“If people are to be beneficiaries of the Nile, all the muscle flexing should stop:” President Isaias
It is to be recalled that President IsaiasAfwerki conducted a 3-day extensive interview from the 6thto8thof September 2013, with local media outlets on pertaining domestic regional and international issues. Excerpts of the sixth part of the interview follow:
Mr. President, earlier you mentioned about the issue of Israel. It is being said that Israel will deport – to a third country (either Uganda, Juba or……) – those people who entered to the country through human trafficking processes. How does the Eritrean Government see this issue?
In this case, I don’t want to say this and that for the purpose of news consumption. We are talking about this issue with the Israeli government just like what we are doing with others in relation to the issue at hand. For this reason, we don’t want to respond to hearsay as we are officially talking about it with the concerned governments and institutions.
Let us proceed to regional and global issues of concern. Our region, that is, the Horn of Africa, the Red Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Middle East has been seriously affected and destabilized in the last 20 years due to political and economic crisis and upheavals as well as external political and military interventions like what happened in Iraq and Somalia. These problems have been also further worsened because of piracy and human trafficking issues like what you said earlier. Would you please explain to us about the perspectives and policies of the Eritrean Government in relation to the possibility of avoiding or overcoming these problems so that the countries in our region would complement each other and cooperate with each other?
We can talk about our policies in the last 20 years. These issues have to be discussed taking into consideration the broader context. What has been the root cause of all the upheavals and instability in the last 20 years? On our part, we want to have trusted, and stable neighbors, which of course would make the region characterized by complementarities. And our policies reflect these intentions. Different countries can have different policies, strategies and priorities consistent with their respective perspectives regarding their security matters. To this effect, our policies reflect our own given conditions. What determines the policies, strategies and priorities of one state’s national security matters? These issues are not determined by what a particular state wants do or achieve. What takes place in our region is determined by what is happening elsewhere in the world. Why do we consider complementing and cooperating with other to be the best alternative in our region? It is because the choice associated with national security, as stated earlier, is determined not by yourself; rather it is mainly determined by what takes place in your wider environment. If we try to examine things retrospectively and go back to what was happening in the world before Eritrea became an independent state, what were the effects of such historical events on our region? What were our choices by then? And how were we able to get where we are now? There were changes in the world during the time we gained our independence. 1990 and 1991 were the years when the history of the two blocks (Eastern and Western blocks) that prevailed after World War II ended. At that time, there were changes in Somalia and Ethiopia. In 1989, there were also changes in Sudan. At that time there were evidently better opportunities for the peoples of our region. This was an appropriate time (a fruitful ground) for complementing with each other and having cooperation policies with neighboring states in connection to different sectors of the economy. Our policies for promoting cooperation among the neighboring states in our region were developed considering these historical events – even though we also had the same concerns even before the end of the cold war. During the cold war, both during the Haileselassie and the Derg regimes, we were not being supported by any of the two super powers. But we were able to overcome the problems we faced at that time. Therefore, to properly understand what we have been facing during the last two decades, we need to properly assess the situation that resulted after the end of the cold war. Since then, the world has been dominated by a single economic super power that is led by Washington.
What’s the danger of this scenario? What are the target of each policies and their vantage point? After the end of the cold war the victorious camp claimed the world and started to plan the world’s path, according to their terminology “consolidation of hegemony”. The plan for hegemony was even there before the demise of the Soviet Union. The cold war was basically a struggle for hegemony. After the cold war the victorious camp embarked on consolidation of its hegemony. As it is found in their documents they designed a strategy “to manage the world for the next 50 years.” The main point of this strategy is to control the world’s resources; and it tends to do this by force after dividing the world according to its geographic or economic importance. And the control could be directly if possible or through proxies. To attain this goal there has to be a representative power in every region that is going to secure their interest. So to control resource centers and security, according to them National Security strategy, they nominate proxies. In addition to this institutions like the World Bank, IMF, UN, Security Council, regional organization, NGOs, charity organization, cultural centers, educational centers and financial centers; all have to be under their control as they are important tentacles for control. If you are going to dominate all these have to be part of one integrated strategic plan. For 20 years this was the policy.
Let’s see ourselves in this framework. How was this strategy implemented in Asia, Australia, South America, Africa and other regions? In their paper, Africa is divided into different regions. In each region is to be appointed a proxy and in the Horn of Africa Ethiopia was nominated with Kenya playing supporting role, and through this power securing their economic and security interests. And our region, due to the Red Sea and its proximity to the oil rich region, has a more significance than other regions. So the development in Horn of Africa has to be understood in relation to this fact.
The reason why Eritrea couldn’t get her independence after Second World War was due to their decision and not the decision of the authorities in Addis Ababa. The independence of Eritrea was not compatible with their global domination strategy, and hence Eritrea had to be made extension of Ethiopia. After 1991 this strategy took another form, but it was in conflict with our choices. In the 90’s we established IGAD with the aim of controlling desertification and drought in our attempt to develop our own mechanism of liberating ourselves from this problem. In order to make it holistic Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Sudan, Ethiopia were the members of IGAD. However, this couldn’t function because it was in conflict with America’s strategy of domination.
Why the issue of Somalia could not be resolved; or why the Sudan case end up in secession while it could be resolved through other means; the problem in Ethiopia or in Kenya; our border problems with Yemen, Djibouti, and Ethiopia; all these problems is explained within the perimeters of the strategy of domination. They would do anything to achieve what they want and they employ lies, deception, and force. IGAD therefore is nonexistent today. And so all organization like AU, ECOWAS, SADC, Jemaa Al Arabia must conform to the strategy or they must be weakened or destroyed. The belligerence aimed at Eritrea could not be seen out of this reality and context.
Despite all these however, we didn’t choose to be hostage of this history and tried to collaborate when common interest is at stake in regional and international arena. Even this was not seen favorably by the strategy. All our problems arising from the border conflict, economic pressure, economic sanction, can only be seen within this strategy.
The development of this strategy brought in the last 20 years is displacement. We can perhaps treat the issue of terrorism aside. The destruction of IGAD was not a peculiar example in this sense. Whatever Saddam was the fact that Iraq was disintegrated and was put out of the picture of the Arab Gulf was a big factor for displacement in the region. This is one of Washington’s National Security strategies. The event that took place in Afghanistan with a pretext of fighting terrorism has become a reason for havoc. The plan to put Egypt out of geography was in fact a result of the past 30 or 40 years of plotting.
If it is not to advance their interest, there really isn’t any reason to create proxies. This strategy hasbeen there since the onset of the cold war, only now with a different form. All the current changes in the world arena are the cumulative effect of this strategy. Egypt hasn’t had significant role on the Red Sea, North-West and East Africa, as well as in the Nile riparian and the Middle East. And this was planned. On regional scale the vacuum the absence of Egypt has created is not small. All the chaos in the past 20 years is the result of this strategy. Our foreign policy is based on the idea of cooperation of the people in the region. This management through proxies for the interest of others must stop and that is why we work for the development of peaceful and stable region. And here Egypt has to play its due role towards this end. The countries that allowed to be used as instrument for domination by being proxies are always in need of support. The three successive regimes in Ethiopia could only dominate the region by being proxy. If we take Israel’s domination of the region it has its own dynamics. And all the parties in the region that are now fighting to get the favor powerful countries, they all have the desire to dominate the region by serving as proxies. We don’t want that here for it can only bring havoc and chaos. And our foreign policy has its base in this conviction. The only solution for us is to ensure a region with a relation based on cooperation. The past 20 years have taught us that foreign intervention has been to the large part the reason but agony, problem and chaos. One can claim to be religious, advocate of democracy, or human rights, but since this is not genuine the result of one’s action is not as grand in reality.
Your Excellency, the popular uprisings in North Africa and Middle East that started in 2011 haven’t settled down. And in Egypt it has in fact worsened and become unsettling. What is the Eritrean government stand on the Egyptian issue? And if you can tell us about the government’s stand on the issue of the Ethiopian Millennium Dam?
If we follow the media, everyone wants to know ones stand if a certain leader or government is removed. The reason for Egypt’s fall is the result of 30 or 40 years of socio-economic, political, security chaos. The vacuum this has created has necessitated change. The uprising in the 25th of January has its root way back. Because of this Egypt hasn’t been able to play a constructive role in the Middle East, on the issue of Arab and Israel, the Red Sea, the Nile, and the Arab Gulf. The intervention of dominant forces has brought up chaos in the region. Change was expected in Egypt but it hasn’t come about in a manner that is expected. What is called the Arab Spring is meaningless. If the region is to gain peace and stability Egypt has to assume its due role in the region before anything else. The situation in the past two years is the result of the weakness of political organization. After the end of the cold war nationalists political organizations ceased to exist. Even the National Arab Movement exists only in name and there were no other powers that can effectively lead the change and lead the uprising, and that is the reason that led the country to the current situation. In Tunisia with the grave situation the people were in, the uprising started with a mere incident of a person setting himself on fire as he could not find an employment. In such disorganized situation there was an attempt by self-interested so called influential people to hijack the uprising. But the uprising was of the people. In Egypt there was no organized power that opposed the Mubarak regime with strategy and organized the people. The Muslim Brotherhood only then used the situation to organize itself. It was not a power that can fill the vacuum readily and hence it tried to exploit the situation and make a hasty organization, and then came the Morsi regime. We don’t concern ourselves if the Morsi regime continues or who comes to power. What we want is for Egypt to resume its place so that it can play its due role in the region. And the cumulated problems have to be resolved. When we sent message to the Egyptians about the human trek in April, we have notified that we consider the situation as a transitional stage. What we want is for Egypt to pass this situation in the right way whether it is with the Muslim Brotherhood or with any other organization. How they will do this is up to them as it is their internal matter. Based on this policy we started an effective dialogue with the Morsi regime better than the previous regime. It is not wrong in our part to notify that no matter what their ideology is what we want to see is for Egypt to have a peaceful transition. The problem however is that the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t represent the majority of the Egyptian people. Be this as it may, since it had better organization than any others we chose to engage with it immediately without delay. And this was going on well. However problem and tension arises when they tried to make change in their attempt to consolidate their power. The fact that Morsi defeated Shefiq who was implicated in corruption with the previous regime, doesn’t allow him to claim the peoples choice. But it had helped Morsi to come to power. We accepted Morsi’s regime but it couldn’t lead and manage the transition stage well and only preoccupied itself in the consolidation of power. And this is what led to the June 30 revolt. Whatever the case may be we would like to see Egypt assuming its role in the region and to do this the transition period must come to an end soon. Our relation with Morsi or with the current regime is based on our policy of engagement and this is our basic principle of our foreign policy. We don’t want to see a situation where our region becomes unstable due to the vacuum that the absence of Egypt creates and the yearning of different power with the aim of dominating the region by being proxies. If the balance is to come Egypt has to make the transition and play its role. It’s not a matter of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood or others.
Mr. President, what is the Eritrean Government stand on the Millennium Dam of Ethiopia?
The Nile Riparian has been there for centuries and there has been many treaties concerning it during the colonial times and after. But the current problem surrounding the river Nile, did it arise from domestic players or is it the result of foreign intervention? What is the interest of the people and the countries? And how is it going to be solved? What we have seen so far is the tendency to use the river as a weapon and muscle flexing than using it for the development and stability of the people. We have to come out of this mind set first. If there is a point of contention or dispute it should be settled the right way. I remember during the Dergue regime when it was said that Arabs support Eritrea, Mengistu replied by saying “Arabs may have oil but we have the Nile”. This is muscle flexing and in no way related to the utilization of resources for the development of people. We don’t have any interest taking part in this muscle flexing. We have nine members and may be more with the splitting of the Sudan. When we were asked to confirm our membership, we declined as we wanted to observe the situation. The main recipients here are Sudan and Egypt. The source countries are many but 80% of the water comes from Ethiopia. The millennium dam is no different than the attitudes we have mentioned earlier. But there are many factors we have to study if we are going to talk about the issue. While we maintain our policy, baseless talks like claiming the destruction of dams would inundate the Sudan should give in to more serious talks of basic principles.
The Nile hasn’t benefited Ethiopia, the Sudan, Egypt or any other feeding countries. The reason may be because of colonialism, lack of infrastructure, or the problem with government policies. They may have partially utilized it, but this is people’s resource and hence it should be used to change their life for the better. It is not the matter of previous treaties or some other lame excuses.
Any agreement or treaty should take in to account and balance a way how the future generations would benefit. It should take in to account the stability of the region. Otherwise the way it is handled now would only lead to undesirable effect. We are discussing with all the concerned parties to avoid such a fate.
The statement that claimed 5000 Mega Watt of electricity and that it could be sold to Sudan and Egypt was misinformation. 5000 Mega Watt isn’t even enough to Ethiopia with its population of 80 million. Israel with the population of only 7 million produces 11000 mega watts. So in light of this the 5000 mega a watt isn’t that big if the country aspires to develop. It was also claimed that once the dam is completed it would be used for different economic sectors the proper infrastructures has been installed. So if one evaluates it from this perspective it is not tangible at the moment and the issue hasn’t been dealt with properly. The water should contribute to the development of the Ethiopian people within and in line with regional cooperation.
What is currently said about the Millennium Dam is unrealistic and it hasn’t considered the future. Political consumption or trying to appear as if you did something big for the people of Ethiopia or as if you can dominate the region, all this is meaningless. Our stand in this issue is for Ethiopian along with other powers in the region to contribute for the stability of the region. But before anything else the river Nile and other contributing or feeding river should first and foremost benefit the people of Ethiopia. Just because we have a border conflict we don’t have ill-wish for the people of Ethiopia. Since it is the issue of future generations it has to be guaranteed.
The anxiety and reservation of Egypt is understandable as it is at the end of the chain. Egypt hasn’t been able to benefit from the previous treaties. Egypt is one of the biggest importers of wheat and this has been financed by the US. So one of the biggest weakness of Egypt was its inability to properly use the Nile. The problem however could not be solved through war of words or tension; other alternative has to be found. Our policy on this matter has always been clear; we don’t want to immerse in this storm or in this division of camps. We don’t have any reason to and we are sticking to our principles and policies. All this fanfare about the millennium dam is meaningless.