“Although Eritrea may have a variety of resources, the only resource we have ever relied upon is the strength of our people”, President Isaias Part III & final
- It is to be recalled that President Isaias Afwerki conducted a two-hour live interview with local media on May 20 on the occasion of the 26th Anniversary of Independence Day. Excerpts of the third and final part of the interview follows.
- -Your Excellency, the imbalance in the relationship between producers and consumers is the cause for the price hike in the retail sector. The consumers are shouldering the burden. There are also the middle men that are exasperating the situation. What regulatory measures do you think should be taken to curb the problem?
Beyond the burden that it is creating, the message that it conveys and the mal practice is the most troubling. Why is such a situation that the majority of people are complaining about occurring? The producers in different say they are not benefiting from their produce. The situation is causing pressure on the living standard of the society and on the national economic development. People tolerate the situation may be due to lack of awareness or deliberately. The problem now has reached its peak. Why haven’t the concerned government institutions use their regulatory mandates to deal with the problem? That is a big question that we should ask ourselves. Let’s take the issue of water supply. Potable water supply has become the main challenge in Asmara and other cities in the country. The administration of the Central region claims that they sell a barrel of water for 47 or 37 cents. The water truck owners sell to consumers at 50 Nakfa a barrel. They may include expenses for spare parts and oil for their trucks, but the price exaggerated and unacceptable. It is a predicament has a consequence which should not be seen lightly.
It is the same with other consumer goods. Market prices could go up and down due to various factors. The consumers should develop awareness. Many media outlets talk about prices of items on daily basis. It would have been good if we could introduce such practice in order to give consumers a clear picture of the market situation. We are talking about water; the housing problem is also there. The mounting residential houses’ rent. We can talk about the price hikes of several consumer goods and the price difference of goods at their production site and the market. Who is responsible for the market imbalance? Who could afford to buy a house with the unaffordable price? What is the source of income of the consumer? It is said that there should have been intervention on the part of the responsible government organs. Government protection of consumer goods is being practiced in many countries.
What is the final solution? There should be a mechanism for water distribution so as to ensure the provision of potable water supply to the public. The use of trucks for water distribution is not the solution.
There is a plan to have a final solution for the water problem. The plan will be implemented in 2018 the latest. We are talking about Asmara. Eventually permanent solutions should be found in all cities, semi-urban centers and villages in the country. And that could be realized gradually. The gap between the producers and consumers should also be narrowed. The responsible institutions should handle and strengthen controlling mechanisms and with that we could say that the problem could be alleviated in two to three years.
The ultimate measure of economic development is good shelter for all citizens. Every citizen should have a house to live in. A plan of action has been charted out vis-à-vis the hiking house rent. There are measures to be taken to regulate and control rental houses. The administrations in different levels will assume the responsibility for the implementation of the program. That is a temporary solution.
Immediately after independence housing projects in Asmara and Massawa were launched. Similar initiatives were also taken in the vicinities of Asmara. However, the problem is perpetual and is still affecting the lives of citizens. That is not something to be left unnoticed, it should be solved. We should build small, medium-sized and big houses. In order to solve the problem, we should introduce modern technology, machineries for manufacturing building materials and develop human resources. Some initiatives are being taken in terms of introducing machineries, manufacturing building materials and proper allocation of resources and man power.
In the last 25 years, many people in Asmara, in the big cities and in semi-urban centers have been affected by shortages of residential houses. In some areas people have been allocated with plots of land for housing. The problem was one may build a house without considering the infrastructure needs associated with it. Building houses alone is not the solution; there should be equitable distribution of social services such as electricity power supply, potable water, education, health, transportation and others in the cities, semi-urban centers and villages. We should introduce micro-credit schemes in order to develop the capacity of people to build their houses. The possibility of that is to be left for the banks and PFDJ institutions. That is one package of the lasting solution to the problem of residential houses. The initiatives taken as temporary solutions have minimal contribution in solving the problem of residential houses. A Preliminary study has been conducted in identifying the sites for building residential housing complexes and the preparation for implementation is being finalized. The implementation of the program will commence in 2018.
To sum up, improving the livelihoods of citizens, stabilizing the market and addressing the residential housing shortages and ensure macro-economic stability are among the packages for lasting development.
- -Mr President, how do you evaluate the involvement of Eritreans in the Diaspora in the various development endeavours in the homeland, including private investment opportunities, on one hand, and the initiatives taken by the government in its policy to encourage them on the other?
We have categorized the domestic sectors into three fronts with the diaspora as the fourth front. In the domestic sector we have the Eastern coasts, the highlands and the western lowlands. They all are distinctive in their own manner. If we look at the economic development, it could incorporate farming, livestock, fisheries, tourism or manufacturing. Indeed, the national economic development also includes the fourth front. This is not something new in our experience, because Eritrea’s independence was achieved with the common effort of nationals both at home and abroad. As a matter of fact, the contribution of nationals abroad could be greater in some cases. In the present integrated efforts for sustainable development, however, we need to draft a blueprint as to how the Eritrean nationals abroad could further enhance their participation, starting with assisting Martyrs Families. It is not charity that I am underlining here. The most important thing is to create job opportunities both for themselves and their families here. Above all, Eritreans, especially those in the diaspora, need to develop the culture of saving so as to make these plans reality. Their collective capital could be utilized in the domains that we have mentioned earlier, which could be irrigation farming schemes, livestock or dairy development in addition to major agro-industrial programs.
There are also plans related to the mining and manufacturing industries. Hence, the capital savings both by individuals and groups need to be directed to investment. In this case, preparation of a roadmap is imperative to redirect their investment into various industries or sectors. Most of the focus of investment in the past has been in the service rendering sectors which include hotels, bars or restaurants. But, the industrial sector has been untapped and if we are to talk about the tourism sector, we first need to make sure the constant supply of electricity, water, transportation and others. Therefore, the concerned bodies need to finalize their preparations to quite Eritrean nationals in investing their savings and remittance. It is very encouraging to see investors explore all the available sectors, but more effort need to be exerted. The nationals abroad need to be well informed about the existing investment opportunities at home.
These nationals could take part in of the infrastructure endeavours or supply and manufacturing of construction raw materials. But one thing that is very important is that there are a number of educated and skilled Eritreans in the diaspora and their participation in the collective sustainable development program at home is significant. One of the major programs for 2017-2018 is transfer of technology and know-how. Accordingly, we need to lay the necessary groundwork for them to enhance their contribution towards the integrated sustainable development program.
Over the past 25 years, we may have gone through various experiences, but Eritrean nationals abroad need to increase their input in all sectors and fronts. We will get a clearer picture of the economic development programs and participation of Eritreans abroad once the details of the implementation of the programs start unfolding. The general economic development programs also include human resource development and judicious allocation of the resources both at home and abroad.
- -We have passed through challenging times of fortitude, patience and resolute rebuff over the past 26 years of independence. Besides, we are celebrating our 26th Independence Day Anniversary under the theme, “Laying pillars for vibrant growth”. In light of that, can you give us an insight about future programs? Also what message do you convey on this occasion?
Awareness is very important. People may take it as a political figure of speech, but truly, the power of this nation is endless. I am not talking about numbers here, I mean, it is something experts in the field should conduct a research on. It is not a new thing. It has been said many times in the past that Eritrea’s resource is its people. The people’s incredible qualities are not only revealed during tough times or hardships. The people’s resilience has paid off; the time has come for a brighter future. As for me, I consider the Eritrean population a multiplier in every aspect of programs that prevail.
We discuss with our partners what a real resource is. Many nations may be worried about the depletion of their oil resources or other mines, some may even be preparing for an alternative resource to maintain their continuity, and some others may be relaxed at present because their resources could continue to be extracted 150 to 200 years. Although Eritrea may have a variety of resources, the only resource we have ever relied upon is the strength of our people. It is the only resource that gets stronger all the time and never drains. This resource needs to be looked upon. It needs proper understanding. Besides, everything we have talked about is targeted towards that particular resource.
We may take some challenging experiences pertaining to this particular area as educational. Nonetheless, nothing gets us on the leash and the only thing that matters is the opportunities that lie ahead. Indeed, we can tackle any kind of challenge that may come on our way. It is not something we should worry about. Hence, we need to concentrate on finding a vector to boost our human resource in a quantifiable manner. The human resource should also be quantified by a time factor in all the collective sustainable development programs. It is important to know your goal over the time spent to achieve that target, which helps you determine your pace and thereby reinforce your actions.
We need to further nurture this culture in order to achieve the intended goal in all the said sectors. Nonetheless, it is not a secluded path we are following here, it also includes our partners. It is because we have shared common understanding with other nations that we are at this stage. Cooperation in all sectors with neighbouring partners such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and others would add impetus to our development drive, and our preparations in vast fields of cooperation this year would help us for a smooth take-off in 2018. The spirit is there and the willingness is intact. Besides, our vision has broadened and I don’t believe anything can stand in our way while implementing our programs.
Your Excellency, thank you and happy Independence Day.