ERITREA: Interview with UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari
[ This report
does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
Martti Ahtisaari, UN Special Envoy for the Humanitarian Crisis in the Horn
of Africa - IRIN
NAIROBI, 18 Oct 2004 (IRIN) - Martti Ahtisaari is
the United Nations Special Envoy for the Humanitarian Crisis in the Horn of
Africa. Following a three-day visit to Eritrea, he spoke with IRIN on Sunday
about the crisis affecting the country, the impact of the unresolved border stand-off
with Ethiopia and the urgent need for funding to tackle development issues.
QUESTION: What is the current situation in Eritrea as you see it?
ANSWER: The situation is difficult. When you look at the country you have to
look at the macro-economic situation. At the moment you have a 'no war no
peace' situation. You have a drought that has lasted four years and the country
has serious macro-economic imbalances.
Q: What are those imbalances?
A: At the moment inflation is around 27 percent, the country's foreign reserves
are so depleted that they are enough for two weeks' imports. And the budget
deficit is around 20 percent of the GDP. There is very little room for
manoeuvre and it is very much a hand-to-mouth operation, in that government and
the responsible ministers have to sift resources within the availability of
those resources to meet the emergency needs. They want to put money into
infrastructure and they want to improve education and the health sector.
Q: What has been the international response, Is enough being done?
A: The international community's response has been fairly good. If one asks the
government, donors are never doing enough. What has clearly improved since I
started going is the cooperation between the donors and the government. There
was no full dialogue. It is perhaps because now there is a Ministry for
National Development and very professional people man it. But there are eight
professionals in the ministry. My non-governmental organization in Finland has
14. So there are capacity issues even if they work 24 hours a day.
Q: Given these limitations, what more can the Eritreans can do?
A: I think they are trying to make the best use of the resources available.
There are challenges as well for those who are internally displaced because of
the war [the 1998-2000 border conflict with Ethiopia]. There is an urgent need
to get funding for these people so they can get back to their villages that
unfortunately were destroyed. The donors are interested in the education
sector. The government is working hard to get support from the African
Development Bank. So, slowly it is moving forward.
Q: What is the impact of the unresolved border issue with Ethiopia?
A: It has a lot of impact. It has an effect because the demobilisation process
is not proceeding with the speed that it could if that issue was out of the
way. They will have demobilised by the end of the year 100,000 people. There
may be another 100,000 still to be demobilised.
Q: Eritrea has been criticised for its human rights record. Is that playing a
role in the situation?
A: I have seen it in a number of countries where to come out of a war situation
to normalcy is a difficult process. Whether it is a liberation struggle or a
difficult type of struggle, it is perhaps one of the most undemocratic phases
in the history of a society. And to come from there all of a sudden, more
transparent, more open, respecting human rights, is a process. And I have come
to the conclusion that state building from the outside is a very difficult notion.
We have seen it in other parts of the world and are witnessing it today on
another continent. It is a slow process and you first of all have to create
more work for a population.
Q: Are these criticisms making donors reluctant to contribute?
A: I must congratulate the donors and thank them. Even if sometimes the donors
are criticised for politicising aid, when it comes to humanitarian assistance
that has not happened. Countries that are very keen on promoting human rights
have not prevented the assistance coming. Letís concentrate on the
developmental challenges because they are big enough.
Q: What have been the positive trends in Eritrea since you took up your
A: Cooperation and inclusion for the donor community, which is very important.
We have started something that has been going on in Ethiopia for a much longer
time, but it is very important to carry the donors with you.
Q: What impact have you had?
A: In general my role is rather marginal. It is supportive of the trends the UN
country team are pushing because people on the ground do the main work. They
have done some good work. There may be some bottlenecks that I can raise easier
than the UN country team can.