Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki Interview Part 1 (February 7, 2020)
Interview with President Isaias Afwerki Part I: Regional Issues
Saturday, 15 February 2020
It is to be remembered that on 7 and 9 February 2020, National media outlets, Eri- Tv and Dimtsi Hafash Radio Programme, have conducted exclusive interview with His Excellency President Isaias Afwerki on range of subjects focusing both on regional and domestic issues. Excerpts of the first part of the interview follow:
Since the mid of 2018, political developments in our region have unfolded in a new and distinct trajectory. In this regard, one of the events is the comprehensive agreement of peace and friendship signed between Eritrea and Ethiopia in Asmara on July 9 2018 after 20 years of stat of hostility and war and that contains five pillars. What is the progress achieved so far in the implementation of the main pillars of the agreement?
One can of course easily appreciate the event in its own merit; without the underlying context. In this sense, the Peace Agreement was signed in mid-2018 resulting in the establishment of bilateral ties of friendship. However, it would be more appropriate to look at the event within a broader framework to better gauge its future trajectory. This will require critical assessment of what transpired in the paste. From our perspective, the vital issue is what was the justification for the unwarranted hostilities levelled against three generations of our people in the past 80 years of our history? And, does this constitute the end of the hostilities?
Leaving aside the unwarranted hostilities that exacted heavy sacrifices in those long decades, what were the justifications for renewed hostilities in the last 20 years in particular? This is again a continuation of the political tools imposed in order to serve the global and regional strategic interests of external powers. As it happened, surrogate forces in our region, and particularly in Ethiopia, exacerbated and prolonged the hostilities through flimsy pretexts. These entailed a spiral of bloodshed; entrenched animosity and incessant crises bedeviling our region.
Narrowing the prism to the last 20 years, what were the causes of the border war? Did the conflict in Badme arise from previous similar history of hostility? Was it driven by other disputes or causes? In retrospect, it is clear that this was concocted and imposed, as it was the case in previous times, to advance external strategic interests.
The people of Eritrea were denied their inalienable national right – although it shared the same history as other nations formed through colonialism – and compelled to undergo through a long path of struggle due to the decision of external powers. We were compelled to tread a long journey and pay heavy sacrifices to ascertain our liberation. The banality of the justifications for imposing these tribulations on our people was perhaps more apparent when the new era was ushered in after the end of the Cold War. In a nutshell, very narrow and destructive mind set – i.e. appeasement of overriding external interests – fomented a long war that entailed huge human losses, material destruction and opportunity cost.
Ultimately, the resilience and steadfastness of the Eritrean people became the deterrent factor. In Ethiopia too, the agenda of hostility represented the interests of a narrow clique only and did not reflect the wishes of the Ethiopian people at large. The destructive acts of local actors compounded by external interests resulted in the long conflicts with disastrous consequences. This is the backdrop of the peace agreement of June 2018; which can be summed up as an outcome of the relentless struggle of the Eritrean people as well as rejection of the agenda of war in Ethiopia.
In terms of the political dynamics in Ethiopia, the policies pursued by the narrow agenda – in the aftermath of the end of the Cold War – has entailed the worst damage. The policy enunciated in the name of self-determination of nationalities etc. has triggered an intractable crisis of vertical polarization of the society. Cultural diversity is a process that ushers in a more congenial climate of affiliation and cohesion as post-colonial States embark on nation-building. To reverse this trend and foment polarization in society, especially on the basis of narrow ethnicity, poses an immense danger. This is what we see in Ethiopia today. It may not have been properly discerned at its incipient stage. But ultimately, it has incurred huge damage to society – notwithstanding the various seemingly innocuous justifications given to it. This goes beyond instigation of war and conflict to instill mistrust and hatred among society. It is a blight and destroys a country. Once the malaise is contracted, it has no simple antidote.
Compared to previous experiences in the course of nation-building process in Ethiopia, the misguided policies of the narrow clique are the worst in terms of their impact on the political development of Ethiopia. To add insult to an injury, these policies lasted long as they were complicated by external interests and interventions. With regard to allowing self-determination and secession of ethnic groups in Ethiopia, these misguided policies caused considerable vertical polarization and social cleavages in the country. This has negatively impacted the nation-building process in Ethiopia; regardless of their magnitude, cumulatively acquired previous experiences and efforts have been almost reversed due to the said policies. Nothing is as consequentially destructive in the nation-building process of a state as instilling a climate of systemic mistrust, suspicion and hostility among different segments of a society. Such a situation has become systemic and institutionalized in Ethiopia and it is timely to address and mitigate this challenge.
This poignant reality had to come to an end. Ultimately, people should say “Enough”. From our perspective, it is “Game Over”. For the people and political leaders in Ethiopia, the option is to say “Enough! as it is impossible to continue in this manner”.
The initiative Dr. Abiy took should be seen in this context. This was a truly bold measure and reflected prevailing sentiments. It was precipitated by the rejection of the people and country at large to the policy of ethnic polarization. This requires taking important measures. I personally believe it was brave of him. To say: “I will change the prevalent situation… I will take remedial measures” is not easy. We all remember the euphoria when the statement was first announced. The fact is the peoples of Eritrea and Ethiopia were not comfortable with the animosity created under spurious pretexts; particularly by a group which was not keen on fostering Ethiopian unity in the first place and that set out to create cleavages among them. This reality warranted decisive action at a historical juncture. And the bold decision was executed and merits profound appreciation.
This does not mean that all the problems have been resolved fully. Indeed, if we look at what has transpired in the past year and half, the matter has not come to closure. Because, this represented bankruptcy to the narrow clique and its courtiers. The ideologies, policies and manifestos pursued by the small clique in the past twenty years, were ultimately pulverized by the developments that unfolded in Eritrea and also in Ethiopia. Their political intentions and aspirations were once and for all terminated.
This failure induced a mindset of yet more desperation and bankruptcy. Abiy’s position envisages, in essence, a lofty objective of peace and friendship with Eritrea. This was a source of inspiration to the peoples of Eritrea and Ethiopia; because of accumulated experiences.
On the hand, what were the plans and schemes woven by the bankrupt clique over this period? And what has been implemented in terms of the Peace and Friendship Agreement?
We can look at the border issue. The situation in Badme and the surrounding areas has been aggravated in the past months since the first announcement by Abiy. Sovereign Eritrean territories that were invaded should have been reinstituted following the legal decision. This has not been done. Why? Because the bankrupt clique wanted to use Badme both as a card of intimidation and for bargaining chip. Without going into specific details, the situation in Badme has worsened.
We cannot refrain from engagement because our sovereign territories have not been restored. We can address this in due time. What is cardinal now is to consolidate the new climate which will benefit both peoples. The border war that was created without any justification in the first place, and the politics and ideologies that contributed to its intensification, have come to an end now. So there is no reason for undue preoccupation. Since we have to look ahead, the option was to be engaged in a concretive spirit.
How many new houses are being built in Badme? What is number of new land allotments? Who are the beneficiaries? On what legal grounds? These questions will amplify the difficult situation that obtains in Ethiopia at the present time. The policy of ethnic polarization is fraught with balkanization of the country. What was the ideology that underpinned the formation and status of the ethnic regions? Was there a central government that guaranteed national sovereignty?
The narrow clique resorted to reactive tactics as its policy of institutionalized ethnicity foundered. This translated into frustrating the policy of goodwill and peace enunciated in the past year and half. Because they could accept failure of their misguided policy, the alternative was to pursue another agenda of subversion. To weaken the forces of reform thus became a priority.
The events unfolding in Ethiopia these days corroborate these facts. Moreover, the narrow clique conjures up a situation of “hostage and siege from the north and the south” in its pursuit of a hostile agenda against Eritrea. There are additional attempts to compound the situation in Badme and the border areas and thereby make ultimate resolution impossible. Creating division among the Eritrean people is another tool they continue to pursue to advance their 20-year old policy of weakening Eritrea. Human trafficking was taken as a convenient instrument; this was done both through Sudan and Ethiopia. Acts of establishing “refugee camps”, in collision with UNHCR to attain carefully-woven schemes of draining Eritrean man-power, have surged. Hiring local spies and collaborators in order to create “opposition” based on ethnic and clan affiliation is another tool in their arsenal; specially because there is involvement from other external powers.
Furthermore, the narrow clique has been engaged in misinformation in order to hinder good-ties between Eritrea and Ethiopia and both peoples. This is accompanied by instilling “siege mentality” in its constituency in order to instigate war and conflict. We are not perturbed by these situations. What is of more concern, is the development that may unfold in Ethiopia. The question at hand is whether or not the process of change can proceed smoothly without impediments.
This was evident from the beginning. The magnitude of the challenges is indeed apparent to anyone who has gone through similar experiences. Abiy has taken a bold initiative. Sustainability of the initiative for peace and friendship is an uphill undertaking that will require huge efforts. We had no illusions that all would be smooth simply because the decision was taken out of political goodwill. This was not due to foresight but gleaned from long experience.
We will not dwell on the clique’s misdemeanor in Badme and other secondary matters. We must strengthen the positive developments that can occur in Ethiopia. This is not an option. It is what we have learned from history. There is no need to cry over spilled milk. We must deepen our relationship with Ethiopia in order to ensure that the prevailing reality, with all its challenges, develops in a positive direction. In our policy of constructive engagement, our efforts must focus on the larger picture and not be diverted by smaller matters. These objectives will not be attained in year or two.
Enduring peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia and restoration of normalcy will require vigorous efforts. Peace is not Mana that will come down from heavens. The crucial issue is consolidation of peace which will require conducive environment through relentless effort. We have indeed funneled our endeavors in the past 18 month on the most critical parameters. The challenges I have outlined before will continue.
We cannot be oblivious to the fact that this narrow clique has external supporters. Essentially because it is itself a surrogate of these forces. We have not attached undue importance to the subversive acts of this clique in the past months and our primary focus has remained on consolidating the climate of peace. We cannot overestimate the results achieved. But the choice was appropriate from the outset. The current positive development represents, by any yardstick, a big opportunity. All of the problems have not been resolved as yet; but we have taken several measures to bolster the climate of cooperation.
The recent meetings and Summits were, and will be, prompted by these considerations. Unless we create a robust platform, the ideals will not be achieved in one stretch. The issue is not our internal situation. The fact is developments in Ethiopia in the past 30 years were grave indeed. It may not involve us directly. We may argue, in the abstract, that this is a matter that concerns them alone and it is up to them to deal with it. But ultimately, this is an issue that requires our collaboration. We should not always be victims of political developments that unfold in Ethiopia. We do not need to confront a loose and bankrupt clique. But we must contribute, to the extent that we can, to the positive changes that occur in Ethiopia. We should not be mere strangers to what might transpire in Ethiopia.