“Since we cannot live in isolation, we have to make our modest contribution for the stability and peace in our neighborhood: President Isaias
President Isaias Afwerki gave a live radio and television interview with national media outlets on the 7th of October, focusing on various domestic and regional developments. Excerpts of the third and final part of the interview follow:
Mr. President, the world appears to be morphing from a uni-polar to bi-polar international order. What is your take on the role of Africa in the unfolding international order?
There is broad consensus that in the 50 years since its foundation, the African Union has not lived up to the expectations of the African people. The founding principles have not been crystallized. In view of these realities, the AU recently established a task force, led by Rwandan President Paul Kagame to revitalize the African Union. The task force enumerated eight points that amplify the shortcomings of the Union.
Before we talk about the impending restructuring of the AU, we need to examine the overall international context. We are not living in the middle ages or in the 19th century. We are living in the 21st century. If we depend on our individual resources only instead of developing mutual cooperation with our neighborhood, we will not be able to achieve the envisaged goals. The argument here is that regional cooperation is not a matter of choice but necessity.
After 1991, IGAD, COMESA and the African Union embarked on promising transformations. However, the ultimate outcomes fell short of expectations.
In the 21st century, the only continent that remains marginalized is Africa. European, North American, Latin American and Asian countries are progressing while Africa remains in a perplexing situation. Without focusing at the continental level alone, if we could enhance cooperation at the regional level, we could have managed many of our challenges. The assessment so far is that Africa is in a dire situation.
A conducive environment should be created for concerted action and for common benefits. We cannot forever live on managing crises and problems. We cannot be spectators only and expect solutions from others. We should do our homework.
When many African countries gained their independence in the 20th century, there was an African euphoria and profound aspirations. These were embodied in the initiative of the Founding Fathers. As a result, Pan Africanism was enunciated and later the Organization of African Unity established. But the OAU did not live up to the expectations in its 30 years of existence. Africa was in fact sliding back to neo-colonialism.
We were convinced from the outset that the OAU should be reformed to be a better organization. The restructuring initiative was led by the then Libyan President, Muammar Gaddafi. Unfortunately, the approach taken to restructure the OAU was not appropriate. Qaddafi had his own vested interests and ambitions, and he wanted the AU to be equal to the European Union. The thinking was that if there is a European Commission, why not an African Commission? He wanted the AU to be a carbon copy of the EU. In reality that was not viable. Europe has a developed economy while Africa is in a primitive stage. The comparison was not realistic or practical.
What should be the role and place of Africa? We should first and foremost profoundly understand the unfolding world order; the economic, social, cultural and infrastructural transformations. Then we can identify the goals we want to achieve.
Africa should be transformed. We should develop our industries and export processed items instead of raw materials. We should introduce technology; and develop our human resources, education, and health facilities. These should be the main goals that we need to achieve.
There were counterarguments that focused on short cuts as this process would take a long time. The transformation of the OAU to the African Union was indeed heavily influenced by these considerations. This approach in turn entailed enormous problems in terms of budget allocations, the charting out development programs, and financial management.
Different studies indicate that Africa possesses 60% of the world’s resources. And the question is why is it that a continent that possesses so much resources remains marginalized in the 21st century? Africa has the potential to help others instead of depending on external assistance. There is China-Africa Cooperation, Japan-Africa Cooperation, India- Africa Cooperation, etc. Various forums have also been convened under different themes and labels; but they have generally failed to produce meaningful and tangible results. Maintenance of neo-colonial ties under different labels, such as Anglophone, Francophone and others, is only meant to exploit the national resources of the continent. The illegal migration of African youth to Europe and to other countries emanates from this state of affairs.
African Union Summits are convened every year and they adopt different resolutions. But who are the architects, who masterminds these resolutions? Security agencies from Europe and the US often meddle in these internal continental affairs. This cannot be beneficial to Africa..
The corruption that permeates the system is unimaginable. Instead of Africans exploiting their own resources, others are taking advantage of it. Hence Africa can only extricate itself from these trends that are fraught with breeding neo-colonial realities if the African Union and other regional institutions on the continent assume appropriate structures and mandates that promote the real aspirations of the African populations.
We cannot, however, blame the external forces for the malaise that is besetting the continent. The problems are solely ours and we are responsible for solving them. This will transpire when we conduct a thorough assessment and map out tangible and viable programs. This is not emotional or floated for PR consumption.
The challenges are not, of course, easy. When IGAD was reformed, these issues were raised and thoroughly discussed. We proposed developing cooperation at the regional level. What happened to IGAD? IGAD which initially gave us a sense of hope for robust regional cooperation became counterproductive; inciting conflict and misunderstanding among Member States. It became an instrument for advancing the sinister agenda of foreign forces.
Still, we cannot live in isolation; we have to make our modest contribution for stability and peace in our neighborhood. We need to demonstrate active engagement.
How do you think Eritrea benefits from the AU restructuring?
Without going far, had we established strong cooperation in our neighborhood – with Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Somalia, and Djibouti – the negative developments that have transpired in these past years could have been avoided. We could have developed common programs in different sectors for the common benefit to our peoples. Above all we could have secured peace and tranquility in the entire region.
We are interested in policy harmonization with our neighbors. If the policies of individual countries are not in harmony with others in the neighborhood, we will not realize the cooperation we aspire for. In the past 25 years, the opportunity lost due to unnecessary conflicts is immeasurable.
In this 21st century, no one can claim to have a strong economy while living in isolation. This applies equally to developed nations too. We need to create a conducive environment for mutual economic cooperation. And that is not an option but a necessity.
Nation-building process requires resilience, perseverance and sacrifice. And with external hostility it becomes even more challenging. What are your comments regarding how a society may develop culture and values in order to challenge hostilities and realize its vision and objectives? How do you evaluate the resilience of the Eritrean people?
There are two parameters. One is the internal or cultural force. The other is the force created by the objective situation. Going back to our case, why did we struggle? Because we were denied our rights to live as a people and country. The interference of external forces has been the main factor for us to develop our awareness and fight for our rights. No one envisaged that our legitimate struggle would take 30 years. The influencing factor was the resolute aspirations for independence of the people. And that culminated in 1991 with Eritrean independence.
The nation-building process was initiated during the struggle for independence and not in 1991. After the end of the Second World War, Eritrea was denied its national rights mainly due to the strategic interests of the superpowers. Eritrea was condemned to remain under the regime that they supported and all the infrastructure and economic facilities in the country were destroyed in order to illustrate that Eritrea could not stand on its own and become a viable state. As a consequence, the Eritrean people rose in unison to secure their independence. Hence, the foundation for nation-building was there.
The sacrifice paid for independence is immeasurable. The readiness to give life for a cause was immense. Facing and defeating one of the strongest armies in Sub-Saharan Africa was a formidable feat. That was the force that realized the independence.
Nation-building is not an easy process. As you mentioned, resilience, perseverance and sacrifice are the main factors in today’s nation-building process. External hostilities have tested us throughout our history. Speculation to undermine the currency exchange these past years is another manifestation and vivid example of the conspiracies we continue to face. The strong resilience demonstrated by the Eritrean people inside the country and abroad is indeed a good example of the country’s unity and steadfastness.
We are now in a better situation than before. This is not for the sake of talking. The reality on the ground suggests that we are in a better condition.
Thank you very much Mr. President!