The Eriterian President Isaias Afeworki is known for his comical statements. To be entertained, however, we have to wait for his once-in-a-while interview with the western media. This time he did it with Aftonbladet, a Swedish media, though the questions were collected from the Eritrean Diaspora.
It was ‘A Week in the Horn’, the weekly Press Release of the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs(posted below), that brought the interview to my attention.
Read below a translation of the interview and a commentary by the Week in the Horn.
Pres. Isaias Afeworki interview with with journalist Donald Bostrom
(AFTONBLADET – Oct. 11, 2010)
[Note: This is a google translation, thus imperfect]
HOW ARE THINGS WITH DAWIT ISAAK’S HEALTH, DOES HE STILL LIVE?
I do not know. I have never been engaged in the issue. But you have used it as blackmail against us. You have the upper hand and have bigger muscles, and haggle for your goodwill for us to do you a favor. It is a wrong mentality. You have destroyed a lot of your choice, except that in perspective. It is an insult to our intelligence when you constantly continue to push the issue again and again. You have got to play the game elsewhere.
This is a repetition of the questions you asked earlier and I responded to. I will not use more seconds to answer the kinds of questions.
WHAT HAS HAPPENED OVER THE LAST YEAR IN THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SWEDEN AND ERITREA?
Honestly I do not know it. I do not know. Why should I think of Sweden? Why should I waste my time thinking of Sweden? A relationship is built on respect, two-way communication. But when one party, Sweden, in this case, do not want to do so, despite a long historical relationship, we can not force ourselves on you. The imprisonment of Dawit Isaak hinders the relationship.
They will always find excuses to get what they want. For that you’d rather serve American interests. When the U.S. is hostile to us, you are hostile to us.
DO YOU MEAN THAT IF THIS MATTER IS RESOLVED, IT WILL STILL NOT HEAL?
You will find a new excuse. Let us not play a fool’s game over and over again. Nobody cares seriously about such a relationship. If your government wants to be kind to Washington, we can not question it.
SWEDEN CAN GIVE YOU SOMETHING AND ERITREA CAN GIVE SWEDEN … NO?
Eritrea is not important for Sweden. I can not see that we can export anything to Sweden. Our experience is that Sweden is only doing what Washington wants it to do. I would not waste my time on things I can not change. I do not blame you; in the U.S, you have a strategic partner, as well Eritrean with Swedish eyes have seen over there? Nothing at all.
GIVEN WHAT YOU SAID, HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT CLOSING YOUR EMBASSY IN SWEDEN AND LEAVE SWEDEN?
I care more about our Eritrean group in Sweden, which is large and active, than on our embassy. Why do we need an Embassy? But it would probably be considered bad if we closed the embassy. An embassy has after all a job to do. But Sweden will disappear slowly away from our consciousness.
CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHY PFDJ IS THE ONLY AUTHORIZED PARTY IN ERITREA, AND WILL IT BE A CHANGE IN THE FUTURE?
On this question, I can not see any other option for the foreseeable future. That is the question of a process of nation building. I can ponder the matter, but can not see any alternative at the moment. Do you think China is backward just because they have a party? It is the only way we have in this situation.
WHY WE HAVE NO CHOICE IN ERITREA?
Choice is not an end, just a means. People may talk about democracy. I say we are a country in a process. People outside may have different opinions about it. That may happen in two or three generations time … but for now I say, even to those who ask the question with good intentions, this is the only option we have, based on our history and reality.
ARE YOU NOT CONCERNED THAT GROUPS WILL RESORT TO ARMED REBELLION IF YOU DO NOT ALLOW A DEMOCRATIC OPPOSITION?
Where are the groups? You ask for it in your imagination. But you must tell me where these groups are.
WHAT ECONOMIC SYSTEM WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THAT ERITREA IS DEVELOPING. IS IT A CAPITALIST FREE MARKET ECONOMY OR IS IT A SOCIALIST ECONOMY?
I would not be drawn into such a simplified discussion. Economics is very simple. Production, distribution and consumption. The more you produce the better life you have. But you have to share it fairly. Jesus said it, Mohammed said itt; I’m not talking about Lenin. What should we learn from the financial market collapse, with banking collapses and more poor people? Why is the gap between rich and poor? Everything boils down to increasing consumption, allocate fairly and that people are better off. What do you call it? Capitalism? Socialism? Do not waste time on creating stereotypes. Anyone who works should have, that does not work shall not take from those who work.
WHAT IS THE IMPACT OF UN SANCTIONS ERITREA?
I do not know. They do not want us to buy weapons. They do not want to Eritrean officials to go outside. The whole thing is totally ridiculous. You have asked me why the UN does so with Eritrea. The reason is said to be that we are supporting factions in Somalia. Which we do. Our attitude is that Somalia should be left alone to solve their problems. This can never be a reason for the UN to impose sanctions on Eritrea. This is embarrassing for both countries in Europe and Washington. It also stands for a desperation, and one hopes that Ethiopia will be able to benefit from Eritrea getting punished.
IF THE EU BRINGS IN ITS AID TO ERITREA, HOW DOES IT AFFECT YOU?
Not at all. We do not want assistance. Do not give us a free lunch. It means nothing. There are only in their imagination. It is their problem. Assistance makes you handicapped. Look at this continent and you’ll find many handicapped countries. I do not want to make my country into a cripple. We do not need charity, which makes us lazy. Why do you devote yourself to using aid as a weapon? It is a completely warped perspective. Did you manage to change something in Africa? Better quality of life? Development? The worst of assistance is that you are entering a dark tunnel and can never turn back. You have no other choice once you are stuck in the trap. It’s so nice to give me a free lunch, but please, do not do that.
BUT YOU RECEIVED ASSISTANCE FROM THE EU?
Not much. They have their conditions and we have ours. And they never met the conditions. We say that we can live without it. Is it charity or goodwill?… You preach that it is the solution to everything, but you have made life terrible everywhere in Africa with your assistance. High time to change it.
ACCORDING TO THE INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP, ERITREA IS AN ISOLATED COUNTRY. WHAT RELATIONSHIPS HAVE ERITREA WITH OTHER COUNTRIES?
What is the relationship? On what basis should we assume that you have a relationship? A relationship must be based on values. The label relationship or isolation based on a categorization of the Washington based political interests. If you want to demonize someone fits it to create a picture of isolation. This type of propaganda created by Hitler. To make a truth from a lie. Never before have so many Eritreans come on holiday to Eritrea this summer despite the bombardment of lies about us from various American lobby groups. So I ask what they mean by isolation.
WHAT IS THE U.S. INTEREST IN ATTACKING ERITREA?
I do not want to overdo it. It has no particular interest in attacking Eritrea. The picture is bigger. U.S. has an agenda for Africa, one of the Middle East, its interest in oil, etc. The U.S. is not particularly hostile to Eritrea, the U.S. is hostile to all but the governments that are willing to serve the U.S. agenda, although it goes against pursue their own interests, such as Ethiopia and other countries must be supported politically and socially in order to survive. Governments that can not run the country on its own but depends on other forces. That is how the United States, under the Nixon doctrine, governing by proxy. That’s exactly what we see all over Africa. But we stand outside it, we do not have bank accounts in Switzerland.
YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT THE U.S. AND ABROAD. WHY DO YOU THINK THEY DO NOT RESOLVE THE CONFLICT IN THE MIDDLE EAST?- WHY SHOULD THEY?
They have no interest in it. It is crisis management. The theory of constructive crises. If you believe in it, we have a problem. We have had very bad relations with Palestine, since they elected to support the Soviet regime in Addis Ababa. During the Cold War, we had to fight against the Soviets and the Mengistu regime in Addis. All Palestinian organizations left Eritrea and moved to Ethiopia and chosen to support them. We were abandoned. I met with Arafat later in Damascus, Beirut and elsewhere and said that we were betrayed by them. Arafat wanted us to resume the relationship, but I saw no reason for it. When we met in Cairo, he spoke of Israel as our masters. I let the insult unanswered. But under the Oslo agreement, I told him that it will never work. How long can you hold on to negotiate, you never learn anything? There is only one part of the game. He wanted to have dialogue, I said ok, let’s talk. But the confrontation made matters worse. It was all just an illusion.
U.S. can only obtain their resources by creating fear and survive by crisis management. Peace does not serve their agenda. It is a reality. It is unfortunate for the Israelis and the Arabs to continue to live in enmity in this unending conflict. But if you have an army that Blackwater (an American security company), you must do business. You are a funeral director. People had to die. How do Blackwater survive without war? Would the wars end, the U.S. would have a problem.
WHAT IS ERITREA’S RELATIONSHIP TO ISRAEL?- IS IT COMPLETELY NORMAL. RUMOR HAS IT, ISRAEL HAS MILITARY BASES IN ERITREA?
No, that’s not true. But they have an embassy here. And we do not recognize the Palestinian Authority. Israel needs a government, we must respect this. The Palestinians also need to have a dignified life, but it can not be the West Bank or Gaza. A two-state solution will not work. It’s just to fool people. Israelis and Palestinians living in the same nation will never happen for many reasons. One option that may work is a Trans-Jordan. Israel may be left in peace and the Palestinian and Jordanian peoples are brought together and can create their own nation.
WHAT ARE THE PLANS TO BEGIN EXPLORING THE ERITREAN OIL AND GOLD DEPOSITS?
I just got the report yesterday. These are some thirty companies from almost as many countries involved in the project. It’s all about gold, silver, copper and tin. There are huge assets, which will in time at the end of this year. The oil we take later. What this means for our economy, I would not go into. We do like Norway. The assets are for the generations to come. We do not need big money. We create a secure foundation for the future by improving roads, organize clean water, build houses and schools, energy, good health and good education. That is how we create a sustainable future. Not by buying big houses and get bank accounts in Switzerland. These resources will be invested here.
WILL NOT YOU STRATEGICALLY FOR THE FUTURE AND SECURITY OF MAKING BAD RELATIONSHIPS GOOD?
It’s because you come from a country where you think everything is about give and take. A partnership can not be based on one at the donor and the other is receiver. If one thinks it’s donors and are dealing with someone you think should be the recipient’s attitude is completely different. I do not buy it. Change your language, change your attitude. Think of partnerships, large or small, we are all human after all. You think that a good relationship is that I should conduct myself well and say yes to everything you say, agree to everything bad you are doing is good. Such an attitude must change.
I learned three things from the bible when I was young that we must be wary of. Greed, arrogance and materialism, or the love of money. Satan tested Jesus with these three things, he passed the test. The values we want to live by.
Democracy in Eritrea? Three generations away says President Isaias
‘A Week in the Horn’ (Oct. 15, 2010)
(Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Last week, we commented briefly on President Isaias’ version of Eritrea and of his remarks to the cabinet that Eritrea had registered success in all areas of endeavor. He even claimed his government had succeeded in creating an excellent atmosphere for the media and for Eritrea’s justice system to flourish. Eritrea currently ranks at the bottom in almost all classifications of government relations with the media and in operation of its system of justice.
This week, in what appears to be another effort to sell his version of Eritrea, he makes the same points in an interview with a Swedish journalist. Once again, he stresses that Eritrea “does not want assistance” and he does not want Eritrea to be crippled like “so many countries in [Africa].” Oddly, despite his insistence on self-reliance, he is also prepared to admit to receiving assistance from the EU, though “not much”. It doesn’t seem to matter that the International Food Research Institute reported only this week that levels of hunger in Eritrea are now ranked as “extremely alarming.”.
Another of the topics raised during the interview relates to the UN imposed sanctions. As usual, President Isaias blames everything on the US and its servants. The interest of almost every country in the world when dealing with Eritrea is to promote a US agenda to destabilize Eritrea. The fact that Sweden complains about the imprisonment of one of its nationals, a journalist, for years without charge or trial or any process of law, is defined as part of Sweden’s efforts to do the US bidding in America’s crusade against the Eritrean government. The UN imposed sanctions on Eritrea because the US “hopes that Ethiopia will be able to benefit from Eritrea getting punished.” In what then appears to be an attempt to claim some sort of solidarity with other alleged “victims” of US policies, real or imagined, President Isaias then adds that the US doesn’t necessarily have any particular interest against Eritrea. It is merely part of a wider US agenda “for Africa, the Middle East, Oil and so on.”
President Isaias argues that any suggestion that Eritrea is isolated is no more than a fiction peddled by – the US government and “many US lobby groups” because Eritrea doesn’t take their orders. The evidence for this can be seen in the fact that more Eritreans than ever have spent their holidays in Eritrea this summer. Isolation appears to be more about Eritreans on holiday than having a mutually beneficial relationship with the international community, or indeed about the numbers of Eritreans who leave annually, fleeing across the border into Sudan or Ethiopia. President Isaias is carefully circumspect about the possibility of improving relations with other countries though he offers some sort of pseudo-philosophical explanation of relationships in general. In this context, President Isaias provided his own method to resolve the Middle East crisis, something he says the US will never be able to do. He claims no so-called ‘two-state’ solution will work and the only option is for Palestinians to become part of what he calls Trans-Jordan. He has been offering his advice to all stakeholders, but to no avail. Interestingly, his comments explain a lot about the way he conducts diplomacy and the haphazard way he makes or breaks relations. Eritrea does not recognize the state of Palestine apparently because the former Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, used to have relations with Ethiopia under Mengistu; and revealingly, President Isaias also admits he quarreled with Arafat on a few occasions.
During the interview, President Isaias also adds a few additional remarks on his vision for Eritrea. It is no longer the old idea of likening Eritrea to Singapore. That dream has long since been shattered. Now that there is talk about mineral finds in Eritrea, he would prefer Eritrea to be “like Norway”, a country where the resources will be used without putting future generations at risk – “using resources responsibly” as he puts it, and certainly it would be difficult to disagree with such a sentiment. In this context, however, he is emphasizing that Eritreans should believe that tomorrow will have so much to offer that they should not worry about the current lack of democracy or good governance or indeed the prevalence of hunger. Indeed, he once again reaffirmed his commitment to postponing any semblance of democracy for the people of Eritrea. Eritrea, he said, is in the process of nation-building and it is impossible to see how the idea of democracy can be readily applied in the foreseeable future – or to be more specific, not before another three generations have passed!