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What did President Isaias Afwerki in his latest interview say about Ethiopia?

Avatar: Hagos Gebreamlak
Hagos GebreamlakMarch 3, 2021
HAQCHECKPoliticsAnalysis
What did President Isaias Afwerki in his latest interview say about Ethiopia?

Isaias Afwerki, president of Eritrea conducted an interview with the state broadcasters Eri-Tv and Dimtsi Hafash Eritrea Radio two weeks ago. He raised domestic, regional and global issues in his two hours interview.

Isaias Afwerki, president of Eritrea, conducting interview with Eri-Tv and Dimtsi Hafash Eritrea Radio, February 17, 2021 (Image source link)

He talked about the ongoing situation in Ethiopia. He elaborated the deep-rooted problems of Ethiopia. Isaias stated that the root cause to the current instability in Ethiopia goes to the times Tigray people Liberation Front(TPLF) came to power and crafted divisive systems, which he calls toxic to the broader region. 

He said that Meles Zenawi, the late prime minister and Chairman of TPLF, gave him the 1995 draft constitution and asked him for a comment. “Where I read the first version of the constitution, a danger signal came to my mind again and again and then I told Meles that the constitution wouldn’t benefit the Ethiopian people”, Isaias said. He claimed that using divide and rule policy and methodologies, TPLF had been manipulating the whole country for its narrow group interest. Isaias criticized the article 39  and the overall spirit and intention of the FDRE constitution that could balkanize the state and destabilize the region.

The Eritrean People’s Liberation Front, being the boss and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, a junior partner dismantled the Derg regime in 1991. Soon after, the then transitional government which mainly comprised TPLF and the Oromo Liberation Front(TPLF) crafted a constitution in 1995. 

The constitution established the Ethiopian federation and created nine regional national states based on lingual and ethnic cleavages. It further gives (Article 39 of the FDRE Constitution) the nations, nationalities and peoples of the federation the right of self determination up to secession. 

This, according to Isaias, brought tribalism and ethnic division (he always calls it vertical polarization) and followed by instabilities here and there. He added that for the past 30 years toxic ethnic division and extremism, a trend and patterns that also occurred in Somalia, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon, and Sudan had been allowed to flourish by TPLF across  the country.

The ruling party, EPRDF underwent a reform following recurrent protests across the country and prime minister Abiy Ahmed came to power. The PM then declared its readiness for peace and cooperation between Ethiopia and Eritrea after the two decades of no war, no peace situation. He also made clear that Ethiopia would fully accept and implement the Algiers pact signed after the bloody border war in 1998 to 2000. Isaias said that this initiative of peace and cooperation between Asmara and Addis Ababa frustrated and made TPLF unhappy.

The president explained that after the TPLF lost its power and dominance by popular uprising in 2018 it had been undergoing military preparations so that it would come back to its previous position of power in the capital and regime change in Asmera as its second plan.

Isaias told the journalists that PM Abiy had pleaded with him several times to meet Debretsion, the former president of Tigray but he explained he didn't have the appetite to do so. At the end of the day, he said, he agreed to meet and talk to Debretsion in Omhajer and asked him why they were preparing the war. Thereafter, Isaias said that they had been closely watching out the situation and political developments in Tigray and Ethiopia including the regional elections conducted by TPLF to declare the federal government unelected and illegitimate.

Asked by the journalists about the ongoing border dispute between Ethiopia and Sudan, he said that it shouldn't be considered a priority and urgent issue by both of them. He said that his government is following up the developments regarding the discord, which according to him can provoke instability in the region and recommended it should be solved without the involvement of third parties especially global and regional hegemonies. It will be very disruptive to both countries as they are in transition and to the region if other actors are involved in the border discord. He said “they should solve their internal problems first”.

He added, clarifying Eritrea’s principles of foreign policy being realizing power balance in the neighborhood, that instability in the region will directly or indirectly affect Eritrea and his government is working towards creating a common ground and situation for cooperation among the countries in the region. “Instability always emanates from power imbalance”, he said.

He always says that the African states were created by artificial boundaries by European colonial powers to serve their strategic national interest. These artificial states, according to Isaias, have been dominated by outside powers due to they are too heterogenous to be easily divided. 

Isaias openly says that the multinational states in the region should undergo a nation-building project to make themselves nation-states so that they would be viable for economic development and democracy after generations. He also recommends cooperation and integration in the region to prevent or reduce dominance and influence from ‘neocolonial’ powers. During his two hours interview, Isaias spent more than two-third of the time talking about the political developments in the region.

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A PIECE BYHagos Gebreamlak

BA in Political Science and Interantional Relations, Addis Ababa University and Tigrinya Factchecker