The President Isaias Afewerki’s interview

The President’s interview

By Yafet Zereou

The interview conducted by President Isaias Afewerki on Friday 7th February 2020 seems to have ruffled a few feathers, judging by the reaction of some. I am reminded of the saying—if you throw a stone into a pack of dogs, the one that yelps is the one that got hit.

I can understand the TPLF getting all flustered by the interview and trying its utmost to cover the message of the interview by launching personal attacks on the President, after all the interview made it quite clear that the TPLF has no positive role to play in the region’s politics.

But, what did the President say? The President gave a summary of the last year and half since the signing of the historical peace agreement with the Ethiopian government led by Dr. Abiy Ahmed.

In his summary he pointed out that under the prevailing circumstances, Dr. Abiy’s decision to seek peace with Eritrea was a challenging one, requiring great courage on the part of the new Ethiopian leader.

President Isaias outlined that Eritrea did not approach the matter with unrealistic expectations but was nonetheless willing to give peace a chance, now that an Ethiopian leader with a genuine desire to seek  peace had come.

The signing of the peace deal and the official cessation of hostilities between Eritrea and Ethiopia on 9th July 2018 was just the beginning of the journey on a very long and difficult road, elaborated the President.

It is because there was a glimmer of hope for peace, that Eritrea, chose to set aside—for the time being— the issue of Badme. An issue that will no doubt be resolved in due time.

The decision on the part of Eritrea to engage with Dr. Abiy of Ethiopia, showed the desire for peace of the  Eritrean leadership and its farsightedness in agreeing to focus on major issues rather be bogged down.

The Eritrean leadership together with its new partners in the Ethiopian government, managed to successfully avoid the trap set by the TPLF, neutralising its poison.

When the President stated that the TPLF was hindering the return of Badme, some —like the BBC— misconstrued his statement to mean that the TPLF was still a power to reckon with. However, the reality on the ground could not be different. The way the TPLF is blocking the return of Badme, is by using civilians as human shields. It is to be remembered that it was civilians that blocked the Ethiopian army convoy, not armed TPLF forces. Had armed TPLF forces tried to block the Ethiopian army, they would simply have been swept aside, but the TPLF—not for the first time— tried to get the Ethiopian army to open fire on Tigrayan civilians. In the late 80s, it successfully got the Ethiopian army to commit a massacre in the village of Hawzen, but unfortunately for the TPLF,— but fortunately for the innocent civilians— the Ethiopian army had learnt form its past experience.

The President’s lofty idea of bringing about a peaceful and prosperous region, was lost in the noisy chatter of  the TPLF and its paid mercenaries. Any thinking person would have understood the underlining message of the interview and any person who has the goodwill of the people of the Horn of Africa and beyond, would have agreed with the message.

When I see elements in the media trying to trash the interview, without giving a reason as to why they disagree and which points of the interview they found disagreeable, I am reminded of the saying—do not put your pearls before swine, lest they trample it.

When Dr. Abiy came to power, he tried his utmost to accommodate the TPLF, but they were unable to change their ways, choosing to undermine him and the work he was doing to bring about a lasting peace in the region.

In his interview, the President made it quite clear that there was no point trying to compromise with the TPLF. The TPLF as an organisation cannot work for a peaceful neighbour hood, it is an organisation that needs strife and conflict to survive. It cannot afford to let go of Badme and for peace to prevail between Eritrea and Ethiopia because it would be the first victim of the peace as its people hold it accountable for the lost years and lives.

The reason that the TPLF is trying its utmost to derail the peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia, is because once peace prevails the focus will be on its own failures. Ethiopians will be asking why nearly 200 thousand of their country men lost their lives on land that is not theirs. Even it tried to wriggle out of being responsible for the 1998-2000 border war, it cannot absolve itself for the failure to implement the final and binding Border commission of 2002. The manner and ease at which Dr. Abiy managed to accept the Algiers Agreement without any preconditions, has shown the entire World that the biggest obstacle to peace was the TPLF. It is in appreciation of this, that the World Community presented Dr. Abiy with the highest accolade it could.

The President rightfully pointed out that politics based on ethnicity is a recipe for disaster, reminiscent of the Tower of Babel. Politics is about ideology, ideas and concepts which change in the course of time. No doubt that there must be equality between all people regardless of ethnicity, gender, age etc. However, trying to group an entire people into one political party based on their ethnicity is simply wrong. Take for example an Oromo peasant farmer. The farmer will no doubt share culture and language with an Oromo business man, but in terms of policies about his livelihood and the challenges he faces, he would probably have more in common with a another peasant farmer from another ethnic group. For example, if  the business man was into buying agricultural products, it is obvious that he would want to do so at the lowest price possible, whereas the farmer will naturally want to sell at the highest price. The two may share the same linguistic language, but they will certainly not be speaking the same language when it comes to business. The business man will have the same concern as other businessmen regardless of their ethnicity and the worker the same, the farmer the same. Therefore, politics should transcend ethnicity and be based on common need and aims.

Some had seen the offer of the President to help Ethiopia during this difficult transition period as a desire on his part to interfere in the internal politics of Ethiopia, despite saying that Eritrea’s concern  did not give it licence to intervene.

His offer for help should have been seen as a key step in ensuring peace and stability in the region. Take for example the Ethiopian army stationed on the border with the two countries, which is cut off from the rest of the country by the TPLF.. Had Eritrea been hostile to the government of Dr. Abiy, this army would have been at the mercy of the TPLF. With the TPLF at loggerheads with Dr. Abiy’s government, it might have tried to block supply lines to the Ethiopian army on the border to cause unrest, or force it to go on a rampage to cause death amongst the civilian population. As mentioned above this has been done before and its not beyond the realms of probability. At the moment, this scenario is not possible because, if push comes to shove, the Ethiopian army can be supplied by either the Eritrean government or the Ethiopian government via Eritrea. This is just a simple example of Eritrea offering help and I would be hard pressed to find a person who would think that providing water and food to the Ethiopian army, as ‘interfering in the internal politics’ of Ethiopia.

In conclusion, the President’s interview of 7th February 2020, clearly shows that he is a man with a vision to bring about peace and prosperity , not only to Eritrea but the entire region. As they say, the camel marches on, while the dogs bark.