Understanding Eritrean President Isayas Afewerki: In His Own Words

 

By the Strathink Editorial Team

On October 18, 2015, in a Washington, D.C. hotel, Vision Ethiopia and Ethiopian Satellite TV (ESAT) hosted a forum on “The Future of Eritrea and Ethiopia Relations.” Taking part in this forum were former National Security Advisor Herman J. Cohen and former Ambassador to Ethiopia, David Shinn. The forum aimed to “narrow the gaps and generate policy ideas for building healthy future relations in the context of the emerging regional and international orders.” [1] The Strathink editorial team sat down together to discuss what was said during the meeting and a question we kept coming back to was why President Isayas Afewerki wanted to normalize relations with Ethiopia and the United States. We went to our computers and listened to a number of interviews conducted with the Eritrean President to try to understand his perspective on the world. This is what we discovered. Please let us know what you think.

Eritrean President Isayas Afewerki stands tall and somewhat alone within the community of world leaders. A hero for some and a pariah for others, the President accuses the United States of leading a vast conspiracy against the small nation of Eritrea. According to the Eritrean president, the United States, through its Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), has spread false rumors of his ill health [2] and generally sought to de-stabilize the Horn of Africa, [3] as part of a relentless campaign in the last 20 years to “create crisis and micromanage politics” [4] in this beleaguered yet vitally strategic region. Why is the United States intent on destroying Eritrea? In several interviews conducted by al Jazeera, the Financial Times and a Swedish journalist, we let President Isayas explain the dynamics of the conspiracy in his own words.

The United States and World Domination

President Afewerki maintains that, “It is no secret that they [the United States] dominates the world. It is no secret that they control resources.” [5] The United States dominated by “special interests” controls the world by proxy—“by agents.” According to the President, the United States is ruled by a “sick and intolerant ideology of domination and control.” [6]

The insidious control exerted by the United States, says the President, is done by controlling the world’s oil, manufacturing sector and technology. [7] Even more insidious than controlling global resources is the fact that “they [the United States] control our minds.” The President cites three institutions that control our minds—culture, learning institutions and the media.

The CIA-Financed Media[8]

The Committee to Protect Journalists says that President Isayas Afewerki is “Africa’s leading jailer of journalists” and that he banned Eritrea’s private media in 2001. The Eritrean President tells another story: “there were no private media [in Eritrea]. The CIA would finance newspapers, hire journalists, open bank accounts for them outside the country and give them what they have to write in their papers. This is not media.” [9] As far as jailing journalists, the President has said “these are lies,” and accused the Al Jazeera interviewer of “…using these lies to destabilize this region to serve someone’s agenda.” [10]

 So in the official Eritrean mind, those journalists who have been jailed for years and without trial are not really journalists, they are operatives sponsored by the CIA. As such they have no place in a free Eritrea. When asked about long-imprisoned journalist Dawit Isaac, the President Isaias defended Eritrea’s integrity by saying, “No, we don’t release him. We don’t take [him] to trial. We know how to deal with him and others like him and we have our own ways of dealing with that.” [11]

On Terrorism: “If it exists.”

 Eritrea’s President maintains that “the idea of terrorism—if it exists” is a way to manipulate public opinion and make people afraid. President Isayas Afewerki believes that the CIA “provokes an incident that makes people feel insecure.” The U.S. presence in the Horn of Africa is justified by the global war against terrorism. According to the President, however, “This threat [terrorism] if it does exist, we could fight it without AFRICOM. We don’t need anyone’s help. We don’t need missiles. We don’t need high tech.”

On the Border Issue with Ethiopia and U.N. Sanctions

 President Isayas Afewerki is clear about who is to blame for the war with Ethiopia over their borders. In 1998, following long simmering tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea, war broke out that ultimately took the lives, according to some estimates, of 70,000 to 100,000 combatants. After two years, both sides signed a cessation of hostilities agreement.

The Algiers Peace Agreement established a 25-kilometer-wide Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) on the Eritrean side of the disputed border, to be monitored by the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), which was created by the United Nations Security Council in July 2000. A joint Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission was established under the Permanent Court of Arbitration and was mandated to make a final decision on the demarcation.

The President has said, “This border issue was a senseless conflict instigated by the United States.” [12] The “no war, no peace” situation over the demarcation and delimitation of the border following the Algiers agreement is a sinister follow-up to the U.S.’s instigating the war in the very beginning. According to the President, “That decision [arbitration] is blocked by the U.S. cover-up for the failure of the misguided policies in the Horn of Africa for the last 20 years.” Ethiopia, says the President, is an agent of the United States.

On Indefinite Military Service in Eritrea

 There has been a great deal of coverage recently on Eritrea’s national service, which according to the international media, is a push factor for Eritrean migration. When asked by al Jazeera in 2010 about indefinite military service, the President responded by saying “These are lies,” adding, “it is a pack a lies,” and “it is lies that do not exist in the real world.”

When the journalist pressed the President on the number of Eritrean asylum seekers, he said “this was news to me,” and opined that people who said this were “crazy” and “out of their minds.” The President was clear and forthright in characterizing the “slander against Eritrea.” “Anyone can leave this country anytime,” he said. [13] Opposing views, he maintained, were “fantasy,” “lies,” “imagination,” “insane,” “boring” and a “joke.”

Listening to President Isayas Afewerki

 In order to understand the mind of the Eritrean President, is important to listen to his own words rather than what the CIA-fueled international media writes. Recent news has bombarded us with an Eritrea vastly different than the Eritrea inhabited by the President. Where some see indefinite military service as, what the U.N. called “slavery-like,” the President views indefinite military services as a national obligation for youth to give back to their country. According to the international media, Eritrean asylum seekers, leave the country to escape an onerous national service and are sometimes killed trying to cross the border while trying to escape. President Isayas, through his spokesperson U.N. Ambassador Girma Asmerom, has consistently maintained “there is no such thing as indefinite national service.” [14]

Why are 1 in 20 Eritreans over the age of 18 called for military service in the first place? It is Ethiopia’s fault for calling for negotiations over the border demarcation. “There is deployment,” said Ambassador Girma Asmerom, because of the ‘indefinite occupation’ of Eritrean territory by Ethiopia”. The Ambassador adds that people were paid an allowance and not forced to participate indefinitely.[15] Ethiopia’s fault, yes, but behind Ethiopia is the United States and the C.I.A. using Ethiopia as an “agent,” a “proxy,” in its attempts to dominate the world.

Eritrea’s President is obviously impatient with these “lies,” “fabrications,” fantasies,” “insanities,” and “jokes” about his country from the U.N., the U.S., the media, human rights organizations, multilateral financial institutions and advocacy groups from around the world. He also gives no credence to the gruesome stories told by the almost half a million people—5,000 per month—who have risked their lives to flee a country struggling to do right by its people.

Eritrea and the International Community

The recent announcement by the European Union (E.U.) to provide Eritrea with $229 million in the next six years has us puzzled. Eritrea’s President has expressed his views about foreign aid many times. “Anyone who takes aid is crippled. Aid is meant to be crippling. Eritrea has consistently rejected foreign aid.” [16] President Isayas Afewerki said in an interview on December 18, 2014,[17] when asked about why Eritrea rejected foreign aid, “We have never made a mistake.” How many leaders can make this statement with the Eritrean President’s confidence?

Equally puzzling are the recent efforts by Ethiopian opposition members and lobbyists.in Washington, DC to promote better relations between the U.S. and Eritrea should be seen through the lens of President Isayas Afewerki and his government. Why would Eritrea want to improve relations with a country seeking to dominate the Horn of Africa through de-stabilization? The U.S., with Ethiopia as its proxy, has sought to “tarnish” Eritrea’s image through “lies,” “fabrications,” fantasies,” “insanities,” and “jokes.” The U.S., in its sinister plan for world domination, has already destroyed Somalia by “putting in outside governments.” The move to improve relations sounds like a plot for the U.S. to dominate Eritrea. Eritreans will never kneel down to the United States, the United Nations, the international media, multilateral organizations, human rights groups, or advocacy groups. Eritreans don’t need to kneel down. Unfortunately, they are already on their knees, thanks to their reckless President.

[1] http://ecadforum.com/2015/10/14/the-future-of-eritrea-and-ethiopia-relations-sunday-october-18-2015/

[2]Eritrea Blames CIA for Rumors of President’s Ill Health, by TefaAlemTekle (Sudan Tribune, April 12, 2012).

[3] Interview with Jane Dutton of al Jazeera, February 2010.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Eastafro.com, Interview with a French journalist, December 18, 2014.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8]Eritrean President Slams CIA-financed Media, Mohamed Keita,

Reuters.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Interview with Jane Dutton of al Jazeera, February 2010.

[11] Ibid.

[12]op.cit, Jane Sutton interview with al Jazeera, 2011.

[13] Ibid.

[14]Eritrea Denies UN Allegation of Indefinite National Service, Lous Charbonneau (Reuters, June 12, 2015).

[15] Ibid.

[16] op. cit., al Jazeera, December 18, 2014.

[17]op. cit.

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