The Council has elected Tesfamichael Yohannes as his replacement.
Mesfin Hagos has led the Eritrean Democratic Party since 2004. Mesfin is one of Eritrea´s liberation war heroes and was once Defense Minister following the country’s independence in 1991. Woldu Mikael interviewed him in February 2008 during a visit to the US. Here is part of that interview.
Q. You were on a tour of the US lately - meeting supporters in the Eritrean Diaspora. Were you satisfied with the outcome of your visit?
MH: I am fully satisfied with the outcome of my meetings and exchange of views with Eritreans in North America. Unlike other organizations, the Eritrean Democratic Party, EDP, was little understood by other Eritreans; its blurred picture lingered for some time. Some people used to equate it as the other side of the PFDJ coin. Others looked at EDP as an ´agent´ of foreign forces. Even though both allegations had no ground, it did not mean that we were not concerned by the mistaken understanding of EDP by the opposition forces that we counted as our partners in the struggle. My latest mission to the United States played a role in correcting this wrong understanding. The meetings I held with different political organizations left a clear picture about EDP as an important partner in the opposition camp, and this was positive achievement.
Q. Under what circumstances, do you think the opposition could enter into talks with Ethiopia to resolve the border dispute?
Mesfin Hagos: It is only under anyone of following two conditions that the Eritrean opposition forces can talk with Ethiopia about the border: When they consolidate and strengthen themselves as a unified political entity and obtain recognition by other regional and international forces or countries. And secondly, when they fulfill all the factors that can make them stand as an alternative to the regime and obtain legal recognition.
I don´t think any legal dialogue and substantive agreement on the border with Ethiopia can be made by the opposition before fulfilling the above mentioned two factors. It is also to be expected that Ethiopia will engage on this matter only with a legal body that can enforce an agreement that has been reached between the two. It is undeniable fact that the Eritrean opposition camp is no nearer to both those factors. This being the legal side of the coin, it is not impossible for the opposition to enter into dialogue (talk) with Ethiopia on the border issue and other areas of mutual interest.
Q. How would you describe US relations with the Eritrean opposition?
MH: Let me discuss this matter taking into consideration the weight of the Eritrean opposition forces vis-à-vis the weight of the United States. There is little to compare between the United States, today´s sole world power, and the Eritrean opposition which could not even close its ranks and emerge as an alternative force to the Eritrean government. What the Eritrean opposition wants and expects from the United States is much wider and larger than what the world power could expect from the Eritrean opposition. The American administration has openly expressed its wish to see the Eritrean regime removed because the latter entertains policies and practices opposed to the interests of the United States government. For different reasons, we in the opposition and the government of the United States agree in the removal of the Eritrean regime, and we thus have a common interest upon which we can base our relations and strengthen them. This is the link between the Eritrean opposition camp and the American administration. The very fact that the United States government is willing to meet and discuss common issues is a positive stance by itself. During my mission to the United States, I was given the opportunity to meet with senior staff at the US State Department for exchange of notes. They were not only ready to listen to our viewpoints but convincingly showed us that they are ready to cooperate with us in the future. I was indeed pleased to know that Dr. Frazer, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, and her team are serious with their intention to henceforth follow up the Eritrean situation very closely.
Q. Was Mr. Isaias Afewerki a dictator during the independence struggle?
MH: During the liberation struggle, Isaias was a popular leader of the revolution. I don´t feel I have the space in this interview to explain the sources of his popularity at that time. Aside from those taking power through military coup d´etat, most dictators do not come to power as dictators. It is gradually and through subtle use of the popularity given them by the party that brought them to power that they consolidate their dictatorial mantle. As they get corrupted by more power, dictators entrench their absolutist rule that eventually becomes clear for all to see. This is how the dictatorial nature of Isaias was developed. Many people who were not with the EPLF during the period of the liberation struggle usually allege that it was the comrades-in-arms of Isaias, and particularly the G-15 group, who helped Isaias to become what he is – a dictator. May be there is some grain of truth in this surmise. But it is not that easy to conclude the matter in this manner.
In the era of the liberation struggle, the question of the survival and continuation of the Revolution was given the uppermost priority by every fighter, including by the upper echelons of the leadership. On this basis, I cannot say that the issue of dictatorship was of concern to us. True, there were many senior cadres who were in disagreement with the method of work by Isaias. If they claim that they disagreed with Isaias then knowing he was a dictator, then I can only tell them that this was not true. Isaias made good use of the sincerity (naiveté) and/or personal frailties of some people in order to satisfy his greedy behaviour. Be it through wits or through the popularity he gained through sheer circumstances, Isaias skillfully unleashed fights among his close comrades and he remained the arbiter and advisor of their squabbles. Therefore, the dictatorial practices of today´s Isaias were part of his inborn behaviour that were enhanced after liberation. The difference was only of time and situation. This extremely general and rough description of the person cannot give a full picture of what Isaias is.