The main conflict in Eritrea is and was the state structure of the Eritrean society. Eritrea is a country inhabited by diverse population with different ethnical, religious, cultural and territorial identities. If we see the political organizations and the ruling party in Eritrea, they are organized in ethnic and religious lines. Those who call themselves super nationalist are the worst who exploit these identities and call themselves “nationalists and secularists” but in reality they are the first who create cleavages based on fear and suspicion. They accuse the others as regionalists, tribalists and jihadists.
The internal conflict in Eritrean politics requires adjustment to the structure of the state now under dictatorship.
In this short article, I will attempt to discuss how the state in Eritrea should be structured. Many conflicts centre on the role of the state in a society and emanate principally from its structure and organization.
In most countries, the state is the most powerful organization, even when it is not very effective in implementing policy.
Control of the state usually provides access to economic power since the state is the major means of the production of capital. As a consequence, there is a strong competition for control over the state apparatus and this struggle is the cause of today’s Eritrea.
The main issue of conflict after the fall of the dictator and the main issue for discussion in the coming congress of “the “Eritrean Opposition Forces for democratic change” should be how to structure and organize the state in Eritrea.
The internal conflicts in Eritrea can only be prevented or mediated by restructuring the state by bringing an end to all the remnants of the dictatorship and its sectarian policies, such as redistribution of decision making and power sharing equally and fairly.
The Eritrean problems arise from the attitude of fear and suspicion that are rooted in religious and ethnic traditions which alienate the other communities. A solution must be neutral symbols like democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The state must be separate from religion. A more productive strategy is often to look ways of devolving power via federal democracy or other autonomies.
Many intellectual Eritreans fear the term, “ Federal”, but federalism is nothing but a unity by having your own and sharing the common. The Eritrean elites (centralists) dislike the theory of federal democracy – to decide your own and have a share in the common. They want everything themselves and lead us to dictatorship and oppression.
There are many kinds of state arrangements for the devolution of power. In considering the Eritrean case, federalism is the best known arrangement where power is devolved equally to all the provinces and each province has an identical relationship to the central government. Federalism has been used before and now by countries populated by diverse identities. For example, the adoption of federalism in Switzerland and Canada and many others a this time were wholly motivated by the need to accommodate diverse communities. The federal device is now used frequently for the settlement of ethnic conflicts like, for example, in Ethiopia and other African countries. Federalism has been argued for in other contexts as well, such as during the discussions in South Africa leading to the post-apartheid settlement.
We in the opposition use the word accommodation in our discussions, but how and when we couldn’t locate it. If the need is to accommodate the Eritrean diversity, the federal model is to be discussed in contrast to unitary model.
There are some intellectuals who say that regional autonomy arrangement is more effective than federal arrangement. An autonomous arrangement is when the regions have special powers in their own regions. An important difference between autonomy and federal model is that in federations the regions participate actively in national institutions and national policy making; in the autonomy model, the region is only involved in its internal affairs rather than participating in the national institutions. Federal model keeps the nation united.
Another model to solve the Eritrean internal conflict is to devolve the power through local government institutions or forms of decentralization. The EDA in its charter has adopted this model of decentralization. This model of decentralization differs from federal and autonomy models in that they do not have a specific constitutional status or constitutional guarantee. Local governments can be effective way to give certain powers to a group since the geographical scale of local governments is small and population is likely to be homogeneous.
The Eritrean National Commission for democratic change must have this issue in its agenda in the coming congress, because organizing a state and structures is the main conflict issue. Which model of state structure and organization:
- Federal model
- Autonomy model
- Decentralization / constitutional/ administrative
- Unitary/centralist model
Those who oppose federalism and autonomy and support unitary model in Eritrea in order to dominate are not to solve the internal conflict but live on them by making Eritrea unstable and undeveloped. The so called majority in the opposition camp are reluctant to restructuring the state of the current Eritrea under the dictator but they will only replace Isaias Afwerki and endorse the constitution written in 1997 which has never been discussed by the Eritrean diversity except those who were members of the PFDJ. In its drafting, it can be legally and technically accepted, but in its making it lacks people’s participation in a free and democratic platform. It was an elite constitution where no one of the citizens has understood it well in its content and spirit.
The first preamble of the interim-constitution that is supposed to be drafted by the Eritrean National Commission must put the state structure in its first part of the draft. I recommend the commission to put in its agenda, “ Restructuring the State of Eritrea” post dictatorship Eritrea.
Fears that autonomy and federal models will be a spring board to secession are proved false in theory and practice, for example Ethiopia
The federal model is needed in Eritrea because it is the best instrument to accommodate the diversity and is guarantee for unity. Many think that since Eritrea is little country there is no need to introduce federalism; here it is not the size and population that decide the state structure, but the diversity of the population. For example most Carribean island countries established the model of federal system of governance but still are the smallest nations of the world. Papua New Guinea established recently a federal model in its country. Why not Eritrea?