People Centered Bottom-Up Approach of Uniting Eritrean Democratic and Civic Resistance
People Centered Bottom-Up Approach of Uniting Eritrean Democratic and Civic Resistance I Introduction: After 30 years of armed struggle, Eritrea became an independent and sovereign country. May 24, 1991 was a day of redemption for the heroic
People Centered Bottom-Up Approach of Uniting
Eritrean Democratic and Civic Resistance
After 30 years of armed struggle, Eritrea became an independent and sovereign country. May 24, 1991 was a day of redemption for the heroic Eritrean people who paid incalculable sacrifices for the achievement of Eritrean national independence and freedom. However, 23 years later, the dream for freedom, peace and prosperity was snatched from the country by a home grown group dictated by a self-appointed “President for life”. He has been in power since the country’s independence and has controlled every aspect of political, economic and social life of the young nation.
Every aspect of political life in Eritrea is dominated by the leader’s group. There is no semblance of modern institutional governance. On the economic front, every aspect of Eritrea’s economic activity is controlled by regime’s companies. The security system is heavily dependent on a network of prisons and underground dungeons. Torture, disappearance, and execution of Eritrean men, women and even children, who show any sign of disobedience, are common practice of the regime. To this day, Eritrea continues to be a country that is run with no constitution, no rule of law, no elections and no free press. Employing a rule similar to 17th century rule of absolute monarchs, the dictator and his regime are introducing severe measures of total subjugation and militarization of the nation. It becomes evident that the regime is not only bad for the nation and its people of Eritrea; the regime is toxic for the nation and should be removed expeditiously. In order to remove the totalitarian dictatorship and achieve its objectives, the civic and democratic resistance needs to evaluate its current state and unite and consolidate itself using basic bottom-up approach.
II. Current State of Eritrean Resistance for democratic change
Eritreans have been calling for justice, rule of law, democratic governance and national reconciliation since Eritrea became independent. However, the regime ignored all calls for national reconciliation and democratic governance. The regime continued a path of complete domination. As a result, the majority of Eritreans are now rising against the brutal dictatorship in a broad spectrum of resistance movements, associations and organizations against the regime.
However, a unified democratic and civic resistance has yet to evolve. The absence of a defined core mission, articulated shared vision and a winning grand strategy for democratic change are still missing from the resistance movement. The resistance has yet to overcome the challenges of the residual politico-military culture, fragmentation and splitting, top-down structures of alliances and groupings, and absence of civic democratic unity of Eritrean citizens and stakeholders. Albert Einstein once said “you cannot solve a problem with the same mode of thought that created the problem” fits Eritrea’s condition. It is difficult to remove dictatorship with the same culture and mode of thinking that created the tyrannical regime in Eritrea. Some of the most pervasive challenges that the resistance has faced include:
- Prevalence of politico-military culture: After the armed struggle for national independence, Eritrea and Eritreans were blessed with an opportunity to enjoy their freedom. Yet, we were also confronted with a challenge to build civic democratic institutions of governance. Once in power, the regime exploited every opportunity to monopolize political, security, military, economic and social life in Eritrea. The regime discarded rich tradition of civic culture that was passed on from generations. Moreover, the leader and his henchmen used politico-military mechanisms similar to the colonial oppressors as a tool to intimidate, control and dominate every aspect of Eritrea. It took them a few years to concoct a broad military service under the name of “National Service”. As a result, the politico-military regime was entrenched for the benefit of the ruling dictatorial regime.
At the same time, the resistance organizations were embroiled in their own politico-military groupings. It is important to note the role that these groups played in the armed struggle. They played a historic role in weakening and defeating consecutive occupying armies and in consolidating Eritrean national armed struggle for independence. Rather than uniting all democratic resources and mobilizing for democratic change, the opposition groups were stuck in their old structures and leaderships. They were fragmented with no cohesive strategy and vision for the new reality of independent Eritrea. The fragmentation was worsened by fruitless competition among them.
- Fragmentation: It is reported that there are 33 Eritrean opposition political parties. These political parties have proven to be more of a liability than an asset to the cause of Eritrea. Democratic Eritrea will be a multi-party country where people’s sovereignty and citizen’s freedom is respected. What the Eritrean people need at this critical junction is a leadership group that can speak with one voice on behalf of the voiceless victims of the ruthless regime. The main challenge of the resistance movement continues to be the absence of unity and the lack of a cohesive core mission for the salvation and democratization of Eritrea. The traditional resistance groups were divided based on their organizational histories and affiliation during the armed struggle. New groups started to organize based on confessional, ethnical and other grievances. Meanwhile, the fragmentation and the proliferation of multiple groups with the same platform (sometimes carbon copy programs) impeded the progress of Eritrean democratic resistance. Instead of building a goal oriented, civic driven and citizen centered movement for democratic change, the resistance was riddled with ineffective groups dominated by personalities – often tied to pre-independence experience or ethnic and confessional agendas. Any attempt of unity was tramped and complicated by group leaders with contradictory platforms.
- Top-down alliances and groupings: The Eritrean democratic resistance has been growing considerably in numbers. Since the end of the border war of 1998-2000, the call for democratic change grew louder. Intellectuals and senior government ministers called for reform. However, the regime clamped down all decent and shut down the limited free press. All dissenting ministers, officials, independent journalists and thousands of innocent Eritreans including senior citizens were jailed and silenced. Soon the opposition gained a broader support from the people. Moreover, the Jan 21, 2013 Forto army uprising, led by the heroic Colonel Saied Ali Hijay, exposed the regime further and inspired the resistance.
However, much of the resistance movement was dominated by top-down group structures and fragmented blocks with divergent political agendas. Instead of coalescing on a core mission centered on democratic ideals and civic resistance, the groups focused on their respective organizational platforms. The individual group agenda hindered the resistance from focusing on a comprehensive program for change. Instead of forming a broad national civic and democratic front to defeat the dictatorial regime, they focused on forming competing blocks and entered into more fruitless competition among themselves. Top down based repeated attempts of unity of various organizations has failed and disappointed the broader resistance movement for more than a decade.
Another cause of failure of the top-down approach was the politics of – “minimum program”. The minimum program is a catch phrase often repeated by many to justify the fragmented work of various opposition groups. Yes, organizations can establish alliances based on minor programs while they are focused on their major separate programs. These arrangements can succeed: 1) If the programs of the allying parties are not mutually exclusive and not contradictory to each other; 2) if there is an arbiter or some common institution that all parties comply with. Attempts of unity based on minimum programs of mutually exclusive groups without an arbiter or common abiding institution has impeded the establishment of an effective resistance.
In other words, the nature of the Eritrean democratic resistance and the resources that are available to it prohibit minimum program based alliances from becoming effective. The reasons for not becoming effective include: a) absence of common national institutions that are not controlled by the allying parties; b) the platforms and party programs of the allied parties are divergent and sometimes contradictory; c) Fierce and fruitless competition of the allying parties for domination and control of the resistance; d) limited resources of the Eritrean democratic and civic resistance was dispersed to satisfy the divergent major group programs at the cost of the common democratic and civic national program; etc.
The top-down approach of unity did not work. The suffering of the Eritrean people in general and the youth in particular and the urgency of national salvation from grave dangers demand more effective approaches to unite all citizens and employ all available resources. Uniting Eritrean democratic and civic resistance with effective and practical bottom-up approach is an urgent task.
III. Bottom-Up approach of Uniting and consolidating Eritrean Democratic and Civic Resistance.
Eritrean Citizens are engaged in a struggle to restore their freedom and dignity by removing the dictatorial regime. However, the resistance movement is still suffering from the absence of a united core mission, shared vision and grand strategy to defeat the dictatorial regime. The culture, attitudes and mode of thinking that sustained the dictatorial regime and exasperated the opposition groups need to be replaced with civic and democratic values, attitudes and mode of thinking.
The core mission of the Democratic and Civic Resistance need to be articulated. Eritrea belongs to its heroic people who paid heavy sacrifices to liberate it and make a sovereign nation. The sovereignty of Eritrea belongs to the people of Eritrea. Therefore, regaining Eritrean people’s sovereignty and ensuring Eritrean citizens’ liberty, freedom and dignity is the source of the core mission of Eritrean democratic and civic resistance.
The dictatorial regime is hijacking Eritrean sovereignty and enslaving Eritrean citizens. The removal of the dictatorial regime and its dictatorial apparatus and establishing a peaceful, constitutional democratic system that enshrine people’s sovereignty and Eritrean citizen’s dignity should be the essence of the core mission. Moreover, the gathering catastrophe that is snowballing on Eritrea compel urgent removal of the dictatorial regime provides an added urgency to the core mission. The bottom-up approach of uniting Eritrean democratic and civic resistance ensures Eritrean people’s engagement and ownership of the core mission.
The core mission of Eritrean Democratic and Civic resistance gives life to a vision that can be shared by all. In order to bring the core mission to fruition and achieve liberty and freedom, the united democratic and civic resistance needs to crystalize a shared vision of all stakeholders. Ensuring all Eritrean citizen’s ownership of their nation and their future; enshrining the inalienable right of Eritrean citizen’s freedom to life, liberty and property; protecting the freedom of all citizens by respecting the diverse and rainbow composition of the Eritrea people should be incorporated in the shared vision of the united democratic and civic resistance. In order for a shared vision to grow and last through time it must be shaped by the shared view of all citizens. It should not be imposed from ideological leaders. It has to evolve from the bottom up and emanate from the conviction and beliefs of Eritrean citizen. As the great leader and icon of struggle Mahatma Gandhi put it – “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history”; Eritrean citizens that share core mission and vision can regain their liberty, freedom and dignity and establish a democratic system by removing the tyrannical regime.
In order for a core mission and shared vision to be crystalized, core democratic and civic values need to be embraced and become a culture of the democratic resistance. The core democratic values including: tolerance. Respect for diversity, reciprocity and trust in each other — must be respected and practiced by all Eritrean citizens. The core values of our ancestors and the rich tradition of our society need to be respected and preserved.
Furthermore, the guiding principles of the resistance need to be identified and implemented. They include:
a) People’s Sovereignty and Citizen Power: Eritrean united democratic and civic resistance should be guided by the principle of people’s sovereignty. Article 21 (3) of Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “the will of the people shall be the basis of authority”. The People/citizens are the source of legitimacy. This has been used as a slogan and as a cover-up by political leaders for too long, and always at the expense of the broader citizens. Unlike the sloganeering that reduce people to “masses” led by “vanguards”, people’s sovereignty empower citizens and provides citizens to be co-creators of decisions. It does not provide for hero-worship and blind obedience. People’s sovereignty and citizen power accept all citizens as equal stakeholders.
b) Democratic rights and freedoms: various democratic rights and freedoms emanate from people’s sovereignty. They are naturally God-given rights of each and every citizen. They should not be limited or curtailed by ideologies, doctrines and other philosophies.
c) Various guiding principles including: 1) rule of law; 2) transparency; 3) accountability 4) regular and fair elections 5) economic freedom and property rights, etc. need to be enshrined and implemented at all levels.
IV. Foundation and formation of Eritrean United Democratic and Civic Resistance
The Eritrean United Democratic and Civic Resistance’s foundation and formation should be based on the following principles:
- Bottom-up structure that provides freedom, liberty and responsibility of citizens in all aspect of their life. Bottom-up structure provides all-inclusive platform for all citizens to participate in their own affairs. It creates trust and understanding of each other. Trust and understanding advances constructive decision making and successful implementation of programs.
- Democratic structure that facilitates full engagement of all citizens and stakeholders. Democratic structure provides effective process of give and take in political decision making. Moreover, it provides a space and opportunity to vet all issues comprehensively and to reach at an optimum resolutions using available citizens’ wisdom.
- Accountable execution of political functions and programs: Implementation and execution of programs and strategies require individual accountability. The bottom-up approach emphasizes that programs and activities need to be executed with defined performance measures. All involved are held accountable for their performance.
- Dynamic and responsive organizational structure that can meet ever-changing challenges of the struggle: The ever-changing circumstances require that organizational structures need to be adoptive. The superiority of bottom-up approach’s over the top-down structures is that it compels leaders, actors and agents to be on top of their field and continuously strive to meet the ever-changing challenges. Since accountability and transparency are the guiding principles of bottom-up approach, those who fail to adopt and change will be held accountable for their performance.
The main objective of the bottom-up approach is to unite and consolidate the Eritrean democratic and civic resistance. Uniting citizens can be achieved by bringing citizens together through direct contact and communication. Direct contacts and constructive communication can build mutual understanding and experience. It can be achieved by organizing citizens in a Local Citizen’s Chapter in their respective locality/city.
The local chapters, then, become the basic units of the global citizen’s solidarity for democratic change. They become the foundation and the main source of legitimacy for the united democratic and civic resistant. Citizens are not only participants in the chapters but also active co-creators of decisions and activities. The local citizen’s chapters democratically elect their board/committee to lead and coordinate the united democratic and civic resistance in their locality/city.
In order to achieve their objective of defeating the tyrannical regime, local chapters need to be connected on a regional level by creating national/regional coordinating organs. The regional organ coordinates activities of all chapters in the region. It organizes periodic regional level events including seminars, conferences, conventions, rallies and other activities. The national/regional level convention/conference evaluates past performance and draws effective operational strategies of resistance for the region.
The local and regional chapters need to be connected globally to achieve their objectives. Global conference need to be convened as soon as the formation of national/regional bodies is completed. The global conference should be constituted by representatives of the local citizens’ chapters and leaders of political organizations, civic associations, religious and community leaders and prominent Eritrean individuals. The purpose of the global conference may include approving road map and grand strategy of the resistance at the global level and electing a global coordinating council of the resistance. The global coordinating council will become the official and legitimate representative of the global citizen’s solidarity for democratic change.
Concerted efforts of uniting Eritrean democratic and civic resistance based on bottom-up approach underway in Northern America and Europe. Dedicated, justice seeking and democratic minded Eritreans of all walks of life with different political persuasion are forming their local committees and organizing their localities. Moreover, they have already started to coordinate their activities by establishing regional provisional coordinating organ. The bottom-up approach of uniting Eritrean democratic and civic resistance is off to a positive beginning. It has started establishing promising platforms for engaging the youth, women, men, veterans and intellectuals. It is like bringing the Eritrean village (Adi/Ad/Are…) into every city and locality where Eritreans live and uniting the citizens to be co-creators of their decisions and activities.
Furthermore, prominent Eritreans, media foundations, civic associations are tirelessly mobilizing Eritreans in different parts of the world to unite. They are calling Eritreans to rise and organize in unison for democratic change. Dr. Tewelde Tesfamariam – Wedi-Vacaro has conducted an effective campaign of mobilizing and educating the Eritrean public in diaspora for the last six months with great success. Assena Foundation’s Amanuel Eyasu has a successful tour to many cities to strengthen the bottom-up approach and consolidate the media for the united democratic and civic resistance. Many dedicated Eritrean websites are informing and inspiring Eritreans in their democratic and civic resistance.
People-centered-bottom-up approach of uniting Eritrean democratic and civic resistance and the establishment of global citizen’s solidarity for democratic has the following advantages:
- Legitimacy of the Eritrean democratic and civic resistance: the illegitimate regime is exploiting the absence of a legitimate representative in Eritrea. Bottom-up approach of organizing Eritrean citizens will be able to establish an official and legitimate representative of the Eritrean people with manageable effort and with our Eritrean resources at a short time. The legitimate leadership will have the backing and the support of Eritrean citizens who are actively involved in all aspects of the resistance.
- Lasting Unity of All Eritreans: the difficult task of national unity and the unity of all Eritrean stakeholders will be grounded on the entire Eritrean citizens. A legitimate and an all-inclusive bottom-up approach would be a solid ground for national unity and unity of all Eritreans irrespective of their ethnicity, religion, gender or experience. Moreover, the unity will be based on active engagement of citizens to create results of national harmony, nation-building and the overarching need for peace and tranquility for the advancement of Eritrean society in all spheres of life.
- People’s Sovereignty and citizen’s power: The bottom-up approach’s essence is people’s sovereignty generated from citizen’s power. Citizens are the source of power. Their active engagement in national decision-makings and activities guarantees the success of the activities. Citizen’s private self-interest and the common public interest will be balanced in an effective and productive manner for the benefit of all Eritreans irrespective of their gender, religion, region or ethnicity.
The nation-state of Eritrea and the people of Eritrea are suffering under a tyrannical regime. The dire situation of Eritrea is going from worse to worst by the day. Majority of Eritreans are now opposing the regime. A multitude of political and civic organizations and associations and broad based and civic minded citizens are calling and working for democratic change in Eritrea. However, the multiple political and civic entities and the broader civic minded citizens are not effectively organized and united to successfully challenge and defeat the dictatorial regime.
Top-down attempts of unity and alliances were undergoing for the last decade and half with little or no results. Politico-military culture, fragmentation and top-down approaches have been hindering the resistance from achieving the desired unity for democratic change. Using people centered, citizen owned and civic driven effective bottom-up approach of uniting and organizing Eritrean democratic and civic resistance is urgently needed. The bottom-up approach with its civic and democratic tenets and practices will help transform the outdated politico-military culture into civic and democratic culture by building civic capacity of Eritrean citizens and their institutions.
Moreover, Eritrean democratic and civic resistance need to clarify its core mission, crystalize its shared vision and build a citizen based bottom up institutions to achieve the desired objectives of democratic change. Furthermore, a wining grand strategy with clear goals and objectives should be drawn and an effective execution mechanism should be built to unleash Eritrean citizen’s capacities to defeat the tyrannical regime and build a peaceful constitutional democratic system of governance in Eritrea.
Victory to Eritrean United Democratic and Civic Resistance
Glory to our Martyrs
April 5, 2014