After it stayed stuck in an impasse for almost four years, the Eritrean National Council for Democratic Change (ENCDC) said it will hold its second congress in December 2016. Fifteen opposition organizations are committed to holding the second congress.
The Hawassa congress where the ENCDC was elected, was the largest Eritrean congress after independence of Eritrea. Over 500 delegates from all over the world attended the congress. However, the ENCDC was marred by crisis that started soon after the conclusion of the congress.
The second congress of the ENCDC was postponed and delayed many times since 2014, the year it was expected to be held. The delay was mainly caused by the refusal of six organizations that considered the ENCDC “dead and illegitimate” in several statements that seem to show their disinterest in the Hawassa formed umbrella.
Several mediation efforts by Eritreans individuals and groups failed to resolve the difference between the two groups that still remain divided on how to move ahead.
While some Eritreans blame the six-groups as spoilers who wish to control the agenda of the opposition in what resembles “hostile takeover moves”, the six-organizations accuse the ENCDC for being rigid and unyielding. In addition, some Eritreans blame the Ethiopian handlers at the Sana’a Forum for favoring, and emboldening one group at the expense of the other.
According to an observer, “the seeds that were sown at the Hawassa congress are now thorny trees that are preventing the holding of the congress…many people had warned of these consequences at that congress but were ignored.”
It has been many months since the group of six entities rejected any negotiations with the ENCDC despite the fact that the latter has accommodated many of their grievances regarding the the documents of the preparatory committee of the congress which were amended in response.
Members and supporters of the ENCDC residing all over the world have been pressuring the ENCDC to hold its second congress since 2014 while Ethiopian authorities sternly warned the ENCDC to resolve its differences with the six-entities to be able to hold a congress in Ethiopia. Though it was not stated clearly, “the demand of the authorities implied the ENCDC would not be allowed to hold its congress unless the six-entities participated in it, and that is why many believe the Ethiopians are favoring the six-entities.”
However, the ENCDC stated that, “attendance in the congress is voluntary and no one should be coerced or begged to attend, but the door will be left open in case the six-organizations reconsider their position and decide to attend, provided it’s not decided in the last minute.”
In the last few weeks, the Ethiopian authorities have indicated their readiness to provide security and visa facilities to support the ENCDC hold its congress and that they will make a final attempt to mediate between the two groups without hindering the ENCDC’s process of preparation for the congress.
Since last year, the ENCDC members and supporters have been excreting pressure on the fifteen organizations that are mostly stationed in Ethiopia to plan to hold virtual regional congresses and one final face to face meeting of persons elected in the regional virtual congresses.
Last year Medrek, an upstart Eritrean movement with reasonable funds to spare, was approached to help the ENCDC to resolve its funding problems. That approach led to the Nairobi conference of November 2015 where members of the ENCDC and other organizations attended.
Medrek didn’t reply to a question whether it was planning to financially support the ENCDC to hold its congress. However, Medrek is not likely to help since it is soliciting funds from its donors for a meeting in which it I planning to bring all opposition groups.
An ENCDC supporter said, “we have to fund the congress on our own, otherwise we will always be subservient to fund providers and the dictation that comes with it.”
Ethiopian authorities will not provide any financial support to the ENCDC which estimates the cost of the congress to be around, “$220,000 to pay for food, lodging, and other expenses, excluding travel expenses to Ethiopia.”