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“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.

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