May 24, 2020

Keynote Address by President Isaias Afwerki 29th Independence Anniversary Asmara, 24 May 2020

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to extend my warmest congratulations to the entire people of Eritrea inside the country and abroad on this auspicious, 2020, National Independence Day.  Let me also express profound gratitude to the Commission of Culture and Sports, all other entities, and, individuals involved in the creative preparation of programmes and events so as to imbue due splendor to this momentous day despite the looming threat of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Leaving aside the controversial issues on how and where from COVID-19 originated, the colossal threat of this sudden pandemic – unprecedented in the annals of the history of mankind – and that is claiming, sadly, a huge loss of life is indeed a wake-up call for all of us.  What is more perplexing is that the calamity is occurring in the 21st century; in an era of high scientific progress.  In the event, it is timely and incumbent on us to draw appropriate lessons from this disaster, deepen our knowledge and understanding, and adjust our overall approach and roadmap for the period ahead.

In the early days when the threat of the pandemic was looming, there was virtually no information that was known or could be known about its nature.  This coupled with our limited capabilities gave us no alternative other than implementing preventive lock-down measures.  The efforts undertaken by the Task Force on Health that consisted of putting in quarantine all travelers who entered the country, tracing contacts of positively diagnosed patients, have produced positive preliminary results so far.

But we must realize that we are grappling with a complex situation.  The mystery of this pandemic – which does not know borders or other limiting parameters – cannot be deciphered and conclusively inferred on the basis of brief observation.  Our approach and preliminary road-map must accordingly consist of:

1.    Our focus and efforts must be geared to consolidating and enhancing our long-term capabilities and strategies of prevention;
2.    To develop a mechanism for testing that initially starts with a sample and base-line data but whose scope will ultimately be extended to cover all citizens inside the country as well as abroad and that will include periodic monitoring;
3.    Enforcing strict modalities of control for the movement of people  – normative or irregular – to and from the country;
4.    To upgrade qualitatively and expand spatially our research institutions and laboratories;
5.    To strengthen the Health Services in terms of their organizational structure, outreach and equipment;
6.    To develop effective and professional human capital above and beyond other factors;
7.    To upgrade our capabilities in the manufacturing of drugs. medical equipment and facilities;
8.    To foster and enhance technical cooperation with various foreign institutions and experts.

This is easier said than done.  It will require time and resources.  Its implementation and further elaboration will constitute one of the primary challenges in the period ahead.  While expressing my gratitude to the Task Force for what has been accomplished to-date, I wish them success for heavier tasks that lay ahead.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

At this juncture where the mantra of “Resilience and Progress” embodies our overall approach, the threat of the pandemic, periodic and looming locust infestation and other obstacles cannot be seen in isolation from our basic developmental challenges.   I have attached as an annex below, for reference, the developmental programmes and priorities that were spelled out in my speeches at Independence Day in 2018 and 2019, respectively.   In view of the outbreak of COVID 19, it is evident that the implementation of our developmental programmes will not progress with the anticipated pace.  We will need to redouble our efforts in proportion to the magnitude of the challenges.

In this respect, we are marshalling necessary resources to better utilize the Asmera short rains. The essence is: integrated, redoubled and sustainable efforts and measures to surmount all challenges.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Domestic developments and capabilities are evidently the decisive parameters in any equation.  Still, the relevance and impact of global and regional developments and trends are palpable to which we attach great importance.  For obvious reasons, we have been pursuing policies of constructive engagement so as to nurture a conducive environment of regional cooperation and genuine partnership.  In this respect, we continue to be engaged in our neighborhood with greater vigour by assessing objectively the developments and trends that have transpired in the past two years and bearing in mind all possible scenarios.

We must recognize that the global ramifications of the pandemic, that is becoming increasingly apparent, will have significant impact on our domestic as well as regional situation.  The fall out of the Cold War and the futile attempts carried out to establish a uni-polar global order have exacted precious sacrifices for three generations in our contemporary history.  This is the lesson of history and is engraved in our collective memory.  One of the unique features of the Coronavirus pandemic is, that it has entailed massive economic destruction and commotion in a relatively short time.  It has further exposed the vulnerability of the global economic order.

The global financial crisis, which has not been rectified, and that stemmed from speculative practices and associated erratic stock exchange fluctuations, is a manifestation of the structural imbalance that has evolved incrementally in the past 100 years.  The outfits of usury and plunder had become more sophisticated particularly after the end of the Second World War.

Investment policy of the developed countries – and particularly the US and Europe – was geared towards China in the past 70 years and more so in the last 30 years.  This was prompted by considerations of:  i) cheap and abundant labour; ii) availability of relatively cheap energy; iii) a culture of low consumerism; iv) political and social stability; v) erroneous assumption that the Chinese will not be innovative to go beyond imitation and that this can be controlled remotely by their banks and stock markets.  These presumptions drove them to transfer and install their manufacturing industries, gradually, to China.  China leveraged its advantages and the opportunities that were available to build its own, technology and knowledge-based industrial platform and superior economy within the last 70 years.  This fact is corroborated by China’s industrial output and other “paramount” economic indicators, aggregate US debt from China, trade imbalance between the US and China as well as objective projections of future economic trends.

The unfolding friction triggered by the pandemic is the symptom of the accumulated conditions of the global economic order in the last two centuries. How will relations develop? What will be China’s stance and direction of policy?

What will be the domestic and regional implications of the various scenarios that may be contemplated?  The consequences will not be simple and they cannot be glossed over.  Indeed, this will require serious evaluation and appraisal as well as avoidance of premature conclusions.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Resilience and Progress are predicated on awareness and steadfastness.  The awareness and participation in developmental programmes exhibited by the Eritrean people in this short period in the fight against COVID-19 is commendable and guarantees our steady progress in overcoming all challenges in the period ahead.  The commitment and diligence of the Defense Forces, the Police and Security, in performing their duties to combat the threat of the pandemic, locust infestation as well as developmental tasks underscore their firm loyalty to the oath they have pledged.  This also amplifies their confidence.   The material contributions made and empathy demonstrated by our compatriots abroad is another inspiring gesture.  Nothing is impossible for a nation and people endowed with these unparalleled resources.

May our independence and sovereignty be respected forever!

Happy Eid El Fatir!
Best wishes for a good rainy season!
Glory to our Martyrs
Victory to the Masses!

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