Awate.com’s Saleh Johar interviews Meles Zenawi (2008)
The following was first published in May 26, 2008. It’s the first ever interview with the late PM Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia by an Eritreans entity since 1997. The file was lost around 2012 due to some server mishap. Thereafter, several people have asked us about it but we couldn’t find it until recently. This republishing is dedicated to the “PFDJ’s ambassador” at the UN because we traced the original through her extensive social media entries about the interview.
Introduction to the Interview
awate.com has often emphasized the importance of dialogue–that if Eritreans and Ethiopians are to overcome decades of war, suspicion and mistrust and live as good neighbors, efforts must be made by intellectuals, journalists, community leaders, elders and religious leaders to embark on a people-to-people dialogue. The wall of separation that is built by self-serving regimes must be demolished. Unless the taboos of who-goes-where-and-meets-with-whom are permanently uprooted, we as a people will be victims to those who thrive in environments of misunderstanding and miscommunication and those who have designated themselves the role of brokers through whom we have to go to even talk to our neighbors. In this vein, awate.com has co-sponsored initiatives and outreaches to break down this psychologicial barrier. This interview is a continuation of such efforts.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia was interviewed by Saleh Johar of awate.com. The interview was conducted in English (tape recorded) at the PM’s office in Addis Ababa on May 12, 2008 and transcribed for publication on May 23, 2008. It is composed of four topics: 1) Ethiopia; 2) Ethio-Arab relations; 3) Sudan-Eritrea-Ethiopia and 4) Eritrea.
1- After seventeen years of experience with ethnic federalism, in 2005 you had a crisis following the elections; and now you have an armed opposition. You came to power through an armed struggle: how do you explain the armed struggle that your government is facing?
My own feeling is that the … while we have put the federal system in place to replace the imperial system that was present under both the emperor and Mengistu, in my view, was the only way foreword and a very bold experiment. Dismantling an imperial system and putting in its place a functioning federal system is a process. And like all processes, it is bound to face bumps along the road.
2005 was the process of putting in place a federal system…it has to be buttressed by strong institutions of federalism and a good stand to defend the institutions. It has to be buttressed by a working economy–that took time. It is to be buttressed by an evolving culture of tolerance and understanding. So, I am not unduly worried that this is still work-in-progress. All that matters to me is that we are making progress. And I believe we are making progress.
It is true that we have armed opposition groups in this country. It is very unfortunate that there is still basis for such expression for dissent. I believe that over the past 17 years we have created space for peaceful dissent. Much of the imposition [opposition?] in 2005 was in fact composed of remnants of the Mengistu regime who wanted to undo the process of reform of government institutions over the 17 years. So long as they express their opinions in a peaceful and legal manner, that was perfectly legitimate. So, I think we have enough space for people to forgo option of understanding, but the regional circumstance, underdevelopment, poverty and backwardness in the country is such that there must be some space, some basis for some sort of armed opposition. The good thing is because it doesn’t have mass followers or mass back up, so far it has not been other than a civil difficulty in the region.
2- There are some nasty reports coming out of the Ogaden region. The region, it is said, enjoys all the rights enshrined in your constitution up to the right to secession. Did the ethnic federalism fail there or is it because of some external agitation as reported…what is going on there?
Well, there is a snag in the process there. People from the region there are amongst the most vocal in protecting… in defending the rights of nationalities of Ethiopia, the right of secession included, when the constitution of Ethiopia was being approved; there were heated debates over there… and people from the Somali region were very active in supporting that right. And I don’t believe the previous irredentist agenda of Somalia has any action at this stage.
But the region is still among the most backward in the country. It has not benefited adequately from the progress that we have made in terms of economic development. This is not because the federal government does not want that region to benefit from the growth that is taking place in the country. It is because as a result of federalism, much of the work has to be done by the state, the federal state, itself. And the dysfunctional element that we see in Somalia has its reflection in our Somali region. The clannish alliances; the misuse of resources based on clan alliances and so on. That has very significantly retarded the growth of the region in terms of good governance and in terms of economic development. Therefore, there is room for resentment in that particular region. That is part of the problem.
The other part of the problem is that it borders with Somalia and it has many cultural links in Somalia and, so, it is inevitably going to be influenced by developments in Somalia. It has not been possible for us to completely quarantine the Somali region of Ethiopia from what is happening in Somalia.
And then, of course, there is the interest in the part of some of our neighbors, particularly the president of Eritrea, in trying to destabilize Ethiopia. It is a combination of these regional and local factors. At one stage, it caused a serious security threat. We have tried and removed this security threat. For us to stop the process of degeneration there, and I believe we have, more or less, we have successfully done so.
I understand there have been horrendous, reports of horrendous, human rights abuse, villages burned and all the rest. I can tell you that in an environment of conflict that it would not be possible for me to say that there were no violations of human rights, there were no, so-called, collateral damages. But I can tell you adamantly there was no systematic violation of human rights.
We, our movement, knows how it feels. Our movement knows how insurgent movements succeed. Violation of human rights in an environment of counter-insurgency is the sure way of handing victory to the other side. We know that. And it will be stupid for us to engage in activities that would absolutely result in our defeat. So, there was no systematic violation of human rights. But in an environment of conflict, I cannot be 100% sure that there was not a single civilian killed. I am 100 % sure there was not any village burned; but I am not sure that one hut here, one hut here has been burned, or no such thing has happened. So all I can say is no systematic violation of human rights but it is possible [there was] collateral damage of some sort.
3- I would like to hear your views about what happened in Kenya recently. After fifty years of democracy, relatively speaking, the last election in Kenya caused a crisis in which so many lives and properties were lost. Are you afraid that something like that would happen here, or why do you think something erupted out of nothing in Kenya?
I don’t think something erupted out of nothing in Kenya. Some people define democracy as a process. Behind the process is selection of leaders by people and free competition of parties and so on and so forth. There are a number of pillars that need to be put in place: institutions of democratic governance, including judiciary; proper civil service institutions; cultural tolerance, and an economy that functions–and that functions properly. Now, in many African countries, the state is the biggest business. If someone wants to become rich, the shortest path is to become a minister. And therefore, politics becomes a zero sum game.
Democratic politics is not designed to manage zero sum games. In some instances, it is being asked to manage zero sum games. This is a contradiction in terms. What we in Ethiopia hope to do–have started to do–is to separate wealth-creation from management of the process of politics and try to create a vibrant private sector, opportunities for business advancement. So that those who want to accumulate wealth, do not go through the indirect way of accumulating political power first. Until we have done that, we will not have a stable democracy anywhere in the continent, and we are unlikely to have stable democracies in a decade or two. It took many democratic states in the West centuries, but it doesn’t have to take us centuries. But we have to put the infrastructure in place. We have to build institutions and we have to redesign our economies in such a way that they can be–economics can be separated from politics; and politics can become something other than zero sum game.
4- There are some leaders in Africa, Mugabe and Isaias for example, who believe that western module of democracy doesn’t work in Africa. How do you see that in relation to what happened in Kenya? I have heard people say that those two leaders are right, democracy doesn’t work in our region. What are your views on that?
I am not sure whether Mugabe theoretically argues that quote unquote western democracy does not work in Africa. There may be criticisms as to how he practices it. But I am not sure whether he theoretically argues that democracy should not or does not work in Africa. I know Isaias does so.
Now it is not a question of importing foreign ideologies, as it were. For me in Ethiopia, I look at what other possible ways out there are for us in terms of governance here in Ethiopia.
And I start with the fact that Ethiopia is an extremely diverse society. I start with the fact that previous regimes in Ethiopia have tried to resolve the issue of diversity through homogenization, attempted homogenization, assimilation. I start from the fact that they have completely failed. I start from the fact that the best way of accommodating diversity is democracy. Therefore, in the case of Ethiopia in particular, democracy is not a question of choice; it is a question of survival. Either we accommodate diversity by peaceful means or we implode.
So the question is not whether democracy is advisable for us or not. I think it is a forgone conclusion: we have no other option. There is no other option of accommodating diversity that can work. The question, therefore, should be how best do we achieve that. Recognizing that this is a process, how do we avoid attempted short-cuts that take us to dead-ends, on the one hand; and using the slogan of processes as an excuse to indefinitely postpone the exercise of democracy. We have to avoid both extremes.
Other than that, I don’t think we can avoid democracy without transforming ourselves into failed states. And I think in the case of Eritrea too, Eritrea is diverse enough. Perhaps not as diverse as Ethiopia but diverse enough. And the tensions in the Eritrean society are such that I don’t think they could be accommodated by any means other than by democratic means. Therefore, Eritreans have no other options but to embark on a democratic process. How it does so, how much time it takes–all of these are for Eritrean to sort out. But the path is unavoidable and very clear.
5- Eritrea is accused of being involved in the activities in Somalia and many people believe that it is helping in getting Ethiopia out. And it has the blessing of some regional countries. This new venture has given the Eritrean regime a new lease on life, at least diplomatically. The involvement of the Eritrean regime in Somalia is seen as a counter to Ethiopia’s involvement. In fact, the regime has tried to position itself as a defender of Islamic and Arab rights in the region and some regional intellectuals and diplomats are promoting this positioning. How do you see that working? And why don’t you pull out of Somalia?
First of all, I don’t take the Arab world as a homogeneous block with some anti-Ethiopian agenda or visceral hatred of Ethiopia. That is not true. We have excellent ties with many Arab countries at this stage. We have extraordinarily close ties, for example, with Algeria. We have extraordinarily close ties, for example, with Yemen. That has nothing to do with Arabism. That has nothing to do with Islamism.
But of course there are geo-political interests. We are next-door neighbors with the Arab world. Unavoidably, some of these countries may have geo-political interests that they think are in contradiction with Ethiopian geo-political interests. They may try to sell their specific national geo-political agenda as some sort of an Arab agenda but I don’t think they can succeed.
Now Isaias, since the first day he had this dispute with [Ethiopia], understands this and has tried to capitalize on it. Some of these countries that have geo-political interest that they think are in conflict with ours are … have some weight in the Arab world, and may hold views contrary to ours. That is very unfortunate and it is very damaging to Ethiopia’s interest and Isaias has tried to capitalize on it.
The first point I would like to make, therefore, would be that there is no homogenous Arab position on any matter whether it is Somalia, Eritrea or Ethiopia. A good part of the Arab world still has excellent close ties with us and we need to maintain that.
In the case of Somalia, we intervened primarily because of our national security. The Jihadist group in Somalia, they declared war on us. They threatened our immediate national security interest. They posed what we call clear and present danger. We intervened to stop it. We stopped it in two weeks. We could have immediately withdrawn without any risk to our security. Unfortunately, we didn’t do that. We didn’t do that because we felt that we owe it to the Somalis who sided with us in fighting the Jihadists to give them some breathing space so that they can reorganize, reconsolidate themselves so that peace can be given a chance in Somalia. We felt that we would pay in blood, some blood to that, it would be worthwhile. It would be a plus to our future cooperation with the Somalis.
The African Union backed our agenda and we felt that we owed it to the African Union to give them some breathing space until they bring alternative forces. That is why we have stayed on in Somalia and we have no other agenda. Technically, we could withdraw tomorrow without any risk to our national security. We have no anti-Islamic agenda. Many people do not realize, for example, Sharia courts are recognized and backed by the government in Ethiopia. This is a secular state, but in our constitution, there is a provision that, on family matters for example, whatever the Sharia court decides would be enforced by the Ethiopian police. Now, every Muslim in Ethiopia has a choice– he can go to secular courts in family matters or he can go to Sharia courts in family matters. He can go to Sharia courts in family matters and if the Shraia courts decides one way or the other, the state is obliged to execute [the decision]. Now, this is a country that is supposedly involved in an anti-Islamic agenda! Ethiopia cannot be an instrument of anti-Islamic agenda because it is [Islam is] part of its system. And over 30% of the population in Ethiopia are Muslims. We cannot have an anti-Islamic agenda without imploding from inside…
6- Do you think you have done a good job in explaining this to those who accuse you?
I think we have done a good job in explaining this to Ethiopians because I do not see resentment on the part of Ethiopian Muslims regarding the government or its policies. On the contrary, Muslims have traditionally been among the most supporting of the EPRDF [Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Forces, ruling coalition] in Ethiopia. But we have done a lousy job in terms of explaining this to the outside world. And the situation in Somalia has made [it] a very bad job and even worse because interested parties have presented it as a crusade of some sort.
7- Coming to the crusade part, your opponents accuse you of executing American agenda in the region. Considering the anti-American sentiments in the region, are you not positioning yourself in an antagonistic position? Are you worried that your regional policies would be perceived as similar to the imperial Ethiopian policy and your being positioned as such?
There are a number of points that need to be stressed here. First, we do not have visceral knee-jerk reaction or hatred towards the Americans or the American agenda. We evaluate the policies being implemented in the region. Where we see a coincidence of interest and policies, we interact with the American plan as we interact with anybody else. Where we see lack of coincidence in our positions, they go their way and we go our way. So, we do not want to be part of anti-Americanism for the sake of being anti-American.
Secondly, in the case of Somalia, for example, I remember the commander of the joint task force that they have in Djibouti going to Nairobi and speaking to the press — just before we intervened — and telling the press (and I am quoting here) “we are sitting this one out.” Meaning, the United States is not going to be involved in Somalia. They didn’t expect that we would remove the Islamic Courts from Mogadishu in two weeks. They thought that [it] was going to be a very difficult experiment. And so they didn’t back it up initially. After the initial success, the Americans have given us diplomatic support and back up. That is for the Americans but the African Union has also given full backing up.
We do not know any anti-Islamic state agenda of the United States. Some constituencies in the united states may harbor anti-Islamic agenda; but we are not aware of any formal US anti-Islamic policy. We, most certainly, are not part of any such policies. We couldn’t. We are not. And we would not be. But I understand that this has not been explained adequately. And we… that we are being labeled as crusaders. We are not crusaders. We think religious wars, whether it is crusade or Jihad, we believe belongs to the Middle Ages not to the present.
8- Let me ask you about your relations with the Sudan. It seems the Sudanese-Ethiopian relation is inversely proportional to both governments’ relations with Eritrea. How is that so? Could you characterize for me that relation?
It appears to be that; I doubt whether it really is that. Initially, we had excellent relations with the Sudan. I am talking about some few elements in the Sudanese establishment who abused the goodwill that we had with the Sudan as a movement, as a government. And they were involved in the assassination attempt on [Egyptian] President [Hosni] Mubarek in our country. That soured our relations for some time. And the relations improved when many of these elements were removed from the Sudanese government.
With the demise of AlTurabi, that coincidence, that coincided with the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea. So, it is possible to interpret the reinvigoration of relations between Sudan and Ethiopia, in the late nineties and early 2000, as result of the dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea. But since then, we have maintained excellent relations with Sudan. Sudan’s position with Eritrea has changed from time to time. Initially, it was antagonist, very similar to ours. At a later stage, it was more accommodating. In spite of this situation we have excellent relations with the Sudan.
I don’t think the relations between Sudan and Eritrea has improved as a result of diplomatic skill. I believe it is a matter of blackmailing. The Eritrean government has successfully planned, blackmailed, the Sudanese government into improving its relations with Eritrea. I do not believe there is any love lost now between the Sudanese government and the Eritrean government. I believe the Sudanese government has been exploited by the Eritrean government to blackmail the Sudanese government and I understand that. I believe the support of the Islamic opposition groups by the Sudanese government, to protect their interest, and we understand that. And as a result we have had… we have maintained our relationship.
9- There is one thing that has been coming up as far as Ethiopian policy towards Eritrea is concerned. Many Eritreans say that Ethiopia has a landlocked-country complex. Can we comfortably say that this complex is not there perhaps because Ethiopia now has several access to other ports?
I cannot tell you that every Ethiopian shares my view, but I can comfortably tell you that my position, my view, is a majority position. And that is the position of the government. My view is this: the Ethiopian imperial system has been dismantled and replaced by the federal system that we have in place. For Ethiopians, a constitutional country established on the the basis of the right to self-determination that really expressed desire of its people was the sine-qua-non for the maintenance of the country. All those Ethiopians who do not want to be Ethiopians simply have the right not to be Ethiopia or else we could die…
But the Eritreans have expressed their desire to be independent state in an internationally supervised referendum and the thirty years war ended this time.
So any attempt to incorporate Eritrea in the fold of Ethiopia will not succeed in incorporating Eritrea; it will simply succeed in dismantling Ethiopia, because it will dismantle the fundamental principle on which Ethiopia is formed: the right to self-determination. And that is, I think the majority position. I do. I am very comfortable that this is the government position. Once you agree on this fundamental principle, the issue of ports becomes an issue that is non-political.
Port service is a service like hotel service, like tourism service like any other service; you can buy it in the market. If you have the money, if we Ethiopians are rich, then we can buy this service from any provider. The most perfect provider would be Eritrea- for geographic reasons, cultural reasons, but it is not the only provider. If you are poor, the ports won’t make any difference to begin with. So the issue is an issue of economic growth in Ethiopia. The port is clearly a matter of buying and selling a service.
That is my view, that is the view of my government, that is the view of my party, and that is the view of the majority of Ethiopians. But I cannot tell you that there are no Ethiopians who do not have sort of ports hang up; but this is not a majority view and it is a dying view.
10- The last part. There is a general view and there are many in Eritrea, quite a few, who have this nightmare that, someday, what happened in Somalia can be repeated in Eritrea and quite a few who think that way out of fear of Ethiopia’s intentions. How do you make them feel comfortable that what happened in Somalia will not be repeated in Eritrea?
There are two possible ways of doing that. One possible way of doing that would be to say that I do not have any type of hatred to the Eritrean people, I never had that type of hatred to the Eritrean people. My track record does not show that kind of hatred to the Eritrean people, etc, etc. In other words, I would appeal to their emotions and feelings, it is somebody’s emotions. But these are emotional arguments that don’t cut that much ice.
So we have to talk about interests now. Interests are more solid than emotions. I would want somebody to convince me that it is in the interest of Ethiopia as to create another Somalia in Eritrea. If it is in the interest in Ethiopia to do it, then I can understand why Eritreans would be worried. Because they might read that interests are more substantive that sentiments. But there is no reason to believe that a Somalia in Eritrea would to the benefit of Ethiopia, not at all. The best scenario for Ethiopia is a stable Eritrea, one that is not a thorn on our back. That is the kind of Eritrea that we would like to have.
We don’t deserve the Eritrea that we now have, and I don’t think Eritrean people deserve the Eritrea that they now have. And I don’t think Eritreans deserve a Somalia in Eritrea, and I don’t think we deserve a Somalia in Eritrea. So it is not in Ethiopia’s interest: in fact, the self-interest of Ethiopia is in seeking that Eritrea doesn’t become another Somalia. One Somalia in the region is one too many. And it is not a theoretical issue it is a practical issue. We know what a failed state in Somalia means to Ethiopia. It means a nightmare. Why would we want to have another nightmare in North?
11- Something that goes back a while, a bad experience in the late nineties, quite a few Eritreans were deported from Ethiopia…now quite a few of them support the Eritrean regime not because they agree with its policies but because they feel they were wronged by your government. What would you say to them?
I can’t tell you this was our finest hour–far from it. It was a very regrettable process. All I can say is that people ought to understand what happened. As the invasion came as a shock, not only to the Ethiopian people as a whole but also to the EPRDF. And many in the EPRDF were surprised at the betrayal. And there was an element that was about lashing out and lashing back. At that stage, the Eritrean government was saying that they have a big presence [in Ethiopia] and if they wanted to remove the government from Addis, they could do it, any time. And the Eritrean community organizations here, in Ethiopia, were practically declared by the Eritrean government as an element of a fifth column that they have in Ethiopia.
Now when you combine that perceived threat with the anger amongst many in the government, it was easy for these angry people to argue that we have a security problem and the primary responsibility of the security of our citizens; therefore, we have to decrease the security threat. This was a circumstance that brought the situation- an environment of risk and environment of anger and an environment of hatred.
I would also wish those who have been deported to understand that this government had resisted a similar approach from 1991 to 1998. It was not because there were no temptations to do that. And the Eritrean [government officials] were repeatedly informed. We have discussed this with the Eritrean government, trying to involve it each time without creating tensions and anger among the citizens. Many Ethiopians at that time wanted us to retaliate in kind, we resisted that because we felt it will not be in the long-term interest of the two peoples. And because we felt that whatever the Eritrean government does, we do not need to have a similar response. So in 1998, the circumstances that were created, were such that we could no longer resist. So, this very regrettable thing happened.
Now, it is easy for someone who was not on a receiving end, to theoretically argue that was wrong. It was a very unfortunate and let’s move on. Those who have been on the receiving side of it feel the pain and we have to understand that. All I can say to them is, please try to understand the circumstance. I am not going to justify it by any means, I am going to explain the circumstance.
12- I want to ask you about the Eritrean opposition at this point. How do you evaluate it, what is your assessment of its performance?
The Eritrean opposition organizations…come in all sorts of types and sizes. And therefore, there is a variation in the qualities and performances. I am very encouraged by the recent developments within the Eritrean opposition and so the level of maturity that in some way was absent in that camp. And this is a recognition that the future destiny of Eritrea would not be determined by the thirteen opposition organizations. And the recognition of the thirteen organizations that a vision for Eritrea that could be implemented as soon as the Eritrean government is removed.
The mission of the opposition ought to be to remove the current government and let the Eritrean people make their choice on any of the pending issues in Eritrea, recipe, form of government, that is for the Eritrean people to make the final decision on. And so I think it was a bit academic of them to quarrel on how to decide on the future of Eritrea or how to govern future Eritrea. All they need to understand and accept is that the Eritrean people should have the final say. And that is the task of the opposition organizations. I think they are moving in that direction and that is why I think there has been an improvement in the level of maturity.
Secondly, they appear to be at loss, as to how to bring about a government change in Eritrea. This is understandable. They see that the Eritrean people who fought the previous Ethiopian regimes in Eritrea, so valiantly, but are now avoiding being so [valiant], as far as the current government in Eritrea is concerned and are in desperation, engaged in an exodus. Now, this is something new for the Eritrean political culture and experience. And I wouldn’t be surprised if people felt bewildered by what is happening to the Eritrean people: why are they not fighting back? Why are they fleeing their country? Etc. So a new understanding of what is happening in Eritrea is required. And there appears to be bewilderment in that sphere. I hope they will, over time, come up with a proper explanation of what is happening in Eritrea and how best to start from where we are now to bring about change in Eritrea.
13- People think that you have the skill and talent but question your will on the type of support that you give to the Eritrean opposition in comparison to the support the Eritrean regime gives to your opposition. I would mention here facilities such as passport, for example, where the Ethiopian support is not forthcoming?
Let me say a few things here. First, we would like to distinguish our support from that of the Eritrean government to the Ethiopian opposition. We would like to make sure that is based on clear principles. Governance in Eritrea, democratic governance in Eritrea, is for Eritreans. Those of us who are not Eritreans, who may have goodwill towards Eritreans, can wish the Eritrean people the best. But we cannot make it our business. That is an issue of principle that we cross at our own peril as Ethiopians and could endanger Eritreans too. So, we have been very careful to try to make sure that our support is based on clear and firm principles. Now, what are we doing then with the Eritrean opposition? Why are we, however limited our support might be, why are we supporting them?
Our interest in Eritrea, as state, is to have peaceful coexistence with Eritrea. The current Eritrean government doesn’t want to give us peace. We believe the Eritrean people want peace. We believe these opposition groups, give the Eritrean people the space to make decisions, and we will have sustainable peace with Eritrea. So it is in the interest of peace of Ethiopia that we support the opposition. We are not interested in the details of their program. The only program we are interested in is whether the Eritrean people will be given the space to make decisions. If the Eritrean people are given the space to make decisions, we have guarantees because we know the Eritrean people want peace.
We do not expect guarantees about peace from any group. If we couldn’t get it from our former comrades in the EPLF [Eritrean People’s Liberation Front, previous name of ruling party in Eritrea], with whom we fought and died together, we cannot get it from anybody else other than the Eritrean people. So, we want to support the opposition for one and one reason only: because we expect them to give the Eritrean people the space to make the final decision on peace. Therefore, we have been very careful, not to make choices about the political platforms of any party. We might like some platforms and we may not like another platform but we do not believe it is our business to choose between these platforms. It is the business of the Eritrean people.
So, when there have been quarrels amongst these parties: on the one hand, people encourage us to talk to them and try to reconcile them; on the other hand people do not want us to intervene in their internal affairs. Understandable. So there has been understandable hesitation on our part to get too close to the opposition, Eritrean opposition. That has been one of the limiting factors.
The second factor has been an element of skepticism, on the part of some in our government, as to whether this is a worthwhile investment of our time and our resources. And it is understandable given the weakness of the opposition. But I think we have overcome this skepticism within the government. And therefore, we are now in a better position to provide whatever assistance we can when whatever assistance they need.
Now you know we are a very poor country; there is a limit to what we can do. Unlike Isaias, our only agenda is not to remove Isaias. Our primary agenda is to bring about development in our country. And so, we do not have as much surplus as Isaias does. Because for Isaias, that is the only agenda that he has. Nevertheless, we recognize we could have been helpful without delving into internal matter, we could have been very helpful in the past. And I am sure given the prospects that are now visible as a result of the progress that the opposition has made, we could be more helpful.
I want to shoot down one misperception that I see among the Eritreans in the Diaspora. Some people are arguing that this opposition wants to remove the government in Eritrea by joining the bandwagon of Ethiopian army, that they want to mount Ethiopian tanks and move to Asmara. I have not heard anything of that type from the Eritrean opposition, and I am very happy I didn’t hear it from the Eritrean opposition because it is not going to happen. I have said over and over again, unless there is a full scale invasion of our territories, no matter what Isaias does, there won’t be a single Ethiopian tank in Eritrea.
14- Tell me if I would have a chance in my lifetime, to see you being addressed as ex-Prime Minister when you can probably teach at a university, write books or run a foundation?
Absolutely. I am looking forward to it. I don’t think it is too far away.
15- So you will set that example?
Absolutely, I can tell you that. I hope that… now you cannot be sure whether you can live through tomorrow, but assuming that I will have a normal age, in three years time, you would call me ex-prime minister.
Thank you Mr. Prime Minister.