The World Satellite Channel’s “Under the Ash” Program Sheds light into Eritrea

why does Eritrea live in a constant state of mobilization?

* Tewekel: dialogue is an inevitable matter and the PFDJ is a  victim of an individual rule in Asmara

*Nassr: Eritrea is living in a big prison

*Kahlifa: lessens the chances of dialogue with the regime

Gulf Information Center

The World Satellite Channel has disseminated special program about the situation in Eritrea in its weekly program (under the ASH) that was broadcast in about a full hour on last Friday by the timing of Beirut, Lebanon. The program was broadcast for a second time on the following day, Saturday3,2005, at 4:00 PM. The program has, at the beginning, presented a comprehensive report about the situation in Eritrea. The guests of the program were Mr.Hussien Khalifa, the Chairman of the Executive Office of the EDA, Mr.Ahmed  Nasser, Head of the External Office of the EDA, and journalist Mohammed Taha Twekel, Director of the GIC in the Horn of Africa. The presenter has announced, at the beginning of the program, that some officials of the government with which the Satellite Channel has contacted have refrained from taking part at the program. The presenter of the program has started the program raising a number of hot questions on the Eritrean arena:

Why is Eritrea living state of mobilization and probability of military confrontation with the Sudan at the time it maintains good relations with Israel, Washington? And  why are its relations in a state of tepidity with the Arab countries? How long will Eritrea remain without a constitution? And without an elected institutions and how will the identity conflict of this state be sorted out? The GIC team has  followed the program and has decided to compile and  present it to Eritreans for it dealt with vital issues that concern the Eritrean political arena. The compilation was translated into English by the head of the English Desk of the GIC  journalist Abdulhafiz Yassin Mohammed. The following are the excerpts.

14 years have passed on the independence of Eritrea, however, it seems that the state is neither with an identity nor a strategy as well as the regime is unstable .Besides, an extensive opposition is exiled.

Why is this gloomy image as if the independence has never brought spring into Eritrea?

Khalifa: I thank on behalf of myself and on behalf of the Eritrean opposition the World Satellite Channel on this opportunity to reflect what is happening on our people and our friends because we feel that there is media jamming on what is taking place in Eritrea since a very long period of time; and this is what has empowered Afwerki to hold on the power up to now.

Eritrea, as you know, is a country whose masses have struggled for a long period of time to liberate their land from the Ethiopian colonialism; and during its armed struggle period, all the region on top of which the surrounding Arab countries had identified themselves with it. The independence was an output of the efforts of the Eritrean people; however the fruit of the struggle and sacrifice of the Eritrean people was snatched by the group of Isaias’ clique.

But the EPLF and president Afwerki had brought independence and they had popular support?

Khalifa: He has had no extensive, popular support; but there were foreign powers on top of which Israel which had weighed the balance of Afwerki’s scale and enabled him to take over the power from inside the Eritrean revolution at the time. And the other national powers had not got similar support to that of Afwerki.

What did Israel need from Afwerki?

It needed a maritime outlet due to the location that Eritrea enjoys on the Red Sea, Bab el-Mendeb and its strategic interference with the Arab region. Israel was careful to have a foot step and friend in Eritrea and that was what it had achieved. The opposition had exerted efforts to establish natural relations among Eritreans and then between Eritrea and the neighboring countries as well as the regional circumference, however the regime had refused that.

Welcome Mr. Tewekel to participate in the program?

Tewekel: at the beginning, I would like to thank the presenter of the program and the satellite channel; and I welcome your participating guests. I would like to seize up this opportunity to congratulate the Eritrean people on the anniversary of 44th for the launch of the Eritrean revolution on September 1, and today it can be said that the Eritrean revolution has reached a maturity phase. And on this occasion, I extend my condolence to the Eritrean people on the pass away of the late Foreign Minister, Ali Said Abdella. We are, at these very complicated circumstances, living very miserable situation and the testimony before you is Mr. Hussien Khalifa a great fighter who has not been able to enter into Asmara after 14 years of independence and the other guest is Mr. Ahmed Nasser from among the prominent and historic leaders who is also outside his homeland leading the opposition. What you see demonstrates the magnitude of the sufferings of the Eritrean people and absence of the language of dialogue; and as a matter of fact, the Eritrean people have lost its friends who had supported and sympathized with it during the liberation war especially the Sudan, the Yemen and the regional circumference. The policy of the regime has made Eritrea without friends and this is a disturbing matter which needs thinking and reconsideration in future while drawing the policy. Although the EPLF had won the honor of raising the flag of independence and shouldered the bigger burden during the liberation war particularly after 1980s, it failed to run the state because it followed the policy of excluding the other powers. Independence has been achieved in the EPLF’s hands whether some agree or differ with this fact and the EPLF was open, until 1994, to the ordinary citizens in its dealings but it refused to recognize the opposition and embodied the approach of the” one front.” Things were, at least, going on in a natural way until 1995 but some leaders of the regime, in the meanwhile, digressed and brought about the internal differences.

How do you explain the state of war, economic deterioration and crises which Eritrea is suffering from?

Tewekel: it seems that the regime is instable after 14 years of independence; and the evidence is the state of war the regime has caused with all its neighbors. The situation within the homeland is deteriorating and the external relations have reached their lowest degree.

What do you say about the one party which has refused to recognize the opposition and which is influenced by power; and what are the reasons behind the fear of the regime from recognizing this opposition?

Tewekel: the crises which we are seeing today in the ruling front are results of a mistake which was committed three decades ago when the people’s revolutionary party, which was dissolved in the year 1991, was established within the EPLF. This party held all the thoughts of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and led the EPLF from behind a curtain. At the beginning, all the authorities of the political office were handed over to President Isaias Afwerki who had become (Mao) in Eritrea. There is no a ruling party, but there is a ruling individual; a matter which the imprisoned reformist leadership of the G15 has tried to realize. All the members of the political office are between those who have been detained and those who have escaped. And there are no any other left members except the president with two other individuals. Many officials have escaped following the eruption of the difference within the PFDJ; for example more than nine ambassadors have escaped; the most prominent were the former Eritrean ambassador to the United Nation Haile Menkreios, the former Eritrean ambassador to the Republic of the Sudan Abdella Adem, the former Eritrean ambassador to the Scandinavian countries, Hebret, the former Eritrean ambassador  to Belgium, the former Eritrean Defense Minister Mesfen Hagos and the former chairman of the Eritrean Youths and Students Union Muhyedin Shangab.

None of the historical leaders of the EPLF has remained as Tewekel has indicated as well as the available information; Eritrea has become under the control of Afwerki ?

Hussien: the point is natural because a dictator regime always depends on some generals and security apparatus; and this is what is typically applied to the dictator regime in Eritrea. It tries to mislead through propaganda outlets. It tries to mislead the public opinion via propagation of lies, falsifications and propaganda through media outlets. It propagates allegations of strength which has no any base. The regime is weaker than any other time. It was exploiting, in the past, the weaknesses and differences of the opposition; however today the opposition is in a powerful state after the formation of the EDA which represents a collective umbrella for all the opposition powers. The regime of Asmara is suffering from problems; most of its members have escaped, the others are detained and the remained are waiting a chance to escape. All the evidences prove that the regime is on its way to collapse.

Despite the regime’s differences with its neighbors and the weaknesses that you have mentioned, however some see that the regime still keeps on its strength?

Ahmed Nasser: it is true that there are many factors against the regime which had exploited, during the armed struggle for liberation, the lack of a vision to crystallize the concept of governance in Eritrea; and that was because the priority of the Eritrean revolution was to liberate the Eritrean land. This regime has an oppressive, repressive security apparatus that protects its interests and there were some international and strategic considerations which were in favour of its interests.

There are those who believe that Eritreans have failed, over the 14 years of independence, to run the state and to manage themselves by a democratic system?

Ahmed Nasser: the lack of pluralism is not limited to Eritrea. There are countries that have preceded Eritrea; the issue of democratic evolution comes step by step and the charge against Eritreans is incorrect and it is a wrong evaluation. The Eritrean people, like others, are looking forward to a democratic system.

How do you interpret the run away of diplomats and higher officials into outside Eritrea?

Tewekel: concerning the run away of the diplomats, it could reflect the magnitude of stress and worry within the diplomatic circle  due to the detention of three foreign ministers since the independence of the country – Mahmoud Sherifo, Petros Selomon and Heile Weldetensae. The three ministers had an influence and were closer to the president. Escaping has become a natural issue. But it should be commented on the point that “Eritreans are not qualified to rule themselves.” I would like confirm that Eritrea was among the first countries in the Horn of Africa that had experienced democratic system at the time democracy and freedom of press was a distant dream in the whole region. The freedoms’ ground which was founded during the Italian period was expanded at the British reign, however it faced difficulties and troubles during the Ethiopian period. The Eritrean fighters had devoted their concern to the gunship which was directing the overall course of the course of the struggle of liberation, and freedoms were affected during the armed struggle for liberation; for instance, civil society organizations disappeared. The ELF, EPLF and the Eritrean Peoples Forces had all contributed to this fact; and even it went on, after independence. Roles of civil society organizations did not get the required attention and support from the regime and the opposition. Democracy, in general, has been exposed to abortion in the PFDJ’s political oreintation which had adopted the military alternative at the expense of democracy.

There has been much talk about the repressive policies of the regime and detentions as well. What are the proofs that you present?

Hussien: the regime in Eritrea is repressive by the testimony of the international community and America was the last to condemn it; and we are ready to present all documents that disclose the manners (deeds) of the regime.

You ,as an opposition, are talking about detentions, executions and prisons. What the real image?

Nasser: Eritrea has turned into a big prison; and it is very difficult to enlist the detainees because every town, village, mountain and valley has turned into a big prison even the Eritrea islands have become places of detention. Even those who were with the regime have nowadays been accommodated in these prisons.

How do you explain the involvement of the regime in wars with all its neighbors? Is it the nature of the regime to involve in conflicts or what?

Tewekel: The EPLF, as an organization, played a role in the independence of Eritrea whether we agree or differ with it. Today, those ,who were in the EPLF-PFDJ-, are in the lead of the struggle for a democratic change. The first group that had declared its rebellion from inside the homeland was from among the leaders of the EPLF-PFDJ- and who are now in detentions. The interests of thousands have been directly affected. Because hundreds, from among the followers of the EPLF during the liberation war, have come into Eritrea, after independence with their children and huge capitals to invest in Eritrea from the Diaspora considering that the ruling party is their party. But the fact is that those ,who were under the legion of the EPLF, are settling today a bill of a high cost and are taking part in the changing process. For example, most members of the Eritrean Democratic Party and the Eritrean Peoples Movement have come from inside the homeland and their backgrounds are of the EPLF-PFDJ. They are, today, within the opposition powers and the fruit of EPLF’s struggle has only been ripped by president Afwerki along with his five generals. Concerning the regional policies of the regime,it has lost all its neighbors and opened finally fire into America and the European Union; a behavior which has isolated it internally and internationally.

You said in your interview with the GIC that Isaias searches problems?

Khalifa: Isaias lives on tunes of differences and tensions and he exports conflicts and wars into anyone around him.

What about the Eritrean regime’s military support for the neighboring countries’ opposition?

Hussien: Yes, there is an absolute support from the Eritrean regime for the opposition of the neighboring countries. There are training camps in Eritrea and the regime has confessed by this fact and it is also known to the world.

What does Afwerki needs through these wars?

The years of the ruling have been distinguished by a state of wars and the state of war has become part of the nature of the regime which resulted about killing of fighters, and destruction of the economy. These wars are some sort of the regime’s irresponsible adventures and yet the regime’s president keeps waging. And the Eritrean people are living on relief.

After independence the situation has become worst?

The situation is worse by all measures and Eritrea is living the worst years in its modern history; and the regime has become a threat not only to the Eritrean people but a real jeopardy to the region.

The opposition has declared that the hypothetical period for the regime of Asmara has been finished off and has begun its down count?

Tewekel: the hypotheses are many but over the last five years the regime has lost the internal front following the splints within the PFDJ and the wars that it waged- and still thinks to wage- have had negative impacts which are reflected on different developmental areas. The Eritrean communities in Europe, America, Australia and the Gulf countries, who supported the regime in the past, are now on the lead of the opposition. The stances of these Eritreans have a negative impact on the economy of the regime; in my opinion, there are limited opportunities before the regime: to conduct internal reforms,to release the detainees, and to begin a dialogue with the opposition if it needs to rescue it self from collapse. Because there are changes in the region and Eritrea will not be excluded from the impact of the changing winds. The changing wind is on its way to Eritrea.

Are there common factors between the opposition and the regime?

Tewekel: There is a real crisis in Eritrea. The regime dose not recognize its opposition; and the refusal of the principle of dialogue is an old approach although the opposition has raised the peace flag and initiated peace from one side. However, there are some remarks by the observers of the slogans the opposition  holds and which crystalizes: racial and ethnic plans and some thoughts and principles of a little influence to change the situation in Eritrea; and the regime utilizes such sloganss against the opposition to serve and enhance its interests. I, personally, believe that the solution of the governance crises in Eritrea can not be realized by any means except through dialogue and Eritreans have nothing except to be abided by a dialogue. We are now on the 21st century and it is impossible to change a regime by force; because firstly it is not available and secondly it dose not go with the demands of the Eritrean people who should bear the responsibility of change especially a  radical change can not be achieved except by a cooperation of the Eritrean people inside and outside the homeland although the inside masses hold the bigger burden to engender the aspired change.

What do you say if Afwerki opens the dialogue forum and releases the prisoners to salvage the situation in Eritrea?

Khalifa: we, in the Eritrean opposition, have exerted efforts and presented many initiatives particularly after the formation of the alliance; and we have accredited the principle of dialogue, however the regime has refused dialogue and recognition of the opposition. There had never been any communication between the regime and opposition. There were some mediations by the Sudan and the late Sheikh Zaied but all had failed.

Do you expect an  occurrence of an internal change by the military institution as has occurred in the state of Mauritania?

Khalifa: all possibilities are considered and the change is coming sooner or later because all the Eritrean people have suffered much from this regime.

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Posted by on Sep 5 2005 Filed under Interviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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