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The Pitfalls of the Eritrean Opposition (for Justice) Camp: Lack of a Coherent and Unified Message for a Democratic Transition in Eritrea

Gebre Gebremariam (Dr.) History attest to the fact that if any movement for democratic transition in Eritrea is to succeed, it will require the active participation of the people (mass of people) struggling in unison. However,

Gebre Gebremariam (Dr.)

History attest to the fact that if any movement for democratic transition in Eritrea is to succeed, it will require the active participation of the people (mass of people) struggling in unison. However, people join a movement only when they perceive the movement reflects the aspirations of the people and when they view the leadership as being capable of leading the movement to victory. This is what is missing in the Eritrean struggle for democratic change. Instead, what we have is “disunity” which in turn has led to a loss of trust and confidence in the ability of the movement to achieve the stated goal of democratic transition. Furthermore, this loss of trust has resulted in the further division (atomization) of the Eritrean society. Consequently, a deep sense of hopelessness and defeatism has been becoming the new normal in the Eritrean political landscape. Hence, there is an urgent need for a revolution by a broad coalition to reverse this unfortunate phenomenon.

To be successful, the broad coalition has to be a coalition of commitment and not just a coalition of convenience.  This all depends on the central features such as how and why the coalition is to be formed, the nature and characteristics of the coalition partners (member organizations), and the roles and influences of foreign entities (interest third-parties). If the philosophy behind forming the coalitions is, for instance, nothing beyond the necessity to get rid of Issaias from power – “an enemy of my enemy is my friend” type, the coalition will be brittle and fragile institution and ultimately it is doomed to fail. Besides, it is not possible to form a working coalition among organizations with diverging political and policy orientations because the coalition will not be able to overcome obstacles to its survival and keep going in the face of the disintegrative forces that jeopardize its existence. In this case, it is only possible to form a coalition of convenience on ‘minim program’ but coalescing along a ‘minim program’ is not the right approach of alliance formation in the context of Eritrea.

Eritrean political organizations in the opposition camp do not have common visions on the pillars of nationhood – sovereignty, unity in diversity of the people, territorial integrity, stance on justice and rule of law, and constitutional governance. Neither do they have common readings on who the main enemy is and on the reality on the ground in Eritrea. Some of them never adjusted to the post-independent Eritrean reality; they are still living in the pre-independence era mentality. Besides, this camp is  composed of entities not only with divergent strategic interests and objectives but also some of these entities had and have strategic objectives which are remotely associated or related to the national interest of Eritrea. In a nut shell, the internal dynamics of this camp is very regressive, to say the least.

Although it failed, one of the greatest experiment of grand coalition formation in the Eritrean Opposition Camp was Eritrean Democratic Alliance (EDA). The partners of EDA were unbalanced in almost all dimensions – human and financial resources, commitment to justice and democracy, degree of infiltration by foreign elements, degree and intent to serve foreign interests, extent of investment (cost paid) in the struggle for independence, etc.  Under normal circumstances, you would expect that the center of gravity will fall in the entity with the greatest mass and the system remains stable and move in the direction of the force with the greatest thrust. But, that was not the case with EDA because EDA was a mutated stuff which abhorred nature. In the EDA world, the smallest was the biggest, the weakest was the strongest, the dictator was the democrat, the parochial was the nationalist, the renegade was the law abiding, the divider was the unifier, etc. – the opposite of the normal nature. EDA agreed to pass its decisions on consensus and this empowered the weakest and the smallest in the alliance to impose their will on the rest. These small forces were made to be strong enough to disturb the system and as a result chaos and entropy increased which made EDA unstable, unproductive and antithesis to the Eritrean national interest. Besides EDA (2005), there were many failed trials to bring the Eritrean Opposition organizations together such as Alliance of Eritrean National Forces (AENF, 1999), Eritrean national Alliance (ENA, 2002), Eritrean National Congress for Democratic Change (ENCDC/ባይቶ, 2011), and a failed trial to revitalize EDA (ዋዕላ, 2014). Eritrean Civil Society Organizations and Eritrean Youth Organizations have not done better jobs either. Like the political organizations, they are also characterized by lack of consistent political agenda, fragmentations, frequent splits and mergers, parochial or highly personalized form of organization, and lack of transparency.

Under normal circumstances, when forces come together and form alliance, the balance between the degree of competition and cooperation shifts in favor of the latter. In the case of EDA, the history of the last decade tells us otherwise. Instead of cooperation, competition became the norm. Political assassinations became rave and it is continuing unabated. Most of the culprits of these phenomenons are the weak and the small elements in EDA. Most EDA member entities are not only very weak but they totally depend on foreign supports for their daily survivals. EDA is a way of life and livelihood for most leaders and members of these entities and since EDA is heavily financed by foreign governments, these entities are main gateways for foreign interference in the affairs of Eritrean opposition camp. It is generally understood that that most of these people need employment or source of income at this time of their late ages. What is worrisome, however, is it is becoming at the cost of compromising the national interest of Eritrea.

Most political organizations in the Eritrean Opposition Camp individually are very weak financially. These weaknesses have been exploited by foreign forces, particularly Ethiopia, to weaken and divide the Eritrean opposition in general. Ethiopia does not want a united and strong national Eritrean opposition force. Ethiopia does not have a healthy and clear agenda towards Eritrea. Instead, Ethiopia has been actively working to create ethnic consciousness by sponsoring the creation of ethnic and region-based small groups with sub-nationalistic agenda.  It is not also a secret the fact that Ethiopia has been helping and encouraging the weak and small entities within the Eritrean Opposition Camp to destroy any possibility of forming a viable and working grand coalition. It seems now that they have almost achieved their objective of dividing the Eritrean opposition as a step towards their grand agenda of destroying Eritrea as a national entity and its people as a society. Contrast this with: One of the strengths and hence the ultimate source of our success in securing a sovereign Eritrea was our unity in our purposes as a society. The current leaders of Ethiopia know this very much and they rightly consider it as the greatest hindrance to their agenda towards Eritrea. Thus, it is prudent and natural on their side to start destroying it systematically.

Hence, a cursory revisit to the history of Eritrean Opposition Camp during the last two plus decades shows us that coalition formation is a failed experience in the Eritrean struggle for justice, democracy, rule of law, and human rights. Alliance formation should follow a scientific approach. Forces with divergent strategic views cannot form a dynamic and growing alliance. Partners in an alliance should have to have the same or similar views on the fundamental and principal issues. In the context of Eritrea, forces that want to form an alliance at the national level, should have to have the same or similar views at least on the following issues:-

  1. Sovereignty– they (the partners) should have to have unflinching belief in the national sovereignty of Eritrea and be ready to defend it without buts and ifs in the event of foreign aggression. Partners have to have respect to the unity of its people and to the territorial integrity of the nation of Eritrea. These commitments should be clearly spelled out in the political programs of the partners.
  2. Justice- the partners should commit themselves to justice, democracy, rule of law and respect as well as uphold human rights. Partners should be evaluated on these issues from their daily particles and these elements of a democratic society should be spelled out in their respective programs.
  • External Policy– partners should have to have similar views on the role of foreign cooperation and help. The role of changing its government should be the sole responsibility of the Eritrean people and partners should uphold and respect this basic principle.
  1. Method of Changing Government– partners should have to have the same stand on the issue of how the Eritrean people change the current government and any future governments if need be.
  2. Who is the Enemy- Partners should have to have similar view on who is the enemy of the Eritrean people. This should be clearly spelled out in the political programs of the partners. Dictatorial intent and practices are the enemies of the Eritrean people and the partners should fight these enemies wherever they might be. And since justice starts at home, partners should be ready to start the fight against dictatorial practices and intents within themselves.
  3. Problem and Solution Identification– Partners should have to have similar views on the ultimate (main source) of the Eritrean problem and its solution. The ultimate source of the Eritrean problem is lack of justice in all of its aspects and the solution lies in bringing justice through a just means and methods.

An alliance which is not financed from internal sources is always weak and liable to foreign interference. Thus, an alliance should have to have a public support, be transparent, and accountable to the people. In the event of conflict, the ultimate arbitral should be the people through its denial of its support to the culprit and vice versa.


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Review overview
  • k.tewolde March 23, 2018

    It is a simplified but perfectly scripted political opposition 101, any questions? Dr. Gebre, I will see you at your next workshop. Please join us.

  • T:G Hiwet March 23, 2018

    here we go again same old repeated recommendations, pointing fingers at others,and a very pessimistic description of the status quo. For the first time, we are watching an attempt at a codetta within an organization.A kind of power struggle to say the least.No one seems to have grasped the essence of the reality on the ground a certain kind of Identity complex and sense of loss of direction is developing because those who are supposed to lead are busy fighting for space in search of power.I don’t find this article doing anything different.

    • Michael Tesfamariam March 23, 2018

      Absolutely! First and foremost there is no such mysterious magic the so called “Eritrea opposition”, despite many folks seem think otherwise. I hate to admit that Isaais Adeworki was absolutely right when he said “where are the opposition, do they live in the moon or in ocean?”. I have huge respect for Dr Gebre as one of my best former professors, but his piece is simply a pure theoretical academic nonsense with no pragmatic substance to the current situation in Eritrea.This is not something i would anticipate from Dr, he is knowledge and brilliant man, and there are plenty of subjects where he can write and inform us about, but not such boring topics, If Eritreans, wherever they are, wish to create one and only one genuinely united and effective opposition movement against the regime in Eritrea, the first thing they must do is to admit and accept the fact that There Is No Such Opposition Exist, then move on and try to create a new one. How can someone with the right mind think old pensioners like Medrek and likes should be expected to bring about a change in Eritrea. Its founders are too old former members of the gang regime in Eritrea, the right place they should probably go is adult care home. Eritreans, if you are seriously interested to see prisoners released, peace and justice are properly maintained and served in Eritrea, you should be able to admit that this AwRaja or ethnic driven political movement that you have been promoting for decades now, will no longer work, it is dead, and if you insist and unwilling to change the course of your direction, you will be held responsible and put in the dock next to your mates HGDEF criminals.

      • Simon G. March 24, 2018

        ሰራቒ ሰብ: ኩሉ ሰራቒ ‘መስሎ! ኢሎም ኣቦታትና። ከም ትቃወም ኣምሲልካስ ንተቓውምቲ ምዝላፍ። ዓጀብ!
        ሽጣራኺ ተገጢሙ: ወዲ ተስፊት።
        ኣውራጃ ክትብሊ ‘ኳ መሬት ዓሪቡኪ።

        • Tsehaye March 24, 2018

          Simon G, are you a sick parrot always picking on girls/childish fights against innocent commentators? May be you are what’s called “Weyo natas nihamata” kind of thing! In other word, you must be the hopeless regionalist one who is parroting nonstop for his outdated and backward regional agenda.

          • Simon G. March 24, 2018

            ሕጂ ድማ ጸሃየ ተቐይኪ? ወይ ለኽበጥበጥ!

  • Simon G. March 23, 2018

    I am just curious here, Weren’t you one of those group who splits from EPDP when the organization stripped Mesfin Hagos’ power? You have been writing articles in Tigrigna about it a lot!
    How is that for UNITY?
    Act as what you preach!

  • Tesmin March 23, 2018

    We can easily understand why the opposition groups are not and could not make any move with out public support, financial source, and common sane interest for national cause. Thus why doubt and mistrust is the main reason. For instance, the foreign support should be avoided at any cost. If we suppose that! Means we are not learned from history. However, every Eritrean as individual should help for those really opposition groups than doing nothing. We have no other option brothers and sisters. Thank you.

  • rezen March 23, 2018

    Subject: “The Pitfalls of the Eritrean Opposition (for Justice) Camp: Lack of a Coherent and Unifiedby” by Gebre Gebremariam (Dr.), March 23, 2018

    Commentary, 23 Mar 2018
    The legendary Rip van Winkel of European story took him twenty (20) years to wake-up from his deep sleep to face a strange world. We Eritreans took us thirty-three (33) years [from 1961 to 1994) to face REALITY. By then, everything was too late, leaving us completely confused and deeply bitter of betrayal from OUR own indigenous elements.
    In 1961 there was euphoria, without limit, for Eritrean Independence, at any cost – never realizing the deep meaning of “at any cost”! The Eritrean people believed they were ‘ONE and ONLY ONE’, cohesive society without a trace of inherent sociological and political differences. The euphoria for Eritrean independence was based, not on rational thinking and deep analysis, but only, and only, on the uncontrollable HATRED towards Ethiopia. We were hypnotized to that thinking. – and still there are elements [see the Internet] who don not want us to have a free thinking mind.
    Eritrea had been under different colonial masters for some one hundred years starting [we are told} from Ottoman Empire to the Pharoes of Egypt and [we know] 50-years of Italian occupation; 10 yeas of British Administration; and another 10 years under the ‘utmost detestable’ Ethiopian Governance. And yet, Eritreans in countless professions were successful, admired, envied and active players in the entire socioeconomic progress through out Ethiopia. It was a ‘universal’ (so to say) testimony that can never be denied. And yet hypnotised Eritreans of the Day loath Ethiopians more than any other colonial power on Planet Earth! It was totally blind HATRED, inculcated in the minds of the hard working, honest, marvelous Eritreans. It was thus, in such emotional hatred, that Eritreans did not need an iota of convincing to go to war, AT ANY COST. We didn’t know the hidden driving force. We didn’t know where OUR interest laid. We didn’t know the hidden trap.
    In 1964/5, the “fault line’ of Eritrea was exposed by a 20-year old Eritrean college drop-out from the University of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and started the beginning of a “fraternal war” in tandem with the war against Ethiopia!!! The “fraternal war” consumed more damage than the war against the enemy!!!. By then the TRUE colour of the Eritrean revolution was glaringly clear and vivid. For all practical purposes, it was RELIGIOUS war against each other. As time goes by – to this day – the religion friction is so accentuated that it is no longer necessary to search for a cover-up. After independence, in 1994, Eritreans started to feel the true nature of their compatriot Issyas Afewerki Abraha. But it was too late. Eritreans were surprised, confused, disarray, hesitant and lost their grip on Eritrea. And the greatest exodus in ‘modern’ history began with Eritrea taking the second (or third) place in human history.” እዚዶ ይሓይሽ?” so, said an Asmarino husband when he saw his renegade wife working in one of the multiple Bars of Asmara from table to table, getting the usual pull and push.[1]
    In any case, if miraculously the religion friction were to disappear, it is not a bother to Eritrea as it has a stand-by friction based on the ever lasting REGIONALISIM (ኣውራጃነት — ወገንነት). Eritrean malaise is so much and so complex that a single stroke of spark could raise annihilation process by itself, upon itself. We don’t need too much catalysis. As the Ethiopians labelled us, we are “ብረት ምጣድ” IRON PLATE, which takes only a second to overheat.
    If the above narration becomes fictitious, then the physical natural geographical location of Eritrea would come into effective play, where international forces nudging each other to have control of the strategic spot of the Red Sea. Consequently, Eritrea will go back to its natural position of being a pony in international chess game – true to its colonial guided heritage. This way or that way, Eritrea is a loser, as always
    If I STOP here, it would be unfair to history not to mention the fact that the WINNER in the 130-years of Eritrean history only one person deserves historical mention: Issayas Afewerki Abraha, a first-year drop-out of Addis Ababa University; Creator and Leader of Eritrean Liberation Front for 26 years and Self-Appointed President of Eritrea for another 26 years, so far, and heading for Life Presidency. without asking!!! He is that powerful. No one — including the Highest Scholars of the Land — dare to question him, even in the first few formative years of his Presidency. Whether deeply fractured Eritrea [internally or externally] likes it or not, that is a fact. Needless to say, the field is wide open — for experiment and taking risk — by the five hundred or one thousand Eritrean Scholars of the Highest Educational Honour rom the Finest Universities around the Globe to change the course of Eritrean [2]. THE END

    Post Script
    [1] I heard that story from a wise friend of mine a long time ago, actually in a Ba! I admired his wisdom as time went by.
    [2] For what it is worth, the following fact should be mentioned. Diaspora Eritreans, over 25% of the Eritrean population, have established eighty to ninety (yes, 80-90) “opposition parties”, safely secured far away from Eritrea, presumably all working for the SAME goal to dislodge Issayas from his post. It is a charade. By the way, in that number, there are/were five or six groups consisting of top notch highest educated Eritrean scholars, with doctor of Philosophy Degree (PhD), around the Globe. They could NOT see the merit of working together for the same goal!!! That says a volume about the Eritrean mentality.

    • Natu March 24, 2018

      Dear Rezen,

      I like your statement “….If the above narration becomes fictitious, then the physical natural geographical location of Eritrea would come into effective play, where international forces nudging each other to have control of the strategic spot of the Red Sea. Consequently, Eritrea will go back to its natural position of being a pony in international chess game – true to its colonial guided heritage. This way or that way, Eritrea is a loser, as always …”

      Yes, all Eritreans who call themselves matured and ‘educated’ forgett to perceive the core of all happenings in the most important strategic place on earth – the red sea region ! How politicaly poor you are shows how you let yourself divert from the main global issues, the political & economic interests of the red sea area for the global policy makers.- to DIA’s daily deceits and mischieves. concentrating on what in the red sea region is happening is more important than the dipute we ignorant Eritreans & Ethiopians are leading on the border areas,…etc..
      We have to be smart enough to stop antagonizing each other and following the order we get from the western countries who make the daily agendas (not we for ourselves !). We are only gifted in the ignorance of perfectly implementing the design/concepts they create for their wishes.

      DEAR COUNTRY men and women ! please understand the aims of the project running in the red sea region. They are cutting the coastal areas of the red sea (on the Afrika side) as they planed it while starting colonializing Afrika since about 130 years ago (ex ERITREA and other areas). Only their interests count, whether for example Ethiopia is going to be land locked doesn’t matter for them.
      We Eritreans must especially be very cautious. The outcome of our struggle for liberation is not realy what we targeted; it is going in the interest of globalization goals.They are expanding their market places in the name of Eritrea where they are burgaining only with a sigle DIA by making the youth modern slaves of the neo-colonialists.

      The political entity or idea ‘ERITREA’ should not be seen as god given; Remeber, “blood is thiker that water”, We are creative enough to take the matter in our hands – Lets grow our self-confidence and blieve that we also CAN!. . ..

      • rezen March 26, 2018

        Dear Natu, I truly appreciate and touched by your last paragraph: an example of admirable inherent sincerity and your burning desire for the quote: “idea ‘ERITREA’ unquote. I wish your dream will come true and that we all LIVE Happily Ever After.
        I am truly sad, however, to say that it won’t happen. It is our DREAM and will always remain our DREAM while REALITY continues on course, as always. The ERITREA .that was transferred from one colonial power to another — including the most shocking unbelievable indigenous ‘enemies’ — for an aggregate period of more than one hundred years will always remain so — until Eritrea is disintegrated into pieces and at last the name “ERITREA” evaporates into the thin air. THE END.

        • rezen March 26, 2018

          Please add the following at the end my commentary:: “and we the people there in will continue to be scattered around the Globe with our ever lasting DREAM”

  • Tesfai March 23, 2018

    BBC Reports today:

    ኣብ ዝሓለፈ ክልተ ሰሙናት ኣብ ካርቱም ዋና ከተማ ሱዳን ዝርከቡ ኤርትራውያን ስደተኛታት ብተኸታታሊ ወተሃደራዊ ክዳን ብዝተኸደኑን ሙሉእ ዕጥቂ ዝዓጠቁን ጎሓሉ ገበነኛታት ብለይቲ ይጋፍዑ ከምዘለዉ ግዳያት ናይ’ቲ ገበን ንቢቢሲ ሓቢሮም።

    እዞም ስደተኛታት ኣብ ልዕሊኦም ብዙሕ ማህረምትን ሃስያን ከምዝበጽሖም’ዮም ዝገልጹ። ብፍላይ ድማ ቆሉዑት ዘለወን ኣዴታት እቲ ዘጋጥመን ኩነታት ኣብ ልዕሊ ህጻናት ደቀን ማህሰይቲ፣ ስንባድን ፍርሕን ከምዘስዓበሎም ይገልጻ ኣሎዋ።

    እዞም ገበነኛታት ብለይቲ ብጉልባብ ናይ ጸጥታ ሰራሕተኛታት ወይ ፖሊስ ኣብ መንበሪ ኣባይቲ እናኣተዉ የከላብቱ ከምዘለዉ እቶም ምንጭታት ብተወሳኺ ሓቢሮም። ….

  • Tesfai March 23, 2018

    BBC Reports today:

    “ኣብ ዝሓለፈ ክልተ ሰሙናት ኣብ ካርቱም ዋና ከተማ ሱዳን ዝርከቡ ኤርትራውያን ስደተኛታት ብተኸታታሊ ወተሃደራዊ ክዳን ብዝተኸደኑን ሙሉእ ዕጥቂ ዝዓጠቁን ጎሓሉ ገበነኛታት ብለይቲ ይጋፍዑ ከምዘለዉ ግዳያት ናይ’ቲ ገበን ንቢቢሲ ሓቢሮም።

    እዞም ስደተኛታት ኣብ ልዕሊኦም ብዙሕ ማህረምትን ሃስያን ከምዝበጽሖም’ዮም ዝገልጹ። ብፍላይ ድማ ቆሉዑት ዘለወን ኣዴታት እቲ ዘጋጥመን ኩነታት ኣብ ልዕሊ ህጻናት ደቀን ማህሰይቲ፣ ስንባድን ፍርሕን ከምዘስዓበሎም ይገልጻ ኣሎዋ።

    እዞም ገበነኛታት ብለይቲ ብጉልባብ ናይ ጸጥታ ሰራሕተኛታት ወይ ፖሊስ ኣብ መንበሪ ኣባይቲ እናኣተዉ የከላብቱ ከምዘለዉ እቶም ምንጭታት ብተወሳኺ ሓቢሮም። ….