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 second part of the interview follows:
Q : Ethiopian authorities have been making repeated pronouncements in the past few months about a new “draft policy” on Eritrea which they will “soon submit to the Parliament and the Council of Ministers. The regime states that this will replace the “failed peace, military and other instruments that it has pursued in the past”. What is the underlying rationale of this announcement? What is its principal objective?
When I look into the whole situation in retrospect, the damage inflicted on Eritrea by the TPLF regime and its allies can never be compensated in any way. The loss incurred in our region for over 20 years now by instigating hostility between the Ethiopian and Eritrean people cannot indeed be underrated.
Why and to achieve what objectives did they resort to this policy? A detailed exposition is perhaps unnecessary for this forum. But briefly, the damage they have inculcated in the last 25 years and especially so from 1994-95 on wards, by inducing fragmentation and vertical polarization of the Ethiopian people under the rubric of establishing a “democratic and federalist Ethiopia” is enormous indeed.
A toxic political subterfuge or subversion of this scale is unprecedented in Ethiopian history. To expose the people of Ethiopia to jeopardy of this dimension by fomenting ethnic cleavages is not a simple matter. The dangerous ramifications that have unfolded in the region cannot be ignored either.
The TPLF regime’s invasion of Somalia, apparently to advance other external agendas; the destruction and turmoil that ensued thereafter are other dimensions that must be seen in this context. The latter was packaged as a surgical operation that would last a couple of weeks only. All the external interventions in Somalia have not weakened or uprooted Al- Shebaab from the country but only exacerbated interminable mayhem.
The border dispute the TPL provoked with Eritrea falls in the same pattern. This has long been resolved legally. But the regime persists in its reckless acts by flouting international law to “paralyze” Eritrea. They have fomented new animosity by jettisoning the solidarity between the peoples of Eritrea and Ethiopia that was built in a common struggle.
One can also mention the unwarranted sanctions imposed on Eritrea as a continuation of this destructive policy. The intervention conducted until recently in South Sudan is part and parcel of this jigsaw.
In brief, the misguided policies they have pursued and the subsequent crisis ensued in the region are profound developments that warrant proper accountability.
To revert to your question, what will TPLF officials submit to the Parliament? Who are the intended targets of this message? The new (US) Administration in Washington? Certain supporters of the regime in Europe? To the Somali, Ethiopian, South Sudanese or Eritrean peoples? And what does it mean in substantive terms? What is the new policy drafted? Has their Parliament jurisdiction over other peoples?
I doubt whether they know what they are talking about. They have and continue to use Eritrea as a scapegoat in order to deflect attention from the domestic opposition that they are facing. They accuse Eritrea for “acts of destabilization” and these days for “collaborating with Egypt and other forces to that end”.
We need to understand their mindset and their actual condition. These baseless allegations emanate from and reflect their frustration. The misguided strategic policies that the TPLF regime and its supporters pursued in the past 20-25 years have yielded dangerous regional instability only.
In the circumstances, our task must be to look forward, to draw appropriate lessons from this negative experience. To dwell on their hollow pronouncements will be a waste of time. Our message to all those who wish to weaken or paralyze us is that this will never happen; that we will never be derailed by these campaigns”.
Q : Why is Eritrea seen as a threat when it cherishes and is actually peaceful and stable? The hostilities are manifested in various forms. It is under sanctions and faces harassment under rubric of human rights. Difficult to predict what they have in stock? But again, why and what is the threat from Eritrea?
Sometimes we habitually tend to look at what is just in front of us or we remember recent developments only. When I look at the matter in a historical perspective, many questions crop up. What do these people want? What is their problem? Why this obsession over Eritrea?
To answer these questions, we have to go back to Italian colonization. Various intricate issues and developments unfolded during the 60 years of Italian colonial presence in the region. Italy used 150,000 Eritrean Askaris (conscripts) for its expedition in the region. We should study and know the history of these Askaris… those who went and fought in Libya, Somalia and Ethiopia… Italy may have entertained colonialist dreams as a result of the Battle of Adwa Syndrome. We have to recall the Eritreans who were imprisoned and killed in Nakura; those who faced repression; those who resisted Italian colonialism… Eritreans who threw bombs against Italian colonial authorities even in Addis Abeba. The history is long and complicated; Italian colonialism can be seen in its proxy dimensions too. In any case, this is one chapter.
Next, we have to look at the end of the Second World War and the new realities that it created in the region. The end of the Second World War was followed by the onset of the Cold War. It entailed a new configuration of bi-polar dynamics in global power politics. Against this backdrop, certain Western powers that were also victorious in the Second World War, essentially the US and the UK, designated Iran, Israel and Ethiopia as proxy vehicles to advance and maintain their interests in the region. The deprivation of Eritrea’s right to self-determination; the denial of its independence occurred due to overriding decisions and designs of these external forces. These were not acts of the Haile Selassie or Mengistu regimes. What it boils down is that the hostilities directed against us stem from geography; from the geopolitical importance of the country.
We were subsequently forced to pay hefty and precious sacrifices to assert our independence. But the hostilities continue. We continue to be targets because the same mind set is at work. Indeed, global power configuration; the prevalence of a bi-polar or uni-polar international order has not had any impact on our predicaments.
Ultimately, it is the rule of law, respect of international law and mutual respect that can guarantee stability. The upheavals that we see in the wider region – north, south and west – are largely consequences and fall outs of global instability. More badly, it is the existences of local proxies that aspire to expand their influence by promoting the agenda of these powers that exacerbate local adversarial realities. These are historical tendencies that warrant rectification and which constitute agendas of our consultation with our partners in the region.
As I pointed out before, we can talk about the mind-set and acts of the Haile Selassie and Mengistu regimes. In regard to the TPLF, we struggled together for about 20 years before and during the Mengistu regime with the hope of creating a new reality of solid cooperation.
As we know, things relapsed to the old mode. A State of Emergency has been declared in Ethiopia. The regime is dithering under enormous internal pressure. Yet, it is getting massive financial/economic succor. There are acute food shortages. But these are not reported in the news media. They go to extreme lengths to preserve the regime.
The TPLF regime had to initiate hostilities with Eritrea as part and parcel of its pact with certain powers. Badme was really an excuse. To scapegoat and level false accusations against Eritrea thus constitutes a transparent ploy for maintaining domestic control as well as to mollify external agendas.
In brief, we have to examine all these interlinked issues in a holistic manner. Globally too, the drive to consolidate a uni-polar international order is facing serious challenges; a manifestation of which are the profound changes we are witnessing these days in Europe, America and other parts of the world.
All these trends compel us to soberly and patiently assess how matters will pan out in our neighborhood? The essential point is not to be distracted by pronouncements and isolated events. We have to look forward and focus on the critical issues of paramount importance.
Q : Mr. President, We have to proceed to Domestic affairs now, we are almost into the summer season now, and we have had a bountiful rainy Azmara, as you stated in your new year’s address, in the last 10 years we have laid the necessary water catchment infrastructure. Can you tell us what are the current plans are underway this year?
As I had stated before, we have to realize a sustainable development. How do we achieve sustainable development? First of all sustainable development includes not only water but also energy, transportation, education and health. These have to be integrated within every development project in each sector of the country.
In terms of water security, one of the pillars of the strategy is water and soil conservation. In order to avoid dependence on the unreliable and inadequate rainfall, we have made huge investments towards construction of dams over the years. In the western development region of the country, dams such as Gereset, Kerkebet, Badmit, Fanco have been built. These can amass decent amounts of water. But the tight spot of reservoirs is not amassing water, but how to utilize it. The challenge remains in how and for what purpose to use it.
There is a broad project going throughout the country. By dividing it into three developmental zones, the West, the Highland and the East, and each of these zones are envisaged to be self-reliant. Following a line of research, the water supply each of these three zones ensure, is expected to reach the services mentioned earlier through a set of transmission system. These are aimed at boosting agricultural production, expanding social services and ensuring the provision of potable water supply.
What we have to understand is, if these dams have the possibility to give adequate service to the agricultural areas found within their proximity. If so, how can we manage it? We are yet to fully utilize the amount of water we have amassed in our dams mainly due to the reasons that we are yet to acquire the necessary technological equipment. But that is a short term goal that we have to reach step by step. Nonetheless the current harvested water is enabling communities to harvest two-three times per year using irrigation farming.
Overall our development efforts in energy, water, transportation are closely correlated with the necessity to further improve our health and education sectors. The energy sector, that the main priority must be sustainable expansion of energy services to the Eritrean people. This will require both the development of new supplies, more efficient utilization of current energy resources and diversification.
In order to diversify energy sources, renewable energy in that of wind energy and alternative biomass energy supplies, solar energy are being promoted for high value uses. For instance electricity is pivotal in agricultural development plans, the irrigation schemes are equipped with electric power for pumping the water and powering the agro-processing plants and cold storage units that are built to preserve and add value to agricultural products. This year aggressive programs and investments in increased efficiency will be a key element to rapidly increasing Eritrean’s standard of living.
In summary, it is imperative that water is central to all our development plans in the coming years. Water is at the core of sustainable development and is critical for socio-economic development in our country.