“Regional stability is essential not only for Eritrea but for mutual benefit among peoples of the region as well:” president Isaias
It is to be recalled that President Isaias Afwerki conducted a 3-day extensive interview from the 6th to 8th of September 2013,with local media outlets on pertaining domestic regional and international issues. Excerpts of the eighth part of the interview follow
Your Excellency, since secession there has been continuous discord and at times military tension between the North and the South Sudan. What is Eritrea’s stance as regards resolving conflicts and other sort of challenges between these two nations?
I will try to see the two sides of the issue. Since I do not see the importance of discussing the views we continually share with respective parties, I will not talk over about it. Generally, our all-time policies have been in line with the experiences of the past twenty years which I have already mentioned. We have carefully followed not only events of the aftermath of the Cold War era, but also the phase by phase developments seen in the Sudan after the Enkaz regime assumed power in 1989. South Sudan’s problem emerged in the post-independence period as of 1956. The issue of increasing marginalization and violation of rights as well as other problems started to escalate during the first and second Agnea movements and before such revolutionary movements developed to armed struggle when Sudan was under Numery’s leadership. Thus, since the first half of the 1990s, we have been pursuing a policy that tries to see the issue in the context of Horn Africa’s regional stability. This was among the problems that need to be immediately resolved. We have heard about the ideas of conflict prevention and conflict resolution for a number of times and such problem also exist in other regions. We have to eliminate these problems if a stable and viable environment that empowers integration and mutual cooperation in this particular region.
There are two basic points in this issue. It is above all an internal affair of the Sudanese alone. The right to self-determination is a right that belongs to all humans but it needs to be resolved within the context of unity. Thus, the right to self-determination could be solved through complementarities. The unity should further ensure the right to self-determination. It doesn’t, however, mean self-determination could be achieved through secession or separation for it lacks any political or historical cause that could push the issue towards that end. The second part was on matters that concern the exclusiveness of Government from religion and religion from government. Besides other latent problems, the imposing of Sharia law throughout Sudan was what escalated the tension which already started in 1983. But, why did this happen? Religion does not entail individual possession.Any organization or political movement doesn’t have a right to establish any religion based political system and the cultural as well as societal diversity of Sudan does not allow for such thing to happen. So, it was said that the problem should be solved on the basis of fundamental principles. There were then two revolutionary movements in the South Sudan that were led by Marshal and John Garang. SPLM’s stance was in line with the proposal submitted there off which favors the ascertainment of legitimate rights within a unified Sudan. The revolutionary movement that was led by Marshal was the weakest and it was calling for secession as the only solution to the problem. This is in fact their internal matter. It was said then let there be a solution in which all parties agree on. However, the government of Sudan rejected it and consequently war broke out. Our policy and efforts were centered on the understanding that unity and solidarity of the Sudan is an essential factor to integration and complimentary of this region.
Despite a number of controversial topics, the Naivasha Agreement was signed in 2005. There was also another initiative by IGAD in which the so called friends of IGAD were also involved. I could say the issue was pirated. The subtle mechanismof controlling regional and sub-regional organizations gradually starts to develop. When the peace process began, the matter was within IGAD only, but gradually so-called “friends” of IGAD came into the picture and then the so-called partners of IGAD followed, and ultimately the matter went outside the control of IGAD and IGAD did not play an effective role towards resolving the problem within Sudan. The agreement says ‘distribution of power and resources’. What does this mean? Two political parties cannot share resources of a nation. All national resources are of the people and of future generations. Its management is however the responsibility of the system that would be established. This sharing of power was also included in the conclusive Naivasha Agreement. We had reservations on the Naivasha Agreement then. We can understand from all these points that the so called comprehensive agreement was based on a shaky ground.
Internalization of the matter was also another trend that was to be prevented for it gave external forces a chance to manipulate the issue as per their wishes and whims. Unfortunately it was not prevented and thus everything was under their control and all cases had fallen in their hands. All parties were supposed to take part in the process, before the Naivasha Agreement was signed in 2005. SPLM should not be alone. It should be a comprehensive agreement in which all parties in the Western, Eastern and Southern Sudan take part so as to avoid any sort of challenge that may occur in the future. If the agreement is confined between two parties alone, it may become a cause for the prevalence of the problem. We expressed our reservations thereon right away.
When need be, we never stopped from expressing the reservation we had about the Naivasha Agreement. An agreement was reached despite gaps and in comprehensiveness. The better solution to the problem was Sudan’s unity. However, it didn’t happen due to misguided management and subsequently secession of the South Sudan came into being. We never thought the secession of South Sudan would happen. But, we had to accept it as an accomplished fact. Despite all our reservations, our choice was above everything else to honor people’s choice. History may give an answer whether the people get a chance to have their own say or they were other factors that affected their choice. Anyhow, South Sudan was separated and became an independent nation. Above any other relationship, the ties between the two nations need to be firm for it benefits the people of these two countries and for it serves towards the realization of sub-regional stability, integration, and complementarities. However, external interventions and legacies of the incomplete agreement have been complicating matters. Since the very announcement of South Sudan’s independence, we have been exerting continuous efforts to smooth out matters. As people’s benefit is to be ranked above everything, no matter what happened the ties among them need to be reinforced. Instead of internationalizing the issue, agreements need to be reached in petroleum export, infrastructure, trade and investment and strengthening ties which could pave a way towards regional normalization. Regional stability is essential not only for Eritrea but for mutual benefit among peoples of the region as well. At this time, it is hard to say IGAD or the Security Council are playing due roles. The parties who have been complicating matters are already known.
Reports that say South Sudan’s petroleum lines would reach to Kenya, it will pass through Djibouti and economic ties of South Sudan would find routes through Ethiopia to Mombasa among others could only deteriorate the relationship. This is associated with what they call it strategy of national security which they have been pursuing for the last twenty years. They also work to ensure the sustainability of the crisis and manage it to serve their vested agenda in the region.
Mr. President, South Sudan’s independence was a spontaneous outcome. The South Sudanese fought for equality and respect of their rights but not for independence. What is your analysis on the issue of North and South Sudan? Will they continue as two nations or do you think there is a possibility of them being united and a realization of a united Sudan?
Wish alone is worth noting. But, if you ask me what my preference would be? I would say it is better if it returns to what I was thinking before. Different issues such as geographic, economic, historic and interest related facts are due causes for the unity of the two nations or else there would be challenges and dire consequences. The Sudanese themselves have been expressing in different occasions their views as regards federation and confederation. There are also parties who think of a complete unity so as to move on towards a better situation. It is not about the idea being right or wrong, it is rather about whether it is practical or not? Whether we like it or not, we would accept any option that prevents escalation of the crisis. If it represents and ensures the interests of the people of the two nations it does not matter whether it is unity or federation. Regardless of its outcome, there is no reason that could hinder our engagement in the process. There should be a viable infrastructure if the two nations are to mutually make use of their resources and particularly that of petroleum. If economic policies and programs that could reinforce the ties between the two nations are charted out, their relationship would be further reinforced. If they work together in programs that require joint investments ventures, cooperation partnership would be further enhanced. What is more is that they cannot be separated in the societal aspect of the relationship. There would be a better relationship provided that they solved their respective internal problems. The sum of all these would lead to a better situation. The primary error was, however, trying to address by just jumping to the bigger issues while the fundamental matters still remain unresolved. This leads to unnecessary complication. External interventions and philosophies of think tanks would worsen the problem. If there is a genuine initiative, it would be easy to reach unity. We are always cautious while dealing with bigger topics. Expressing goodwill or accepting unity for the sake of comforting others would not bring a lasting solution. The only solution to the problem is mapping out a route that takes step by step towards ensuring closer ties between the two parties.
Eritrea didn’t give recognition to the three provisional governments as legitimate representatives of the people of Somalia. But, it has been disseminated by different media outlets that Eritrea gave recognition to the newly established government. What could be the reason? Besides, peace keeping forces have been flocking to Somalia such as from Sierra Leone regardless of the said demise of Al-Shabaab. What is your reading on this development?
Giving recognition is not an option in its legal aspect. It does not matter whether the leadership of Abdel Kasim Salad, Abdulahi Yusuf or of Sheik Sheriff assumes power. It is not at all about people assuming power. What we focused on is on its content. In reality,there is no nation called Somalia. The stance we opted since the very beginning was all about the presence of Somalia which we all know represented through its flag in the African Union and in the United Nations. Somalia is not at all in this picture. Hence, it is not an option to give recognition to any power that comes and goes insuch circumstance as legitimate representative of the entire Somalia. So, we should see what giving recognition means in this picture. We have to deal with those in Hargesa, in Mogadishu, in Puntland, and with those outside of these areas. But, on what legal or political basis can we say this or that is a legitimate representative of the people of Somalia? Leaving aside the issue of recognition, there is no reason why we do not work with any party in any part of Somalia and encourage the reconstitution of the dismantled Somalia. Above all, it is to be noted that the matter is of the Somalis. If we are to think of working in this region as friends’ and partners, there is no reason why we do not support any party or any individual that works for the reconstitution of the Somalia nation. However, the problem is not confined to the realities in Somalia. As global and neighborhood interventions have been complicating the matter, such scenarios need to be tackled. The reason why we condemned the invasion of 2006 in Mogadishu was due to the violation committed against this fundamental principle. What has been practically seen in the last seven years is all about what I have said complicating matters. The cause for the complication of the matter is intervention of neighboring countries. Regardless of them having their national security issue or not, there is no reason that could push them to make interventions in Somalia.
Among the issues that have been the cause of discord in Somalia is the presence Al-Shabaab and Al-Shabaab like terrorist powers. Any power could assume power in circumstances where there is no government and governmental institutions, where there is no stability and functional system and where everything is in vacuum. That is why the situation in Somalia has become difficult to deal with. It is impractical to destroy Al-Shabaab or any terrorist power based in Somalia using drones. This is only wastage of time, misguidance and complication of matters. Any power from Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Kenya and from any country that thinks of stabilizing the situation is just wasting time. If there exist differences among the people of Somalia from different corners of the country, they should solve such a difference and establish their own government and thus put an end to the crisis. Ignoring this reality, it is an unthinkable to ensure stability through the use of power and through employing substitute mechanism and thus making huge expenditure from neighboring countries or from other continent towards that end. It is hard to guess the size of different forces that have been dispatched in the coastal areas of Somalia under the pretext of preventing piracy activities. However, the people of Somalia alone are capable of solving all these problems. Any party with good will has to support Somalis initiative. If any party tries to become a substitute saying “I will solve the economic problem of Somalia, prevent terrorist activities, and terminate piracy” it cannot at all bring any solution. This is however, what has been repeatedly seen in reality. Now after three successive provisional governments, we do not have a problem to establish constructive engagement since the new government, contrary to its precedes, has at least expressed its will to solve the situations in different parts of the country through constant internal negotiations, and as it also takes initiatives to solve societal problems such as hunger, migration and displacement. This interaction does not mean giving recognition. Since we have made an interaction with the new government, it does not mean we have recognized it as representative of the people of Somalia. We never cut the line of sharing views even when Sheik Sheriff started to speak against us after he left this country. Similarly, we continued our engagement of sharing views with the new regime. We ultimately cannot take these engagements as a substitute to the basic interactions. This is not a choice to any given nation. The Somalis have shown weakness in fighting tribalism. The people of Somalia used to and still possesses different strong qualities which could make them united people. This people belongs to one religion and to one ethnic group, it speaks the same language and there are other factors which could make them different than any other people and particularly from that of the people of Africa. Despite putting an end to some tribal outlooks which were about to divide them in the 1960s, such attitude, as we see it now, has been reoccurring due to lack of serious tackling mechanism. If we see the political foundation of the war lords, it is mainly based on tribalism. All cheating and corruption occurrences that has been seen are under clan and tribal disguise. This issue needs to be resolved. What intensifies the geographical divisions is alsothe tribe based politics. It is this internal tribal problem which takes Somalia towards such crisis. What has opened a gate to external intervention is also this very tribal problem. Hence, there should be one system and one government which govern the entire Somalia. Our engagement policy supports and encourages this unity of the Somalis.
If a ground for complementarities and integration is to be created in this sub-region or in the Horn of Africa, the issue in Somalia is among the major problems that should be resolved appropriately. Making use of those who can act as collaborators with in this crisis is also another issue that prolongs the matter until the aspired time limit. Global and regional institutions like the UN, the African Union, and the IGAD have become accomplices of the strategy which stands for a sustained crisis within the region. What these institutions do is just misguiding and prolonging the issue and it should not seem as if they are resolving the crisis. Therefore, the stance we have on the issue of the people of Somalia does not stem from mere wish or emotional attachment but is rather our moral responsibility. Since this issue is clear to anybody who understands the internal situation and thus reads the issue with in Somalia objectively, there is no reason that makes us argue about the issue of recognition. Hence, we have to support any single step that takes towards a lasting solution and such engagement does not mean giving recognition.