In an interview entitled “The Era of the Vanguard is over” posted by Mr. Michael Abraha on June 18, 2011 on Asmarino I tried to paint what I felt was a looming negative undercurrent in the “relationship” between Eritrean political organizations and the emerging “Third Space” – the civic societies. Based on firsthand experience and observation I was convinced that unless this genuine challenge is addressed judiciously and proactively it will have damaging effect on the overall process of the struggle to democratize Eritrea. It might even have a very negative impact on the Post- Isaias political arrangement that should be sorted out by all stakeholders in an all inclusive national dialogue and negotiation.
If the political actors and their various organizations want to be anointed as the automatic “deciders” (to borrow a word from former President Bush’s vocabulary) and be accepted as the dominant political forces in the struggle for democratic transition through political chicanery the immediate and long range result will be negative. Instead of building a synergic horizontal relationship that can usher in a win-win culture the Stalinist communistic tendency to directly control all “mass organizations” inside Eritrea by PFDJ is the order of the day. The exiled political actors should rinse themselves off any and all tendencies to deflect, minimize or stanch the role of the civic society in the political process.
The relationship between the slowly burgeoning civic society and the established political opposition is still in a low intensity courtship and boundary defining period. There is no guarantee on how it will turnout unless the rule of engagement is constructively recalibrated. The courtship already is fraught with danger. As I stated in my interview the danger manifests:
“At this stage there are two ways where the subtle and underhanded effort to negatively influence the civic societies is manifesting. The regular one is through the misuse of the right to dual membership. This is in line with the old culture of controlling or nudging the so-called mass association to your political agenda through political cadres and members. In other words, the dual loyalty of the individuals who belong to given political organizations and join civic societies is used to manipulate the civic societies into the middle of all political disagreements and force them to take side in favour of or against the burning issue within the camp of the opposition. The hybrid nature of the civic societies is indirectly helping the manoeuvring of the opposition political actors.”
“The second myopic approach, without delving into the motivation of the actors, is a classic example of the ingrained fear that permeates most of our political culture towards independent institutions. Since, for a long time, the political societies have been dominating and controlling the political space, the emergence of the civic societies has created a deep insecurity within them. This is the continuation of the misguided, so-called “Meda Eritrea can only handle one organization” philosophy. Leaving aside all such rhetoric, the Third Space is not understood or welcomed in many quarters.”
These are formidable challenges; especially the fear of independent institutions is not something that can be corrected by amending the civic society’s membership requirement in the by- laws. It will demand a true and lasting paradigm shift both on cultural, political and national level. The civic actors have to come to grip with this strategic challenge. What it means, in practical terms, is that they must be willing to cooperate and find common ground with the political actors, both at home and in the diaspora, who stand firmly for the democratization of Eritrea. In their literature and activity they must emphasis the fundamental fact that their commitument is to the establishment a democratic multi-party system and rule of law in Eritrea. They must stress, unequivocally, that civic societies have no committment to particular political program. They must emphasis the fact that they struggle for the creation of a vast democratic space for all political opinions, perspectives, agenda and programs to be presented to the people of Eritrea for evaluation and approval or disapproval. The civic society’s relationship with the political sector cannot come at the cost of this cardinal principle. Wavering or compromising on this principle will lead to the “building” of a compromised and tinted Third Space. Weak and compromised civic societies cannot robustly facilitate and advance Eritrea’s democratic transition and consolidation. They will actually be inadvertently hampering the process. Building and systematically expanding the independent Third Space is equivalent to assuring uninterrupted supply of fresh oxygen to democracy.
The best way to building a viable advocacy civic society is by closing all the loopholes that makes it attractive to political parties and organizations to infiltrate advocacy civic organization utilizing the hybrid (civic/mass) nature of the present day Eritrean civic organizations. Civic societies must liberate themselves from the residues of the 1970 political culture and be truly independent and civic so that they can seat on equal footing with the political actors to jointly reshape the future of Eritrea. If it takes a thousand conversations to drive home and clarify this point so be it. This is one aspect of the national conversation that we must revisit as many times as needed until a broad national consensus is reached on the nature and role of civic societies in the struggle for democratic transition. The marriage of convince has to be transformed into understanding based principled relationship.
Periodically we will fell strong political jolts as the civic societies and the political organizations are flexing their respective influence on the ongoing protracted process to define a unifying vision and a clearly set a Road Map on how to remove the present authoritarian regime and replace it with a democratic one. We should not be deterred by the jolts but must realize the undercurrent that is causing the tremor is part of the struggle to clearly define the nature and role of the relationship between the civic (citizens) and the political organizations.
Civic societies do not have the burden of a political program. They understand the nature and role of political power but they do not want to be the assumers and dispensers of it. Civic do not pay empty homage to the people in a pre-functionary manner. They truly believe the people are the engine of change. The people not political or civic organizations will make the revolution. Both entities can try to be catalysts of the revolution under the best circumstance. Civic activists must fundamentally be true believers in the infinite power of the people to transform themselves and society when they choose to do so. The political elites need periodic reminder of this cardinal truth in order to tame and curtail the periodic arrogance that surfaces in the process of our struggle.
Sugar and salt are usually white. They might look the same but they are two different products with different properties. Civic and political organizations have two different properties and responsibilities. They can avoid the paranoia by being honestly and truthfully clear about their specific roles. Based on a clearly defined role they can also create a synergetic environment to advance their respective agenda while working together on specifically agreed upon joint agendas and tasks.
At the risk of redundancy the Era of the Vanguard Party liberating the people is over and done with. Those steeped in this archaic political template need to come off age and turnover a new leaf. Civic societies will not be readymade trailers to be hitched and unhitched by political truckers. Open and equal communication will always trump the best designed manipulation and machination. The Eritrean Civic Society will exist and expand in number and in the diversity of its specific mission as the struggle for Eritrean democratic transition builds momentum. Those who, out of fear and paranoia, want to block its path will be disappointed. Those who understand the true meaning of synergetic relationship will find principled and committed team players in the civic society.
Notice: the opinion expressed in this posting represents my perspective and only my perspective.