On April 25, 2010, the Eritrean Movement for Democratic Governance (EMDG) launched a successful "Yes to National Conference" campaign and our people responded enthusiastically. A National Conference now is a tangible reality with a sizeable number of organizations participating from all over the world. Like every other organization, EMDG had its concerns and doubts about various issues but in the end decided that despite its shortcomings the Conference will make a positive impact on the struggle. Even so, our concerns were aired to make sure that careful note of past mistakes are taken and not repeated in future events that demand similar considerations.
For the past ten years the opposition organizations, including the umbrella organization EDA, have been operating without deadlines. A year comes and passes by with little change. Enough is enough! The cul-de-sac that the opposition seems to end up with whenever there “progress” is announced has to end. It needs to restructure itself and get out of this self-made trap so to march forward towards liberating our people. This is why EMDG is launching a six-point proposal campaign to set forth the main theme of the national conference for public discourse.
We in the EMDG believe that the national conference for democratic change would be able to address the main challenges of our struggle for liberation only if it refrains from attempting to resolve all political problems that had been brewing for the past 50 years or so. The main goal should be laying out a strategy on how to remove the regime in Eritrea and hand over the power to the Eritrean people. Ten days of National Conference can be effectively used if we channel all our energy into accomplishing the following six objectives:
1. One Democratic People’s Congress
Congress, it being the assembly of our people in Diaspora, will have the opportunity to address many political issues affecting the Eritrean people and offer a framework of solutions to be debated by all participants. The strategy and tactics in the anti-PFDJ struggle for the past 19 years that included EDA’s role as an umbrella organization had been repeatedly criticized for various shortcomings. EDA may not be praised for many political accomplishments in the past 12 years, but must certainly be credited for calling Eritreans in Diaspora to convene and decide about the future of Eritrea. And now it is time that it leads by example: the democratic change it is fighting for must start from within.
The presence of civic society movements, non-affiliated individuals and, to some extent, women and young Eritreans will give EDA a new face and an opportunity to transform itself into a different executive body of the people’s congress. The diverse composition of the participants and public announcement of the goal to democratic change must enable EDA to demonstrate that it is serious in seeking change from within. After dealing with the various political and legislative agendas in its convention, it is hoped that the national conference would elect an executive body with a readiness to perform in swift and effective ways different from the inefficient tradition we had seen in the past. Our unity as a people, and Eritrea as a nation, is at a critical juncture. It is important to acknowledge our diversity and respect the views, opinions and demands of others. Only if we do so would we be able to focus on the main mission of uprooting the dictatorship in Eritrea. The new leadership must work together as one, and not primarily for their separate organizations; it is only then that the mission and goals set forth by the conference will be prioritized.
2. One Foreign Affairs Office
The word “change” has been frequently invoked to set a theme for the National Conference. One of the phrases coined by the EDA to define the upcoming conference is “National Conference for democratic change”. But change is also needed in the bureaucracy itself, the most noticeable one being in the domain of foreign affairs.
So far, it has been proven a failure when 13 to 18 foreign offices, each one working for its particular organization, keep competing with one another for allegiance among the Eritrean Diaspora community and for help from foreign entities. Influential nations, international organizations and humanitarian groups have been approached by these different offices regarding similar issues that matter to the Eritrean people but with discordant messages. This has to end. All political organizations must adhere to the core principles of liberating our people from the dictatorial regime and must show readiness for change and serve the congress of the people. One headquarters, with missions to Africa, Europe, Asia, America and Australia, and able to use all civic society resources to reach our people and foreign entities, must be established. If EDA is ready for change, it must prepare its foreign representatives to work under one office, with the twin missions of convincing the Eritrean communities in the Diaspora that change is real and that individual participation is a national duty and of convincing the international community that change is badly needed in Eritrea and that their help is very much needed in bringing about this change. Genuine change demonstrated in post conference activities by elected officials will also convince our people, embassies and foreign mission offices of the state of Eritrea to change their allegiances from the autocratic regime in Eritrea to the people’s congress-in no time.
3. One Economic/Financial Affairs Office
For the part twenty years the Eritrean people contributed generously to the government and to the opposition. Now all pockets are empty and no one is willing to pay even a penny unless they see noticeable change for the better. So far, we have not seen any benefit to the people by contributing to a divided opposition organization. If the people in the Diaspora are expected to donate, the contribution will come with demands for change. There should be a clearly outlined plan, a realistic budget, an ongoing accountability and a transparent way of doing all of this. And this could only be achieved if, to start with, there is one Financial Affairs Office that could bring all the different strands of the organization’s financial aspects together and that people can easily identify with.
4. One National Liberation Army
EDA member organizations are based on ideological, religious, ethnic or nationality values meant to advance their political programs. Each one of these organizations expresses dissatisfaction with the current regime's political dominance and presents its own alternative to the table. Some are prescribed for the whole nation and some are limited to individual communities and nationalities. Besides, some organizations believe in peaceful resistance while others believe that violent means is needed to overthrow the regime in Asmara. EDA’s charter tries to accommodate the two by stating that all means for struggle must be employed to bring change.
Even though diplomatic and peaceful means of struggle taken by some political and civic organizations must be respected, EMDG believes that force from within the defense forces and the opposition fighters are necessary to pressure the PFDJ government to relinquish power to the people. But only if one condition holds: the organizations with military wings using force to pressure PFDJ should unite under one command to run an effective military campaign. We've been advocating for the unity of all the military wings into one since our inception, and we believe that our campaign has made a significant contribution in pressuring opposition parties with military wings to work towards that unity. Recently, eight organizations declared to move towards this goal, and hence must be commended. It is a positive move that has yet to be substantiated with action on the ground. Our people want to see a national liberation army united to function as one. And, hopefully, a unity that has eluded us from the top may be gained from the bottom as fighters from various ethnic and religious groups work together to topple the Asmara regime.
5. One Commission of Constitutional Affairs
The regime in Eritrea is ruling by decrees. A political system running a state without a constitution is dictatorial and autocratic, and cannot be claimed by its people. The current government of Eritrea is staying in power simply by imposing dictatorial rule upon our people. Yet, this nation of ours had seen two constitutions in the making that we should take heed of if we are to get out of the constitutional quagmire that nowadays we see among the opposition.
The federated government of Eritrea with Ethiopia formed in 1952 drafted and enacted a fairly democratic constitutional document until it was abolished by the Ethiopian government when Eritrea was annexed to Ethiopia in 1963. The new constitution drafted in 1996 and ratified by the “people’s representatives” was abandoned by PFDJ for the past 13 years. Despite certain shortcomings, we believe both constitutions have a lot to offer, and EDA should make the most out of them.
EDA has a charter agreed upon by its members which declares power should be handed over to the rightful owners–the people. The coming national conference may start doing that, first, by acknowledging the existence of the two important constitutional documents mentioned above and, second, by electing a constitutional body/commission from within and outside the conference to collect all other pertaining legal documents and traditional laws and draft a document to be presented to the public for debate. Such a document can be used as a framework for future Eritrean constitution.
6. One Year Term Limit of Executive Officials
The leadership from this congress would serve the people for one year, i.e. from September 1, 2010 to September 1, 2011. One year term limit of the congressional leadership may not sound long, but given the fast paced events in our region a lot can be accomplished within one year. Besides, it is essential that EDA establish trust with the Eritrean masses, and there is no better way to show that than by limiting one’s power ambitions. We have to remind ourselves that much of that mistrust comes from seeing old faces in positions of power for far too long. And last, since there has been so much bitterness in the making of this national conference, the earlier it is healed the better. By putting term limits to one year, not only are the elected kept on their toes, but the conference will also have ample chance to correct its past mistakes at appropriate time.
This whole nation is controlled by one man and our youth are condemned to live in trenches indefinitely to protect the power of this megalomaniac. There is no freedom of movement, of expression, of association, etc; human rights violation is an every minute occurrence. The horrors under which the country is living are too many to count. If the leadership from this conference puts the interests of the people above the interests of individuals or organizations, a lot can be accomplished in few months let alone in a year’s time.
Conclusion: EMDG believes that the above mentioned six-points’ proposal will help Eritreans convening in the national conference to frame their thoughts in a fruitful and tangible way. It will attract popular attention, raise awareness and guide us towards attainable goals. The demands of our people are countless and we are only a fraction of the population. Limiting the task of the conference to the main goal can yield a result that matches our people’s expectations. Concrete actions taken to embrace our diversity and yet emphasize our unity of our people are the keys to maximizing our achievements in the national conference for democratic change. We encourage everyone to focus on the main goal of removing the dictatorial regime and handing over power to the people.
Glory to our martyrs!
Victory to the forces of Change!
God bless Eritrea!
July 9, 2010