Recall that in Part 1 of the interview with Eritrean state media (EriTV), President Isaias Afwerki addressed domestic issues and essentially said there is nothing wrong in Eritrea that a little more controlling and louder commanding couldn’t fix. Alnahda’s commentary on that can be found here. In part 2 of his interview last month, our unelected president and demi-god, Isaias Afwerki, passed judgment on the world. He was asked about Saudi Arabian coalition against terrorism; the alleged Sunni-Shia race for influence in the Muslim world; military interventionism and international law; defeating the New World Order; Eritrea in the Hood; Ethiopia’s Millenium (GERD) Dam; Eritrea’s isolation and, finally, how he assesses Eritrea’s progress in the last 25 years.
Here is the short version: World, Isaias Afwerki is very disappointed in you: timeout is in order for you!
Here is the longer version: get on board as Al Nahda takes you on a scenic route of The Mind of Isaias Afwerki.
1. The Saudi-Islamic Coalition Against Terror
On December 15, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir told the world that Saudi Arabia has formed a Riyadh-based “Islamic military alliance” against terror. This alliance has 34 countries, he said, and it has “a duty to protect the Islamic nation from the evils of all terrorist groups and organizations whatever their sect and name which wreck death and corruption on earth and aim to terrorise the innocent.”
Whenever countries declare war on “terrorism”, they have a very expansive definition of what it is (Exhibit A: Refer to Ethiopia’s “Anti Terrorism Proclamation”) and Saudi Arabia is no exception. Well, maybe it is. After all, in Saudi Arabia, according to its proclamation on terrorism, atheism is a form of terrorism. Women who tried to drive cars in Saudi Arabia were tried in court using the anti-terrorism law. Anyone who advocates for a form of Islam different from the Selefi version advocated by the Saudis is a terrorist. And, oh, the Houthis in Yemen are terrorists.
So, Mr. President, why has Eritrea joined this coalition “without reservations”, asked the journalist, who was given the question so the President can give a 26 minute answer to one question. I swear. Wait. I think swearing is a form of terrorism.
The short version is: dude, there are anti-terrorism coalitions all over the world, some led by the US, some by Russia, and it makes sense for us to join one which is from our region. He did use one of my favorite Arabic phrases that a dear friend uses—men Haba wa Daba—so that made the torture of listening to 26 minutes worth…no it wasn’t worth it.
2. The Sunni-Shia Divide
I have no idea why this question was asked: world-wide, there is no Sunni-Shia race for dominance; there is a Saudi-Iran competition for domination. Really, because, ummm, Eritrea is not a Muslim country and Isaias is not a religious authority, at least officially. Eritrea, as we keep saying without the benefit of a census in 25 years, is a country that is half Muslim half Christian. Within the Muslim community, the Sunni-Shia divide has no relevance to Eritrea because the country is 99.99% Sunni. Maybe 100%. Again, no census. If you forced me to find a reason for the question, it is because His Excellency wanted to showcase his knowledge about the issue. But in the process, he told us that religious orientation, and sects have no impact in people’s daily lives which can only be said by communists and progressive types but which is so very wrong. When you got nothing—no stake in governance, no stake in country and the State does everything to alienate and disenfranchise you—all that is left is religion and if he weren’t a Maoist, he would understand that and would make some effort to understand why so many of his own countrymen have gone deep-diving in the Selefi version of Islam that considers Shia Muslim apostates.
I didn’t even get a good phrase from him, other than his over-used vertical polarization.
And, oh, remember the aforementioned Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir who announced Saudi Arabia’s anti terrorism coalition? The Iranians (Shiites) tried to assassinate him a few years back: I wonder if he considers them terrorists and if we (without reservation) do too?
3. Eritrea Has A Long-Standing Policy Against Taking Sides and Coalitions: Why Did You Support the Saudi Coalition?
Well, good on you MoI employee who read a question from a list! This is where the prez makes the distinction that Eritrea has joined a Saudi INITIATIVE and not COALITION. Now, in all the domestic affairs stuff interview (Part 1), you will remember that Auditor General Isaias Afwerki was critiquing the work of President Isaias Afwerki. Here, the prez takes full ownership of Eritrea’s policy to support the Saudi coalition without reservation. ብኣኣ እየ እታ ኣዋጅ ኣውጺኤያ: that’s why I released the announcement. I, not we. This confirms, again, that the whole show is Isaias Afwerki’s: sometimes using the MoI letterhead, sometimes Office of the President letterhead, and sometimes using the MoFA letterhead, but it is all from his head.
4. Military Interventionism vs International Law
Well. Well. Well, well, well. This is the part where every Eritrean, anywhere in the world, will nod his head in agreement with President Isaias Afwerki and say, damn, I hate that guy but when he is right, he is right.
If you scan the world, the UN has created tons of “peace keepers” that never keep peace but find a way to perpetuate their existence (“…will remain seized of the matter” is what the UN loves to say). Here’s what the world has now:
UNIFIL (since 1978!!!)
The president says that the United Nations Mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE) was going to be one of those things, (ከምዚ ዝኣመሰለ ውድብ ምስ ኣተወ ኣይወጽእን እዩ) and, in five years, these five thousand “peacekeeping group” had a budget of 200 million per year and would never have left and “we reached a decision that it has to be evicted and we evicted it, notwithstanding its ramification.” You got to give the devil his due: UNMEE is the only UN “peacekeeping” group in the world whose life has been abruptly ended.
But. There are some inconvenient facts. And they are public records. One: Eritrea was a very eager participant in the “Coaliton of the Willing” in the war against Iraq when the entire African Union was against it. Two: I can’t find it, but one of you (A.Osman?) will: Eritrea not only supported the US war against Iraq, it (Isaias Afwerki) actually said that the mistake the US made was NOT in going to war in Iraq but in seeking UN resolution for its war against Iraq: it should have unilaterally declared war. Third: For three years (2002-2004), Isaias Afwerki and his minions were pitching Eritrea as a US base for the “war against terror.” How many speeches to that effect did then-Eritrea ambassador to the US, Girma Asmerom, make pushing that? In fact, isn’t Isaias Afwerki on record saying that US presence in the Horn of Africa (particularly in Djibouti) is a stabilizing factor? His words were: “it sounds colonialist but….” US presence is necessary. Of course, everybody can change his mind now and then, but here Isaias statements are presented as long standing Eritrean policy when in fact Eritrea was a cheer-leader for the uni-polar world.
5. So, That Unipolar World, How Is It Going To Be Defeated?
This is the part where Isaias talks about global resistance to the unipolar world and refers to Africa in the third person—as if Eritrea is not part of Africa—and considers Africa’s call for permanent membership in the UN Security council as inadequate call for “reform” when what is required is “sur neqel”—uprooting—the whole rotten infrastructure because the world can no longer take ከምዚ ብድዐ: ከምዚ ላግጫ (such arrogance and such scorn.)
It sounds a lot like the discussions we have here on what the Eritrean people should do with PFDJ–reform or uproot– doesn’t it?
So, basically, how Isaias Afwerki feels about the World Order is how we feel about the Isaias’ Eritrea Order. But Isaias Afwerki is blissfully unself-conscious.
6. Eritrea’s Place In The Neighborhood
There is no choice, none, to Eritrea considering itself a member of IGAD (localized affiliation), Horn of Africa, Greater Horn (an expanded regional affiliations), the Red Sea Nations, the Nile Basin, the Arab Gulf nations, he said. All of these identities are complementary, says Isaias Afwerki. But of course, all identities require prioritizing and this may be one of the reasons that our Southern neighbors are conflicted about us because they can’t relate to Eritrea embracing its identity as a Red Sea nation and an affiliate of the Arab Gulf nations. Not just our Southern neighbors who give us occasional lectures on how we want to be Arabs but many Eritreans say that as well. Its like they have never seen Eritrea on global map. They should be punished by having Isaias Afwerki as their tutor.
7. Ethiopia’s Millennium Dam (GERD)
I really can’t think of any reason why the journalist would ask this question unless he was told to ask. Before we go into Isaias Afwerki ‘s long rant, the short version, which has a lot of resonance in Africa, is this: the “Africa Rising” narrative–built on a lot of white elephant projects funded by Africa Development Bank–may give us a sense of pride but it does nothing to improve the quality of life of the average African.
But there is no short version with Isaias Afwerki, it is kolel so here it goes. He assumes a natural role for him, that of the Ethiopian opposition, and talks trash of Ethiopia’s Millenium (ሺሓዊ) Dam because, he says,ባዕለይ ዝተወኣሳእክሉ ስለ ዝኾነ: I personally had a role to play in it. This is very odd and extremely unusual for him because he never talks of unpersons and people he has declared enemies of the State. Anyway, he says, the genesis for GERD was that Ethiopia’s former Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, went about it for totally emotional reasons: he, despite wise counsel from wise Isaias, approached Egyptians with the subject in 1993 and they (particularly Hosni Mubarek’s VP, Omar Suleiman) asked him: who do you think you are? This so offended the PM, says Isaias Afwerki, that despite his advice to him that this is not a priority, the PM pledged, “I will show them (Egypt and Sudan) just like Turkey made Syria and Iraq buckle under.”
Isaias Afwerki then goes into a comprehensive (what the late PM Meles once called “final exam paper”) list of questions to demonstrate that the Millenium Dam has not been sufficiently studied to determine its benefits to Ethiopia and its potential hydroelectric power customers, nor has a proper risk analysis been done (earthquake!) In short, there was no cost-benefit-risk analysis. There is stuff about transmission, distribution, megawatts, KWH for fuel-generated energy vs hydropower-generated energy down to the pennies, and how Eritrea started the Setit initiative and that it was set aside and “I have been following this closely”, and it is all PR.
It is a truly strange narration: you would think he was the former Governor of Wollo or an Ethiopian Minister of Mines and Energy who resigned his post in protest due to disagreement with his bosses.
8. On Isolation & Reengagement
The world is a strange and contradictory place, he says. In the Hanish Islands settlement, for example, we were told that the islands belong to Yemen but Eritrea can fish in Yemeni waters. How is that possible? I mean, I am not a lawyer and international law doesn’t make sense to me, he seems to be saying. Then don’t try to be a lawyer: hire some to explain it to you.
Then he dragged poor Colin Powel (again!) waving the vials that supposedly show that Iraq has chemical and nuclear weapons to say that placing Eritrea under sanctions is a continuation of those kinds of lies. Not mistakes, but lies. And nobody with a conscience can say that Eritrea deserved to be placed under sanctions in 2009, he says. Really? Does anyone remember what 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 were like? I certainly do. I think placing Eritrea under TARGETED sanctions was the most logical outcome of Isaias Afwerki’s adventurism in Somalia and Djibouti and, yes, I have a conscience. So, yeah, the world’s decision to engage with us has little to do with our campaigns to challenge it because we did very little of that, he says, breaking the heart of everyone who thought they were making a difference by waving placards with Nehna Nsu and playing word games with UN (UNfair, UNjust, etc). It is just that, he says, over time, truth has prevailed. Camels march and dogs bark and all these challenges have made us stronger, he says. Stronger…
Then I think Kanye West came and sang “N-n-n-n-n-n–now that don’t kill me, can only make me stronger: I need you to hurry up now: harder, better, faster, stronger.” Sorry, my notes say: I got bored and dozed off with music in my headphone.
When I woke up:
We all know we lost 65,000 lives to bring about Eritrea’s independence. And how many did we lose to protect its independence in the border war with Ethiopia in 1998-2000? Well, Awate.com referring to leaked martyrs’ database, had said it was approximately 20,000. So did, on June 20 the subsequent year, the Government of Eritrea. Now, Isaias Afwerki contradicts us and contradicts his own reports and everything he told the world by saying that those who died were “half” of the 65,000 (which would make the number of those killed in the border war 32,500 making the total, according to him bout 100,000. Yeah Eritrean lives are just rounding errors to him.
9. The Dawn of 2016
So, 2016 is ነጥቢ መቀይሮ (point of departure) for bigger and better things, he says. And all you mekete types are invited to increase your productivity (so you can be told next year that your contributions were minimal.)
But from everything he said, 2016 will remain the same delusional year: one where we blame the US for instigating the Hanish Crisis; for instigating the 1998 border war with Ethiopia; and with Djibouti–so as to paint us as war-mongers. It is not our fault and we take no responsibility. One which refuses to recognize why Eritrea got only 1 vote in its push to join the African Union’s African Peace & Security Council this week; one which continues its self-isolation and doesn’t attend the AU’s session of Head of States last week (again). I couldn’t reach the banana but it was wrotten anyway, said the monkey. One which doesn’t prioritize which one of its identities–IGAD, HoA, Arab Gulf, Nile Basin–is most important and strategic and has to be constantly shifting directions South, East, West. One where we join crazy coalitions (which are not coalitions but initiatives), “without reservation” and without any debate, of a country, Saudi Arabia, which is the ideological and financial arm of Jihadism and least qualified to lead a war against terror (it has not hit Al Qaeda bases in Yemen but is all over Houthis and thousands of Yemeni civilians) and has crazy ideas of what terrorism is and isn’t. One where we forget that Eritrea was one of the few African countries that went against African Union position and joined the Coalition of the Willing and spent all 2002 and 2003 hiring American lobbyists at $50,000 a month to make Eritrea a US base, and then, when rejected, bragged that Eritrea is not for sale. One where the two most important topics of 2015–the defection of Eritrea-based Ethiopian opposition TPDM, and the allegations that Emirates has a base in Asab–are off limits for debate and not to be asked by journalists. One when our government said that US is essential to Africa’s stability but now calls it a unipolar nation set for world domination that must be challenged. One that refuses to dislodge itself from Ethiopia’s internal affairs. In short, a country that is a mirror image of Isaias Afwerki’s gigantic ego and delusion.
No wonder Shabait.com, Isaias Afwerki’s mouthpiece didn’t even bother to present a reportage on part 2 of the interview: the two Yemanes are embarrassed: they don’t want the world to know what their boss truly thinks of them.