For the last eight months, there has been an intense debate among the Eritrean Diaspora opposition. This was, mainly, due to the Eritrean People Democratic Party’s antagonistic posture towards the holding of the Natinal Conference for Democratic Change in Eritrea, or to be precise, due to EPDP’s untoward characterization of the process of the WAELA’s (NCDC) holding.
In this piece, I will try to answer some vital questions: 1) Who is breaking the EDA’s constitution? 2) How did the EPDP handle the issue of WAELA within its own party?… and 3) What are the consequences emerging out of this?
Before I immerse myself to the core issues, there is one important element that I want to disclose; I am a member of the EPDP.
Being a member of the party, and in a leadership position in North America until its last congress, Aug 2010, criticizing it openly, questioning its integrity, and its leadership position, raises questions regarding my loyalty I consider that a genuine questioning.
Party members sign into a party because they consider it to be the one, and only one, party that fulfills their ideals. And when they find out that the party is falling short of their ideals, they have varied options to pursue, but all endeavors should serve to rectify the faults. Besides, this time the stakes are so high to let party loyalty, and personal egos reign unchecked.
Ironically, EPDP’s faults were, trust and unfettered will, to build a national party. This in itself is healthy, but forsaking some constitutional and procedural principles for expediency entails a huge price to settle. The Eritrean people’s democratic party is formed by a merger of three major opposition political parties: EPM, EPP, and EDP. The core issues that divided these three parties for a long time were, though there were other issues like the 1997 constitution, the mode of struggle, and headquartering in Ethiopia. When these parties merged, there was no clear consensus on these issues. Even though the EPDP claims that it espouses peaceful struggle, the political document is vague at best, and members understood it differently. Defining clearly your mode of struggle helps you, not only to allocate your resources properly, but also to increase the number of your followers. One of the main reasons the Eritrean opposition has been less meaningful is, it never clearly mapped its mode of struggle. It is no wonder that many people never joined a movement that does not have a work manual. One of the many intended goals of the Waela was, appending a blueprint into the oppositions political programme on how to remove the incumbent regime in Asmera.
The second issue which, purportedly, divided the parties was, their position on Ethiopia. EDP, one of the merging parties had a negative position towards Ethiopia, and EPM had a warm relations. None of the parties worked hard, except Ambassador Adhanom, the chairman of EPM, to dispel the myths created by the Eritrean government regarding Ethiopia. One of the peaceful struggles that should have been waged was, educating the Eritrean people on who their real enemy is. In other words, we should earnestly fight the siege mentality imposed on our people by the government.
When the parties merged there was no clear consensus on these issues, and without hashing out these differences and dissolving their respective parties in a mandated congress, in December 2009 they hastily merged. I fought hard in our North America conference for the merger to have a clear programme to no avail. I raised the issue of mandate in our conference in North America, and I got two different answers from two executive members. One told me that EPP had, in its constitution, a mechanism to dissolve itself without a mandated congress, and the other told me, with the precipitously deteriorating situation in Eritrea we have no time to strictly follow the constitution.
What we are witnessing today is a direct result of this stillborn merger. This being the negative side of the merger, it also has its shining side. The merger has enabled the party to bring people who agree on what direction the opposition should follow. This, I am sure, will unfold itself in the coming weeks and months.
Now I will start my analysis by tackling the second question in my introduction: How did EPDP handle the issue of WAELA inside its own party ?
As everybody might guess, the issue of WAELA should have been discussed thoroughly inside the party, since EPDP’s main qualm about the WAELA was, and is, the issue of participation. The truth is to the contrary, and raising the issue of participation when you are not exercising it yourself is beyond my understanding. Few months before the waela my friend Alem Goitom of Meskerem.net asked me if we were not participating in the WAELA, and when I asked him the reason for his queries, he referred me to Mengsteab Asmerom’s article. This was an eye-opener of what was to follow, and this is how many members came to know about the issue. And after that, members of our party started pouring their articles recklessly. I asked some in the leadership to correct this egregious act.
As a party, I stated, we should not go public before we digest the issues amongst ourselves. The response I got was, it is their personal opinion and they can air it anytime. Though I didn’t agree, I followed the rule and wrote publicly to respond to one of my follow members; what followed was a barrage of criticism directed towards me. So much for personal opinion. This is well documented in my endless e-mails. At that critical time EPDP clearly lacked a good leadership.
Neither the Central Committee, nor the Zobas deliberated on the issue. The Executive Council decided the issue by vote. Remember, trust was the victim of the party all along; trust was a substitute for a clear political programme, and clean merger. Some of the merging parties had less numbers—in the Central Committee and Executive Committees—because of their former party composition and wanted decisions to be made by consensus. Alas, the others wouldn’t budge, so they reluctantly agreed to the demands of the party with big numbers for decisions to be made by majority vote. Little did they know that trust would be trashed at an opportune time. The irony of all this is, when the leaders who, finally, stood against the Waela (EPDP2) were pushing hard for a national Waela, it was the other part (EPDP1) which was proposing a measured scale on the undertaking.
Now that we have seen the decision-making process inside the party, let us turn to what happened inside the Eritrean Democratic Alliance. I hope what follows will answer my second question.
EDA is an alliance of Eritrean opposition groups and it is guided by the constitution adopted at its congress. The last congress of the EDA was held in 2008, in Addis Ababa. EPDP, being one of its members, should be governed by the EDA’s constitution.
What does EDA’s constitution say on the process of the WAELA?
Of course nobody expects the constitution to speak explicitly on WAELA, but it gives EDA members rules on how to accomplish their daily tasks. According to the EDA’s constitution, the Central Committee decides by consensus of its members, unless they are procedural, and the Executive Council on the other hand reaches its decision by a three-fourth majority. (see attached document).
In its second regular meeting, July 2009, the Central Committee of the EDA passed a resolution in which it fully mandated—its Executive Council—to establish the organizing committee of the WAELA, and proposed the Waela to be held in no later than a year’s time if possible (that would mean July 2010). Also, it raised three agendas for discussion: how to foster unity; how to remove the PFDJ; and how to create a transitional period.
As mandated, the Executive Committee started its job, and obviously it should respect its constitution. It should follow the three-fourth majority rule in all its dealings. That, it should do for the sake of its members, and the Eritrean people.
And, any opposition worth its name should clearly articulate its opposition to the WAELA; is it opposing it because EDA did not follow its constitution, or because it was less than stellar in its performance in its undertaking of the WAELA ?
Finally, I will address the final question. What are the consequences emerging out of this ?
Right now the true colors of the Eritrean society, and specifically of the opposition, is on display. Some in the opposition, probably, have a different prism of Eritrea; they are not ready to embrace Eritrea as a whole—different identities of equal significance.
Others are reluctant to let go of the ruling party, the PFDJ, and of course there are those who equate freedom with them being at the helm of power. All these are coming garbed in different guises to undo the long dreamed victory that was won at the Addis WAELA.
WAELA’s victory has a historic proportion, it has shattered the evil prognosis of the doomsayers that stretched from Bevin/Sforza to some opposition leaders of contemporary Eritrea. The arguments of the WAELA detractors is deceptive at best, and despicable at worst. How can someone start to decry and denigrate follow opposition groups overnight? How can the WAELA change the political groups into radicals and fanatics in ten days? I don’t think these people understand the basic tenets of democracy. What does freedom of association mean to them? Have they ever read the political programme of the Ethnic political parties? I don’t think so. Otherwise, the people in EPDP 1, and their counterparts at CDRIE would have made a distinction between the issues at hand: Is it the party formation, or the zonal districting they are opposing in their arguments? But wait, not only that; some segments of our society think they are oppressed more than others by the dictatorship, but this “RIGHT TO THINK” is denied in some circles of the opposition.
Their politics is getting muddied by the day; unabated derision of political parties, pitting the young generation against the political parties, raising phony peace banners, and unabashedly comparing the opposition with PFDJ has become their daily chores.
No phony peace movement, and not any shallow youth movement is going to reverse the tide of democracy. If anyone is interested in making peace among Eritrean groups, they should help them to respect and follow their constitutions.
Granted, EDA did not perform as we all expect it, but this failure is shared by all of us; political parties, civic movements, and individuals. The choice is clear, do we dwell in recriminating each other, or settle for a healthy criticism to strengthen our opposition ?