eritreans as people have been repeatedly victimized due to several lawless actions. However, as if that was not enough, hostilities towards the people and government of Eritrea are escalating by the day, with persisting campaigns that demonize the image of Eritrea. Also coincident with this is the psychological warfare on Eritrean youth. There have also been suggestions accusing Eritrea of “human trafficking” while Eritrea has been itself a victim of human trafficking. We are also witnessing several economic conspiracies. Why all these hostilities? What is the intended aim in the end? What do you say about the public and diplomatic efforts that have to be exerted to overcome these challenges?
They say history repeats itself. However, the fact of the matter is the region that we are living in has its own nature. There is the fact of state formation that had resulted from colonization. From that perspective we can ask; are these hostilities new? Are they being repeated? In what way are they being repeated? Ever since the time of state formation what challenged Eritrea as a country and as a nation is not the condition of the Eritrean people, it is rather the interests of others. The best understanding therefore is obtained when one sees the bigger picture starting from that point. Eritrea is one of the states that were first established in Africa. And that is not boasting or twisting history; it is just the plain truth. Eritrea is one of the countries that were formed at the beginning of the expansion of colonization in the 19th century. Ethiopia, setting aside the conundrum it entails, was not even there back then. The real challenge arose during the period of the abolition of colonization. When countries were being given their freedom and the right for self-determination, the people of Eritrea were denied their freedom and their right for self-determination.
The reason was the World War II victors, the allied forces, which were led by America, impeded it saying that it doesn’t match their strategies and interests of the world. We didn’t get our freedom because we were victims of the strategy and interests of Washington or America. Then the effort to meet the challenge that had resulted from this condition followed. And that effort went beyond to ensure freedom and secure the right for self-determination. Freedom didn’t come easy. If we see the Cold War era, where the groups led by the Soviet Union and US had their own strategic interests, the challenge was even tougher. Yet, we waged an exigent struggle and achieved independence. Ethiopia got to its real shape. The allied struggle of the peoples of Eritrea and Ethiopia changed the map of this region. Two years earlier, a change (regardless of what nature) had come in Sudan. The regime in Somali had collapsed and the Soviet Union disintegrated due to Gorbachev’s doing. A global change resulted. After the end of the Cold War there wasn’t any sort of strategy taken as a principle in Washington. The world changed, whether their perception of this change was right or not is another subject. But, how did that affect our region?
The end of the Cold War encouraged an attitude of “adventurism” in the US. It spread out a mind-set saying “we are alone,” “there is no one else to control the world,” “and from now on we shall control the world for the next hundred years.” Then, in every region, there came different sorts of divisions of forces. Within this concept, history repeated itself in a new dimension: ruling Africa through representatives or regional powers. You put representatives in the north, south, west, and east as well as in the Horn of Africa. This strategy therefore is the origin of the hostilities towards Eritrea. One of the problems for this strategy was what happened in Ethiopia. A regime came to power not only to change governance but to change history as well. Because this regime was by nature not legitimate to dwell or rule Ethiopia, an alliance of convenience came into being. Every regime that came after the end of the Cold War had to endorse the will of foreign powers and not its own political lines if it were to rule in Ethiopia. We all know this. And so, the alliance of convenience came in handy to serve the strategy. While we know how the US adventurous policies in the past twenty years ended, the strategies it drawn for our region and their implementation programs failed miserably. And the problem escalated with the precarious situation of the existence of the regime in Ethiopia. The prime threat came from inside Ethiopia, which had to be supported by the Eritrean situation; so you make them both clash and once Eritrea gets marginalized, the regime in Ethiopia would be pampered and cared for in a way it would serve its master’s interests.
This was the strategy and the hostilities that followed were its result. A number of recently published documents reveal that the problems resulted from of the mistreatment of issues in Washington. The complications which appeared at the beginning of the border conflict in 1998 were among them. The contemporary hostilities, therefore, are its continuations. And if one sees history repeating itself in spiral, one can see that policies of belligerence and domination don’t work in Eritrea.
It is not to imply that it works in other places, however the situation in other places is not matured. Intervention might be easy in other places but not here. Now, under this situation, one should see the strategic importance of Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and other countries in this region. As the Red Sea is the biggest source of oil and other minerals in the world there ought to be a regional power that serves this strategy. And if there is anyone that challenges this regional power it should be weakened. One of the challengers of the dominance and to be weakened is Eritrea. They tried everything through boarder conflict, political conspiracies, dividing the people through religions and ideas, etc. It all failed. The economy of this country was meant to be collapsed. But it didn’t, not for the discovery of natural resources but for the endurance of the people and the development programs undertaken in the past few years. All kinds of conspiracies were plotted to prevent loan, aid and investment opportunities. Did it damage our economy? Never! Leaving all aside, it was tried to prevent Eritreans living abroad from sending the money that they had earned into their country.
But it was all in vain. So at last, there came the sanction in the name of the Security Council. If we ask why human trafficking was introduced into Eritrea, the answer is simple. It was introduced to sabotage the National Service programs by targeting the youth, the working power. In their view, in order to create opposition abroad the youth should flee the country first. To do that, pictures were created, pictures that suggest that there are economic and political woes in Eritrea but there are ample opportunities abroad. Smuggling the youth is an organized trafficking. The United Nations, The Red Cross and other non-governmental organizations are involved in it. They operated openly by stationing their camps in Ethiopia, Sudan and other neighboring countries. Papers were facilitated to send Eritreans abroad; this was never done for other people. The aim at the end of this human trafficking is to weaken Eritrea by filtering the youth out of the country and organizing it abroad as opposition. All the existing intelligence agencies operating under the cover of the UN and other non-governmental organizations did a lot of damage backed up by the current technology. The head of these operations is in Sudan, as it is easier to smuggle the youth into Sudan. One can go to Ethiopia, Djibouti or even the sea but Sudan is the easiest. And these organized operations have been there for over a decade. Human trafficking is a crime by the laws of the UN. They claim “they have economic and political problems.” But this is a human trade. It is horrifying even to speak of the abomination of this trade. It put innocent Eritreans into all kinds of misery. Not only those who died and or disappeared in the process, but even those who have got papers and left abroad, are living in concentration camps. This was done to prevent them from working and sending money to their families.
Therefore, the sole purpose of these operations was to get the youth out of their country and to organize them into oppositions in short period of time, as they all had taken military trainings. And it was further intended to bring them through Ethiopia and open another war. But none of it worked.
There is no one that goes to betray his or her parents, people or country. There could be a few but the tens of thousands that fell into the traps of cross-border trafficking refused to comply with the offers given to them. They are being subjected to numerous crimes as attempts are constantly made to lure them to illegal contraband activities so as to deter them from trying to find work, make a living, settle, and remit to their families. As this is a crime even by international standards, it remains the responsibility of this nation, government and people to take this matter seriously and hold those responsible accountable. There is nothing worse than human trafficking, as it steals the chances of tens of thousands of youngsters. Wherever they are, one can hardly say that these young people have a decent work and lead a good life. If you look at it from a broader perspective, they have also lost their opportunities for education and professionalism.
So human trafficking is more than just a cumulative crime, which is aggravated when taking into consideration the political, economic, cultural and social opportunities that the youngsters have lost. And to hinder us from uttering these grievances, different attempts are constantly made, such like the UNSC Sanctions resolution. But this crime shall not remain concealed as we have detailed information of all the parties involved. Setting aside the intended politics and strategies, which need investigation, this crime was committed against human rights. Those who committed the crime should be held accountable and the truth be known to the world. The good thing is that, in spite of all the hardships and challenges they face, the people that have been smuggled across the border remained loyal to their people and country, which is a big blow to the criminals. When looking back at history, the fact that a small country should be made to face endless challenges for generations is not a coincidence. This people will never fall victim to their devious schemes. The traits of the subservient regimes and those of their sponsors pose two threats: a people and nation that grows stronger on the one hand and regimes that grow weaker and plummeting towards crises. And it is in an attempt to change all this that we are being victimized. So where do we stand? What lies ahead of us? We need to not only assess the years that have passed but work harder knowing that all issues will have to be dealt with critically in 2013 and the years beyond.
Mr. President, let us now shift to global issues. It’s obvious that developments taking place in the US highly influence our region and the world as a whole. There are expectations or opinions that Obama’s substantial experience in his first term will help him determine a better course for US Administration during his second term. What does the Government of Eritrea expect from Obama’s second term? And what can we expect at the global level?
It’s not a matter of individuals. There is this joke that former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh told me as we talked about the US and our region. Back then President Bush had been reelected for office. “He has to be elected for a third time,” Ali said. I asked him why, not having understood what he meant. “Well, we thought he had accumulated enough experience in his first term and he would perform better in his second term. But since he didn’t make good use of both terms, he should get a third chance. Only then we could say he learned his lesson,” he said that and we laughed. You should not think in terms of individuals. There are factors that influence mistakes of institutions and not individuals. I was asked the same question when Obama was elected the first time and I gave the same answer. If you are thinking in terms of individuals then you really don’t know the administration or you are not properly following the developments; or you are naively adapting others’ interpretations. With the existing power of technological communications his reelection can perhaps be seen as something that could bring about a big transformation; but the main issue is not his color, inclinations or speeches delivered during election campaigns. Some of it was deliberately disseminated for the purpose of confusion. So you need to look beyond the individual and focus on the administration. If you look at it from the economic point of view, this administration has been living in debts ever since the Cold War times. The US economy is reportedly said to be the strongest in the world; but by which standards? There are of course some undeniable facts: the role it had in the 19th and 20th centuries, which enabled it to become an economic power, can’t be underrated. But the policies have all been unstable. When you look back at what their founding fathers foretold, you know how right they had been. They had in fact warned about the attitude problems that boosting military force entailed. But the warnings were unheeded. The main problem of the present administration is the conviction that has persisted for 20 years since the end of the Cold War. They somehow dismantled the Soviet Union and started asserting their superiority. Russia nowadays, even if it can’t be said a superpower, is naturally on track of securing its position. If we look at China, one can’t say that the present developments were foreseen 20 year ago. Despite different writings and analyses back then, even the key US policymakers failed to predict the reality today. In the end, all the disdain turned to huge amounts of debt. The US has never seen an administration with a debt of over 16 trillion dollars. All adventurisms, be it military, economic or political, were only seen to reproduce blunders and eventually take the situation to its present conditions. The present fiscal crises didn’t come in one or two years. It didn’t come during Obama’s first term, it was inherited. There was the Bush administration and Clinton’s before it. During the latter, the weakening of the then powers gave them advantage, and that’s when the false impressions began.
The current US fiscal problem is something that can’t be solved overnight; you can’t say that Congress and the Senate will sort it out. The problem is only because they don’t recognize their right place in the world. And that’s not because there are no observers, as there are several sharp analysts, but it’s because they are not heard by the key influential decision makers. There are also other inner powers which deal with internal problems and have their own perception of things. The US policy is therefore influenced by the cumulative sum of all these different perceptions. So I am of the opinion that we shouldn’t waste time on what Obama can do or can’t do. You need to understand the actual US strategy at the global level. Instead of focusing on individuals, you need to review the political, economic and military adventurisms of the US. The US adventurous policies have an expenditure of over two trillion dollars overseas. But they present it as 600-700 billion dollars. So how can you, with a debt of 16 trillion dollars, go out of a big financial problem at a time when domestic economic growth opportunities are weakening and global competiveness is increasing?
Therefore, one need to look at the economic developments in the world from a realistic point of view It’s not even a matter of whether it’s China or US. If there is a country that doesn’t want the US economy weakened is China because US’s greatest debt is to China and China’s biggest market is the US. We should therefore abandon petty talks and stick to reality.
Due to foreign interferences, peoples that have set out to build their nations have become victims of violence, conflicts, coup d’état and uprisings. And this has created scenarios that ruined national economies and peoples’ livelihoods, and disrupted the hopes and dreams of the past midcentury. How can developing peoples escape such a quagmire? What do you think are the main issues that people should be aware of if they are to step out of turmoil and secure progress and stability? What strategies would you suggest governments to follow in order to get out of such situations? What is the main experience that should be learned from countries that were in similar conditions but that have emerged victorious?
There should be one recognized way of understanding nations. Nation building is an indubitable issue. When African nations achieved independence, the founding fathers of the Organization of African Unity set out to appropriately build their nations. But was there a correct nation building system? Fifty years later today we still haven’t succeeded in nation building. There are still tribal (or clannish) sentiments. During the early sixties, there were national and progressive attitudes that could have laid strong foundations for nation building; but they were short-lived. It’s because the foundations were not based on solid national understanding instead on tribal or regional divisions that we are incurring problems in nation building today. During the 1960s – 1970s, because the Cold War situation allowed it, there were political forces that worked for change; but not today. There were barely any political or economic changes in the last 40-50 years. There was no technology, economy, infrastructure or social services apart from exports of cheap workforce and raw materials. National manpower could not be formed. Because these basic factors for nation building were not available, regional or tribal sentiments triumphed. It was in short worse than the times of colonization.
The new age colonization didn’t give these nations better opportunities. Instead economic exploitations and political ploys were and still are being waged. Africa is an important continent. It reserves 40% of global resources. But every nation has done nothing. While their people are starving, the leaders are seen opening accounts in foreign banks. Nation building is a historical process that doesn’t come overnight but in stages. Nation building in Africa is still absent. If we take the Horn of Africa for instance, it’s in constant turmoil because of the interference of foreign powers: the conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia, the bogus war between Eritrea and Djibouti, internal problems of Ethiopia, the split of Sudan, the division of Somalia due to foreign interference is becoming a huge nuisance in the process of nation building. Therefore the African Union and other regional organizations should realize forgo dependence on Europe and other countries and rebuff foreign conspiratorial ploys. There should be an internal process that unifies all the countries and peoples of Africa. What I would like to say in the end is that we should never give up and that the peoples, governments and political forces of Africa should actively act in creating a conducive ground for overcoming their challenges.
Your Excellency, Eritreans as a people have paid a hefty price to attain independence and have been engaged in nation building for over 20 years. What do you say is the principal achievement that we have gained within these 20 years? The envisaged theme for the year 2013 is “Securing a Higher Integrated Growth”: what is the source of the confidence that motivated us to set out with this theme?
We always talk in the media or different occasions about our independence, its heavy price and the hurdles we passed along the way. What comes next is nation building. Nation building should be in every aspect: economy, society, culture, politics, security, diplomacy and what have you.
In the past 20 years we have been working on nation building without getting disoriented by the “border conflict” whirlwind. So if you ask me what the principal achievement is I would say is “not getting disoriented.” Regardless of the obstacles you might encounter on the way, you should never lose your orientation. Independence in itself is insignificant; you need to lay secure foundations for not just one generation but for more to come.
One of the things we can do in 2013 and beyond is consolidation, and that is the most difficult. We need to execute all plans, including those we didn’t succeed on, with more vigor and in a tangible way. We need to have tangible strategies as opposed to abstract ones, and this we can do by having full control and focusing on our own resources. But we first need to clearly chart all aspects of nation building, identifying what to do each year.
If you look at what we have accomplished so far, the infrastructure, social services, food security, with all their flaws, have created a critical mass. And if we are to move on ahead from that, we need to map out focused achievable programs. What we call an integrated growth is the comprehensive economic growth that encompasses all sectors. We also need to have evaluation tools to asses our progress and standards to regulate our plans and programs. But as far as 2013 is concerned, I believe we have a better picture, clearer programs and better potential in terms of implementation. Since all that I have mentioned cannot be explained in-depth in one or two interviews, the heads of the different sectors, ministries and regions should do so in this year. Such information raises the people’s awareness and enhances their participation, on top of serving as a means of quantifying the progress achieved. But generally speaking, we are in a better stage now.
In conclusion Mr. President, on the occasion of the New Year 2013, what would you like to say to the people of Eritrea at home and abroad and to members of the Defense Forces?
When we talk about growth, including all the challenges we face along the way, nothing can be done without the power of the people. Even in the nation building endeavors, there are many who are working committedly in different economic activities with only one meal per day – forbearance and productivity all at once. These are the cultural and moral norms of the society, which are evolving dynamics.
First of all I wish the people will find an opportunity of reward for its hard work and sacrifice. It might not come within a year but the people should eventually be compensated. I can hardly find the words to thank the Eritrean people because it has brought this nation to this stage. And this should develop further, and as the effort and resilience increases so should the cumulative experience and tangible success. In 2013, we should work harder both by resisting hostilities and boosting productivities.
Wishing a happy and fruitful New Year and one that takes us to a better and higher stage of development, I would like to call upon the citizens to contribute its very best.
Your Excellency, on behalf of our people at home and abroad, we would like to thank you for the long and extensive elaborations you have given us. Once again Happy New Year!