Interview: Eritrea-Ethiopia Peace with Former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi
Interview: Eritrea-Ethiopia Peace with Former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi
Romano Prodi OMRI is an Italian politician who served twice as the Prime Minister of Italy. He also served as the 10th President of the European Commission.
Software Translation from Italian
www.eritrealive.com | May 14, 2019
One year after the inauguration in Ethiopia of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the subsequent peace agreement with Eritrea, EritreaLive interviewed Romano Prodi, former president of the Council and former president of the EU Commission, to ask him what he thinks of the new situation in the Horn of Africa. On the role of Italy and Europe, the situation in Libya and the upcoming European elections.
A year ago, after the election of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, with the new government in Ethiopia, peace came to Eritrea. A situation that has changed the scenario of the Horn of Africa, re-establishing relations broken not only between Eritrea and Ethiopia but between Somalia and Eritrea and between Eritrea and Djibouti. Peace is the political premise necessary for the development of countries, how do you see the future of the Horn of Africa now?
I have always followed the events in the Horn of Africa with interest and up close, so I saw this peace with great happiness. I know the problems that exist and that there will be, both in Ethiopia and in other countries, but peace is the premise for something new to happen.
In the past few years I have shuttled many times between the two capitals, Addis Ababa and Asmara. However, the war ( ed, after the last conflict between 1998 and 2000, a definite situation of non-peace and war did not exist between the two countries ) made any dialogue impossible.
Now a huge obstacle has fallen. Now Eritrea and Ethiopia can resume normal relations of circulation of people and a normal economic life. For Eritrea, a smaller country than Ethiopia, with less population and a smaller internal market, this situation is certainly positive. But it is also true for Ethiopia which, in this way, has peace on the border and access to the sea. It is a net gain for both parties.
Not only. In this way the greatest obstacle for Italian investments in the Horn of Africa also falls. The previous situation in fact frightened the entrepreneurs when they proposed investments in the Horn of Africa, an area of great potential.
This peace also helps the difficult situation in the rest of the Horn of Africa. I think of Somalia.
Not that peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia can be automatically extended to other countries, but it certainly makes the picture better.
The peace of last July made me very happy because, I repeat, personally I had worked a lot in the past years, shuttling between the two countries and meeting former prime ministers, Meles Zenawi and then Heilèmariam Desalegn.
You who have gone to Eritrea and Ethiopia many times, what do you think of the relationship between Italy and Eritrea, marked over time also by moments of great coldness?
Yes, of strong tension, even for small things …
In 1997, however, as President of the Council, you met President Isaias Afwerki …
We also met several times afterwards. My intention was to erase small misunderstandings and small disagreements that had transformed relations between Italy and Eritrea into continuous tensions. This was the talk for me. Italy has a debt to Eritrea which, for its part, has an interest in having a strong relationship with Italy.
I would also like to add a note of nostalgia. The only real Italian city in the world is Asmara. When you go to Asmara you are in Italy. The hotels have Italian names, as well as the shops, the cinemas, the theater. There’s even the Fiat bus station …
I have an affection I would like to say sentimental for Eritrea. This is also why it seemed only right to commit myself to overcome the frictions with our country. The peace achieved will be the instrument not only to normalize relationships, which are already normalizing, but also to build new ones.
If there was a single market in the whole of the Horn of Africa, the possibilities of development and foreign investment would grow very much.
The problem in Africa is that only three countries are very populated, Nigeria, Egypt and Ethiopia. Therefore, if a single market and free movement of goods is not created, investments are difficult.
Personally I am working towards cultural investments. Why are relations between universities tightened? In this way the countries of the Horn of Africa would have more links. It would be a significant political and economic incentive. A contribution towards the normalization and pacification of the entire area.
When I went to Eritrea, for example, I was very sorry to see that by now the Italian was spoken only by the elderly. It is a sad thing, not for reasons of nationalism, but because in this way a very important cultural relationship is lost. An authentic bond, to which even the Eritreans hold. To emphasize the affection that still exists between our two countries, we must start from culture.
Africa is a continent in transformation. In 2050 it is estimated that it will have two and a half billion people. A quarter of the world’s population will be in Africa, a continent with a growing economy. Reasons why Africa is an opportunity rather than a threat …
Of course Africa is an opportunity. It is today too. It would be so even if there were no prospective growth. The problem is that there is no single political vision. Europe looks at Africa with different eyes. France, for example, looks to the French-speaking countries. Despite this, the European Union is interested in Africa as a whole. And from the European Commission, even today, the greatest amount of aid is coming to Africa.
However it is difficult to have common goals.
In my opinion this is a huge mistake. And certainly the existence of a common market would help. In this sense h or watched with great interest the recent decisions of the African Union (AU) relating to the common market. It does not cover the entire continent, there are still countries outside, but it is a nice step forward. On the one hand, the AU should continue in this work, while on the other, the European Union understood the importance of its role.
This does not mean that Europe must compete or come into conflict with China. Rather. It would be a mistake. It would mean re-proposing a neo-colonial competition. Instead we need to focus on the possible synergies between Europe and China. A condition that Africa would benefit from.
China and Europe must not become unpleasant to Africa. They must demonstrate that they can work together . Without forgetting the economic interest, but also without political interference. It would be important for Europe to unite economic action by watering down political influence.
China is the only country that sees Africa as a continent. If I remember correctly, it has diplomatic relations with 51 countries out of 54. It has a clear policy. When inviting African leaders in China, it’s a big party in Beijing.
However, it must be remembered that interest in Africa is both Chinese and European.
European because we have cultural and historical relationships. Chinese because China has 7 percent of the world’s plowed lands and 20 percent of the population. It is an industrialized country without raw materials and energy. So where do you look for food and raw materials? In Africa and Latin America. And Africa has an interest in exporting to China.
Europe and China must be present in Africa without messages of political abuse or neo-colonialism.
Europe and China must have an economic interest towards Africa, without overbearing. Theirs must not be, as we say, a furry interest.
The US interest in Africa, on the other hand, is different. They certainly have a strategic interest, but for them Africa is not vital. They basically have self-sufficiency in raw materials and energy. For them, Africa is not as important as it is for Europe and China.
We are close to the European elections. In her region there is a candidate of African origin, Cécile Kyenge, who has strongly committed herself to the European parliament and is very supported by the foreign communities that see her as a symbol of integration. What do you think?
Which was a nice example. And I think it should continue. The idea that an African, in his case also a woman, is democratically and quietly elected as our representative in Strasbourg, I am very pleased.
It’s a nice sign that traces an important road. In my opinion Cécile Kyenge has done a useful job for Italy and useful for Africa. He has maintained relations with many African countries.
What do you think will come from the next European elections?
At European level I am optimistic. I think there will be an enlargement of the socialist-democratic, socialist-popular coalition, because, I foresee, they will not reach an absolute majority. There could also be an enlargement to the Greens or to the liberals. The situation would be different if there were an EPP alliance and sovereigns. But I would exclude it.
Instead the Italian vote I think it will be different than in the past. Because Italy, in many aspects of European politics, has aligned itself with sovereigns, countries like Hungary and Poland. An incredible fact that must be taken into account. I only hope that there is further reflection. Some time ago, even in Italy, there was talk of leaving Europe, now no longer. However, they seem to want to stay out of spite. It is time that this attitude also ends.
Spite to Europe, while for Africa?
Compared to Africa, dialogue is extremely difficult for these parties. They identify Africa only with desperate migrations, those by sea. It is very difficult to present them with a different Africa, complementary to Europe. I think it will take a long time for them to understand and accept this complementarity.
In your opinion, to support peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia, would further EU investments be important to promote dialogue and reconciliation in the Horn of Africa?
The Horn of Africa in my analysis is one of the few areas of Africa ready to receive industrial investments.
I refer, for example, to the Ethiopian development in manufacturing. For this reason I imagine in the Horn of Africa an interesting future of coexistence and cooperation with China and Europe. Because we need it. The idea of leaving China with an almost unique role as the main investor in the Horn of Africa seems to me to be completely out of date. It is China itself that is interested in having a complete development in the Horn of Africa. Currently, for China, Africa is a source of cheap labor. Soon, however, it will become a large market and a bridge to other countries on the continent. This too should evaluate Europe. Without forgetting that Addis Ababa is home to the African Union.
Will Europe seize the moment ?
The peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia makes it possible. For this reason I say that it would take an interlocutor in the next EU commission which, with a budget and an ad hoc mandate , dedicated itself to the relationship with Africa. In this first phase a commissioner would be enough to coordinate the European interlocutors. Decide on the aid policy and the necessary interventions. Individual companies could act at the national level coordinated, however, by a commission that takes care of synergies and aid towards the governments of the different countries. At European level, I would like to add, we can intervene not only for economy and business. I think of fundamental infrastructures, but above all, I insist, I think of health and culture. Health, university and school. European intervention is important for these sectors.
Another area that would deserve greater European attention for achieving stability is South Sudan. But the feeling is that the EU does very little. How do you see the current situation?
In the last few weeks, in the last few days I have had some hope, however small, very small. I’m sorry, but I also say that I imagined it. I have been cautious since independence. While understanding all the reasons, I thought that the fragmentation of the country was really very strong. Furthermore, too many people in Africa do not understand Africa. They do not understand that there are tribes and ethnic problems. Whoever intervenes always prefers to simplify. He sees the religious or racial struggle. They do not understand that there are traditions, customs, relationships, diversity of life, such as nomadism and permanence. Africa must try to understand it and leave it alone.
Finally, what do you think of the current situation in Libya?
On Libya, I have never changed my mind , from the first moment. I was fiercely opposed to the war. I immediately understood that although Gaddafi was a dictator, if you wanted to start a war, you had to think about the aftermath. Knowing very well the fragmentation of power, interests and traditions in Libya, I said and reiterated that a war would be a catastrophe. The only remedy could have been to get around a table immediately, with all the tribes and ethnic groups. To begin a discussion.
At that moment my name was made as a facilitator. Application then blocked by Italy and France. However, my thoughts remain the same. The Libyan people must be called together. The situation is that of eight years ago. Without peace, with more deaths and divisions.
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