Source: Eritrea Digest
This is a digest of the interview Eri-TV had with President Isaias Afwerki on February 9: the Domestic Issue. The Import Issue (focusing on international affairs) was conducted (well, ok, broadcast) on February 7 and this website may or may not publish it (Uggg probably will, although it is straight from the Isaias Bullshit Generator.)
Given the very low threshold of patience that most Eritreans have with the man who has been their president (without their consent) for 28 years, the first thing we ought to do is list the questions that were not asked, nor answered. This way, those of you who are looking for reasons to run away can do so with little guilt.
There were no questions about releasing political prisoners. Or constitutionalism. Or elections. Or limiting national service. Or exodus and refugees.
(Intermission for those with common sense to leave now. Leaving this space for the rest of us who have a high threshold for pain. To deaden the pain we will add some editorial in brackets. Embuae.)
Question 1: How about the raise for government employees who did not receive a raise back when university graduates and other civil servants got a raise?
[I think this is the chance for the interviewers to ask a raise from their boss–it often leads their interview questions–and it never goes well. You know it won’t go well because he took 45 minutes to answer it. Well, not answer it: Isaias never presents a solution to a problem, he just describes the problem you brought up in great detail and technicolor.]So, you see, back in 2015, there was a change of currency. And an announcement that some employees would see a raise of their income from 500 Nakfa per month to 1,800! And, the Nakfa was now ordered by special decree to be equivalent to 1/15th of a US dollar. [The 500 Nakfa was net pay and the 1,800 was gross pay (from which there would be so many deductions the employee would still net 500: clever, huh?)] President Isaias Afwerki, who is only the president of the country, has one question: is this really enough? Can anyone live on 1,800 Nakfa a month when the speculators are selling a barrel of water for 50 Nakfa (5,000 cents), same barrel of water that they bought from the government for 50 cents [The 100% increase being specially offensive to El Presidente: lock up the water trucks! Let the people suffer and they will blame the water salespersons, not me. I am ONLY the President!] And they sell a liter of milk for 20 Nakfa when they bought it for 1 Nakfa? Now, two years ago, I broke down the price of milk and I told you what it should sell for but you were not listening! Besides, I don’t want to solve an issue, I just want to complain about it: I am only the president!
And these Middle Men selling sheep for 3,000 Nakfa, same sheep they bought from a poor shepherd for 700 Nakfa. What kind of profit margin is this? Government salaries: we have set five levels here, with entry level salaries for college graduates at 1,800 Nakfa and, 5 levels later, the entry wage being 4,000. [Now let me repeat these two words over and over, 1,800, 4,000; 1,800, 4,000; 1,800, 4,000 only to turn around and tell you they mean nothing]. They mean nothing because it all depends on the purchasing power of Nakfa which keeps declining with hundreds of millions of it in circulation?
But why focus on the government employees, huh, asked the government boss. How about the villagers? What about their purchasing power. We have no statistics really. Let me turn this over to our Finance Minister, Mr. Isaias Afwerki. Thank you, Mr, President. So it is not just about wages, it is about the State of the Economy. It is a huge issue. We are studying it, and we will resolve it by 2021. [Inshallah Bukra! There is always next year!] Back to you Mr. President. Thank you Mr. Finance Minister. It is all common sense: don’t believe those who try to tell you economics is hard: since it affects you, the average Eritrean, you should make an effort to understand. So, we will accelerate this: and the raise will be retroactive to 2018. Anybody who hasn’t gotten a raise will get it retroactive to 2018. [You can bet your last Nakfa there is a catch: they do this even with payment in arrears to mothers of martyrs so, yes, you won’t get a lump sum.] Including those who had abandoned their posts and have been pardoned. This is a matter of meeting a promise [and you know how strongly I feel about promises as you will see in video below!]
Question 2: So, how about housing? How is the government doing in that regard?
Well, let me direct this to my Cabinet member, the Minister of Housing What’s His Name. Mr. What’s His Name: Thank you Mr. President. So this is one area where we have failed catastrophically. I don’t know how many different ways we can tell you that this is something that was started and failed many times and… (Isaias Afwerki interrupts:ቤት መዕቀሊዩ: ተጀመረ ሓሙስ ሓሙስ ዝብል ማእለያ የብሉን)… yes, thank you Mr. President, that would be the half-finished homes of NNNN, which is a great way to hold them hostage indefinitely. That is so clever of you, Mr. President. Sir, since you can’t propose a solution, would you like to describe the problem in all its dimensions. Yes, I would. Thank you, Minister What’s His Name. So, what is our capacity? We have done the assessment. It is an administrative issue and human resources issue. Do we have the capacity to build doors and frames and drywalls? We have the gravel and the cement but no electricity. But solving the housing issue is the priority of our priorities. But housing needs water, electricity, roads, schools, clinics. We look forward to a solution in 2021! [Inshallah Bukra! There is always next year!] Meanwhile, how many times and how many different ways must I tell you that we have failed?
Question 3: Well, that’s a downer. Tell us now about how the new regional alignment will impact our economic development.
Well, this is actually a question that is better directed to our Foreign and Finance Ministers. Thank you, Mr. President, but we feel more comfortable if you answer it since you engineered the whole peace process and regional realignment. Thank you, comrades. Let me a bit nostalgic about Italian-era Eritrea. Back then we used to grow cotton in Alighidir. And unlike some stupid countries who just export cotton, no, we had an entire textile factory (Baratello.) We didn’t just export skins and hides: we had shoes factories. But right now, we are just selling crude gold, copper. Let me reminisce a bit: we had railroads and cableways. Roads and bridges. Damn Brits. We had a glass-making factory. [Of course I built nothing: I am only the president and have only been in power for 28 years!] But after the destructive revolutionary war, an economic war was waged on us in the last 20 years: we had built a cotton gin in Tessenei that they [Weyane] destroyed [in the 98-00 war.] So this will require roads, airports, railroads. Energy source: the one in Hirgigo barely produces. We need other sources of energy and what will we pay for it? Let me ask our Minister of Energy. It is ok Mr. President, you answer it. Thank you, comrade. Will we pay 8 US cents or 24 US cents per Kilowatt hour? Will it be solar, thermal, renewable? Beyond energy, there is transportation and communication…I see my Ministers of Transportation and Communication are not here. And beyond that, there is the issue of education. Let’s talk about that by bringing in our Minister of Education who is also (why not) our Ambassador to Ethiopia, Mr. Semere Russom. Thank you Mr. President. So, every year, we produce tens of thousands of high school graduates and less than 10% move on to colleges and universities. Remember, Mr. President, that time you were reading a speech at Sawa High School Graduation and when you were reading the pass rates you actually thought it was a typo? Good times!
Yes, yes, laughs Mr. President, I remember. So, we need complete overhaul of our education system (again.) Now on “investment”: I don’t like that word. And if you think an investor is someone carrying a Samsonite, we have different definition of the word. I prefer “wealth creation.” And when it comes to wealth creation, it doesn’t matter whether the source is foreign or domestic. We live in a world where neighbors think that the only way to get ahead of us is by creating hurdles for us. All these people who say, “I had plans but I was denied opportunities”, it is part of the defamatory economic war against us. And I don’t buy this Wall Street fashion of private sector and public sector. It is a matter of wealth creation: and a person carrying a Samsonite who calls himself an investor is less valuable to me than the person who is in animal husbandry. Because the former will soon come complaining about lack of electricity, roads and manpower. [The nerve of that guy! Taking his ideas and money to other countries and helping himself and those other countries!]
Question 4: From the 11-point plan that you outlined last Independence Day as a roadmap for our national development, which ones are going to be implemented?
You mean which ones we will initiate. It is one of the 11 or 12-point plans dealing with ports and coastlines. Massawa the Pearl of The Red Sea? Massawa is nothing now. Asab is nothing. [Don’t tell that to the NNNN who vacaction there, though.] The plan is to rehabilitate, upgrade and expand them. Beginning with these ports but continuing north and south all over the coastline. Tio, for example, has 100 million tonne cement producing capacity compared to Gedem’s 30 million. Potash in Coluli will need infrastructure, water and energy. The Asab-Ethiopia road needs to be expanded. It is not capable of accommodating big trucks. South of Asab to Diga. The Massawa-Serha-Zalambesa road has to be rebuilt [to transport goods to the Republic of Game Over.] Beyond that there is the Asmara Ringroad. Connecting Nefasit to Ksad Eka [connecting to Republic of Game Over] either through or bypassing Asmara [God knows why it is called the Asmara Ringroad if it is bypassing it] and the Mensura-Agordat-Omhajer road (connecting to Sudan/Ethiopia.) For this, we will have partners from the Gulf States, Ethiopia and Sudan. I know there are people who get stomach upset when we mention cooperation with Ethiopia: it is not their emotions that matter but their capacity to be obstacles. The plan is to have our energy sources in Asab (30 mega), Massawa (20 mega) with Asmara as a supplement (10 mega). As for fisheries, I will defer to my Minister of Fisheries, Mr. Ahmed Haj Ali. Thank you Mr. President. Right now, our coast is capable of being harvested of 80,000 – 120,000 tonnes of fish. We are barely fishing no more than 10,000 tonnes. Thank you Mr President. PS: When are you releasing me from prison?
Thank you Mr. Minister. For this, above all, is water, and a reservoir is planned to be constructed in 2021. [Insallah Bukra. There is always next year!] We can partner, we can borrow money but above all is the issue of capacity: human resources, machinery, materials… that is our priority. People! [Except those rotting in prison or refugee camps.]
Question 5: The past era required meeting challenges. What is your message to our people on preparing for the new era.
Our campaign of Zero Wastage was really not successful in the field of education. That’s why we need to overhaul the education system. [Well, sure, we borrow tons of money from the African Development Bank to produce this useless system we created. No, that’s just Eritrea Digest editorializing: I didn’t really say that, just like I would never say the Biggest Wastage is the hundreds of thousands of Eritrean youth that my policies are forcing them into exodus. Or those wasting their very productive years in jail.] But the focus should be on Vocational Education. Yeah, we had the Ma.Mo.S thing but it was small and one can’t say it was a game-changer. Now we need to focus on it. Guess what: it is the priority of all our priorities, which I just told you was water, just before I told you it is housing.
This concludes our interview. If you noticed, they were five hand-selected questions and it took Dear President over 1 hour and 30 minutes to not answer them. See you whenever we see you when we will read scripted questions, have no follow-up, and listen to non-answers where everything is a priority but nothing really is.