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“The People is the Army – This is our Unwavering Doctrine”: President Isaias

It is to be recalled that President Isaias Afwerki conducted an interview with the national media outlets on the 30thof December 2014 in connection with the New Year mainly focusing on domestic affairs. In the interview that was broadcast live through Eritrean Television and the radio highlighting all-round national and regional developments, as well as future prospects. The President shed light on the implementation and progress of development programs, nation-building programs set for implementation in 2015 and other domestic and regional issues. Here is an excerpt of the third part of the interview.


Your Excellency! In last year’s official celebrations of Independence Day, you declared that a new constitution would be drafted. What exactly does this mean, putting into consideration the 1997 national constitution? And what action has so far been taken in this regard?

As everybody knows, there is no constitution. I cannot say there was a constitution which existed or died…I do not even want to bring any excuse about the challenges we have been facing in the last 15 years that were woven to intimidate our existence, sovereignty and development. Majority of our political progress has been under such consistent external ploys and havocs. Thus, the constitution could be taken as an already died document before it was declared. Many years ago many people were suggesting that we declare a state of emergency. But, what they are saying now is another story. However, the constitution is practically a dead document before its declaration. I think it is of no use to open a platform for an argument with regards this issue. Who drafted it, how was it drafted, what was it aimed at? Well, we have learnt a lot about this issue in the last 15 years. We have learnt many things and upgraded our political maturity. The awareness and the anticipation we had back then comparing with what we are having now is completely different. At that time, due to emotions and goodwill, many things might have been seen differently. But now, we are highly matured. So, putting into consideration what we have learnt from our last experience, there must be a Governmental System which helps not only to narrow the gabs among societies but also to protect the recurrence of any sort of gab. Above all, the system should ensure that the living standard of every national is improved. Based on this, a body has been set up to work on it. Whether that is declared or not is another issue. Our priority is implementation the activity we started. This is not a public relations agenda. Since we are well aware of our situations, we perform our job without needless propaganda. As I have said during the Independence Day celebrations, there is a body formed to take charge of it. 
There is a methodology that serves in the drafting of the constitution. The most important thing is, when and how would the constitution be prepared and become operational. The new constitution would be drafted in a way that it serves for the future as well. The document is just a means but not an end. In this country, where huge sacrifice of life and time has been paid, what we prefer is a system that takes us to the path we aspire to go and that could lead us towards achieving the big objectives I have mentioned earlier. The process is progressing without any haste and in the right time. We do not want to put ourselves in an argument about how and what it would look like. This is our domestic issue and the document is not for external political gain. The document we are drafting is aimed to serve for the huge sacrifices we paid and for generations, to take us to the journey we aspire to reach and to the chapter we are looking to be in. Thus, it is not an issue where we ask for external support or acclaim. So, it would be practically prepared passing through needed research and preparation and without any publicity. This document takes into account the future of this country and not the interests of individuals.

Mr. President, contrary to recurrent talks about the mass exodus of Eritrean youth, the majority of them remained steadfast in their homeland dedicatedly working in the process of  nation building and safeguarding the sovereignty of the nation. Are there any tangible plans regarding their compensation or their future?

I don’t want to talk about something that doesn’t exist. Some have put themselves into trouble to go somewhere where they would supposedly find riches and change their lives. This is nothing short of a promulgated war. Different measures have been taken in an attempt to control the situation.

Generally speaking, those who have gone to these “dream lands” will eventually regret their actions. Many of them mistakenly fled because their desired state of affairs didn’t come overnight in this country. This is quite a big topic. Detailed studies on the issue have been documented, along with the entailing legal and economic ramifications. Other related conspiracies are also documented. And what’s saddening here is the fact that the youth are the victims of this organized crime.  Regardless of their mistakes, these citizens are part of the nation and the people and as such the government, the nation and the people should be able to look after them wherever they end up.
Regarding the endeavors that has been so far implemented, or those in the process or those planned for 2015, we have more than enough human resource capacity. It wasn’t a physical war that was waged upon us in the last 15 years. It was instead one that, on top of the economic, diplomatic and political smearing, held our minds and capacities hostage crippling our development endeavors. These ploys played a role in hampering our economy by limiting the growth of individual productivity. Nevertheless, we were not totally oblivious to these ploys. The intention was to keep us in the dark as hostages of a continued “tension.” But we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be in such a state. We are presently under constant harassment, with our sovereignty still violated. We therefore should be focused on our objectives.

The issue of the youth needs to be addressed separately. The mass media should be focusing on how we achieved our development programs. It wasn’t because we imported machineries or invested huge foreign currency that we have achieved the development programs that are on the ground for everyone to see. It is the people of this country that did the miracle.
The contribution of the youth in the nation building process should be measured not by the number of hours they worked, but rather by the end result they achieved. If we consider how this trend will go in 2015/2016, the important factor is not adding machineries, but building the capacity of the youth and boosting their experience and work motivation.
Regarding compensation, we need to first and foremost build a stable ground and favorable environment. The sacrifices we are paying are intended to take us there. If we can achieve the desired level in our development endeavors, agriculture, industry (manufacturing) services, our investments will have returns, and those returns will be our compensation. And that compensation is earmarked not for a few individuals only but for the whole society.

So far we could not claim that everyone is getting what he/she deserves. How many have access to potable water? Limited places may have all services but others have not had adequate water or electric supply or transport services since independence.

There are life-changing development programs planned for execution at the national level. And these will take time and efforts. If we ask ourselves why people paid so many sacrifices, it is because they wanted to reach a desired level. Independence is good but not enough. You need more sacrifices to ensure an equitable and adequate living standard. When talking about compensation, we need to talk in terms of the collective efforts we are making. It would be wrong to assume that one can live off the government paycheck, because even the government is included in that collective effort. Hardships and sacrifices may occur along the way, but in the end, the compensation comes from the returns of the collective investment. These returns need to be able to improve the living standards of the people.

We should not be giving soothing promises of salary increase or improved conditions because compensation doesn’t come from anticipation. Instead, it takes hard work, investment and sacrifice. We can say our vision is to change the people’s livelihood. And since this entails hard work, now is not the time for compensation. For those who choose to go abroad and live off charities without working, or those who constantly worry they will never be rewarded, time will definitely tell them.

Excellency, the guarantee for the existence and growth of a nation is its defense force. Are there any plans to embolden the defense capacity? Related to this is the issue of the reserve (people’s) army. How can the tasks of the reserve army (training and other activities) be carried out without hampering productivity?

I know this question is directly related to the harvesting season. But we don’t need to talk about the military conditions. When talking about the army, be it the reserve, regular or the defense forces, the people is the ultimate army of the nation. In simple words, and not for the sake of political consumption or public relations, that’s what our doctrine says. Under any conditions, the ultimate army that defends the nation and safeguards its sovereignty is the people. But this should not be confined to words only and needs to be observed in practice as well. The people need to be ready at all times. The imposed sanctions, conspiracies and different economic ploys waged against us in recent years all emanate from the enemy quarters’ inability to understand what this people is made of.

For the last 15 years, we have been sitting in trenches in the eventuality of any provocations. Those members of the army scattered along the frontlines are citizens of this nation. So where is the justice for them to stay out in the open while others sleep safely in their homes? What about those who are working day and night? It’s not because they have more obligations…
There is also the issue of national service. For 6-7 years, members of the national service were not deployed to the army, because we thought we could defend against any provocations or hostilities with the defense forces already in place along the frontlines. While that consideration is still in place, we need to at least secure our reserves.One of our losses last year was that the national service members were fruitlessly scattered. The proposed vocational trainings failed and those who didn’t score passing marks to colleges were left wandering pointlessly. What’s important here is to make sure that these youth not only shoulder the responsibility to safeguard the nation’s security and sovereignty, but also be productive and help themselves, their families and their country.

The training of the reserve armies that was recently announced was supposed to be done in every district and region long before the harvest season. The whole concept of the reserve armies is nothing new. It caused agitation only because its timing coincided with the dissemination of threats of war from Ethiopia (which meant nothing for me personally). Other than that, a reserve army, regardless of age or gender, needs constant training and exercise so as to be able to go into action whenever necessary.

This training program started later than expected and as such it collided with the harvesting season. There was a good rainy season and subsequently a good harvest, and thus crops were still out in the field. And because threshing is still conducted traditionally (with oxen) and demands hard work, the program posed a problem. So we had to prioritize between the harvest and training programs. Plans to incorporate both didn’t work out. The choice had to be made at a national level. The training that ensured the preparedness of the reserve army was chosen as a priority and is being implemented. While the implementation of the training program was a huge advantage, I don’t consider the delays in the harvests were a big loss. I know there are still haystacks seen alongside the roads and they would all be destroyed if it rained, but I think that’s a problem we can live with. And this is solved out in the field and has nothing to do with the issue of reserve armies or the nation’s general preparedness for defense, dignity and safeguarded sovereignty.

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