”What is being propagated by the TPLF about the possibility of invading Eritrea is just a maneuver intended to cover up their domestic problems” President Isaias Afewerki
It is to be recalled that President Isaias Afwerki conducted an interview with the national media outlets on the 30th of 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 fourth and final part of the interview.
Mr. President, I would like to ask you about what is being aired by senior Ethiopian officials in relation to invading Eritrea. They have been repeatedly publicizing that they will invade Eritrea. What do you think is the root cause behind these official statements?
I don’t want to go to the detailed analysis related to military strength and overall capacity. However, what is being propagated is associated with the worrisome situation inside Ethiopia. One of the major conspiracies engineered against Eritrea is sanction. The sanction is a two-edged blade. One objective of the sanction is to constrain our ability to realize the major development goals we have in Eritrea. In this case, the most important target is limiting the possibility of strengthening Eritrea’s capacity to defend its sovereignty. The other side of the sanction is intended to psychologically undermine Eritrea. In 2009, a lot was said about how the sanction was developed. It was an amazing decision. The Security Council’s decision to sanction Eritrea is an apparent abuse based on evident lies and deception. This indicates the nature of the prevailing world order. It is related to the advent of a unipolar system, which has been prevalent since the end of World War II. At this time, it has been clear to many that the decision is a terribly shameful one. While they may not explicitly confess about it, even those who supported it at the beginning regret it today. No one believes that the decision was just and legally acceptable and justifiable. And nobody believes that it should be further tightened. If we look at the paper detailing Ethiopia’s last year diplomatic strategy, its main content is that the sanction should not be undone and it has to be further tightened. However, at this time, it is really hard to propagate and accordingly justify that the unjust sanction has to be further tighter as nobody can lend ears to such unconvincing claims. While its deceptions worked in the past, now the Ethiopian government has realized that it is not that possible to further justify the continuity of the sanction. The point is that the aforesaid propaganda in relation to the phony war about invading Eritrea is partly intended to create lame excuses for the sanction not to be lifted. The second objective of such a maneuver is to cover up the domestic problems prevailing in Ethiopia by diverting public attention. The vertical and horizontal polarization that the regime has created among different forces in Ethiopia is very disturbing. Even though this may not be that apparently visible for those who are observing it remotely, this problem is evidently clear for those who are inside Ethiopia. The TPLF’s strategy of governing Ethiopia is based on divide and rule mechanisms across ethnic lines and by creating cleavages even within ethnic groups. If we look at the horizontal polarization between the haves and the havenots, very few have controlled the resources in the economy while the majority of the Ethiopian people are disadvantaged – they are at a polar opposite. They talk a lot about the economic growth in order to falsely indicate that major projects are being effectively realized in the country. This by itself is meant to cover up the worrisome problems they have inside the country. Given the worries related to the upcoming 2015 election, one can clearly understand such issues. One has to ask herself or himself, ‘what is new making them beat war drums at this particular time?’ For a composed person, this issue is immaterial. We should remain composed and not even talk about it. We should not be obsessed about this issue so as not to be disrupted and deviate from our direction. We just need to focus on what we are doing instead of trying to be reactively preoccupied about such public relations issues intended to cover up their internal problems.
When it comes to diplomatic concerns, it seems that the attempts to diplomatically isolate Eritrea have failed. How do you see Eritrea’s situation in the region and the world at large? What about the plans to further strengthen the overall diplomatic endeavors and the public diplomatic efforts?
We should look at this issue from different perspectives. There are those countries that are really or nominally powerful ones. There are also the members of the Security Council. It may be important to examine the respective perspectives of all these countries. However, this has to be analyzed vis-à-vis the influences of other actors. One may consider Europe as a whole, Russia, China and India. Latin America also has its own dynamics. There is a need to cumulatively analyze the views of each influential country or region in order to have a clear picture of the overall effect of all the influences or interactions. There is also a need to examine the motives and perspectives of those who conspire against us. It may be premature to talk about the possibility of lifting the sanction. Which is more sensible, to be reactively preoccupied by the situation or proactively initiate and get engaged in partnership programs? It is likely that we have to show how naked and unjust the sanction is but what matters more is the partnerships we establish with influential states as part of our regional and global diplomatic strategy. Where the needs of all actors are aligned, it is easier to synergize the efforts of all concerned groups. It is also more important to be much more concerned about having a good neighborhood in our immediate region. Whether it is heartily or not, everybody wishes the neighborhood to be characterized by stability and cooperation; nobody argues otherwise. The problem is different groups have different interests. Given such cases, what is more important in diplomatic efforts is creating mutual understanding. There must be concerted efforts to create good relationships in our neighborhood; there have to be forms of cooperation that benefit all actors. Step by step it may be possible to develop practical and specific projects and programs that benefit all countries. However, there are conspiracies that hinder the realization of such a strategy. The issue related to Badme and the sanction against Eritrea is just some of the examples that destabilize our region. We don’t believe that these conspiracies are particularly targeting us. Consequently, there has to be a concerted effort and a commonly shared desire to promote the stability of our neighborhood. In general, our diplomatic effort places more emphasis on creating a stable neighborhood characterized by cooperation. We have cooperation programs that are related to the respective perspectives of the countries mentioned earlier. And this is progressing well. The good thing is that many of them say that they misunderstood the way the sanction was engineered at the time it was decided. They claim that it was a wrong decision. The fact that there is nobody who feels that the sanction was a right decision is a considerable advantage providing us with diplomatic upper hand. But what is mainly important to us is creating a stable region. While this may be a goal that is realized in the long term, the bilateral relationships have to be developed into concrete partnership programs. Hence, it is the key task of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to further strengthen and promote 2014 efforts in 2015. In connection to accomplishing our domestic objectives and those objectives that have to be realized in collaboration with our partners, we need to further strengthen our diplomatic efforts to promote investment opportunities.
Your Excellency, in the course of realizing the objectives associated with making Eritrea a prosperous country, the people of Eritrea faced and were able to overcome many odds. Given this background, how do you assess our capacity to realize our aspirations? Do we have the human and material resources required to accomplish the tasks ahead?
Human and material resources are what you can create. For example, everybody wants to live peacefully. However, peace is not something that is a heaven sent opportunity. Rather, one has to work hard to bring peace. We need to clearly identify the resources required for achieving our objectives. There are different resources such as technology, machinery, different raw materials, etc. However, human resource is the key of all the resources. Hence, all the resources become useful with the help of this key resource. In this case, what matters more is not the number of people but their quality. Therefore, it is important to improve the quality of our human resource in order to make them more energetic, productive and committed. However, being enthusiastic and committed alone is not enough if the people lack the required skills. Work culture is also very important for materializing what you aspire. This is part of what we have been traditionally doing in relation to raising the awareness of our human resource, mobilizing and equipping our human resources. For realizing our objectives, awareness is a critically important factor. This has to be further reinforced with acquiring the required knowledge and skills. This is not a one-time assignment. It has to be done sustainably. If a person has a strong desire, ambition, readiness, and skill, plus if the person has acquired the required experience and if the person is provided with the right technology, for that person to be ultimately effective, his or her work culture matters more. The work culture is not necessarily and mainly associated with being hard working only. How efficient the person is matters too. For this reason a person’s performance has to be measured in terms of the outcome achieved. Performance should not be measured in terms of the inputs used; it has to be measured in terms of the outputs produced. For this to be a reality, work culture is critically important. Therefore, there should be concrete efforts to cultivate appropriate work culture. While there may be some idle and unproductive individuals, the majority of the citizens in different parts and sectors of the country are productively engaged in promoting the quality of life of the people and this dynamism is really encouraging.
In 2014, you spent much of your time at project sites. What impressions, associated with this, would you share with us?
While it may have been forgotten at this time, when we were establishing different ministries and government organs, it was felt that they have to be established not only in the capital city but in different parts of the country. In this case, where they may be established has to be related to the nature of their mandates. It is more important to closely observe what is actually taking place on the ground and accordingly you need to be accurately informed about the actual performance. Once you are engaged in some of the tasks, it is not possible to distance yourself from them. However, this doesn’t mean you become engaged in such tasks at the expense of or by postponing other key responsibilities. A balanced weight has to be allocated among the responsibilities you should discharge. I advise others that it is helpful to be where the actual performance is taking place in order to effectively serve the people. Whether you are a president, a minister, a department head, a regional or a sub-regional governor, etc, you need to closely supervise what is actually being done under your jurisdiction and to ensure effective supervision; one has to be close to the reality. What you do in your office and the time you spend at field sites where the projects are actively implemented have their respective importance and value. As long as it is well calculated, sometimes it may not have any problem even if you make a tradeoff between the two.
Your Excellency, what messages would you like to convey to the Eritrean people on the occasion of New Year?
All of us should work hard and speed up our pace in order to improve the quality of life in our country. In the last few months, when I was away from office, I observed different things about the real life of different people. For example, I observed students who travel 15-20 kilometers to attend school. I also observed people who are 90, 85 and 87 years old and yet they are productive and actively participate in a productive work. The same is true with women. This observation is not limited to one or two areas; rather this is what you observe in different parts of the country. Therefore, as I am myself energized and inspired by what I observe, it doesn’t make sense to try to advise such citizens. I just say that we should keep what we are doing so as to progressively move ourselves to our desired state of improving the standard of living of our people.