A Qatari Reporter’s Expose: The Dictator Has No Clothes
Awate.com’s comments on the interview:
On May 2010, we introduced you to an interview with Eritrea’s dictator by Jane Dutton of Al Jazeera on a Youtube clip. We entitled our introduction, “President Gone Wild.”
On February 2010, we introduced you to another interview by Donald Boström of Sweden on a video clip. We entitled our introduction, “President Gone Wilder.”
Today, we introduce you to yet another interview, this time by Ahmad Ali of AlWatan, a Qatari daily, and we have aptly entitled it, “President With No Clothes On.”
This interview, which was conducted on October 12, 2010 in Asmara, is translated by awate.com from the original Arabic from AlWatan’s Website: www.al-watan.com. What appears below is verbatim translation of the interview. The reporter has a long introduction to the interview, which we are presenting un-edited. When you read this interview, please remember that Isaias Afwerki has, only four months ago, placed his signature on a peace treaty that was brokered by the government of Qatar, to resolve his dispute with Djibouti. Throughout this interview, notice how he pretends that he doesn’t know the contents of the agreement that he signed; how he pretends now that there is no disputed land when in fact the agreement he signed says there is. Pay attention to all the weirdly placed laughter, in all the wrong places, and how he wants the world to forget the crimes he has committed… and how he continues to insist on embarrassing Eritrea.
And now, the translation of the interview including the journalist’s long introduction.
Ahmad Ali discusses with the Eritrean President on the issues of the conflict… and the causes of headaches in the Horn of Africa
Afewerki: “America plays in a casino; and loses to no end!”
I was there where the Red Sea stands on its feet!
At that address, I was on the place, at the start of that marine tongue, and specifically at the south-western coast, on the edge of the Horn of Africa, which jumps on the Sea, and where big and small powers jump around it, hovering like shark in anticipation of pouncing and controlling it!
At that address, Eritrea poses, and speaks with her Tigrinya tongue about its strategic location that overlooks the Bab Al Mendeb, being the South Gate that overlooks that Strait, and speaks of its 121,300 square kilometers area, as if it was a base point, with its scattered islands numbering 126, and its constituting a geopolitical region and its location causing her a lot of pain, and exposed her to a lot of greed, where she was exposed to a number of colonial periods that attempted to erase its national identity.
Away from that coast, I was in the capital Asmara, and I had two reasons to visit that African capital that speaks the Tigrinya language:
First, it was to carry out this journalistic interview with President Isaias Afewerki in this tumultuous political moment, in which the Horn of Africa has turned into an inflamed place of regional conflict, and an inflated den of international trouble spots.
The other reason for my visiting the “brown” capital, Asmara, was in a journalistic attempt to understand the hidden aspects and the mysteries of the conflict between Eritrea and Djibouti, which Qatar has managed to circumscribe with its diplomatic efforts, through a mediation that was announced last June, when the portfolio of this case was moved to the hands of Qatar, in preparation for the issuance of the appropriate solution, following the mandate of the parties to the conflict, with the blessing of the international community.
It could be argued that the success of Doha in defusing this burning problem, through the signing of the seven-item agreement, is a success for the roving Qatari diplomacy.
This agreement that was signed between the three parties, namely the two conflicting States, Eritrea and Djibouti, and Qatar as a mediator and a witness, was welcomed by the United Nations which expressed the readiness of its Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, to provide the necessary technical support to facilitate the implementation of the agreement.
The Security Council has also issued a statement on the eleventh of last June confirming its full support for the efforts of the Qatari mediation.
It is noteworthy that the two sides fought a bloody battle that led to the control of the disputed border area by the Eritrean troops; the disputed area is a rocky hill known as Ras Dumera with a length of one kilometers and a width of 500 meters, which is located between the borders of the two countries, and extends to a depth of land. Its strategic importance is based on its direct panoramic view on the island of Dumera which lies under Eritrea’s sovereignty.
Perhaps the primary value of this small area is that the shoulder and the island define the relationship of Eritrea with Bab Al Mendeb; they are the road map which determines Eritrea’s relationship to the Straits.
As for Djibouti, they represent the foundation on which the country bases to enhance its position at the control area to the southern entrance of the Red Sea.
After Eritrea controlled the region by military force, following the armed clashes that took place between the two countries in June 2008, a clash that resulted in casualties on both sides, the Security Council issued resolution number 1862 which calls for the withdrawal of Eritrean forces from the territory of Djibouti, and for a dialog between the two countries. The world council also issued Decision No. 1907 in which it decided to impose sanctions on Eritrea.
On this pressing issue, and other thorny issues, my interview was carried out over complex issues and files on the desk that were marked very secret, with the Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki, who was born on the second of February 1946, and who is the first president of the country since its independence from Ethiopia, on the twenty-fourth of May 1991, after a long armed struggle that continued for thirty years.
Perhaps what encouraged me to interview him is that I consider him an African version of the Cuban leader Fidel Castro, because he shares with him the intersecting positions with the American Administration; he does not hesitate to direct his criticism of the wrong policies pursued by Washington in the Horn of Africa, and that it does not learn from its mistakes, and they are many.
Given his conflicting positions with the positions of the United States, President Afewerki has become its target, to the extent that it allies itself with his opponents against him, pushing him, and throws its political weight on his country to exert pressure on him!
Despite criticisms leveled against the Eritrean president by the Western media, and the accusations directed against him , that over the past twenty years he turned from a national icon and an Eritrean activist, to a power monopolizer, I sought to interview him to hear from me ‘the other opinion’ about the years of rule!
Despite the strong charismatic character that the Eritrean strongman who has ruled his country for nearly two decades with his fist holding the reins of government enjoys, I did not hesitate to ask my questions with all their candor, bitterness, and acuteness!
My appointment with him was at half past nine in the morning at the Denden club, a villa close to the Presidential Palace, which took its name from the a mountaintop on the Nakfa region, which lies in the north-west of the country, and is considered the most popular area of resilience and challenge to the Ethiopian military machine, where (and for which) waves and the legions of the retreating Ethiopian armies were destroyed. And because this region has witnessed a lot of heroism in the records of the Eritrean struggle against the colonial power, its name, Nakfa, is given to the Eritrean currency that has been in circulation in the country since 1997 in order to strongly establish the name of this region in the minds of Eritreans.
And since I was trying to establish the content of this interview in the minds of readers, I was keen to make it an exceptional interview in the honest questions that reached to the core of openness.
The Eritrean television was present during the interview which was filmed in preparation for broadcasting on the Eritrean satellite station at a later time.
After a push and pull with President Afewerki, at a time when we were discussing the issue of foreign intervention in Somalia, I was exposed to a direct external interference from the Eritrean Minister of Information, Ali Abdu, who gestured to me with his hands to the need for ending the interview ahead of the scheduled time! It seemed he was not enthusiastic about my questions, especially when I dared more in asking sensitive questions, but at that critical moment, when I was picking repeated signals from the information minister, I addressed his Excellency the President, saying: “I have come here from Doha, crossing all the long distance for you, I to have the honor of dialoguing with you, and I am hoping that you would give me more time to complete asking my questions.”
President Afwerki smiled, and nodded. He said to me: “forget them, don’t be bothered by their gestures, finish your interview.”
This presidential gesture was the biggest boost that encouraged me to go ahead and ask more important questions, and the most sensitive when dealing with Eritrean affairs , I recollected all my honesty and put my explosive questions; and my goal was to reach a known answer that would scatter the clouds off Asmara skies, I asked :
Your Excellency the President: Can I ask you frankly about the G-15, including those accused of what you call national treason; what is their fate after their arrest years ago, and when will you present them for trial?
The president took my questions wryly, and answered in a diplomatic way that reflect a political wisdom, surpassing the more domestic issues that when raised in the media causes a lot of sensitivity on the Eritrean scene because it is related to the fate of many former senior officials of the state, most notably the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hale Weldetensae and the Minister of Local Government Mohammed [Mahmood] Sheriffo.
But after posing that question, I faced huge external pressure from the Minister of Information to end the interview, hands were raised, and the fingers of the officials reached to their watches in reference to the end of time for me, so I had to close the open files we have been discussing with President Isaias Afewerki.
Here are the details of the extraordinary interview about the pressing issues in the Horn of Africa with the Eritrean President:
Your Excellency the President, I come from my country, Qatar, bringing love and respect to you personally, and appreciation for your journey of struggle. I have the honor to interview you as a journalist in this interview which can be a normal conversation without repercussions or you could make it an exceptional interview, by shedding light on it, and this is based on your patience to accept my questions, regardless of the degree of its frankness, bitterness or acuteness!
(President Afewerki smiles) This is good. And you are welcome.
Let’s start with, Mr. President—with the prominent event… and it’s the Qatari mediation to resolve your conflict with Djibouti. Where did the efforts of Doha reach in reducing the diverging distance between you and President Ismail Guelleh?
But Mr. President, you mentioned in your answer that the problem is manufactured and you reiterated that more than once. The question is, who fabricated this problem? And why don’t we see you sitting at a table with your counterpart in Djibouti?
We are against use of the media in provoking problems, or to help one who fabricated this problem to achieve his objectives. This talk was put forward by brother President Guelleh to HRH the Prince at the end of April 2008. For me, that was a surprise and I’m still surprised at this incident because I did not know that there is a problem between Eritrea and Djibouti. His Highness the Prince is the one who told me that there is a talk of this kind. I said to the Prince that I am not aware of this problem. Even if there was a problem, brother Guelleh is my brother, he can come to me in Eritrea, or I go to him in Djibouti, the problem began this way. And immediately after that comes the issuance of statement by the U.S. State Department. The question is: how does the State Department issue a statement at that time when we did not know that actually there exists a problem? Then came a statement from the United Nations. The question is also: How the does United Nations issue a statement? Check out these events to make sure for yourself that the problem – essentially – is a fabricated problem! To this day, we in Eritrea, we can not serve those who want to create problem between us and Djibouti through engagement of media and diplomatic polemics.
Mr. President, you pointed out that you were not aware of this issue, or the fabricated problem, but the crisis has reached the level of armed conflict. I do not think that your Excellency didn’t know about it?
President Afewerki interrupting: These are consequences; I do not speak of the consequences. I told you the beginning of the problem. The consequences are results. The problem, as I told you, is fabricated. What followed after that are consequences and what happened next is, there are concerns, if there is a media that wants to promote, and serve the instigators, I tell you, I am not prepared at all to enter into polemics of the media and propaganda, to serve the instigator. If you want to know the truth, it is that Prince knows, and the State of Qatar knows, our commitment to this fraternal initiative, if there are media people who want to occupy themselves with a negative in this problem that is their business, but we do not have any interest.
(Interrupting) But excuse me, Mr. President, why did you turn to a military option to solve a problem you consider fabricated?!
(Afewerki, Firmly) We did not resort to military option, and there is no need for us to resort to military option.
Your Excellency the President, we are in the same case after about four months of the Declaration of the Qatari mediation, how do you see the deployment of forces to monitor the border area between you and Djibouti?
(Eritrean President sternly) There is no three or four months since the end of April 2008, His Highness Prince was there with his wisdom in this case.
However, the Qatari mediation was announced officially last June…
(Interrupting) There is no announcement. Even the announcement was within a fraternal solution.
Well, your withdrawal from the disputed areas, does this mean it is Djiboutian territory?
There is no withdrawal, HH the Prince knows there is no withdrawal from disputed area. There are no areas…
I mean the area of Ras Doumera and Doumera Island?
There’s no conflict, there’s no area of dispute from the beginning between Eritrea and Djibouti, whoever believes or imagines that a dispute exists, let him say that there is a dispute in such and such, this is talk.
(Interrupting) But when the United Nations issues a statement regarding the dispute, it means there is a problem?
How can the United Nations issue a resolution on this conflict without investigating about this case? How is it possible?
So you accuse the United Nations of not being neutral?
We do not need to accuse any accused party; the events and facts speak without us saying anything or explain or analyze this issue. How can the United Nations issue a statement or say something about this issue without investigating it?
Does it mean you are asking for an international commission of inquiry in this case?
Absolutely not. As I told you, the solution should be brotherly, familial, and we are in this parameter since the beginning.
But a brotherly solution does not reach to the extent of an armed clash?
(Afewerki emotional): By God, this armed clash, how it happened, and (why). This is a secondary case. We did not fabricate the problem and we do not believe that there is a border problem; the border problem is solved through methods….and…and so that there is illustration of this problem if there is a problem that needs a solution, it is obvious that we first need to diagnose this problem. Drifting along does not help in the consequences of a particular fabricated case, and then entering a tunnel and engaging in polemics. Such is not our political culture and not of our political experiences! We say that this should be resolved within a family. We consider HRH the Prince and the State of Qatar’ a family that can bring us all in Djibouti or Eritrea. And this is the ideal way of solutions. But if we turn to other solutions there are dangerous examples in our region that we must learn patience from. There is a regional intervention to escalate and to create a crisis. The peoples of this region of the world have been suffering for twenty years or more of crisis and we must take advantage of these experiences. We say that from this premise, we should not go into problems fabricated from the outside and we become by that victim to instigation that are created every now and then.
Well, Mr. President, the executive document contains the declared Qatari agreement, seven items, what was realized of those on the ground?
I am not following up. This issue goes back to the first day. To the origin of the problem. What is the problem that requires to research? The solution of the problem is not in the media, if I want the media to solve this problem, this an option ….
(Interrupting), but these are items announced in Doha, and they are terms announced by HH the Prime Minister and in which he outlined the steps towards implementing the Qatari mediation?
Then, the question should be addressed to the Qatari Prime Minister.
But you are a key player in the case?
We can not go in… I tell you if there are a hundred questions on this subject, I tell you to see our brothers in Qatar ….
But excuse me, Mr. President, it seems that you are not enthusiastic, or you are sensitive regarding of the terms of this agreement?
No sensitivity or lack of enthusiasm on this subject already. If there were questions then they must be addressed to His Excellency Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim. I have no answers. Our commitment is that this issue be resolved within the family setting.
All right, then, where has this family setting solution reached?
(Interrupting) When one comes and asks me, I say to him: Ask my big brother, I have no answer to this question …
And is there in Eritrea anyone who is bigger than you? You are the biggest in the Eritrean family, and we want to know your view on the Qatari mediation?
When there is a big brother around, and someone comes from the outside and asks me about the situation, I say to him: By God ask the reconciling brother!
All right. Within the setting of peace or reconciliation, did the agreed on international company start to demarcate the border between you and Djibouti?
I do not know whether there was a demarcation of the borders and others; this case is now in the hands of the reconciling partner; it is not possible for me after all the experience to enter into a bout media polemics.
Sorry, Mr. President, it’s not polemics, but these objective questions are aimed at clarifying the issues; it is an attempt to enlighten the Arab and international public opinion about the details of this case!
(He Laughs) Welcome to enlightenment, let HE the Prime Minister clarify the issue and enlighten the world, if there is an enlightenment to this world!
Ok Mr. President, we want to know from you, what does the disputed Ras Doumera represent to you in strategic terms?
There are no disputed areas, and there is no talk about disputed areas!
That region, what does it represent to you in strategic terms?
We do not have a specific strategic area. The entire Eritrea is a strategic area for this people. We do not engage in strategic studies, geographic, political, geopolitical about this region or that. We do not need that, this is to engage in things that have no meaning. What is strategic for us, Eritrea, and what is strategic for us, the relationship between the Eritrean people and the people of Djibouti, and there can never be a substitute for this strategic relationship. It has no substitute, be it neither region nor sea. The strategic relationship that concerns us here in Eritrea is the strategic relationship between us and between our brothers in Djibouti.
It seems that you are focusing on the people’s relationship, and excluding the relationship between the two leaderships?
By God, there is no leadership. Leaderships are the outcome of the relations of the people. The relations of geography, the relations of history, and these relations we have were not created today; it’s an existing relationship, and what is important is the strategic relationship between the two peoples.
All right Mr. President, there are those who hold the view that the Qatari mediation to resolve this problem has been like a lifeline for Eritrea to exit from the bottleneck, especially after the UN resolution condemning Asmara?
This is imagination. This is an illusion on many and I will not be dragged behind it or be lured to speak on this subject, (laughs) because there is no one who got us out from a bottleneck , this is an unbecoming talk. Unfortunately, this is an insult!
No insult intended. Many feel that the main point of contention between you and Djibouti is its repeated demand to you to stop your intervention in Somalia. How true is this?
It would be better if you directed this question to the Djiboutians. What are the justifications for the State of Djibouti to protect Somalis or to speak on their behalf? Does any particular country have the right to speak on behalf of another country? How does a country get such a right? I say that this question should be directed to Djiboutians on whether they have said that Eritrea should not interfere in Somalia or not. I do not understand in what capacity can Djibouti say such talk!
Ok, since we’ve come to the Somali issue, how do you see the possibility of solving this problem, which has adversely affected the Horn of Africa with its negative results?
Somalis should be left alone. The Somalis do not have a problem. They are one people, one religion, one language, and one geography. There is no people in Africa like the Somali people. The composition of the peoples of the continent is complex, but the Somalis are the only ones eligible to live in security and stability. They are one cultural, political, geographical, and religious fabric. Since two or more decades, regional and international interventions introduced Somalis in a problem. The solution is to leave the Somalis alone with their situation. Regional and international interventions must not exist in Somalia. If that occurs, we will find a stable Somalia without any problems!
You referred to the need of not interfering regionally and internationally in Somalia, but there are those who think that you have a finger playing in the Somali file?
(He laughs) We’re not children who were introduced to history and geography yesterday. We do not interfere in such matters. We hope for the Somali people to enjoy stability. The history of Somalia is known; who intervened in Somalia is known; and how this intervention happened is also known!
You mean you have not intervened in the affairs of Somalia?
Why do we intervene? Is there a reason to intervene?
There may be interest?
We do not have economic interests, nor any other.
Political interests? Interests to halt Ethiopian influence?!
Whoever believes in Ethiopia that they will have influence in Somalia will enter into the swamp. In (2006), when the Ethiopian regime invaded Somalia, we said that Ethiopia had walked into a quagmire. Whoever does not know history, does not know the Somali people, will inevitably, intervening in Somalia, will enter in a swamp. We did not go into Somalia to conceal interventions. We say to those who interfere in the affairs of Somalia, you entered in a swamp. And the experience of entering into Somalia is full of foreign interventions in the swamp that is difficult to get out from easily.
All right, you Excellency the President, it is clear that your position on the Somali issue criss-crossed with the interests of the American Administration in Somalia .. That torn apart country .. What are the reasons for that?
The problem is that the Great Powers, when you think they have an interest in a particular area, they intervene with logical or illogical reasons. When interference becomes a burden to them, they do not have an exit strategy! This is the reality that we see in the Gulf, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, and on more than one region in the world. We wonder how a superpower with interests would intervene with such a military size, and does not know how to exit, and does not solve problems! I say that the regional and international intervention in Somalia is part of a series of mistakes and miscalculations of the many forces that think they can pass their interests through interventions. Political or military interventions do not serve any interest in any country. Harmony and cooperation is the solution!
All right. To what extent do you meet or agree with the American position in regard to Somalia?
Now I say that it was incumbent on the new U.S. administration to be aware of and try to read the experience of twenty years and learn from them some lessons, and derive an integrated vision to contribute positively and constructively in this region. This is what we wish.
In fact we do not judge on the adventures of America and we do not have any designation for a judgment, but the reality of the experience of twenty years is what is passing the judgment!
Since we’ve come, Mr. President, to the American Administration, what it is the cause of apathy between you and the United States, Why is the name of your state, Eritrea, placed on the list of the worst violators of human rights in the world, according to the annual report issued by the American State department?
(President Afewerki laughs a lot) he says: I am laughing together with all those who laugh at this report, because this annual report has become a laughing stock! I have nothing to say but respond to you with laughter.
(President Afewerki continues to laugh) and repeatedly says: This is a joke!
I mean your answer to the report issued by the American State Department is …
(he interrupts still laughing) The answer is for me to laugh, and laugh and laugh to no end!
And I laugh with you, too. But away from the laughter, we are still in Somalia issue, what is the validity of what is being said that you are supporting extremist factions of Somalia close to AlQaeda?
(Afwerki firmly) We’re not going to talk about Al Qaeda and non Al-Qaeda. How did Al Qaeda come about, and who created Al Qaeda, and what is the strategy of Al Qaeda, and where does it exist, and how does it work. This kind of talk we do not need. But we repeat and say regarding the Somali issue, that the Somalis must be left alone to their own devices. No party is, whoever it is, entitled to have a say or support any party in Somalia. Somalia should be left alone. Those who are now in power in Mogadishu, they were out of Mogadishu in 2006 with the Ethiopian invasion because they were considered Islamists. Before that, there was a transitional federal government in Mogdishu, headed by a Abdulkasem Salad . They took him out because it included Islamists. How do forces from outside Somalia have a say to classify who is Islamist and non-Islamist, extremist, moderate. They bring this one and that one. Again, those who are chosen by the Somali people for the Somali people.
(Interrupting) But Mr. President, it is no longer a secret that you hosted Aweys, the leader of the courts, and you hosted leaders the courts and you hosted the leaders of the Shabab mujahideen who are currently fighting the government of Sheikh Sharif in Somalia?
Sheriff was present here for two years after he was taken out of Mogadishu, we’re not going to bless this government or not, or the governments that came before it. I would say that these governments are not a government of the Somali people, these governments came as a result of interventions, regional and international. So we have to tell the world, let the Somalis to their own devises—they may create a government, they may create a transitional regime. What is important is that they must be left alone!
Does this mean that you do not recognize the Sheikh Sharif government in Somalia?
We did not recognize the government of Salad, and the government of Abdullahi Yusuf. That is because Somalia is torn apart, in Puntland, in Ksmayo, in Baldwin, in Mogadishu and other places. There was no Somalia so that we can say that there is a government representing the Somali people! Did we have to recognize the government of Hargessa or the government of Puntland, or ….
(Interrupting) You recognize a government that is recognized by the world. The Sharif government is recognized by the world?
Is there anyone who recognized Abkhazia. Is there anyone who recognized or not recognized Kosovo. Would the Arabs be punished because they do not recognize Israel?
Israel is a state present in the map and within the United Nations . It is an internationally recognized state, but despite that most Arab countries do not recognize them. The question is: Do you punish those states?
In fact, now there is no state called Somalia, for twenty years and what we see is just mini-states. The question is: Do you recognize these states.
There is no power, not even the United Nations, that can impose on the Somali people a government without sovereignty. The Somali sovereign is missing. So, if there is no state with sovereignty, how can the United Nations recognize a government in that country? The sovereignty of Kosovo is recognized and there is no dispute there in that case. Abkhazia and others are other existing models. And Somalia is a model.
Mr. President, instead of wasting your time in external affairs .. Allow me to get into the heart of the internal affairs. Of course you about to enter the twentieth year of the birth of your state, but despite this so far we see Eritrea has neither a parliament nor free press. Why?
There is no free press in the world!
I am now addressing you freely with all my journalist conscience, I ask you what is the concept of a free press in your view?
Basically there was no free press. Whoever says there is free press, I tell him that there are international companies in control of the press, whether in the developed countries or developing countries. This is a subject of controversy with no judgment. And whoever tells me that there is free press, I tell him, you are free to have that point of view, in your imagination…
Freedom of the press is relative, Mr. President. But there are indications of its existence, including, for example allowing the private sector to issue papers independent of the state authority, for example!
By God, Should I tell you for example, that Morocco is a democratic country with free press and the Parliament. Is Jordan a democratic country with free press, a parliament and elections. Is the UAE a free country. Is Qatar. Is Saudia … do we get into this argument?
These things are relative. But there are indications for the existence of the freedom of the press.
I do not go into moulds, relative or non-relative. Complete and incomplete and… I do not have time to waste… When we talk about a free press and a press that is free… I mean ..
(Interrupting) I mean at least we see the presence of newspapers where we can read a different opinion, yes, we read in it a different opinion, far from the official opinion.
The opinions of others! This a module of the press run by international institutions, institutions create moulds, and leave people speak within this moulds, and forces them to speak within these moulds. I say that we are above all these moulds. Above all these qualities and specifications. Qualities and characteristics of the so-called democracy, free press and free opinion and different opinion.
Apologies, let’s keep away from the press. What about the parliament? I mean since you assumed office in 1993 there has not been any election in Eritrea. Is your system a republican or a monarchy?
I say that this country of Eritrea can not accommodate the moulds that come from abroad, and interact with it. For fifty years, since after World War II and until we got independence twenty years ago, we are building the nation. We build a nation for the future generations. We play in the frame that we are in, and this is our reality. Whoever wants to debate me on the theories that come to us on moulds from the global institutions that manage the media, and freedom in the world, I tell him that this is not my business to enter and speak on!
(At this moment the Minister of Information and others, Eritrean officials, began giving hand signals to terminate the interview with the President)
Mr. President, I come to you from my country, Qatar, and it is a long journey. And I had the honor to meet you, but our colleagues here are giving me signs end the interview. Will you allow me to take a little more of your time in order to enable me to pose all the questions that I’ve come for?
(Laughs) Yes. Yes, take your time. We have been in a meeting that went for two days. Do not worry. Do not worry. Take your time!
I want this interview to be exceptional and not ordinary.
Do not worry. Continue. Continue, I give you enough space to ask your questions.
Then this interview will have its echoes, God willing.
I’m with you. I’m with you!
This is generous of you, Mr. president and … Thank you.
Those who are giving you signs, have put the program together. They allocate such and such time for a certain journalist, and such and such time for such a journalist. But I tell them, give me a little freedom to respond. Welcome.
I thank you Mr. President. Maybe my questions are very explicit. I love Eritrea, and I respect its president, and I am proud of your role in the struggle and your keenness to develop this country. But I have a very frank question and I hope not be sensitive to it, therefore, can I ask openly about G-15 who are accused in Eritrea with the so-called national treason. What is their fate? Will they be tried?
(The president’s face was irritated a little, his minister was resentful, and the other officials wrinkled, a moment of silence prevailed that was only disturbed by the voice of the president saying): By God, I do not know about this issue. This issue can be considered forgotten!
(Interrupting) And we remind you of it. Yes, we remind you of it!
God willing, after you remind me I will, ah…ah…ah I check, ah, my memory and I will see (he smiles a little) and I see, and tell you what…
(After a moment of silence President Afewerki adds) I tell you this subject, the subject in the context of serving others and foreign interventions, and those trying to wound us through the media to talk about this issue, I say we are not prepared to be dragged, and lured, and speak on this subject. This issue, is a subject matter of States. The forces that are trying to create a crisis in this country, and we do not waste our time talking about this issue, which is trying to lure us into things we do not want to be lured to!
Well Mr. President, away from the G-15, there are Eritrean political groups abroad that oppose you. Is there a tendency to dialoguing with them?
(Laughs a lot .. and for long) We do not talk to .. With .. With .. I mean like, as they say you do not dialogue with a messenger. You dialogue with a messenger…if there is a dialogue….
(Interrupting) Yes, what prevents you from dialoguing with them within the setting of a single-family in order to solve the problems of one family?
I saw… all countries have. .. such matters have become intertwined between it .. These things exist in more than one country. And as I said to you the messenger is something and the sender something else for me. The world is full of such. But our choice is to dialogue with the sender if appropriate conditions are created. But the messenger: tell him I will dialogue with the sender instead to wasting my time with you!
(Again, the Minister of Information and other officials signal to end the interview, President Afewerki notices that).
Mr. President, there remain three questions, can we continue?
By God continue. Do not hear the words of those…don’t be disturbed by the signals.
Allow me to go to the Sudanese issue. Now preparations are under way for a referendum on the fate of the South. How do you view the prospects of secession of southern Sudan?
We do not have a new look in this process, our view of twenty years ago or earlier is that the issue is not of secession or unity. The case was supposed to be addressing the imbalance in addressing the issues of Sudan… I do not want to enter into a debate about this subject, I say that the issue is not the unity or secession in the Sudan, the issue is the accumulated errors in dealing with local issues. I have always said that the solution in the Sudan should be Sudanese, because it is the best solution and most successful. The Sudanese would have been able to resolve their issues, but they allowed global forces to interfere. They allowed the internationalization of their problem. They allow themselves not to be aware of their problems and how to find solutions to these problems on their own. All of this led to the conclusion reached by Sudan today. And led to talk in the last quarter of an hour for separation or unity!
In short, Mr. President, do you favor the secession of southern Sudan or reject it, and is it possible that you would recognize the government of south Sudan if the separation is materialized?
(Interrupting) you were supporting it and its leader?
We have supported the cause of southerners there. We used to say that the option of the People’s Movement, since it began to negotiate, the choice of the movement was the unity of Sudan and the resolution of the issue of southern Sudan under the umbrella of Sudan is based on citizenship. We supported this principle. But the choice is ultimately not our choice. We have no right to be a substitute for the Sudanese people.
As for your question about whether the South chose such and such, and whether we will recognize the state of the south, this is not the main issue. This issue, as I said, is the result for faulty processes.
Even today, people who talk about separation are talking about the failures in the processes which led to the option of secession.
Even leaders in the SPLM say that the options of political forces and many southerners, are the results of the failures.
Mr. President. My last question is concerned with economic affairs .. We have heard about the existence of huge deposits of gold in the Bisha region. What is the reflection of that on the national economy, and whether that would turn you into a rich country?
Basically, we can not be rich, depending on the gold. We are a people with dignity. People that work and sweat and become rich through work and sweat, and not through the treasures under the earth. But definitely, the gold extraction will help us economically and we have more than enough of this wealth. But we will continue to say, and we say, that the treasures under the earth are not to change the lifestyle and improve the standard of living in this country. Hard work, and to do what we have been doing for fifty years of struggle, and twenty years in building the nation, is a business based on the human capacity. People build. People work. Sweat. Work for the future generations.
Has the extraction of gold started?
Production will start this year, but our concerns are things other than gold, and other treasures that are underground.
Thank you Mr. President for your patience, you have given me a golden time of yours, precious time. Thank you.
By God we welcome you. And God willing you are not annoyed by the words of these people?! There are many friends who came to us, and their opinions vary. Some of them sat here for an hour .. two hours .. And some of these friends who visited the country from north to south. .. from east to west .. And left with an impression and …
Sorry, Mr. President. The impression is firm in the mind, abroad, Eritrea is a model of a fighting state that waged wars with its neighbors and that this is the cause of its instability. I mean when you say you are going to Asmara, the impression of the listener is that there is war!
(President Afewerki laughs very long) I spoke to you frankly, the international media institutions do not have a job but to create impressions and brainwash until there is certain perception of situation, a situation that is not the reality on the ground!
But your wars are real; you waged many wars, of course excluding the liberation war against Ethiopia…the war of the Hanish Islands and there was a war…?
We are a small people… we defend .. Defend!
Does that mean you never waged an offensive war?
Absolutely not. We are a small people, even in Africa there is no people like us; this is not an exaggeration. There is no people that struggled for thirty years, in a situation of strict international, especially during the Cold War, and the invaders and aggressors, once backed by America, and once the former Soviet Union. Would you say this is a war? It is self defense, for existence, for rights. I will say that was and will continue be a source of honor for these people. And honor for the whole of Africa, because it is a symbol of freedom, to defend the existence and the rights of peoples that doesn’t have a substitute. Peoples that struggle for their right should not be branded as warrior people; warrior people are those whose hobby is war!
Generally, away from wars, for me as a journalist, it is a great honor for me to be given all this precious time to interview you and you are considered one of the symbols of the African struggle.
Thank you. And I apologize for the discomfort created by these brothers by their intervention signals!
Frankly Mr. President, through their repeated signals, they are a living example and an embodiment of a foreign intervention!
(President Afewerki laughs and says): yes, it is foreign intervention.