Here is an interview with Mr. Alamin Mohammed Seid, Secretary of the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), on different issues that concern the Front and the Nation.
How is your health condition?
My health has been improving and I am doing very well. It’s nothing to worry about; I am doing my regular work. I can say I am totally back into action.
What message would you like to convey on behalf of the People’s Front on the occasion of the New Year?
I would like to say Happy New Year to members of the Front, the Defense Forces and the Eritrean People. There’s really no need to pass recommendations because every citizen realizes his or her duty. I am sure we have laid the necessary groundwork that could enable us step into a higher ground. Therefore, my message is that we should be stronger and realize that we have a bright future ahead.
When we say we have a bright future ahead, what is the tangible startup comparing to the existing economic problems and challenges?
What we are referring to as the higher ground is the stage we are now heading to. As Eritreans in general, and members of the People’s Front in particular, we have confronted quite several challenges in 2010 and before. However, we have foiled all futile plots plotted to disrupt our unity, subdue us from our principles and development programs, hold us hostage and mislead us in a different direction. And because we have overcome this, there could possibly be no major obstacles ahead–the future is bright. So, taking into consideration our economic foundations, national unity and being masters of our own development programs, I think we can safely say we are in an elevated position.
In this New Year, we will carry on with the execution of all programs in progress. We have reached a stage where we can help not only ourselves but others as well. This, however, doesn’t mean that we will accomplish everything in a year. Development doesn’t come overnight, it takes due process. But this process has strong foundations and a promising future.
Gold is believed to be one of the resources that will boost the national economy. The government and the Front, however, have been very quiet on the matter. What is the reason? Are there any concerns?
There are no concerns at all. It’s only because we are pragmatic. We’ve always been like that. It’s true that gold is one factor, but is it the only one? This nation has been endowed with ample natural resources. We can talk about water, land, marine and different mineral resources. But, the question should be what are we going to do with these? Our ultimate aim is to ensure social justice. Be it through gold, fisheries, salt or petrol, what we are striving for is the equal distribution of all resources among our people.
What if we address the question from another point of view? Many have placed high expectations on the extraction of gold and there are concerns that this will negatively affect the work habits of our people. How can we avert such a scenario? And how can the youth realize that they have other better choices as well?
Any resource is a blessing when put to good use, and a misfortune when it is not. We are working in a way that this gold can give us maximum benefits.
One of the basic things here is that we are masters of our own programs. Much has been said about us: what’s the need for a new airport in Massawa, new airlines, new currency, the national service and so on… But we have proven their purposes. Nobody else could ever know better than ourselves what we could possibly want. We have overcome all coercions aimed at hindering our development.
The main resource of this nation is not gold or other minerals but its human resource. What’s the use of gold if you don’t have a responsible and competent citizen? If we look at the experience of countries with natural resources not less than ours, they failed miserably because the leadership didn’t work for the good of its people. We are saved from such a misfortune thanks to our struggle and principles that put the interests of the mass in the first place.
I believe that our resources won’t make our people inactive; they will instead strengthen and boost their work spirit. Our wealth has always been our people and I am sure that, even though it’s impractical to satisfy everyone’s need 100%, most of our people who have sacrificed their lives and opportunities and still are, will eventually be compensated.
You said that we have a bright future, and yet some youngsters are seen fleeing the country. For a country and people that made a big sacrifice for their dignity, it’s not acceptable. How is the PF (People’s Front) handling the issue?
Desertion is something that has always been there. And it will continue. We can’t say there are no weak persons. Even during the critical times of our liberation struggle, there were people who not only abandoned their companions but teamed up with the enemy and worked against the revolution and the people.
If we look at the desertion cases in the past 3-4 years, there were so many enemy plots that lured naïve young Eritreans into allegedly good living conditions. In reality, no one that went abroad is living in good condition or found what he or she hoped/expected to find.
We can’t rule out similar scenarios in the future but the youth should realize that all they will find is bondage and slavery. And at the end, I am sure they will be back home.
This is the vision of the PF. But how far do you think the youth grasp it? What is the PF doing to make sure the youth understands that Eritrea has better resources and prospects than what is said to exist in other countries? The PF in general is said to have reduced its convincing power. What do you have to say about this?
I don’t think it has reduced. The PF went through different and most critical stages to get to its present position. Today’s challenges and needs are different compared to those during the struggle. The level of resistance of the people also differs. Everything has its own time and place.
The question is, are we working as we should and to the maximum level of our skills? After all it’s a question of progression, and if we look at it in this respect, we can realize that we are in a good position.
The youth are the PF’s main gain after independence. It’s the youth who are accomplishing all tasks at the national level, with the PF vision as the driving force. Every institution and ministry in this country runs by the youth; and we said that we have succeeded despite huge challenges and conspiracies. Do you think the youth simply inherited the ability of facing challenges and winning from nowhere? No way! It is because of the Front’s efforts. So, we have no worries whatsoever. We have accomplished a great deal and so much awaits us.
The PF induced and sensitized the youth during the liberation struggle to achieve independence. The youth at that time not only overcame the challenges but were even ready for sacrifice. What strategy did the PF follow on the post-independence generation of youth?
One of the common problems is trying to see the government and the Front as two separate entities. The government is the Front’s government and the President of the country is also the Chairperson of the Front.
All development programs outlined by the government are based on PF philosophy. It is the outlook of the PF that is making the people progress forward. We can’t differentiate the political activities being carried out in the school of Cadres, Sawa or other places as belonging to the PF or the government. Both are one and the same. So, everything that enabled us overcome unimaginable challenges and push forward the participation and belief of the youth on their country and thereby the Front.
The PF has opened a school of Cadres in Nakfa and a number of youth have already been trained. What is the main objective of the school?
The political training given in Nakfa is different and deeper than that given regularly through various means. Similarly, the topics addressed there are different. And those who participate are usually those who have fulfilled their duties, who have proved to be exemplary in their institutions and who relatively have better intellectual capacity. The aim is to equip them with ideologies and a sense of direction that we have embarked on.
The school should no doubt develop further in its capacity, and this can be carried out by those responsible for the institution.
We should never be disheartened; we should instead widen our scopes and have a vision. And all this lies on the youth. So we must reinforce our institutions and work towards producing a responsible youth.
Still on the youth issue, there are concerns about “nurturing replacements.” If we look at this picture of the organizational congress in your office, the leaders at that time were all young but set on a big national issue. Has the PF been able to cultivate youth that meet its standards? I don’t think today’s youth has your (the leaders’) level of expertise, sensitization and vision. What is your opinion?
It’s a process. The responsibilities that the youth in the 1960s and 1970s shouldered are completely different from that of the youth today. In our times, people in the leadership were around 19-23 years old; what can a person of that age do today? Those who have been working from the 1970s have accumulated a great experience. At their young age, they were able to overcome major challenges, resolve critical situations and lead the organization towards independence. Most of them are martyrs now, only a few of us remain.
But at present, things have changed; priorities have changed as well. But still, there is no reason why today’s youth can’t reach that level if we work hard enough. I believe that our youth can assume the same responsibility we did and work miracles.
All we need to do is try to make them think at the collective rather than the individual level. I believe it’s something that the youth can do for themselves. For instance, we used to do our job despite the air raids. Everything was possible because the youth back then felt responsible and took initiatives. Taking initiatives has a decisive role in the sensitization of the youth. Of course, today there are weaknesses, both on the part of the cadres and the youngsters.
We used to hold our meetings, pass important decisions and other activities in spite of all hardships: there was thirst, barely eating once a day, walking for 4-5 hours… compared to how some people today do nothing but sit relaxed and talk about gold and other absurdities.
There’s a lot of gold in this country. About 70% of the rocks in Eritrea bear minerals. We don’t want to talk about it; all we want to do is work relentlessly to evenly distribute the wealth among our people. Eritrea is rich in resources. If we take agriculture for example, we have hardly exploited 10%. The same with rivers; they haven’t been properly utilized and are flowing down to the sea. Therefore, we are only in the beginning.
This country’s best asset is that its people are the best and irreplaceable resource. Without your people there’s no need for gold, petrol and others. If we ask what the reason for the crisis in this continent is, the answer is human weakness. What’s the point of dividing a country into south and north (like in Ivory Coast) or between Muslims and Christians?
Human resource is what’s important. When I try to compare our society with those of other countries, ours is by far the best. Despite all hardships it suffered, there is not one society that exceeds ours be it in the geographical, historical or other measures.
The PF leadership has not been very active in transferring its history. Modesty apart, history that should be told and written down is being lost partly because some of its actors are passing away. What’s going to happen in the end?
This is one of the weaknesses. While it’s right to share your experiences, sometimes the traditions you have developed in the process put certain boundaries. There are people for instance, who have done miracles during the struggle but refrain from talking about it. That’s only because they don’t want to appear to be bragging.
It’s easy for some individuals to tell or speak about what they have done or worked regardless of its magnitude. The difference is we don’t have the habit of doing that. We cannot talk about what we have done, no matter how big and significant it is, and even if we understand how important it is to the people and the country. Perhaps it could be relatively easier to dissociate yourself from the ‘events’ but explain or speak about them unequivocally. There are many gallant patriots among us who are still alive. These are individuals who have done enumerable miracles. Yet, as freedom fighters, they don’t want to speak loud about the miracles they have done; self-aggrandizement was a shame and still is considered as indecent among many freedom fighters of the People’s Front. So, if we are not able to speak about ourselves, we might indeed lack the ability to explain about the events. But if history is not written by those who made it and told by those who witnessed the events it will be distorted. Many Eritrean nationals are concerned about history being distorted these days.
If you and your comrades do not write your memoirs and the history of the armed struggle, it will remain to be a major problem. So isn’t its implication very serious?
Yes indeed. I agree that it is something that we have to work on. For example some fighters who had a leading role in the Commando operation are still alive. And there is the report about the operation. But the story could have been much more catchy and interesting to hear it from those who had led the operation than just reading the report. Yet these people don’t want to speak about it. How can they speak about what they have done? It is absolutely inconceivable. Not speaking about what you really have done might be considered as a weakness; but I see it as our main strength. It implies that you have to take your own secrets and the secrets of the Front to your grave.
Sometimes along the course of our struggle, you can keep for personal reasons the negative misdeeds of some individual fighters in your diary. After sometime the fighters are completely changed, they have learned from their mistakes and gave everything to the struggle. You read it now after independence, the diary and the story you have documented is absolutely irrelevant. And you feel like tearing it apart the diary. Everything including history needs to be put within the perspective and context. There is no point for you to think back and say ‘so and so did this and that’. That story is changed and is absolutely irrelevant.
There is also the issue of capacity. Some of the events could well be written, remembered and analyzed; while others are completely forgotten. We have innumerable records about the armed struggle. But of course we were sometimes more humble with our records than the enemy. For example you can compare the military operation reports of the enemy and that of ours. It is completely different. We came to know later that we were actually underestimating the casualties suffered by the enemy in different battlefields. For instance we might report the casualties of the enemy in a certain battlefield to be 10 while the actual casualties were 25. We were very careful not to report exaggerated estimates. However, we were not weak in documenting the various events. We have all the essential documents and records. You might even not finish reading it in 50 years. We have every record of our martyrs including those who were martyred during the civil war with the ELF.
Yes the truth is what has been said. However, apart from the official reports and records, memoirs and personal impressions are also important. What about those that don’t exist in the official documents?
There are many events or stories that could be written. And many people would dare to write. But your job might not give you enough time to write. It’s not easy writing about what you have passed through. You need to scrutinize and review it time and again. Let me give you one example-the birth of the EPLF was not that easy. It was a testing challenge. We have paid dearly fighting against each other and lost many of our comrades. Worst was the fighters who were killed from both side (EPLF and ELF) were the best ones and promising political elites. One can ask why all this sacrifice? And the answer is known, it was just because of a few individuals in the leadership of the ELF! The question is how you write this as a separate event. It is not easy! We have passed all these conspiracies and challenges and finally become a sovereign state. Otherwise this nation wouldn’t have survived all the conspiracies forged against it. But thanks to the birth of the EPLF we gained our sovereignty. The birth of the EPLF is one part of our history which should be written; alas it is not that easy to write that as an event.
The EPLF was not simply created; it did pass a number of complex challenges including religious, regional and tribal differences. The individuals with democratic outlook did however come out from the intermingling of all these differences and managed to form the EPLF. The challenges the EPLF had passed through during those early stages are unexplainable. Within the EPLF itself there were divisions among the first, second, third blocs (Wegen), the Ubel movement…etc. where did all these differences come from? It all boils down the nature of the struggle. This had led to the fact that fighters with shared democratic values gradually started working together and thinking for the same good; developing a shared national vision and the establishment of the cadre school itself.
The combination of all these had led to the creation of a strong EPLF. The ELF was not able to create such type of shared values. Even other national movements in Africa were not able to do so. In short, the birth of the EPLF was unique and was incomparable. It is just unexplainable.
But that’s our biggest worry? How all these experiences and feelings should be told to the people who were not there and the next generation? But what can we do? How can we develop the habit or skill overnight?
Excellency Comrade Alamin, we can have the official documents; but what is really needed is to build some catchy stories and add some verve. Apart from the Military reports and events people need to hear the impressions and experiences of the fighters. It would definitely give strength to what has already been documented.
The question is ‘what can we do?’ In the meantime though, those that could be written should be written. I don’t want to mention names but some individuals have already taken initiative and are writing. Writing about our history is not really easy. It means putting your individual observations and experiences out of the collective and shared work. This is not easy. You need to evaluate it from all vintage points including its impact. Writing your individual experience out of the whole frame of collective work might have some unnecessary connotation or implication. So sometimes you prefer staying quite rather than talking. The best would be to approach it slowly and take it piecemeal.
Comrade Alamin, do you see competent successors to you. Someone who can fill-in your shoes?
Yes indeed, No doubt. But I believe that succession should not be coined. The competent one will have to challenge all sorts of problems and come as natural successors in the process. The youth should be created by themselves as we have been created by ourselves when we were young.
For instance, I went to the field from Saudi Arabia; because my parents were there and I was just 19. I was born in Asmara but I knew about Eritrea when I joined the armed struggle. We went from Massawa to Saudi in 1953. We then came back after a short while, and then we lived for two to three years in Asmara, Massawa and Adis-Ababa interchangeably. And then since the situation was not comfortable, we had to go back again to Saudi. In 1965 I joined the armed struggle. So when I think back about myself I feel the successor should come through the natural process; you only have to give him opportunities and lay the ground. The biggest role should however come from within once self.
We have discussed about self-reliance and the need to create an atmosphere where the larger public could benefit. If we are going to achieve all these the potential successors should be created in the process. It’s not something where you say I will create such and such person by doing this and that. In the different stages of our history we have seen many hopeful young people where we were expecting them to grow and develop, but they just abandoned their responsibilities. Some of them even joined the enemy lines despite our high expectations and belief in their capacity.
In 1977 you were a member of the EPLF delegation who went to Berlin for a peace negotiation with the Derg regime. What was your guarantee to enter that country? Weren’t you get afraid not to be handed over to the Derg regime?
Well the German government could’ve handed us over; but the bottom line was our principles and beliefs. In 1977 there was the initiative for ‘Dialogue’ and that was part of it. Even after that meeting, there were other missions to other places: Berlin, Moscow, Aden, England, and Greek. We were travelling from the field. When you see it now, it was really dangerous. For instance, we sat in the same table with the enemy delegation when having our meals. There was an airplane flying between Athens, Greece, and Adiss-Ababa and the food was coming with it to Athens. We had nothing to wait. But for the delegates of the Derg different menus were coming from Adis-Ababa including Zigni (a local lamb meat cooked with chili sauce), Tihlo…etc. So, we shared from their dishes. It was already ages since we ate Zigni. They were our enemy and in fact would have loved to see us slaughtered to death. But what can they do? We share the table with them and eat from their dishes.
They were trying hard to deceive us through different mechanisms. But they cannot sway us from our basic principles. We had a big responsibility, belief and conviction to ourselves and the Front at large. We didn’t have any guard or attendant. For them they were sleeping at the best hotels of that time. But we were sharing just one room for four or five people. They were daily changing their suits but we had to wash and iron our only cloth every day. We had virtually nothing. Perhaps, the price of a single tie was equal to the weekly ration of one EPLF fighters’ team.
You were very young at that time and yet as a member of the EPLF delegation you participated on the various dialogues concerning national issues. You were never deceived by the lavish life and you preferred to go back to the harsh life of the armed struggle. Contrary to your experience, some youths do not return to their country from their mission abroad at the present time. What do you say about this?
Personally I don’t agree with dwelling in our past. Some people seem quite selfish and want to imitate the lives of others. I recall we were feeling quite impatient when we had to stay for a month abroad for negotiations during our time. You feel a big sigh of relief the moment you return to the Field. With all its lavish life still you cannot sleep in 24 hours there (abroad); but at the field you sleep really well albeit the patrol of the jet flights overhead. You don’t hear them really. All this emanate from the satisfaction on the armed struggle and our perseverance. We only had little to eat and yet you see the freedom fighters were well built.
We have seen the Palestine Liberation fighters in some occasions; they had roasted chicken in one bag, juice and biscuits on the other, and wear large boots. We see them enjoy their chicken amidst their struggle. We didn’t have that type of convenience in our struggle.
The People’s Front has established itself as a strong front after enduring several challenges. It finally led the Eritrean people to full independence. However, during the recent war with the TPLF, we have seen some top PFDJ cadres submit to external forces. How firm is the PFDJ at the moment? It is often said that the PFDJ is forgetting its internal affairs to support others?
Here we should ask ourselves “are we working to the extent required?” the answer is definitely ‘yes’. But we understand that it is not enough, and we need to improve. I don’t have any doubt about the unity, strength and firmness of the Front. But we need to see beyond that as members of the PFDJ. Are we setting plans to the extent we are required? Are we convening regular meetings? Are we entertaining criticisms and self-criticisms? Do we correct faulty individuals? We should all ask these and get proper answers.
The People’s Front, as its name tells, is the people’s front. And whether we like it or not it will continue to exist. We cannot think of any other replacement for the People’s Front. Perhaps, change might come with time. But this change cannot replace the People’s Front; it will rather help it to fine-tune its plans with evolving developments.
As long as it has national plans the People’s Front will continue to exist. The evolution and principles of the Front confirm to its perpetual nature. The People’s front has created a uniquely unified Eritrea and Eritrean Identity. The situation before the birth of the EPLF and even 100 years before that was different to the way we view now. The organization of the people’s front has led to the formation of a united people with shared national values. Therefore, strengthening the unity of the Eritrean people is one of the core pillars of the PFDJ.
The argument “we are too much consumed on external relations rather than strengthening our internal affairs” is not acceptable. Even during our liberation struggle we were thinking of external relations without neglecting our internal affairs. We were thinking about regional issues and our neighbors.
the TPLF was virtually created by us. The TPLF wouldn’t have existed now without the support of the EPLF. If it wasn’t for our involvement the changes that come in Ethiopia wouldn’t have been in favor of us. Emperor Hailesilasse and the Derg regime would have stayed longer in power; the same for Weyane too.
Our role in the making of the history was very strong. But we were thinking about external issues that directly influence us without neglecting our internal affairs.
We have dearly paid and even sacrificed our loved martyrs to bring change in Ethiopia.
Especially, in the late 1980’s we started sympathizing with some deprived people in Ethiopia. Our aim was to establish one united Ethiopia which can live in peace and good neighborliness with us. Did we achieve our aim? That’s a question. But the Woyane regime appeared to be the worst replacement. Other forces could have come to power; but we picked the right choice at its time and we cannot fault that choice.
Ethiopia and especially Tigray could not have been liberated without our support. The first tanks that entered Addiss-Ababa were ours. We put the Weyane’s at the helm in Addiss-Ababa.
Our aim was to oust the Derg regime and to install a healthy neighbor in Ethiopia. Even now we think about it. You cannot think of your own existence per se without thinking about the external affairs that affect you.
The situation in Somalia is created by external intervention and it is of big concern to us to see our Somali brothers in conflict despite having the same religion, language and ethnicity. We in the Sudan, the SPLM was confined to a small village named Kuju-Kujo; but we took them out from that small village.
That was because we cannot accept to see people treated as second citizens in the Sudan. We did all our best for the stability and unity of Sudan. At last the worst scenario has happened in the Sudan. What is the use of dividing the country into two or three nations? In general, could we have reached our present situation had we simply abandoned the Ethiopians, the Sudanese or any other party? This is the result of our vision and practical work.
The only question is that we should not achieve one thing at the expense of the other. It is not acceptable to do the homework of others by ignoring your own homework. We work our assignment and at the same time think about external environment around us. You cannot make a neighbor of your choice. We didn’t choose Ethiopia to be our neighbor; but we do care to see a healthy government in Ethiopia. We try to reconcile the interest of the Ethiopian people with the interest of our people.
How do you assess the attachment of the PFDJ with the people in general?
We are proud of our culture! In this country you don’t see heavy security patrols and military guards for government officials, buildings and offices. This is a capital you don’t find in any other country. You cannot have such a capital because you need it. It didn’t come that easy. This is the power of the people. And the secret lies in the fact that because the Eritrean people protects its leaders.
Let’s see in Ethiopia, leave alone a big government official, even the middle level cadres are looked-after with security guards. Here, such type of security is in fact considered a taboo.
The residence of President Isaias is at the middle of the public residential area. In which country do you see that? There is a lavish presidential residential palace in this country which was even used by the colonizers; but we never preferred to live there.
Our president lives with the people. All these have to do with the power and political consciousness of our people.
And every cadre should be responsible to maintain this highly regarded culture.