- Editor’s Note: President Isaias Afwerki was interviewed by local media on topical regional issues on Sunday, 14 January this month. Shabait.com is serializing Excerpts of the interview.
Q: Mr. President, last week the Al-Jazeera television channel at Egypt broadcast a story asserting that Egyptian and Emirati troops equipped with tanks and aircraft were deployed in Sawa (western Eritrea). This news story was recycled by numerous media outlets without any verification. What are the origins and aim of this story?
PIA: I heard this news story while I was on the plane back home from Abu Dhabi. Frankly, I consider it a silly joke of 2018. We can raise many questions with regard to its aim, its timing and its links with various events taking place in our region and the wider neighborhood. This issue is not new at all. This false news is part and parcel of the cumulative lies, related to Eritrea, that have been fabricated in a similar manner. While we can mention a number of examples in relation to how such news stories originate and their potential consequences, what immediately comes to my mind is a previously fabricated news story claiming that Egyptian troops were deployed in Tsorona. Before they launched the attack against Eritrea at Tserona, the Weyane (TPLF) cadres told their army that “Egyptian army contingents had been deployed there”. How the Weyane regime tries to misconstrue and distort its ties and perspectives with Egypt is a broad and complicated issue. Leaving this aside, how can one justify the loss of life and other sacrifices that ensue from these fabrications?
At this moment, it is being claimed that Egypt has deployed soldiers and weapons in Eritrea. What was aired by the Al-Jazeera news agency was a fraction, the tip of the iceberg, in this campaign of disinformation. It was subsequently claimed that Egyptian troops have also been deployed in Barentu. This was apparently concocted to entangle the Sudan into the trap. There were allusions to verification of this story by independent and credible sources. We hear intelligence and security officials from Ethiopia and the Sudan held meetings in Kassala “to assess the exact locations of this supposed Egyptian troop deployment and to monitor its activities”.
All these stories are pure fabrications. But the architects of these lies often cite places and names in order to imbue credibility to their wild allegations. For example, it was claimed in one of the news report that a military officer named Tekle Manjus has been assigned to coordinate the troops deployed in Southern Barentu. How does such disinformation influence ordinary people and decision makers?
The lie associated with Sawa is the most baseless one. It has to be the most ridiculous joke because of its short-lived nature. In a way, it illustrates that those who fabricate these lies are not sophisticated enough to mislead the public. Al-Jazeera is a news agency serving such purposes. Obviously, we need to take into account how it is funded, led and managed. Al-Jazeera has established an office in Addis Ababa with the express purpose of coordinating the malicious agendas and conspiracies targeting Eritrea. Regardless of the claims made during its inauguration, this office is there to spread ill-advised propaganda against Eritrea. The fictitious news about Sawa was fabricated by this office. When you consider how informed those who are involved in the fabrication and spread of the false news are, you tend to feel that they are aliens from Mars or other planets. CJTN is a Chinese TV channel. Their correspondent in Cairo was asked to comment on the news story? He was supposedly an expert on the region and well-informed about the issue. He stated, unabashedly: “I know that the UAE has a military base at Sawa Island! But I am not sure whether the Egyptians are there or not.” This shows how such fake stories are spread without minimum verification. What will this correspondent say if asked whether there is indeed an Island called Sawa and in which Sea it is found? Other big TV channels too followed suit. The story was gullibly recycled by Russia Today and other major networks who quoted and requited Al Jeezera without any validation. All these fabrications indicate the frivolity of the architects of these lies: the Weyane regime and its patrons. The Weyane regime is really a surrogate that does not have its own indepdent agend. So in a way, the blame rests squarely on its patrons.
This latest disinformation is linked to what was previously propagated about Israeli surveillance station at Emba Soira. That Israel and Iran have military bases in Eritrea’s Dahlak Islands was routinely claimed for almost a decade now. Most lies are short-lived; just the same as how dew evaporates shortly. The lie associated with the deployment of Egyptian troops is the most frivolous one and it is less likely to mislead the public. What will Egyptian troops deployed in Sawa do? If we really assume that Sudan is the target of “this conspiracy” what is the point of Sawa as Egypt’s border with Sudan in the north is wider and closer to the Sudan. Therefore, why do Sawa, Barentu, Haykota, Tserona become issues? Is the threat directed at the Weyane regime? Again, this is silly and deliberately propagated to deflect public attention from the Woyane’s domestic woes and crisis. The fact is Ethiopia’s situation has become very worrisome and uncontrollable, both to Weyane and its patrons, and hence the ramping up of the disinformation campaign.
Weyane has multiple patrons. The fact that over time the situation in Ethiopia has been very disheartening and disappointing to all of them on the one hand, and the futility of the conspiracies engineered against Eritrea in the last 25 years on the other, have caused and fueled such fabrications and diversions. I would like to take this opportunity to praise the Eritrean people for their steadfastness and resilience to overcome the prolonged conspiracies against our country. While Weyane was supposed to be a servile agent of its patrons and a lot has been invested to strengthen it and weaken others in the region, the reverse has happened. What is being propagated in relation to Egypt is a baseless claim and a lame excuse intended to cover up the failures associated with the misguided policies of Weyane and its patrons.
The lies and propaganda messages mainly target Sudan as it is assumed that Egypt’s presence in Eritrea is a threat to Sudan. There are issues involving the Weyane regime and some interest groups in Sudan. These matters may be raised at an appropriate time in the future. Such interest groups aim to mislead the people of Sudan and they are not concerned about the problems or consequences created. This is coupled with the desire of Weyane and its patrons to make Sudan part of the alliance against Eritrea, Egypt and others in our region. Therefore, the fabricated stories are ultimately expected to culminate in pushing Sudan into conflict with Eritrea. Recently, the border between Eritrea and Sudan was closed and there are maneuvers around the border. I have learned that parallel to the fabricated news story, Weyane and Sudan agreed last week for the former to deploy its troops in the southern part of the Kassala Province in the Sudan; in a place called Wilayat. It is said that financing the activities of such an army is the responsibility of the Sudanese government. This is mere speculation but an established fact.
How will this operate? What will be its outcome? Is this army really expected to respond to an imagined attack against the Sudan from Sawa by Egypt?.
The ultimate aim of such false stories is to create conflicts and stoke tension between neighboring peoples. Thereafter, it becomes easy to abuse or manage the ensuing crisis. An intractable crisis situation in turn tends to create a fertile ground for deflecting attention from real problems. What comes to mind is the ignominious fabricated report of Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by Colin Powell to the UN in an attempt to justify the war against Iraq. Look at the consequences of this act; how it has impacted Iraq.
The Woyane regime claims that Egypt aims to weaken Ethiopia because of the Millenium Dam Project. Eritrea is considered, in Weyane’s eyes, an instrument to weaken Ethiopia. This wrong perception has to be bolstered by an intensive media campaign. Given the extensive coverage of today’s communication technology, there is a misguided belief that fabricated news stories can be consumed as truth. It is believed that once false stories are repeated and recycled by various media outlets, the public can be convinced and influenced accordingly.
The Weyane regime can continue to buy time. It may continue to be provided with intensive care and preferential treatment by its patrons. However, the situation in Ethiopia is irreversible. The ploys and games described above and that are masterminded by Weyane and its patrons can no longer be effective. The past 25 years are indeed lost years. There are changes in the world, as well as in our region and our broader neighborhood. Such lies can never be useful for the survival of the Wayane regime. What is being amplified by Al-Jazeera will, therefore, be futile. The message that I wish to convey to the people of Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt is that it is time to say enough is enough. On our part, while we believe that such fabrications easily evaporate as dew, we have been doing what we should.
Regardless of what is being said and propagated about the deployment of an army, about whether the border is closed or opened, we firmly believe that this has nothing to do with the national interest of the people of Sudan. As I asserted earlier, the issue is associated with creating crisis and maximizing the interests of those who happen to mastermind such games in the course of managing and sustaining the crisis or conflict situation. So I earnestly remind the people of Sudan to open their eyes and their ears so that they can be conscious not to be misled by the frivolous propaganda games. We should all be conscious enough to fight and uproot such ills and wicked intentions from our region. Enough lessons have already been learned regarding the lost opportunities in the last 25 years and we should not tolerate further losses. The interest groups in Sudan are not concerned about Weyane or the Ethiopian people. Their problem is associated with their fear that peace and cooperation between Eritrea and Ethiopia does not serve their purposes; good relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia are perceived to be not advantageous to them. This perspective was there prior to the current regime in Sudan. Similar fear was experienced or harbored in the minds of these interest groups when the situation changed in our region in 1991 and when this situation created a fertile ground for cooperation between Eritrea and Ethiopia. We say to such minority interest groups, who do not represent the people of Sudan at all and who are now conspiring with the Weyane, “Please be sensible enough to realise that attempts to create conflicts and border disputes between the people of Eritrea and Sudan are useless and it is better to come to your senses and discontinue creating conflict between the two peoples.” I would like to take this opportunity to make things clear that on our part we will never consider an invitation to such issues.
We may also relate these developments with our domestic situation. However frivolous and baseless they may be, they help us interrelate our situation with what is happening in neighboring communities. As I said earlier, the last 25 years are the lost years. Our region has been afflicted by interminable conflicts essentially to provide fertile ground to those who aim to maximize their vested interest and benefits by sustaining crisis. Let us say what has happened is enough and let us avoid further losses.
Coincidental as it may be, the fact that Christmas was celebrated at Sawa must have conveyed the right message to those who fabricated the lies of a phantom Egyptian military base there. I do not know why and how it was organized, but I must say that the Ministry of Information has done a good job.
Q: Last month, several media outlets reported that Turkey has plans to establish a military base in Sudan, in addition to its military involvement in Somalia. Many pundits maintain that the Horn of Africa is influenced by and interlinked with the geopolitical strategies of major countries in the Middle East. What is Eritrea’s perspective in this regard? What is the stance of Eritrea with regard to the developments in our region?
PIA: Such concerns need to be examined from the perspective of a broader framework. After the end of the Cold War, during the last 25 years it was believed that a unipolar economic system would be created. Consequently, there have been major developments in our region. The situation in Somalia is one of the major disappointing consequences of such a perspective and prevailing developments. As part of our foreign policy, we firmly believe that whenever and wherever there is a gap in a particular neighborhood or region, this becomes a major cause of political instability. Whenever one country or government is excluded in any neighborhood or region, a major gap is created and this is a major cause of political instability. Think of what happened in the region or the broader neighborhood after the end of the Cold War. Consider what happened in Afghanistan after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Afghanistan may be far from our region, however there is a major gap there. Everyone is aware of the situation in Afghanistan. If we explore the origin of such a situation, the motives associated with what has happened there, and why it is sustained, we can easily see the similar effects of similar motives in our own region. The situation in Iraq is also another major gap. A lot may be said about Iraq. The overall situation in Iraq, including what is happening with the advent of ISIS and other terror-related problems, has caused a perpetually tense state or condition in the region. This major gap is also related to the eight year war between Iraq and Iran, the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, and the invasion of Iraq by the USA. Further, consider what is happening in Syria. There is also a similar problem or gap in Lebanon. All such problems are interrelated in terms of their effect on creating unstable political situation. What recently happened in Libya and Somalia also needs to be added to such gaps. All such situations are the same in terms of their cause: decisions that were based on fabricated lies led to such situations. Similarly, all that was said against Eritrea before the 2009 sanctions that were decided by the UN Security Council will remain in our active memory. Consider the lies fabricated in relation to nonexistent deployment of 2000 Eritrean troops in Somalia and the lies fabricated in relation to other issues by the officials of the Clinton and Bush Administrations in the US.
Somalia is a part of the Horn of Africa. In terms of strategic geopolitical relevance, Somalia is a very important country. The Somali people are proud people who are capable of making great and constructive contribution in our region. However, Somalia has been excluded from the map in terms of its potential contribution in the region for a quarter of a century. This major gap became a fertile ground for terrorism. This has been caused by the strategy of Weyane and its patrons in the last 25 years. They aimed to destabilize Somalia. In 1960, when Somalia became independent, it was divided into two parts – South and North. However, the people of Somalia became united and one country through their voluntary initiatives and endeavors. This was a unique occurrence in Africa. Who knows, they might have planned to reach beyond this so as to include Ogaden, Djibouti, North or Eastern regions and Kenya? The central point is that Somalia’s nationalism and patriotism was at its apex at that time. It can be claimed that it was a very exemplary one in our region. In the course of their nation-building process, once unity was achieved between the two parts of Somalia, the Somali people were determined to uproot tribalism from their society. This was a miracle and very symbolic. It means Somalia was one of the most powerful countries in our neighborhood. Unfortunately, war lords were created to destabilize Somalia. Clan or tribalism was considered the weak point to be exploited in order to create vertical polarization, cleavages and conflicts among the communities of Somalia. The efforts to weaken Somalia are linked to the establishment of anchor states in different parts of the world, which is part of the 2002 National Security Strategy of the USA. Ethiopia was selected to be an anchor and police state in the Horn of Africa. The intention was to make Ethiopia a regional superpower and make the rest of the states of the region subordinate ones that need to be disciplined by the boss or police state – Ethiopia. Somalia was considered a threat to this strategy. The situation in Kenya and Djibouti also has to be looked at from this perspective. The ultimate consequence is that Weyane became a regime that is a servile agent of its patrons in our region. The Weyane regime became a policy instrument for implementing the agenda of its patrons. Even though the question we have raised is related to Somalia, the Eritrean case is linked to this situation and assessed from the same analytical framework.
Because of the motives described above, during the last 25 years, unity has been undone in Somalia and its sovereignty has been undermined due to the polarized cleavages and civil war. Somalia’s previously strong military institution is no longer there. At this time, it is not able to resist terror groups and those who are involved in piracy, such as Al-Shabaab. Somalia once had the strongest air force in the Horn of Africa. At this time, it is non-existent. In terms of its potential influence and contribution, Somalia has been excluded from the region. During the Siad Barre administration, especially at the end of his rule, there were excuses associated with terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, mainly related to Eitihad. Such pretexts were intended to weaken Somalia and eventually make it inactive in the politics of our region. The invasion of Somalia by Weyane was not endorsed by the Security Council. It was just imposed and Weyane was ordered to invade Somalia by its patrons. Three consecutive US administrations significantly supported Weyane and contributed considerably in having Somalia eventually destabilized. A lot is said about Al-Shabaab. We may talk a lot with respect to who actually supports Al-Shabaab, who provides financial and logistical support to Al-Shabaab. Given this background, what is the need for the intervention of Turkey in Somalia? In terms of what is claimed by Turkey, there is a need to fight terrorism where it is – at its origins or sources. To this effect, does it mean Turkey should go to Somalia to fight Al-Shabaab and other terrorists that may be in Somalia? Can such a joke mislead us or eclipse what we can easily see with our eyes?