President Isaias Afwerki’s New Year Address
December 31, 2003

Esteemed People of Eritrea, Inside and Outside the Country:

It gives me great pleasure to express my best wishes on the occasion of transition from 2003 to the New Year of 2004.

After the TPLF’s war against Eritrea at the end of the 2nd millennium - unparalleled in Africa in terms of the ensuing destruction to human lives and property - was resolved through legal process of the Boundary Commission in 2002, our expectation was that year 2003 would be a year in which justice and the rule of law would prevail, and our sovereign borders would be demarcated in accordance with the ruling of the Boundary Commission, leading to the healing of the wounds of war and enabling us to enter a new era of comprehensive peace. Unfortunately, our hopes are yet to be fulfilled due to the TPLF regime’s arrogant rejection of the Boundary Commission’s verdict, and the negligence of the international community,.

Our current history as an independent and sovereign nation, and the preceding periods of struggle, have bequeathed us great and unforgettable lessons and impressions. Before the advent of colonialism which initiated the process of nation-state formation, it is a fact of history that in the 19th century there was an emergent drive towards self-governance in Eritrea which was crushed through tyranny and the conspiracy of betrayal. Eritrea, after 60 years of Italian colonial rule, should have attained full independence and sovereignty like all the rest of African nation-states which were formed as a result of colonialism. However, this was aborted because of the pressure of the then prevailing global strategic interests and the conspiracy of betrayal, which forced Eritrea to pass through 10 years of British colonial rule, leading to forcible federation, which finally culminated in Eritrea becoming the sacrificial lamb to Ethiopia’s rule. The era of Emperor Haile Selassie’s rule made repeated attempts to crush the just struggle of the Eritrean people; not through its own power and capacities but through the support of the US super-power and some quislings. But it failed in this endeavor and was finally overthrown. It was followed by the Dergue’s rule, which also tried to crush the just struggle of the Eritrean people with the support of the former Soviet super-power and some lackeys. In this, the Dergue not only failed and was defeated, but the era of colonialism was finally over in Eritrea. Thus, Eritrea was liberated and its sovereignty affirmed; not through charity or by permission, but through international rule of law.

As if the process of liberation was yet to be finished, the TPLF regime, which had set the establishment of a friendly relationship with the Eritrean struggle as one of its main political agendas, reneged on its pledge, and aborted the new and robust relationship that should have developed between the Eritrean and Ethiopian people. Using Badme as a pretext, and in order to alleviate its own internal crisis by projection, it followed a path of war and destruction. Currently it has rejected the legal ruling of the Boundary Commission and embarked on yet another adventure of delaying tactics. The TPLF’s reckless acts of belligerence and its futile attempts to violate our sovereignty were not based on its own resources and capabilities, but rather on the intervention and encouragement of outside forces and their agents. Likewise, the current stance of the TPLF that we are witnessing now is not based on its own internal capabilities and self-confidence, but rather on the aid and tacit support of major powers. This support is not only in the form of political nurturing and indulgence, but also direct economic and indirect military aid and subsidy.

Esteemed Eritrean Citizens,

Confident that truth will ultimately triumph, we have been, and still continue to engage in legal endeavors, before considering other options, to secure justice by confronting the relentless machinations of the TPLF and its collaborators to subvert them. As elaborated on various political, diplomatic and media occasions, we can once again highlight those attempts that have been going on to subvert truth and justice:

1) “The decision of the Boundary Commission is final and binding. This cannot be denied. Nevertheless, why do you not engage in dialogue (essentially what the TPLF is asking for) ?”

These are, indeed, impressive and attractive words and ideas! But the question must be asked, “dialogue” on what?

To delay by entering into “dialogue” what has already been settled in a legal court is to trample on the agreements that have already been signed, violate the rule of law, and discard the arbitration process altogether. This can only lead to a vicious cycle of perpetual conflict. At a time when our sovereign territories remain occupied by force, this alternative is clearly unthinkable, both politically and more so legally. It is thus self- evident that there cannot be “dialogue” on the decision of the Boundary Commission. And, if this is the case, then “dialogue” on what?

2) It is at times stated that both sides should engage in “dialogue not on the final and binding ruling of the Boundary Commission, but rather in order to avoid conflict or the re-ignition of war after demarcation”. This is presumably prompted by the desire to placate the TPLF’s aggressive posturing.

Again, we need to ask, on what pretext can conflict or war be ignited once the border is demarcated? On the part of Eritrea, once the border is demarcated there can be no rationale, internal or external, that can lead to conflict. On the contrary, as the legally unjustifiable pretext of the border dispute, which pitted the Eritrean and Ethiopian people against each other, is removed, border demarcation can only lead towards the opening of doors for normalization and not be a cause to instigate conflict. If the TPLF has any undeclared grievances that may lead to war after demarcation, then they must be unveiled now. To demand “dialogue first,” while forcibly occupying sovereign Eritrean territory, engaging in saber rattling, and continuing to hold the demarcation processes hostage, is like putting the cart before the horse. As such, it cannot have any legal justification and political significance whatsoever.

3) It has also been claimed that “there should be dialogue as a confidence-building measure and in order to normalize relations.”

How can mutual trust be fostered while the Boundary Commission’s verdict and the rule of law are violated; our sovereign territory is invaded; border demarcation is obstructed; and while the tears of the Eritrean and Ethiopian peoples have not been wiped away and the wounds of war not healed yet? And how could bilateral relations be normalized under such circumstances? If international agreements and the rule of law are respected and the border is accordingly demarcated, then confidence building measures and normalization are effects that would follow immediately. To demand “dialogue” as a confidence-building measure and for restoring normalization while the border is undemarcated is tantamount to sanctioning the violation of justice and the rule of law this is neither acceptable nor practical.

4) It has also been claimed that “there should be dialogue on economic cooperation and the use of ports by Ethiopia.”

This claim is not substantively different from the one on confidence-building measures and normalization. Again, this cannot be forwarded as a precondition or imposition. But rather, it should be undertaken to fulfill the common economic interests of the peoples of Eritrea and Ethiopia. It should be viewed as an issue of trade and exchange of services that is governed by the rules of the market. It is to be remembered that the Government and the people of Eritrea had rendered subsidized port services to Ethiopia from 1991 up to the period of the unilateral declaration of war by the TPLF regime. They have also offered the free use of port services in the past five years of famine in Ethiopia based on their goodwill, which was rejected by the TPLF regime. There is no doubt that the Government and people of Eritrea would open up the market of port services for mutual interests, once agreements and the rule of law are respected and the border demarcated. This situation is no different than the use of the ports of Port Sudan, Djibouti, Berbera and Mombassa by Ethiopia without it having to declare war on those countries. Thus, this claim cannot have any direct relationship with the decision of the Boundary Commission and border demarcation. The same applies for economic and commercial cooperation.

5) “How about partial border demarcation”, i.e., accepting only parts of the Boundary Commission’s ruling?

To accept half of the Boundary Commission’s ruling and reject the other half means nothing else but rejecting the entire ruling. It also means entering into an endless vicious cycle and complications without having resolved the main issue. This is legally and morally unacceptable as it means holding the Eritrean and Ethiopian peoples hostage by plunging them into an endless cycle of tension.

6) There is also the puzzle that “once the border is demarcated it may lead to the problem of displacement of Ethiopians around Badme.”

It is rather strange as to what logic and moral argument would require us to have the issue of a few hundreds of people, who have been resettled under invasion, to be a problem and relate it to the issue of justice and sovereignty of the Eritrean people, while no attention is paid to the predicament of the hundreds of thousands of Eritreans victimized by forcible expulsion and displacement; while the international community continues to feed close to 14 million Ethiopians; while 200 million dollars of annual budget is allocated for 5,000 peacekeepers; and while the TPLF regime is conducting resettlement programs inside Ethiopia with the help of foreign aid?

7) There is also the cynical claim that dialogue should be held “until the TPLF conducts its elections.” This is nothing but a delaying tactic aimed at diluting the issue. It has no legal or practical connection with the ruling of the Boundary Commission and the border issue.

8) The TPLF regime has up to now been openly stating it will never contemplate dialogue unless there is “regime change in Eritrea”. If it is seeking “dialogue’ now for tactical purposes, this can only betray its cynical nature.

Esteemed fellow citizens,

The various and constantly shifting excuses that have been forwarded day-in day-out by the TPLF, its sponsors and their agents, have been exposed in time and are no longer hidden from the world. We can also expect other new excuses. All, however, have one and clear objective: The short-term objective of the TPLF is to gain PR advantages by presenting itself as seeking “dialogue” while presenting Eritrea as rejecting “dialogue”. Also, and related to this, it aims to create confusion and complications causing the issue to be diverted, wearing out the world’s attention and thus buying time. The TPLF’s long term objective is dependent on the success of the short term objective, which would enable the TPLF to subvert legality and evade the final and binding ruling of the Border Commission. This endless vicious cycle would ultimately create sufficient pretexts for war to victimize Eritrea once again, and thereby provide the TPLF regime diversion from the internal problems facing Ethiopia that it has created in the first place.

It comes as no surprise, therefore, to see sponsors of the TPLF regime and its agents become active once again at distorting our legal case, gagging our mouth, and trying to confuse, under the guise of “human rights”, the timely measures taken by the Government of Eritrea to ensure its national security with upholding demarcation and implementation of the decision of the Boundary Commission. These same forces have previously failed in their attempts to saw discord in our ranks.

Dear compatriots,

As I have previously explained, we will relentlessly continue our endeavors to ensure our legal sovereign rights until all avenues are exhausted whereby the rule of law is respected and our border demarcated in accordance with the Boundary Commission’s ruling. Other options, which are shelved temporarily, cannot be ruled out indefinitely. It is obviously unthinkable that we will indulge, for an indefinite period of time, in a game of legal attrition and accept the forcible occupation of our sovereign territories.

Esteemed citizens of Eritrea,

The momentum of our march to uplift our dear and sovereign country to the level of our envisioned development and growth was slowed down due to the conspiracies and obstacles we have faced. Nonetheless, undeterred by a precarious situation, we have doubled our efforts so as to overcome the hindrances holding us back, and have been showing steady progress in our development programs. In this regard, the chapters we have scored are living examples. In this spirit, it is again the responsibility of every citizen to pledge to redouble these efforts and continue our progress in 2004.

As the deployment of infrastructure and its development is the basis for development and investment, we have been working on this sector as one of our priorities. Though it will require us great effort and capital to upgrade the infrastructure to a high level, the successes achieved so far have not been small.

From the programs that we have in line that include the increasing of the distribution and quality of our roads and highways network, the Massawa-Asseb highway will be maintained to provide efficient services, while phase-by-phase asphalting on this highway will start in 2004. The Tesseney highway will be completed in the first half of 2004. The widening of the southbound roads from Asmara; the completion of the Serejeqa-Gahtelai road; upgrading of the Sawa-Kerkebet road; the upgrading of the Mensura-Akordat road which was built by citizens’ initiative; maintaining the roads that pass through Nakfa, Karora, North Barka; upgrading the level of other secondary dirt roads and constructing other feeder roads, etc; though all these won’t be completed by 2004, we will be working on them at a greater scale than has been achieved in 2003. Side by side with all these, also, we will embark on improving the quality of vehicles and transportation services.

To increase the effort that has already begun in expanding internal, regional and international air flights, the Massawa airport will be completed in the first quarter of 2004 so that it will be able to start providing full service. In addition, the airports of Asseb, Tesseney and Barentu will be upgraded and be able to provide better service. The construction of other airports that serve smaller planes is also in the pipeline. In order to alleviate the heavy expenditure in sea transportation for import and export, which we have yet not been successful at, we shall embark on improving the standard of port administration in 2004.

In order to alleviate the shortage of housing phase by phase, on top of the great effort made through national as well as foreign companies, efforts will be made to increase the capacity by introducing new construction technology that will help in improving quality and efficiency. Also, greater efforts will be made to increase the allocation of plots for residential housing to Eritreans living in the Diaspora. That all these efforts will not solve all the problems in one instance is obvious. On top of the existing shortage of housing, due to the lack of legal constraints and the voluntary ethical restraint in regards to rental relationship, the abuses committed by landlords have been a source of complaint by the people. The Cabinet of Ministers has repeatedly discussed this issue and has now charged a new task-force to work out a new procedure that governs the tenant-landlord relationship that will be effective in 2004.

The supply of electricity has been increased nationally, and the consumption of fuel has also gone up. The problem has been compounded by illegal dealings in hard currency and the loss incurred by the Government due to fuel subsidy. As a result, the Government will continue in 2004 the ongoing programs of adjusting prices and regulating fuel consumption. At the same time, in accordance with projected important economic activities, the service and supply of electricity will be increased in many localities.

It is also obvious that supply and services of drinking water has been steadily increasing in cities and rural areas. The big cities have been giving special attention, and already the paperwork regarding water supply project for city of Keren ha been finalized. The issue of major towns and cities of Zoba Debub is also in the pipeline. With the ever increasing consumption and heavy loans of these projects, as there had not been rational pricing and control mechanisms, these have created short-term and long-term concerns. Consequently, fair pricing and regulation of prices and consumption will be introduced, especially in the big cities.

As has been announced on the occasion of the commemoration of Martyrs’ Day last June, project “EriTel”, which was initiated with the aim of upgrading telephone services, will start providing services in the first quarter of 2004 in selected areas of priority thanks to the high dedication of the staff, and will continue to increase its network.

The paperwork of programs to increase sports facilities and upgrade the quality of existing ones has also been finalized and will soon be implemented.

Modest effective work has been undertaken in 2003 in order to increase our agricultural output and ensure food security, and to increase the export of agricultural products as well as improving irrigated farming and soil and water conservation works. In this regard, adequate preparation is being made in all the regional administrations so that all the programs will be upgraded in 2004 in terms of quality and distribution.

The potential of our marine resources which we have yet to exploit fully will be tackled by expanding our capacity for fishing and processing so that we can meet the demand for local as well as export markets. Thus, in 2004, new fishing boats will be deployed and projects to expand our preservation and processing capacity implemented.

In the sector of tourism, having natural endowments alone is not adequate. This sector is greatly influenced by availability of infrastructure, transportation services, hotels and information networks. The result of expanding the implementation of these critical factors will no doubt help tourism. Nonetheless, there are a considerable number of projects on line to be implemented along the Red Sea coastline in 2004. It is expected that this will have a great contribution towards enhancing the beginning of tourism.

Furthermore, there are programs of large-scale factories to be implemented in 2004 that will enable us to satisfactorily exploit our huge resources of marble, granite and other rocks. In addition, efforts have been underway to expand the production of cement and we expect finalization of at least in 2004.

Efforts underway to eliminate the damages of corruption and war profiteering that have been cropping up here and there, as well as serious measures taken to stabilize the market, will continue with greater and efficient management.

Elsewhere, side by side with the revision and improvement of curriculum, the focus in 2003 in the sector of education has been the laying out of necessary infrastructure for new colleges, technical schools and all level of regular institutions of learning, as well as introducing new educational facilities and the hiring of capable teachers. These programs were not fully but rather partially implemented. With all the major challenges that are faced in this sector, the initial programs have been implemented with great effort. Thus, in order to implement further programs with better and wider scope, serious work will be undertaken in the beginning of the year 2004.

To improve health services in terms of quality and greater distribution, adequate facilities have been deployed and more efforts will be undertaken to expand the capacity of skilled human resources. A pharmaceutical plant will start production in order alleviate the supply of drugs. Our efforts will also be redoubled in order to control AIDS, malaria and other communicable diseases.

Continuing on the work that we have been engaged upon to nurture and strengthen the basis for social justice, build better administration services and management, enhance the rule of law, and expand the institutions of social welfare, greater efforts will be undertaken to strengthen them with higher competency.

In the field of media work that is obviously showing progress, appropriate budget will be allocated so that timely and accurate information will be disseminated, and the scope of distribution and quality of programs enhanced.

The development programs that I have highlighted above are aimed at providing a general picture and do not include all the programs laid out for 2004. There are additional programs that are still being refined. Their details will be presented when they have been finalized.

Esteemed compatriots,

As always, the government is the facilitator while the people are implementers and beneficiaries in all the tasks that we tackle on developmental fronts. In this regard, I urge all concerned to redouble and strengthen our efforts so as to shoulder the heavy responsibilities that await us in 2004.

I also take this opportunity to express praise and admiration with great pride to the Eritrean people inside the country who conducted successful development works and showed exemplary resilience in the face of drought and displacement.

To our citizens abroad, I would like to extend immense gratitude for the strength they exhibited in political, diplomatic and media challenges; the initiative they undertook in national development and investment, the generosity and care they showed with concrete contributions in helping their less fortunate compatriots. I also commend them to continue their efforts with greater momentum and strength.

To all the members and officers of the Defense Forces, who have heroically defended the sovereignty of their country in the trenches, and who are currently engaged in development work tirelessly and with great dedication, sacrificing the social and economic privileges due to them for the benefit of their people and their country, I take this opportunity to laud them beyond mere gratitude. I would also like to announce that as compensation for their work, a savings account will be opened for investment and improvement of the lives of their families.

On this occasion, I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude and best wishes for the New Year of 2004 to all those who cherish peace and justice and to the governments, organizations and individuals who fulfilled their obligations by standing firmly on the side of the Boundary Commission’s ruling, and who have extended their development and relief assistance to Eritrea.

Eternal remembrance and glory to our martyrs who are the source of our proud existence!
Victory to the Masses!

December 31, 2003