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The daunting challenge of Saving the Eritrean State

Eritreans for Facilitating National Dialogue (EFND), December 18, 2015 A very basic indication of dictatorial rule is the absence of constitutional order that compels those in power to be accountable to citizens. In the absence of

Eritreans for Facilitating National Dialogue (EFND), December 18, 2015

A very basic indication of dictatorial rule is the absence of constitutional order that compels those in power to be accountable to citizens. In the absence of any legal restraint on their power dictatorial regimes generally tend to become self-serving, regardless of how popular their beginnings might have been. Self-serving dictatorial regimes, such as the one in Eritrea, increasingly become preoccupied with safeguarding their incumbency in power, especially if they encounter or perceive opposition to their rule. They deploy policy and resources primarily for purposes of ensuring their survival in power. They also engage in robbing the resources of their countries and stashing them in foreign banks to ensure continued luxurious lifestyle for their family members if and when their rule comes to an end. The outcome of this excruciating political and economic tyranny is misery, gross human rights violations, and humiliation of the population.

Today, Eritrea has become the third largest source of refugees next to Syria and Afghanistan, two countries plagued by long lasting civil wars. Eritrea is also the most food insecure country in the Horn of Africa next to South Sudan, which is also being destroyed by a deadly civil war. When the youth are abandoning the country in droves and the country is suffering from chronic food deficit, the frequent claims by the regime that the country is registering impressive economic progress are simply hollow. The regime also asserts that the country is peaceful and stable. This, however, cannot be the case when the youth are forced to leave the country into a life of exile with all the hardship, humiliation, and death that faces them and when the country’s social fabric is being destroyed by their flight. There cannot be peace and stability when the prisons are filled with people who do not even get access to the fundamental right of trial in the court of law for the crimes they have allegedly committed. Poverty-alleviation and development also remain a pipe dream as long as there is no accountability for the country’s resources. Those of us in diaspora, away from the reach of the tentacles of the regime, cannot turn a blind eye to this onslaught on our people and the destruction of our country, which was liberated from the clasp of Ethiopian rule with the martyrdom of thousands and painful sacrifices by the rest of the population.

As destructive as they are when in power, self-serving dictators can leave behind even more hellish conditions when their rule comes to an end. One of the characteristics of dictators is that they block all effort at building of institutions of governance, after usurping power. They also do not allow independent existence of political parties or civil society organizations. They even emasculate the political organizations they ride to power so that they don’t constrain their personal rule. The EPLF (PFDJ), for example, has become an empty shell of its old self and is hardly in a position to influence the dictator’s policy decisions. As a result, at the end of their rule dictators generally leave behind a power vacuum that can be detrimental to the survival of the state. They do not allow the different organizations of the state or the different branches of government to conduct their expected responsibility with any level of autonomy. They concentrate all power in their own hands and become centers of all policy decisions. In so doing, they make the state and the government inseparable from them. In other words, the dictator becomes the state and the government all by himself, as it has been the case in our country. Under such circumstances, when the dictator’s demise comes there emerges the danger that the state and government also collapse, as we have seen time and again. The experiences of Somalia and Libya are good recent examples. People, enduring so much misery and humiliation under dictatorial tyranny, often find themselves in starkly horrendous situations when the state collapses with the demise of dictators. Statelessness can be even more denigrating to a population than an oppressive rule by a dictator. Under statelessness, the country becomes a free hunting ground for global and regional powers, which take advantage of the fragmentation of domestic forces. Moreover, it becomes extremely challenging to recreate the state once it collapses, as external powers obstruct such a process in order to preserve their free hunting ground by fomenting corrosive rivalries among domestic forces. In other cases, external powers may rule the country through handpicked domestic puppets, for all practical purposes colonizing the country.

Under such frightening threats to our country and our state, it is not too early for concerned Eritreans to dialogue and chart consensus arrangements that would secure the state. A number of options and arrangements might be possible. Perhaps the least risky for the state is for the Eritrean military to assume the reins of power, as the custodians of the state, for a short transitional period until an elected government is formed.  However, this possibility raises some critical questions. One is whether the military remains a cohesive force to be able to save the state. Another is whether the military would have benign political will and surrender power once it takes it. The answer to the first question is largely an act of faith. A force with the proud history of liberating the country and defending it at huge sacrifice, hopefully, has not been degraded into a personal security force of the dictator. The answer to the second question is rather complex. It is possible, although not likely, that the military would surrender power to the people, as General Suwar al-Dahab did in Sudan after he ousted President Nimeiri in 1985. More realistically, the military would retreat from power only if political parties and civil society groups reorganize themselves and struggle in unison to demand that the military transfer power to an elected body within the shortest possible timeframe. It is, thus, absolutely essential that political organizations and civic groups overcome their myopic behavior and fragmentation in order to find common ground that would allow them to have some voice. They are presently voiceless, due to rivalries, organizational fragmentation, and lack of coherent political vision. Civil society groups in the diaspora also need to form a global organization under a common agenda of saving the state. The Eritrean diaspora is rapidly growing in size, due to the exodus of the youth. It is likely to become a source of a major influence on Eritrean affairs both politically and economically. It, however, needs to be organized to influence the transition in the aftermath of the demise of the dictatorial regime. Non-inclusive meetings and workshops by selected political groups or civil groups would not advance the cause of saving the Eritrean state; they are no substitute for the proper establishment of a united and strong global civil society that is able to cultivate strong links with civil society groups inside the country. In the final analysis the will of the people and placing political power in the hands of the Eritrean people can only be guaranteed by an inclusive united front of civic organizations. For detailed discussion on transitional phase read EFND memorandum (reference link below).

The Eritrean people fought bravely for a generation with unprecedented determination, resilience, and sacrifices to secure the independence of their country. Yet, they allowed their freedom to be stolen by the leaders of their liberation. Now every day that passes is bringing the end of the dictator closer. However, it may also be bringing closer a trying time for our state. This brief note is a call for us to liberate ourselves from the ‘narcissism of minor differences’ that seems to have inflicted us and unify our efforts in crafting political arrangements that would safeguard our state. It is high time that we remind ourselves that we will not have the space for politicking and advancing our collective or private interests if we fail to safeguard our state. EFND is committed to do all it can to facilitate the establishment of global Eritrean civil society organization and we are confident that other civil society organizations share our views.

Previous EFND communiques, publications and conference activities

Conference video (13 parts)

EFND memorandum presented at the conference

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Review overview
  • Hagherawi December 19, 2015

    “Perhaps the least risky for the state is for the Eritrean military to assume the reins of power, as the custodians of the state, for a short transitional period until an elected government is formed. ”


    It’s very unfortunate that Eritrea has no proper defense establishment like Sudan in seventies when Numeri was in power. The top brass of the army in Eritrea is part and parcel of the dictatorial regime and cannot be trusted at all. If the power remains in the hands of the military after the demise of the tyrant there is risk of internal war that cannot be stopped easily. The solution: more dialogue among stake holders to reach consensus on major national issues, and a road map to form a government of national unity.

  • Hagherawi December 20, 2015

    To EFND

    There are several Eritrean groups out there who claim to be ‘facilitators’ or doing something to that effect. Is it possible for such groups (EFND, Medrek, OurVoice etc) to meet, discuss and come up with a single strategy to solve our problems ?
    Many ordinary Eritreans are now confused … they don’t know whom to follow !!
    Would you please make Eritrea and its people your priority ?

    • በላዕ ድንሽ December 20, 2015

      Excellent point ,what happened to OUR VOICE ? I have been sick for 3 monthes. I thought they were very secretive ,despite the fact they had resonable ideas.