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President Issayas lectures the World, masquerading as defender of Ethiopia Unity

Tigrai Online, May 23 2009


President Issayas is taking the opportunity of Eritrea’s 16th anniversary of independence (May 24) to offer the region, Africa and the Middle East, his thoughts on world and regional problem, and at length. In a whole series of interviews, with regional media and those in the Middle East, and more widely, he has been telling the region, Africa, and indeed the world, how to behave and pointing out where they have all been going wrong. Every night for weeks, viewers of Eritrean TV have been able to hear their President’s thoughts at considerable length.

President Issayas finds little to welcome in the world or even in Eritrea. The words that most commonly appear are challenge, conspiracy, hostility, sacrifice, hard work and yet more hard work. The rewards are all far in the future; and Eritrea is always the target. “The United Nations, including the Security Council, has become an unjust and inequitable tool of a few nations” indulging in “illegal and unconstructive” positions, as well as baseless slanders against Eritrea over the supply of arms to Al-Shabaab and opponents of the Somali Government, although the Somali Prime Minister said only this week that the Somali Government had detailed evidence of arms flights arriving from Eritrea. President Issayas told Egyptian State TV this week that the problems in Somalia mainly emanate from the illegal actions of the UN Security Council itself. In a comprehensive attack on the Council, President Issayas claimed it had taken illegal and unconstructive positions, breaching the UN Charter and international law. This, he claimed, had caused the present vacuum in Somalia and become the source for piracy and other activities. He said a government “imposed” from outside had further aggravated the problem. In this context he told Kenyan TV that IGAD was a tool in the service of foreign agendas and was the source of the problem in Somalia. Eritrea, he said, expected nothing good from such an impotent organization and this was why it had suspended its membership.

The African Union came in for similar strictures as doing nothing more useful than “talking about a vacuum”. He referred to the behaviour of its leaders as corrupt and despicable, and in this connection he had much to say about democracy and the media in Africa. According to President Issayas, (talking to SABC TV at the weekend) Africa needs “genuine” democracy. Surprisingly, in view of South Africa’s recent Presidential election, he specifically noted that the South African experience proved that one cannot speak of real democracy when holding elections in which there is no equitable distribution of resources and where the majority of the population lived below the poverty line. President Issayas’ version of democracy, which ignores elections or political parties, does not equate with other peoples’ views. He is against such “meaningless exercises or manifestations of ostentatious behaviour”. In fact, democracy is an ideal and a set of institutions of practices. As an ideal it involves the concept that members of a group should have the determining control over rules and policies, and that members of the group should treat each other as equals. In a modern state this ideal is realized through a framework of citizens' rights, institutions for representative and accountable government (in particular through a freely elected parliament), an active civil society and a number of mediatory elements of which the most obvious are political parties and an independent media. None of these are present in Eritrea and President Issayas specifically rejects most of these, even claiming, in defiance of Eritrea’s still unimplemented constitution that the people of Eritrea do not want either political parties or an independent media. It was in an interview with Al-Jazeera last year that the President actually put a time frame on elections. Eritrea would have, he said, to wait three or four decades before it held elections, and possibly longer. On the media, President Issayas claimed there was no free press any where in the world today. However the Eritrean people, he claimed, possessed media organs that served as forums for expressing their views and opinions as well as providing them with correct and objective information. Eritrea, of course, has had no independent media outlets since they were all closed down abruptly in 2001 and at least two dozen journalists detained and dozens more exiled.

Few international bodies or countries have escaped President Issayas’ attacks: “conspiracies and hostilities weaved in the name of regional, international and non-governmental organizations,…under the pretext of free press or [humanitarian activities] or…charity are some of the instruments of neo-colonialism masterminded by intelligence agencies.” The US has been one of the President’s main targets. He said it has a strategy of domination through creating problems and crises with the aim of strengthening US influence throughout the region. He attacked the CIA for encouraging and sponsoring human trafficking and encouraging Eritrean youth to flee their country. Hundreds of Eritreans cross into Ethiopia and Sudan every months to avoid conscription and repression. President Issayas told Asharq Alawat newspaper that lying was the culture of the CIA and the “baseless” anti-Eritrean defamatory campaign currently including allegations of Israeli and Iranian bases in Eritrea was no more than a continuation of this historic activity.

Uganda and Burundi are attacked for sending forces for AMISOM in Somalia. They are categorized as far from stable countries, experiencing civil unrest as well as internal opposition. These governments should, said President Issayas, concentrate on their own problems rather than meddle elsewhere. Indeed, the only viable solution for Somalia, said President Issayas was for outsiders to stop meddling in its affairs. He did not include Eritrea in this however. Eritrea’s support for the Somali people was, he said, a moral and legal obligation; and peace and stability could only be achieved by creating a conducive ground for the Somali people to resolve the issue themselves. Kenya was held responsible for the disappearance of three Eritrean journalists in Mogadishu and President Issayas added, ominously, that Eritrea would never overlook the issue. Last weekend it was the turn of long-time ally, the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement. President Issayas, claiming he had the right to criticize the organization, attacked it for failing to fulfill its commitments to the people of Sudan, for corruption and for failing to be definitive on unity or separation.

Perhaps, most bizarrely, in one four hour interview with what claims to be an Ethiopian website though undoubtedly in the pay of the Eritrean Government, President Issayas even tried to portray himself as a defender of Ethiopian unity. The interview indeed appears designed to allow President Issayas to appear in this guise. The truth of the matter is that no other person has worked so tirelessly for the demise of Ethiopia as a country. This is by no means an exaggeration. President Issayas has never been supportive of Ethiopian unity as his current efforts at destabilization make all too clear. Ethiopian officials, of course, are privy to what President Issayas was telling many African leaders during the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia (1998-2000): there is no such thing as Ethiopia and what there is, is no more than a shadow of a country – a country that cannot be taken seriously as a state. In terms of historical background, we would remember what President Issayas told an American, Paul Henze, on 11th March 1991, before he entered Asmara:

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