Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki has rejected claims that his country is a pariah state. He said many people view his country through a “wrong prism,” which he said often emanates from preconceived ideas about Asmara.
“It’s an image in the minds of those who say it,” said Afewerki. “So you have to go and ask them whether this image is correct or not. Where they got this image from and why they got this image.”
When asked about term limits, the Eritrean leader responded, “It depends on the service you provide. If you steal money from the people, if you abuse your authority, if you are a thug, then you need to go.”
Afewerki said Eritreans enjoy press freedom and that they have full access to information - despite reports to the contrary.
In an exclusive interview with VOA, President Afewerki said there is need for members of the East African Community (EAC) to come up with ideas to “collectively mobilize resources to resolve problems,” which he said includes the region’s security and recurrent droughts.
International relief agencies say East Africa is experiencing the worst drought in decades. The crisis has forced hundreds of thousands of people to become either refugees or be internally displaced. Some analysts say the drought has also affected the availability of food in Eritrea.
But, the Eritrean leader denied any food shortages in his country, adding his country does not need any relief assistance. Afewerki said he is willing to provide “modest amount of food” to help feed Somalis who have been affected by the drought and famine.
The UN has placed sanctions on Asmara for supporting Somalia’s hard-line insurgent group al-Shabab. Afewerki denied any role by his country in destabilizing Somalia.
“We wish that those who are fragmenting Somalia and creating havoc will stop. People are saying enough is enough. Somalis can help themselves if all those spoilers, who are making life so difficult for Somalis pull their hands out,” he said.
The Eritrean leader said Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia in 2006 prompted Asmara to suspend its membership of the sub-regional group, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
“An unwarranted invasion of Mogadishu by the government in Addis Ababa was the cause of all these problems in spite of the sub-regional arrangement and the respect of the rule of law [that] no one country has a license to go and invade another country,” he said.
Afewerki said his administration decided to renew its IGAD membership following “the dramatic situational change” in the region.
He said only a concerted effort could help stabilize the situation in Somalia.
“No one country can claim and no one leader can claim that they can play this role or that role. It’s only pretension. It’s a collective endeavor. We have a collective destiny, interest, collective values [and] we need to work together,” said Afewerki.
During their rebel days, the leaders of Eritrea and Ethiopia were strong allies and comrade-in-arms. Today, there’s much hostility among the two countries.
Some analysts describe Eritrea’s foreign policy as combative and isolationist. Not so, says Afewerki.
“You don’t get confrontational or combative. You don’t have any reason to do that unless circumstances impose upon you certain things that you cannot accept and humanity cannot accept,” said the Eritrean President. .
Afewerki urged more cooperation among African Union members “in bringing about results of the dreams of the founding fathers of this continent.”