Yemane Gebreab’s Interview with Russia Today Arabic Television


There are people who think Eritrea or African countries can not be industrial, economically modern and developed countries in decades. But when it comes to the political system, they think it is possible to build a developed, modern political system in a year or two. This is incomprehensible! –  Yemane Gebreab

Socio-Economic Development Vs. Political Development
Socio-Economic Development Vs. Political Development. Balance is key to stability

By TesfaNews,

Mr. Yemane Gebreab, presidential adviser and head of Political Affairs at the PFDJ was in Moscow for a four days state visit as part of an Eritrean delegation led by Foreign Minister Osman Saleh.

In the middle of the visit, the Arabic program presenter Selam Musafir of Russia Today (RT) Television conducted an interview with Mr. Yemane over the purpose and outcome of their visit as well as developments around the region.

The following is the unofficial transcript of the interview: 

Selam Musafir: You are in Moscow on the occasion of the visit of the Eritrean delegation under the leadership of the foreign minister, and you have met today with Mr. Sergei Lavrov. Firstly, why this interest in Moscow –that is probably considered a surprise–by a country which, even neighbors close to it are about to forget its existence, and they didn’t come to its help when it is under sanctions?

Yemane: Thank you for this opportunity that you provided to me and the Eritrean delegation here in Moscow. We in Eritrea believe there is a wrong picture about Eritrea. Eritrea is not isolated; it is not forgotten. It has presence and an active and significant role in the Horn of Africa, in the Nile basin, in the Red Sea. It has strong relations, and relations of cooperation and partnership with many countries in the region. And the picture, the wrong picture of isolation of Eritrea, should be corrected. The visit to Moscow in itself shows that Eritrea is not isolated. Eritrea has connections in the region but also outside the region.

The visit to Moscow comes within the [task] of active Eritrean diplomacy. First, the priority of its diplomacy is [directed towards] the neighboring countries in the Horn of Africa, the Arab countries neighboring Eritrea with which it has ancient bonds, historical cultural …and mutual interest. Eritrea has a warm relations with the Gulf States which are close to Eritrea. Eritrea has a good and strong relations with Sudan, and Egypt which is considered one of the important countries in the Middle east. And Eritrea also has relations outside this region in Africa in Asia, in Europe and others. We believe that Russia is a big country; it is a great country; it is a state that has a significant role in the international community, particularly in this situation. The visit comes within this context.

Selam Musafir: Was there an agreement on some projects? Obviously Eritrea is in need of investment, is need of encouraging tourism, there are breathtaking regions in Eritrea and the climate is temperate year round. Do you intend to develop what is known as tourism industry and agreement with the Russian side on investments and projects inside Eritrea?

Yemane: First, the goal of this visit is for consultations with the Russian side on important regional and international issues that both countries and both states are interested in. We would like for Russia to have an effective, constructive, significant, and active role in the region. We and the region, in our view, suffered from the absence of Russia for a quarter of century.  Russia was busy with its internal issues and it went through a stage that can be considered difficult and complicated. This absence had a damaging effect on the region.

Selam Musafir:  Russia comes back actively in the regional and international arena…

Yemane: Regarding bilateral relations, we want to have commercial and investment relations with Russia…tourism could be one of the sectors but in our view there are more important fields.

Selam Musafir: Like what, for example … ?

Yemane: We like to develop the infrastructure in Eritrea: airports, ports, roads, infrastructure, energy in Eritrea, water, and we wish to have the involvement of Russian companies in these sectors. We have the sector of industry, agriculture … on the trading sector. We want to buy basic materials from Russia. On the mining sector, we also want the Russian companies to be involved because there is involvement of companies from all over the world. And we want there to be an involvement, and in fact, there is already a Russian involvement.

Selam Musafir:  You said that you have good relations with the neighboring countries, but the opposition of the system in Eritrea say that your relations with Sudan is not alright because… accusations, claims, are directed against you–that you support secessionist movement in Sudan. Of course Ethiopia hosts what is known as National Council, and it is a group of opposition to the system of President Afwerki. These important countries in the region, it seems, they probably contribute, one way or the other, to confirm that what you say that Eritrea is not isolated is . What is the truth regarding these [allegations]?

Yemane:  This picture is not correct. There are no secessionist movements in Sudan at this moment. Our relations with Sudan is excellent. There is cooperation, and strategic cooperation at this moment. The Sudanese president visited Eritrea a month ago. The Eritrean president was in Port Sudan, in Sudan, last November. There are relations and partnership and there is cooperation in all aspects–this is a mutual, integration, between Eritrea and Sudan. The relations are excellent. Eritrea had a role, a constructive and positive role in finding solutions to the issue of Eastern Sudan. Eritrea played a role in eastern Sudan.

Selam Musafir: as a facilitator between the North and south?

Yemane: No. Between Eastern Sudan and the central government.

Selam Musafir: You mean Darfur’s and…

Yemane: No.  Eastern Sudan.

Selam Musafir: Eastern Sudan also…

Yemane: Also Eritrea played a role in the issue of Darfur and in the issue of South Sudan. And Sudan,  it has a role and still has. The relations of Eritrea is not limited to Sudan, Khartoum but…

Selam Musafir: But with all…

Yemane: …also with South Sudan.

Selam Musafir: Regarding Ethiopia, it is considered a state that embraces the force that opposes the Eritrean leadership.

Yemane: We do not see an opposition force that has weight and acceptance in Eritrea. True, there is an attempt by the government in Ethiopia to create problems in Eritrea, but these policies were followed by Ethiopia for 15 years and they didn’t produce results.

The problem in the Horn of Africa is not Ethiopia, the problem emanates from the wrong American policies in the Horn of Africa. The system, or the American administration, believes that Ethiopia can be its major support in the Horn of Africa and it protects [Ethiopia] in its transgressions against international law.

At this moment, Ethiopia occupies Eritrean territories, and this is in spite of international ruling, after resolutions of Security council in the UN. The problem in Ethiopia is that of a minority government. Those who rule Ethiopia at this moment are from a small region, a region that doesn’t represent more than 5% of the peoples of Ethiopia, of the Ethiopian people.  And this force, this government, in order to remain in power, it practices divisive politics inside Ethiopia. It creates problems with all [its] neighbors including Eritrea, Somalia and others…

Selam Musafir: Okay. You talk of the role of America as if it is directed in its polices against Eritrea. There are reports that indicate that America is disturbed by the Eritrean policies because it sold, or leased islands to Iran. And these islands have become a spearhead against the neighboring countries. And Yemen complains more about that saying that through these islands Iran is sending support to the Huthiyis [Yemeni rebels]. Firstly, is it true that you sell islands, either to Iran or Israel, or you lease it to these countries? Is there an Eritrean role in the incidents of Yemen?

Yemane:  Firstly the Eritrean people struggled, as you mentioned, for thirty years. The liberation war costs [Eritrea] paid precious price so that it can liberate its country and protect its dignity and protect its territories. The Eritrean people, after the struggle and after this precious price, do not have a will to sell Eritrean islands, or an inch of the Eritrean soil. This is far from the customs and political culture of Eritrea. Eritrea, the Eritrean people and the Eritrea government are known for protecting the national dignity and respect.

Selam Musafir: …yes

Yemane: I will come to the question you raised. There are rumors that there is an Iranian military base and there are rumors that there is an Israeli military base also. Such talks are around, but they are not true. I wish that Russia can send a delegation of reporters to visit Eritrean lands and see from up close that this talk is not true. It is not there. We, in our political culture, we don’t follow such policies. Our relation with Yemen is considered a venerable relation and, in the end, we consider ourselves one people with the Yemenis; we do not wish to have a negative role in Yemeni issue. We defended the Yemeni unity, we pushed some policies, and we are still adamant about the safety and stability of Yemen. And these rumors are not true and have no basis in the current state on Eritrea.

Selam Musafir: It means there is no lease, no selling of military bases, neither to Iran or Israel…?

Yemane: To any country. Eritrea doesn’t accept any country to have a military base in Eritrean territories. Be it Iran. Be it Israel. Be it the USA, even the countries that are friendly and close to Eritrea. This is far from Eritrean policies.

Selam Musafir: There is another problem, it is probably highlighted in the media that a high percentage of those pursuing  immigration to the North, to Europe, and mostly they are exposed to the risk drowning in the seas, a large portion of them are Eritreans. Firstly, why this high exodus from a country that has resources, [and is] stable politically? Why do the youth leave in search of happiness or another life In Europe? And what about the million of Eritrean refugees who live in camps until now, as it is said, in the Republic of Sudan?

Yemane: Firstly, there is a wrong and misleading information in this aspect. Also there is politicization of the issue of immigration. Immigration, in our time, at this time, it is a normal issue. There is immigration from all countries to many [other] countries. There is immigration from Russia. There is immigration from Eastern Europe. There is immigration from states like Spain, Portugal, and Ireland, and there is also immigration from Africa….

Selam Musafir: Even from the happy Swedes, they migrate to America!

Yemane: True, this immigration in this era, has become natural, but there is politicization when it comes to Eritrea..

Selam Musafir: What is the reason [for that]?

Yemane: The reason is the enmity of America towards Eritrea. This is the problem. And there are policies that are followed to push people to immigrate, human trafficking, targeting Eritrea. We in Eritrea have requested for the United Nations to carry out an independent investigation on this issue because we became victims of the policies that attempt….. encourages the Eritrean youth to leave their country. These policies are criminal and we requested an independent investigation by the UN of these problems. Also, in our meeting with the Russian foreign minister, Mr. Lavrov, we presented this issue and requested a position from Russia at the UN and the security council, to support this Eritrean request for independent investigation that is free and honest, for this problem. But when we see the issue of immigration and we compare the migration from Ethiopia and Eritrea for instance, immigration from Ethiopia is tens of folds, twenty folds compared to Eritrea. *

Selam Musafir: But as you know the population of Ethiopia is bigger by tens of folds, maybe many folds?

Yemane: True. But even the ratio of immigrants compared to the population. The immigration from Ethiopia is many folds the number of Eritreans but rarely do you hear about Ethiopian immigration problems. There is politicization, and the issue of encouraging…

Selam Musafir: How about the Eritreans who live in Sudan, is this number of a million true.. as if it is a state within a state? **

Yemane: Firstly this information is also not correct. But we do not consider Eritreans in Sudan refugees. It is their country. And the Sudanese in Eritrea also, we do not consider them refugees. The Sudanese in Eritrea, we welcome them. It is their second country, it is their first country. We are neighbors and between neighbors there is continuous movement, and the border, as far as the people are concerned, it is not a border that prevents people. Therefore, there are Eritreans who started to live in Sudan since the forties, the fifties and sixties of the last century. They are naturalized and they are there and some have taken Sudanese citizenship and they are in Eastern Sudan. But there is also affiliation to Eritrea, and there is genuine bonds and strong [relations] with their brethren and friends in Eritrea.

Selam Musafir: It means there is no truth to the claim that there are refugees in Sudanese territories suffering from one [bad] conditions or another, and cannot return to their country? They can return any time…?

Yemane: No. No. Any Eritrean has the right to return to his country and this is his country and no one will deny him that, they can return to the country.

Selam Musafir: Since we opened files of complicated issues, let’s call it internal, there is also criticism directed at the policies of President Isaias, because it follows the policy of a single party. Don’t you think of opening up, the way for pluralism, carrying out elections? True, he enjoys the description of a national leader who led a liberation movement and … meaning, like Fidel Castro and others. Therefore he is said to enjoy what is known as revolutionary legitimacy and he remained in power for about… more than two decades, since the independence until now. Don’t you think of opening up the way for… Also, he froze the parliament, before two-years, there was a parliament and it was frozen since many years. Don’t you consider carrying out elections and establishing commissions, permitting political parties to work?

Yemane: First, Eritrea is a new country, a state in formation, it is, as you said, [only] twenty years old. We are in the beginning of building a country and a state in Eritrea. Talks about democracy, talk about political pluralism, there must be debate on this issue. For example, the latest development in South Sudan and people talk about democracy, talk about election. Is it wise that South Sudan, when it still cannot build state, thinks of pluralism and democracy? When we see the experiences of peoples, the experiences of the West that push for the issue of democracy–how many years, how many decades, how many centuries it took theses people to reach to the stage of building the current political systems in these countries? We always ask.

When one talks about economic development, and one asks, how many years will it take a country like Eritrea for example, until it becomes an economically developed modern country? How many years? People say: thirty years, forty years. There are people who think Eritrea and African countries will not be industrial, economically developed countries, economically modern. But when it comes to the political system, they think it is possible to build a developed, modern political system in a year or two! This is incomprehensible. The socio-economic development and the political development must be balanced and issues should pass through many paths and not only in one path. We in Eritrea are not in a hurry on this issue. We are a small population.

Selam Musafir: we reached the end of the program. I understand from that you will open democratic life only after you are confident that the state has been built with its establishments and issues … you are not in a hurry so that instability doesn’t happen in the country. Mr. Yemane Gebreab, the political adviser of the Eritrean president, thank you for these highlights and information about Eritrea which, it seems,  is not going to be forgotten after today. Thank you dear viewers. This is Selam Musafir wishing you pleasant times.

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* For instance, in 2013 alone, the number of Ethiopian Refugees in Saudi Arabia was around 800,000 and according to the Chinese state-owned international news agency CCTV, over 1.6 million Ethiopian refugees have entered Saudi Arabia since 2012. [@1:55]

** According to the UNHCR, there are only 112,300 Eritrean refugees in Sudan and most of them have been there for 40+ years, way over Eritrea was independent state

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