INTERVIEW OF PRESIDENT ISAIAS AFWERKI WITH LOCAL MEDIA Part II and Final (Extracts)

  • What explains the West’s hostility toward the tri-lateral friendship and cooperation agreement signed between Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia?

This is mainly because it threatens its “anchor-states” based policies. These policies depend on states that submit to and serve specific interests and agendas. Cooperation among sovereign states threatens this political culture, a culture that requires “Special Envoys” whose core role is to boss countries around.

There is ample historical evidence showing the West’s lack of appetite for any sort of organic engagement that does not serve its interests. Not only does it not approve of regional cooperation, it goes even further by interfering with the work of global integration, the United Nations, planting individuals within it and using it to advance only what serves it. It does the same to continental organizations such as the African Union, ECOWAS, SADC, IGAD, and so on. It is all about control and hegemony.

When Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea choose to engage and cooperate, they would be serving the interests of their own peoples; creating synergies amongst them. As a result, regional peace and stability would be realized and this would have tremendous effects not only regionally but also globally.

Somalia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, and others choosing to cooperate would obviously be in direct conflict with the modus operandi of hegemony. Let alone developing countries such as these, the desire to thwart constructive cooperation and engagement extends to Europe and Asia as well. This is where demonization, obstruction, and eventually sanctions come into play.

Eritrea has been at the receiving end of this sort of sabotage for decades. Consider the time when they accused us of and falsely sanctioned us for supporting Al Shabab and terrorism. The fact is that we have fought against terrorism for years and they were the ones who created it. These sanctions caused considerable damage on this country; affecting its economy and development. To date, there has been no accounting for this injustice; no one is held responsible for the persecution borne by Eritreans for nine years.

We do not expect their methods to change. We have amassed valuable experience from our history. All we can do is ensure our survival and the survival of the region. We pay attention to the way they interfere in different places, dictating whom to elect and micromanaging even the smallest details, but we do not let that affect our direction. We have built a sort of immunity to their ways.

  • What is the international basis of the recent sanctions and what effects will they have on the country?

The foundation of international law is sovereignty. This law does not discriminate on the basis of wealth, size, strength, etc. Every country and every people are sovereign, and every country deserves to be respected equally. International law ensures stability and order and no power or “special interest groups” should be allowed to disrupt this. If sanctions are in order then by which law can one override due process and act as judge, jury, and executioner all in the same breath? This should only be allowed in a jungle.

There is a growing awareness now, and people from all corners are demanding change to this “world order”; demanding UN and Security Council reform; demanding an end to the law of the jungle and the bolstering of international law; presenting various ideas on how to move humanity forward. As is expected, however, these initiatives are crushed almost as soon as they are created, because the fact is that we live in a world where justice only applies to “special interests groups”.

As such, the struggle must continue and we must do whatever is in our power to build solidarity and strengthen engagement within our region and beyond. Solidarity is essential because if stability is the requisite for development then stability cannot be achieved from one corner, one people or country, alone. The struggle must be global and must not lose momentum. This is the only way we would be able to overcome these challenges.

The recent situation in Ethiopia is closely related to their regional plans, including their plans for Eritrea, which is why the country is constantly harassed and demonized. This calls for the same strength, resilience, sacrifice, and commitment of the past 80 years.

As far as the effects of the sanctions; one cannot assume that they will not have any effects. The aim, of course, is economic strangulation and financial pressures, affecting transactions and development, causing all sorts of challenges in development, and in turn affecting people’s well-being.

Obviously, this is not a treatment reserved for Eritreans alone. Afghanistan and Sudan provide relevant examples for how pressuring methods work. In Afghanistan’s case, sovereign fund worth 8 billion USD was frozen claiming the Taliban as pretext. In Sudan’s case, the new administration is held accountable for crimes committed and debt amassed by the previous regime and the people are forced into situations of chaos. The ultimate aim of all of this is to incite “revolutions” and “regime change”.

The baseless sanctions imposed on us in 2009, ostensibly lifted in 2018, negatively influenced the economy and hindered major development plans. Nonetheless, owing to our resilience, it fostered in us a resolve to overcome these challenges, relying on our own meagre resources and sheer will. We were able to achieved modest progress. As far as these new sanctions are concerned, the ultimate aim is to force “regime change”; targeting remittances, people’s movements, development projects, and other key areas. The same sacrifice, willpower, resilience, and strength that got us through the first set of sanctions will surely help us overcome the potential challenges resulting from these new sanctions. Obviously, people want better livelihoods and they want to be able to enjoy the fruits of their labour. Nonetheless, their determination to conquer injustice remains as high as before. This battle will not be easy, but we simply cannot allow the fear of the task ahead to paralyze us. 

  • The past two years have proven to Ethiopians the People’s Front’s stand on Ethiopian unity. This has resulted in increased appreciation for Eritreans and the avenues for cooperation and friendship. How can this shared understanding be strengthened?

Ironically, some suggest that we should not pay attention to what is happening in Ethiopia. As if we are living in an island, they claim that we can develop and achieve stability separately from our neighbours. The events of the past 6 to 8 decades and the burden carried by three consecutive generations, however, have clearly shown that developments in Ethiopia directly affect us. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain by living in peace and solidifying mutual respect and cooperation with Ethiopians. For this to happen, stability within Ethiopia remains a prerequisite and this requires an Ethiopian administration unbeholden to external influences and agendas. Of all the past Ethiopian regimes, we can say for certain, that none has been as destructive to Ethiopia, and by extent to the region, as the TPLF. Never in its history has Ethiopia been as divided as the TPLF’s reign.

This begs the question, can we coexist in peace in this situation? Remaining oblivious is not an option. In the words of Hassan (Turabi), if a fire takes over your neighbour’s house, it is bound to spread to your own. You therefore cannot ignore it. Similarly, when a fire threatens Ethiopia, the shared interests of this region, and securing the future for the coming generations, necessitates our compassion and engagement. Whether Djibouti, Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan, or Sudan, our goal remains a stable region in which we can all live in peace. These countries will always have sovereign governments and administrations, but true economic growth and development requires a shared and forward-looking path, using history as a reference point to move ahead, not as a stumbling block. All this to say, developments in every country in this region affect Eritrea, but relatively speaking, Ethiopian developments affect us even more directly, which is why we remain committed to its stability and its people’s wellbeing.

  • Tigrayans have borne the brunt of the recent war launched by the TPLF and its sponsors. Add to that, the unimaginable atrocities TPLF committed in the Amhara and Afar regions, which has further isolated Tigrayans by association. What do the people of Tigray have to do to disassociate themselves from these crimes and prove to their countrymen and women, as well as neighbouring nations, i.e. Eritreans, that they want to live in peace?

For a meaningful reform to manifest in Ethiopia, the ills of the past and destructive policies that enabled them – especially those exploiting ethnic differences – have to be identified and unambiguous criteria and conditions formulated allowing for a smooth process of nation building, one that brings peoples closer, highlighting shared interests and creating avenues for collective responsibility and rights. Expedient solutions and a patchwork of interim policies can only push issues out of sight but would never permanently uproot the causes of conflict.

There was a missed opportunity during the 1991 Addis Ababa conference to do exactly this – commit to rectifying the ills of past regimes and build a solid foundation on which a strong and united Ethiopia would be established. Instead, the route chosen with the establishment of the EPRDF was to buy time and to create a new stage for exploitation. The fact is that the TPLF had perfected its myopic outlook over 50 years. It then deliberately used this attitude, through the EPRDF, to antagonize and pit different groups against each other, and instil division throughout the country. It deliberately fomented hate and did so knowingly, with the goal of buying itself time. It achieved all of this by playing on historical grievances, manipulating and taking past atrocities out of context and using them to incite new animosity. For example, it painted the entire Amhara population with the chauvinism of a very small Amhara elite class. Similarly, the TPLF used Eritrea as a boogieman, and it did so to misdirect the Ethiopian population’s attention from its own crimes. In a sense, it was replicating the chauvinism it once claimed to be fighting. This in turn created a conducive atmosphere for economic exploitation as well, giving rise to a small class of thugs and thieves closely related to the regime.

The result of these actions, as expected, was that Tigrayans, by virtue of an ethnic association with the TPLF, were singled out as enemies of the entire population. In a vicious cycle, the TPLF held the entire population of Tigray as a hostage – committing crimes in its name and then using the hostility towards it and its isolation for its own benefit, effectively pitting Tigrayans against everyone even further.

Therefore, it is correct to conclude that Tigrayans have borne the brunt of TPLF’s myopic strategy of destruction and chaos. This population, forced to give up its children for a war it did not plan, was used in TPLF’s short-sighted and destructive plot for Ethiopia and the region.

In this vein, it is important that whatever reform strategy is devised takes this manipulation into account. The entire population of Tigray cannot in fact be held accountable for the atrocious actions of a small, criminal group. This requires an active commitment to raising people’s awareness and creating a conducive environment for reconciliation and understanding amongst the population – carefully dissecting and separating the actual culprits from the population in whose name the vile actions were committed. The coming transitional period requires the enacting of specific constructive measures that can bring about deep-rooted change; political, cultural, and a shared social change. 

  • The political crisis in the Sudan is gaining traction and is increasingly becoming more complicated. What effects does this crisis have on our region?

The current crisis in the Sudan cannot be understood in isolation from the regional and global developments of the past three decades. All exaggerations aside, the country was rightly considered the breadbasket of this region. Its natural resources compare to none in this area. Similarly, the level of political awareness and culture of its population was one of the highest and most developed.

Seeing what is unfolding in the country today is, without a doubt, shocking and disappointing. This is, however, the result of decades of misrule, corruption, and most notably the mismanagement of numerous crises that were left to fester in the background; namely, Darfur, South Sudan and the Abyei region, Eastern Sudan, and other key areas. All of these crises were never truly dealt with and the compounding effects had catastrophic consequences, the result of which was the revolution that uprooted the previous regime. This revolution did not have a leader per se or an outlined political roadmap.

It was rather the manifestation of people’s dissatisfactions that had reached uncontrollable levels. Sadly, this did not result in the systematic examination of any of the crises mentioned above. Even worse, it paved the way for external interference, which expectedly further complicated the situation and gave rise to even more grievances to boil over, resulting in the current crisis in which the population is expressing its discontentment, and the headlines, disappointingly, are as sensationalist and myopic as they can be, with supposed analysts and political theorists that only serve to add fuel to the fire.

As far as its effects on us in particular and the region at large, the documented desires of the peoples of this region to work together proves that any crisis would certainly have negative consequences on our shared development path. As such, the Sudan must find a lasting resolution that is based on the desires of its population, giving no room to external meddling, and constructively solving the numerous crises that have thus far remained unresolved. In the tumultus situation, the most viable approach is for the military to take responsibility as caretaker to prepare grounds for elections and to quit and return to its barracks once the elections are held in the specified timeline. This has to involve all sectors of the society and each sector must be convinced of and committed to its role in administering the country.

  • The Chinese Foreign Minister, Mr Wang Yi, visited Eritrea a few weeks ago. What was the result of this visit?

Eritrea and China enjoy a deep bond and a strategic partnership, based on mutual respect and interests, and a healthy space for hashing out differing opinions and working towards common understandings. This friendship goes back to 1965/66 when China, undergoing a Cultural Revolution at the time, welcomed Eritrean Freedom Fighters and was the first foreign country to support the struggle with arms. China’s position at the time, even when it was not yet the powerhouse that it is today, was clear and had a notable appreciation for the Eritrean people’s struggle for freedom.

It was therefore only natural for this partnership to develop further in the post-Independence era. In practical terms, this resulted in development cooperation and the deepening of mutually held strategic interests.

This recent visit by Minister Wang touched upon these salient historical facts and aimed to bolster the important partnership between our two countries. In this spirit, we have agreed on a framework in which all the areas slated for cooperation and engagement are fully outlined. The next step agreed upon is to continue our engagement and further develop an actual roadmap, sector by sector, through which this can be actualized.

It is important to keep in mind that this partnership did not develop because of China’s current standing in the world or for our own narrow interests. It is rather, as mentioned above, a longstanding relationship based on mutual interest and respect, one which highlights each country’s contributions and creates a platform for engagement in all areas deemed strategic. 

  • It is not difficult to guess that the global COVID-19 pandemic as well as the war started by the TPLF have resulted in a number of challenges over the past two years affecting development plans, the economy, trade, as well as regional partnerships. What are the national development plans put in place for 2022 to lessen the effects of these challenges?

In principle, our nation building strategy has not changed. It continues to have two parallel paths – growth and development on the one hand, and national security on the other. It goes without saying that external meddling as well as some internal challenges have hindered our ability to fully achieve our planned growth.

As such, we remain committed and must do all we can to make up for lost opportunities and fast-track the implementation of key endeavours outlined in our development blueprint, which includes detailed priorities in 12-13 areas. These priorities range from the provision of clean water, to the building of basic infrastructure (i.e. roads), to the development of the agriculture and energy sectors, and the sustainable exploitation of natural resources, including mining, fishing and so forth. All of this obviously requires time and resources and most importantly requires the development of our human capital. This is a key area that requires serious investment, which we remain committed to through the development of our education sector including technical and vocational training.

Equally important is the country’s national security. As the past 20-30 years have shown, this is an area that allows no compromise or apathy. The task is multi-faceted to include security as well as other areas. It requires commitment to and hard work in the areas of diplomacy, media, as well as cooperation and solidarity across regional and global platforms.

The ultimate aim of these efforts is to meet our population’s needs. As such, in order to ensure accountability we must be able to deliver on all our priorities in practical and measurable terms. As a related point, cooperation and partnership falls squarely within this discussion. Whether it is partnerships with countries in Europe or Asia or anywhere else, as long as these engagements help us deliver on our priorities and are based on mutual respect and interests then we must work to develop and strengthen them.

  • “Resilience as a timely imperative” has been a recurring theme over the past few months. What is the expectation for the coming year and what opportunities can we expect to find within the challenges facing us?

Indeed, resilience remains the requisite ingredient that holds true even today. It very closely relates to the development priorities outlined above and the driving force of this strategy is the Eritrean population. As such, achieving any of the tasks in the national development plan requires the raised awareness, commitment, and broad-based participation of the population, because at the end of the day the plan itself places the population at its core, as ultimate beneficiary.