“Nation building is the biggest challenge of the less developed or third world countries in Africa:” 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 ninth and final part of the interview follow:
Mr. President, we are now in the last part of our interview. Allow us to pose a universal question pertaining to the culture of nation building. We have seen in these 20 years that nation building takes up a lot of effort, sacrifice and dedication. And with limitations in resources and addition of hostilities, it obviously gets even more difficult. What culture and values do you think a society should possess so as to be able to confront such a situation and attain its visions and objectives? And to strengthen these values and cultures, what should be done in terms of political and ideological works?
Nation building, not only as a concept but also as an objective, is a challenge that concerns not only us (Eritreans) but all nations as well. If we take Sudan for ex -ample, it gained its independence 40 years before we did; but if we look at the situation in the North and South today, did the people succeed in building a nation? Nation building is the biggest challenge of the less developed or third world countries in Africa.
Our exceptionality and advantage is our liberation struggle. Taking into account the situations between the 1950s and 80s, we can say we have gone beyond the processes necessary for laying the foundations for domestic adjustments. We have laid strong grounds for nation building. Eritreans, particularly after independence, were able to lay a good foundation without any dissimilarities and external interferences. And this is one of the factors of nation building and something that you cannot find in other peoples.
In Sudan for instance, we talk and exchange experiences with both the North and the South and this is where the first challenge lies. The worse thing is that, tribalism, which was never seen before in Sudan, has led to civil war. Such fragmentations don’t help the process of nation building. The people of Sudan were a civilized people, in politics and other arenas as well, and should have never been put into such a quagmire; regard -less of whether they got there by themselves or pushed by external factors. But if Sudan is to be stabilized, these problems must first be dealt with.
In our case, the tribal divisions and segregations that existed in the 1960s were surpassed and it wasn’t an easy task to wage a struggle that brought all Eritreans together and aiming for one vision. During such a process, on top of the existing challenges, we also endured a civil war. History tells us that the British came with intentions of dividing Eritreans along religious lines. This also went by and taught us a lesson. All this was a big step towards nation building.
The structure, mode of functioning, and ideology that the Eritrean struggle for liberation had at its outset would not have even brought independence. But we paid sacrifices, learned our lesson and overcome it. The harmony and sensitization of the people that we harnessed thereafter led us to defeat the strongest army in Africa then. These principles that we have cultivated back then are what guide us today. Dividing up people for individual benefits is not part of our principles or culture. These principles are an asset.
So how do you strengthen this foundation? This was our challenge in these 20 years. Numerous attempts were made to fragment this foundation. The different external ploys being carried out now after 20 years are also aimed at disintegrating the foundations we have laid and the developing processes we have started in economic, political, social and security arenas. Most of the time, politics that is based on treaties and alliances of tribes, clans, regions or religions is the reason for the failure in nation building processes. Only when a political system that relies on the nationality or the nation itself is functional can you say that there is a healthy nation building process.
If an official gets corrupted, embezzles money, opens different offshore bank accounts and does other illegal activities, his only shield is his clan or tribal affiliation. We can take a look at different countries whose foundations have been fragmented for such reasons. The Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo Brazzaville, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, and even our neighboring countries… The disintegrative way of running things caused instability and violation of rights of the people in these countries. This in turn aggravates corruption. Power becomes for the sake of money and money for the sake of power.
Why most countries are in conflicts despite their ample resources is because this fragmental foundation, patched up by corruption, cannot be undone. And when the problems arise, the nation stops halfway in its rebuilding process.
Those who are working on setting peoples apart are those very quarters that appear to care for “human rights.” Their main objective is to disintegrate the foundation of unity. But our reserved resource from the liberation struggle has acted as immunity against such perpetrations. The Eritrean people are very strong and have overcome all these problems with bravery and patience. It’s true that in such a situation, there are a handful of individuals who chose to become instruments. The ploys being staged using these individuals aim to disrupt the nation building process, to at least delay it and make it lag behind if not completely bring it to a standstill.
You need to consider all these challenges and understand them in detail. We should not be relaxed just because we have overcome our challenges; instead I say we must always be able to take active initiatives.
Other than as a concept or philosophy, how can you define nation building in tangible terms? Since ensuring the real nation building process is something that we have been working on day and night, it can be discussed in detail in a different occasion.
The topic on restructuring and reorganization that you raised for example looks like a simple ‘formula.’ Awareness, organization and arming also look like simple concepts. Awareness is not an easy matter. It doesn’t concern one or two experts but the population as a whole. And it is not something that stays in one level, it has to be dynamic. If there is planning, you need to be organized. You gear what you have towards one goal and get organized and work to achieve that goal.
What is our current situation? Where are we heading? What are our biggest challenges? And how do we overcome them? There needs to be proper training and campaigning as to how we need to gather our resources, however big or small, and ensure their efficiency beyond the challenges.
Mr. President, is there any message you wish to convey to the Eritrean people at home and abroad as well as the Eritrean Defense Forces, who altogether never gave up their resistance towards all hostilities? What would you like to say regarding what should we do and expect as well as our national compensation and hopes for the future?
When you look at the fortitude of the Eritrean people across different stages and compare it with that of other peoples, you can easily see how deeply rooted it is. Foreign observers assimilate Eritrean nationalism with “idolization”, which doesn’t exist among other peoples. Had it not been for our people’s resistance, the problems in the last 15 years wouldn’t have been overcome. How did we get to where we are after the illegitimate sanctions of 2009? Who stood firm amid all kinds of ploys? One can probably attribute all that to the leadership, government, the ministries and administrations… but in reality it was the staunch resistance of the people. Even now, since the attempts from enemies will not stop, one can call for the continued resistance of the people. This call is not because we are unsure of our people but is merely a reminder for the people to always remain vigilant, and that it should work even harder in 2014.
We have already seen how disastrous the regional and global dominations have turned to be. The adventurous policies that set to “control the world and declare supremacy in money, arms, technology and other influences” ended up leaving the US with a debt of 17 trillion dollars.
The people and the different government bodies should take into consideration the challenges put in our region as a consequence of these crises and act upon it. And since there are numerous idle talks spreading around, meetings, discussions and interviews should be held so as to increase the awareness of the people. You shouldn’t exaggerate the small livelihood problems and blow them out of proportion; but before disregarding them, you need to bring them up in open forums for discussion. Concerned authorities should hold interviews. Even the smallest speculations should not be overlooked but instead analyzed to find out the responsible parties and the objective behind them. Everyone should have equal knowledge on the most important issues.
We have heard about the national reserve army. One needs to understand that everyone working under the government is paying huge sacrifices, including the shortages in housing and other basic needs. And this needs recognition. All the youth deployed in the army, line ministries and administrations, construction works, development endeavors or working in different areas of the country in the name of national service and they nee not only gratitude but more.
In the end, apart from the usual message to the people, I think it is right to call on all those who are working tirelessly, leaving their individual needs behind, to keep shouldering the responsibility no matter how difficult it may get.