The changes we are witnessing in Eritrea and Ethiopia reflect the two peoples’ resistance and resolve” – President Isaias; Part II
In an interview conducted with national media outlets on Saturday 3 November 2018, President Isaias Afwerki discussed the significance, progress, and regional ramifications of the recent historic peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia and other related developments. Excerpts of the second and final part of the interview follow.
Mr. President, can you elaborate on the regional and international ramifications of the peace and cooperation agreement signed by Eritrea and Ethiopia? What is its likely impact on enhancing regional partnership in particular?
Before we can talk about regional and international outcomes, we have to consider the context of the region. As we work towards strengthening bilateral relations, it is imperative that we understand the region. This region can be categorized into four sub-regions. To the west we have the Nile, which includes South Sudan, Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt. This part of the region has its own dynamics. The second is the Horn of Africa; this part of the region encompasses Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Sudan. The third part of the region is the Red Sea. The Red Sea has its own dynamics as well, formed by countries bordering the sea. The final and fourth part is the Gulf.
When we denote and amalgamate the four sub-regional components in this geographical mass as one region, we need to fully grasp its over-arching features. What are the communality of interest and relations that bind them together? What are their mutual economic ties and respective geostrategic importance? How does one gauge the economic complimentarities and cohesion among them in different sectors and along different parameters? There is also the question of security. What are the challenges and stakes in each sub-region? The domestic realities in each country and the web of interactions within the region must also be gauged. All these factors must be assessed in their totality and through the prism of complimentarity, cooperation and mutual respect. Enhancement of our bilateral ties with Ethiopia will have its positive in the region. Our focus will not be geared or confined to advance our interest only but wider benefits of the region as a whole.
Over the course of the past few decades, the harm inflicted upon Eritreans and Ethiopians, engineered by external agendas and their local surrogates, can never be adequately compensated in any sort of way. The damage inflicted upon countries like Somalia, South Sudan, and the Sudan; the turmoil we are currently witnessing in Yemen and the Red Sea, the direct consequences of such actions that have resulted in the loss of potential economic opportunities, and the subsequent occurrence of famine and instability in the region, must be explained in greater depth.
This region could have registered immense progress had we been allowed to cultivate healthy bilateral relations from 1991 onwards and funnel our combined resources for mutual development without the negative external influences and interferences. Of course, this is history now.
Moving forward, we have to think of how to consolidate the current climate of peace. Peace is a catalyst to development, prosperity, and stability. We can dwell on the past and think about how working towards constructive relations among countries of the Horn could have impacted the region positively. However, the past is the past. Our development goals should be forward looking. This current climate of peace is an opportunity that will have broader benefits, not only for the region, but also for the continent. Without peace, nothing is possible. Peace requires confidence, trust, and willingness. Progress on bilateral ties that has been achieved in the region over the last two to three months is a stepping stone towards further improvements.
For instance, IGADD (the Inter Governmental Authority on Drought and Development) was first formed with the idea to focus on development and environmental control. However, this was succeeded by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) with a view to focus on enhanced development in the region. Nevertheless, since the inception of the organization, it has remained far from achieving its target. IGAD became a tool for external actors to influence others and it has had regional implications.
Going back and reflecting on our experiences over the last century, the war and subsequent border stalemate between Eritrea and Ethiopia denied both countries two decades of opportunities, growth, and peace, while it exposed both countries to foreign intrusion in their internal affairs. Going forward, in order to eliminate such narrow minded thoughts and intrusions in the region from occurring again, countries of this region need to have a sense of complementarity and common understanding. We need to evaluate our common interests, gains, and the ways to achieve this on the ground.
For both countries, the peace deal creates space to prioritize economic development. As such, the people of both countries have big roles in sustaining peace, in terms of experience, shared history, and factoring in the geopolitical location, cooperation towards the realization of socio-economic growth and development.
Populations, in general, have the potential to impact peace and security in any region. Currently, there are about 240 million people in Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, and Eritrea. Include the Gulf States, and that figure increases to 300 million. In 25 years, that number will double. This begs the question, however, of what will the natural resources and human capital of this region look like by then? How do we produce and achieve tangible results in proportion to the needs on the ground. Bearing this in mind, the time between now and then should be used to support peace and stability by increasing the foundation for stability, which in return will strengthen overall regional stability and open new doors for economic trade and prosperity.
If we think about it critically, consolidated peace efforts require innovation based on thorough analysis of the issues at hand and evaluation of what has already been tested and tried to address them. We have to dare to ask the hard questions to solve our mutual problems. What needs to be done in Somalia? How to address the issues in South Sudan? Consolidated peace efforts call for countries of this region that are willing to go “beyond business as usual” and push the frontiers in terms of new and more effective ways to work for peace together. It demands that we ask critical questions such as what is the overarching framework or vision for peace in the Horn of Africa that actors should align to? Have we set out clear, yet comprehensive, aspirational, yet pragmatic, visions around which we can consolidate our peace building efforts? How do we cope with the dynamic nature of the region and draw from our history and experiences as we move the peace building field forward?
There are external actors still plotting to disrupt the new epoch of peace in the region. What effects will this have on the ongoing peace consolidation efforts?
This is something we expected from the beginning. There are a lot of old narratives repeated ad nauseam to no effect. Accounts such as there are considerable positive changes in Ethiopia following the peace deal made with Eritrea but the same cannot be said for Eritrea, no political change and there are political prisoners in the country, national service is still ongoing, and so on and so forth. These are narratives that seem to be churned out by those who have labeled themselves as regional experts. Such descriptions are, most of the time, based on unprincipled opinions that lack any impression of balance. These proliferating misconceptions are fabricated to generate a climate of mistrust and tension-laden region, with a view to create negative public opinion.
Moreover, in this era of flawed information technology, disinformation and sensationalism, and the speed at which they are spread and the magnitude of their influence, cannot be overlooked. They attempt to spread discord among audiences. Our objectives must not be derailed by such attempts. As the saying goes, “the camel marches, while the dog keeps on barking.”
Generally speaking, the deliberate spread of misinformation has been around a long time. In America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and so on, the incidence and prevalence of fake news and misinformation has had a negative effect on current issues. The news cycle revolves constantly now, and hence news, true and false, is placed before the public on an instant, worldwide scale as never before. Bearing this in mind, it should come as no surprise to find individuals spewing absurd opinions, such as “ the Badme issue should be left for the Tigray people to resolve, rather than left to Eritrea and Ethiopia.” These are intended to mislead people. Moreover, the ongoing developments of open borders and the free movement of people are taken out of context and promulgated into false and misleading accounts designed to deceive the public. These are driven by actors with hidden agendas who don’t favor the current climate of peace and development. The general public needs to stay alert and ahead of such misinformation and sensationalist reporting.
Mr. President, what responsibilities for the people and government arise with the new developments?
Based on our past experiences, we cannot be relaxed assuming that peace and stability are prevailing. We should not only increase awareness and commitment, but we should also work to face the challenges that may arise. We should work double fold in order to make up for lost opportunities. As of today, there is no time for relaxation. We have emerged victorious against all conspiracies to derail our independent political path and development drives. It was because of the continuous external hostilities that we were unable to realize our desires. Now, a new era is emerging and we should make up for the lost opportunities.
Every citizen should actively work for the sustainability and development of the agreement. The new peace opportunity should add impetus and strength for our active engagement in the process. One of the issues we continuously raise is that we integrate our resources and capacity at regional and global level for better outcomes. However, we should not expect external assistance for achieving our desires. Instead, we should mobilize our resources and capacity for achieving our desires. The Eritrean and Ethiopian peoples inside their countries and in the Diaspora should work hard and bring about meaningful progress. For that, we should mobilize our resources and register large economic achievements.
The cooperation and relations that we aspire to create should bring positive changes in the lives of our people. Positive changes can be realized only through hard work and the new reality that is emerging is of significant importance to the Eritrean people. The Eritrean people have a unique geographical and economic situation. We could also mention other various factors. This uniqueness should play a part in development and impact the bilateral relations between the peoples of Eritrea and Ethiopia. We should identify our opportunities and potential in order to effectively exploit them. For that, we should prioritize our activities in order to develop our capacity, extend our achievements, and augment productivity and timely implementation of our programs.
We should multiply our efforts, in terms of time and resources, for better outcomes. The same is expected from the people of Ethiopia. 100 million human resources in Ethiopia, and in the other countries in the region, are not to be seen lightly.
The people of Somalia are currently afflicted by intractable turmoil; they have to emerge from that situation and become part of the new era of peace and development. The people of South Sudan have been in the same situation. They, too, have to be part of the process.
The awareness and contribution of the people in the region should go hand in hand with the new developments. That is where we should concentrate on, in order to develop bilateral relations. We should also do our homework as a country, in terms of developing our capacity and shouldering our responsibility.
Eritrean nationals living in the Diaspora should also become beneficiaries of the new opportunities. In order to do that, strong efforts should be exerted so that they fully comprehend the new reality and development programs and contribute their part. They have to be aware of the political, diplomatic, information, and other development programs.
Mr. President, the Eritrean people have stood alongside their government in foiling all sorts of external conspiracies and have reached this new era of peace and development. Do you have any message to convey to them in connection to that?
There are many factors that make the Eritrean people unique. It is not an easy thing for any people to stand firm against conspiracies of such magnitude for over 30 years. It is true that the Eritrean people have not received what they should deserve. The standards of living of the people should be improved and their desires should be met. The new developments emerging in this region are the result of the steadfastness and commitment of the Eritrean people. With the new reality, the people should be ready to work hard and take advantage of the opportunities created.
The Eritrean people have stood firmly for the past 27, 28 years against a number of challenges: the border conflict, economic conspiracy, sanctions, and other external pressures. Therefore, the Eritrean people greatly deserve the new realities that are emerging. If we recognize our path, programs, and vision there is nothing that can stop us from realizing our desires.
Thank you Mr. President!