Evaluation of the work of Eritrean National Democratic Council (ENCDC) up to the second regular meeting
Eritreans for Democracy, Justice and Equality (EDJE)
The ENCDC represents the last link in a long chain of developments achieved in the course of the Eritrean Opposition’s struggle to improve its mechanisms and capabilities. It was the culmination of the last Congress’ efforts in establishing a wider and more inclusive alliance compared to its precursors. Therefore, a national front was formed that embraced under its umbrella a variety of civil and political constituents on the basis of the consensual fundamental principles, general guidelines, work programs and structures adopted by the Congress.
Although the ENCDC is undisputedly considered a legitimate, hard-won achievement, it no doubt suffers from inherent defects as a consequence of the unhealthy power centred competitions that marred the process of its formation during the Congress, thus rendering it weak and incapacitated. It had suffered from shortcomings and flaws committed and accumulated throughout the stages prior to and during the Congress. This had been mainly due to the failure of the major players at the time to positively undertake their due roles in the preparation process for the Congress, while some of the groups had openly and unreservedly engaged in a blind pursuit of their respective narrow interests. Thus unleashing an unnecessary and untimely harmful power competition that had derailed and voided the whole process out of its main content and purpose of forging; consolidating and enhancing the nascent alliance that had been initiated in the previous Addis Conference between civil societies and political organisations for the purpose of effectively waging a more focused struggle to achieve the aspired democratic change.
The shortcomings of the Congress can mainly be attributed to the failures and the power struggles entailed in the process leading up to the Congress. As a consequence, a weak leadership emerged that fell far short of measuring up to the expectations to successfully accomplish the task of democratic change required. It is therefore understandable that its leadership that suffers inherent defects could not comprehend the magnitude of the required task and has been unable to rise up to the challenge of the new development and the serious demands that it entails.
The above statements notwithstanding, we accept that the ENCDC is a reality that acquired its legitimacy from the National Congress to represent the main Eritrean Opposition Forces. Thus, this critical evaluation that we have embarked on, in no way intends to dispute or undermine that fact but is meant to search for a way forward out of the difficult situation we are facing and to expedite the process as fast as possible out of the stagnancy prevailing now. This is not a task to be undertaken only by ENCDC members and leadership but by all concerned parties and individuals.
With the aforementioned understanding and in that line and context we would like to contribute our due share in the process hoping it will be helpful in serving and advancing the main goal of realising the aspired change.
Our aspirations of what the ENCDC should have achieved during its term were high and may have been a bit exaggerated so it becomes necessary to scale them down to more realistic levels that closely correspond to the nature and the capabilities of the current leadership. Despite taking into consideration the defects of the leadership, we still believe there should have been some reasonably achievable goals within the modest capacity of the current ENCDC. The main tasks that should have been accomplished during the elapsed period were to focus on establishing the basic building blocks of a parliamentary institution and democratic work-traditions as the basis for future organisational or state structures that function smoothly and democratically to effectively attain the desired goals. Though, these major tasks have been missed, we find it necessary not to drop them altogether, as these are prerequisites that must be duly met sooner or later. In our opinion, the ENCDC has basically been mandated and expected to have fulfilled the following major purposes or aims:
- To foster and practice institutional work principles that should establish a work culture and tradition based on principles of institutionalism, democracy, transparency and accountability that facilitate the adopting and enhancing of parliamentary work norms and practices that can be applied consistently throughout all the activities of the ENCDC;
- To instil a culture and establish procedures of effective accountability of those entrusted with the leadership;
- To ensure that Committees and Leadership Teams are formed according to a criteria or policy that should be based on broad representation and proper reflection of the diversity, qualifications and work ability within the Council and its Leadership;
- To strictly observe in close cooperation and coordination with its constituting components to promote the cause and realise the task of democratic change and to function on the basis of the principle of division and separation of powers and responsibilities;
- To work and secure the support, gain the confidence and facilitate the active involvement of all concerned sectors of the Eritrean public from different walks of life in the process of democratic change;
- To build and improve relations and establish effective and active communications with the outside world and work to gain more allies and supporters that would serve and support the just cause of our struggle for democratic change.
- To accommodate and embrace all constituent groups within the new organisational structures thus ensuring the practical and voluntary realisation of empowerment of the ENCDC as the only legitimate national representative organ for all its members. The only way the ENCDC acquires and assumes that status is not by claiming it, but by gaining recognition and acknowledgment of all constituents by virtue of proving being more efficient and competent than any of its constituents.
Generally speaking, the ENCDC should function as a parliamentary institution mainly preparing legislations, setting programs and working plans based on the resolutions and recommendations of the National Congress and on adapting and responding to the conditions and the demands of the objective realities and necessities of the democratic change.
Furthermore, the Eritrean National Council for Democratic Change (ENCDC) should have strived to accomplish the following objectives and tasks:
- To draw the necessary bylaws and regulations that define organisational and work relations, set duties and functions of the Council and its Standing Committees (legislative) and the Executive organs.
- Set well studied and detailed work plans, policies and instructions for the Standing Committees and the Executive Committee to adopt and implement.
- Clearly determine the work and organisational relationships between the ENCDC and its constituents, EDA, non EDA political organisations, civil societies and non-affiliated individuals and public. Based on these clearly defined relationships and functions the ENCDC and the Executive Committee would draw the boundaries between their tasks and those of other constituents. Thus avoid unnecessary competitions and interferences, an important prerequisite for embarking upon the reorganising and mobilising work that it needs to carry out among its constituents.
- Scrutinises, supervises and if necessary enforces its monitoring power over the work and decisions of Executive Committee.
- Elects qualified members for the Executive Committee posts.
- Establishes Standing Committees to be assigned with special tasks.
- Supervises and follows the Council’s different committees.
- Manages and oversees the financial policy through an audit to ensure that all resources must be effectively utilised to serve the major task of changing the regime in Eritrea and establishing a democratic alternative.
- Complete and activate all structures within the ENCDC (e.g. Standing Committees) and see to it that they perform their functions properly as defined by the General Bylaws.
It would not be a secret disclosed in stating that most or all of the above mentioned tasks have not been accomplished. To the utter dismay and confound of all concerned, the members of ENCDC leadership have been completely oblivious of their responsibilities or incapable of effectively executing the mandated duties. They even failed to complete the structures of the Standing Committees and activate them to do the minimum tasks required up to now.
During the elapsed year that span to cover the entire first half of ENCDC’s term; the Council has hastily managed to stage up two meetings. The first, the inauguration meeting just immediately after its formation at the end of the National Congress that lasted only long enough to nominate the members of the Executive Committee before members hurriedly packed to return to their original destinations leaving the main task of properly preparing and setting the necessary work plans, programs and legislative guidelines for both authorities and for the period to come suspended and completely unattended.
The ENCDC met once again as scheduled after a year-long idle and unproductive period. That was a year devoid of any meaningful contribution where time and opportunities were squandered except for a few unsuccessful, contradictory and half finished attempts made by the Executive Office. It was hopefully and logically expected that such an unacceptable situation would prompt a strong urge to find out what has gone wrong and address that satisfactorily. It was required to start a fresh attempt with a new spirit and vigour to compensate for the lost time and properly utilise the remaining half term left in a better way. But again nothing serious has come out of that meeting to the effect of completely revising and addressing the past failures and properly setting future work plans and actions. A lot of time was wasted as usual in attending recurrent logistic problems and in reading tediously long reports of presumed carried activities apparently in an attempt to cover up and justify the inactivity rather than really relating substantiated tangible activities. The rest of the time was squandered in squabbles and polemics around Qernelios’ issue that led to the build-up of unnecessary tensions, showdowns and disputes about how to deal with the controversy that was untimely and irresponsibly invoked. Exposing the fragile and weak ENCDC to more complications and consequent repercussions it was unprepared for.
Having said that, the question of taking disciplinary measures against Qernelios was essential for any organisation that respects itself and its history and is deeply concerned about the people’s feelings and reactions. As to what should have been the proper measure? That was unfortunately the difficult and challenging question and predicament that the ENCDC completely failed in unanimously and satisfactorily tackling in a united form and stand.
This is a shocking reminder that has clearly shown how staggeringly weak our progress towards unity has been and how deep our differences are about reading our history! The ENCDC’s incapability and shortcomings have not only been displayed by actions of unjustifiably squandering valuable time in a merry-go-round of arguments basically not with the purpose of reaching a satisfactory agreement around an issue but to score points and impose one’s convictions and opinions on the other as in the volatile case of Qernelios. It is also shown by the repeated utter failure of not addressing important duty arrears that piled up in the course of time. Which are the formulation and adoption of internal bylaws to regulate and define the Council’s work relations with the Executive Committee and its different constituents and the setting of work plans for the Executive Committee to implement in the coming period without which the Council cannot logically exercise its duty of scrutiny and evaluation demanded?
The National Council instead of devoting all its effort in the development of this institution and promoting that to a real democratic alternative to the dictatorial regime by adopting and fostering a democratic work tradition, instilling mutual respect between the different components, transparency and accountability as a means to perfect the performance to realize the ultimate goal and interests of the people, the raison d’être of the Council. It tended to act to the contrary in displaying a prominent phenomenon that characterized the Council’s performance in the previous term since its configuration which can not be attributed to a power struggle factor alone, although it is one of its manifestations. That is the lack of a sense of responsibility, respect for the laws and abiding by them and the abuse of power to perpetuate exclusion and impose domination to the degree that rendered the Council to lose its credibility and legal prestige that supposedly was to be preserved and respected as everyone has participated in the formation and formulation of these regulating legislations. A fact that clearly demonstrates that there are other factors behind this behavior that is contradictory to the slogan of “democratic change” !!
However, what can not be understood or accepted is to have our behavior as an Opposition Camp, resemble in any way to that of the Regime that we are fighting against and to primarily change and uproot the mentality of domination, exclusion and assimilation that characterizes it! Thus we lose the justification, cause and legitimacy of our reason of existence gained through assuming the role of being totally different to the dictatorial regime and as owners of an alternative national project for democratic change.
We believe that the reason for this behavior is deeply rooted in the past. This might have stemmed from cycles of Eritrean conflicts since the forties and until the reign of the national state and a multitude of occurrences in between. The loss of trust between the various factions that characterized that period is still the dominant behavior reflected in the relationships of the opposition factions and forces even today. We consider that as a factor that explains the paradox existing between the objectives and the practical means to apply them! It is also one of the main factors that threaten the national unity project which in the first place is based on confidence and trust building measures necessary to achieve the aspired goal of the opposition forces to overthrow the regime and to realize a peaceful coexistence compatible with the democratic alternative we look forward to establish. Therefore, we believe that the matter of mutual trust and confidence should be given the due attention and seriousness it deserves in order to resolve and clear it from all erroneous attempts made in the past, and that led to the confusion and failures that we are suffering from now. Without doing that it will always remain a stumbling block in the way of any desired change and in the realization of peaceful coexistence.
We note clearly that this dominant trend has expressed itself in several manifestations, such as:
a) Harboring a prior intention not to respect the Fundamental By-Laws and conventions that have been adopted at the conference and that mainly due to lack of confidence and fear of the other.
b) Purposely opting not to activate proper channels of communication and meetings between the two bodies and the various Council committees which has impacted negatively on the tasks to be accomplished. Any task is usually evaded by adjourning that to coming periodic Council meetings for consideration. This is a delay tactic to gain more time for the interests of individual parties at the expense of the others.
c) Lack of a mechanism to carry out everyday tasks as a result of the absence of organizational relationships and the overlap between the roles and responsibilities of the legislative and executive leadership of the Council and its various committees on the one hand and between the membership of the Council and the public on the other.
d) The constantly on going power struggle and the continuous and intentional breach of the by-laws without taking into account the negative consequences of such behavior.
e) The total neglect and absence of communication with the public to enable mobilize and channel their effort to activate the performance of the National Council as the main partner and effective tool in the democratization process.
Additionally, certain other problems have negatively affected the performance of the ENCDC:
- One stumbling problem that stood in the way of the Executive to properly function could be attributed to the existence of conflict of interests as most of the executive offices are headed by persons who also occupy executive posts in their respective organisations. This is in clear contradiction with the Fundamental By-Laws of ENCDC, a fact that hinders them from devoting all the time and effort needed to perform their mandated duties within the ENCDC Executive Committee only.
- The Chairman of the Executive Office was unable to communicate properly with other executive members. Not complying with democratic procedures and practices, he had taken a series of conflicting decisions with the consent of whoever few were present in Addis Ababa at the time instead of consulting all or the majority of members as required. Like the case of the controversial decisions concerning the role of executive members in supervising the formation process and heading the Regional Committee work later. A number of instructions have been issued in this respect. These contradictory instructions created more confusion and differences as to how the committees were to be formed. Thus they were established in different ways in the different regions depending on which of the decisions had been followed.
- Generally speaking the performance of the Executive leadership has not been in any way better than its counterpart in the Council leadership. The result was the current stalemate that slumped down the ENCDC bringing it finally to a standstill.
The national necessity deems that all partners in the struggle for democratic change should cooperate together, each part doing its bit, avoiding any petty distractions that divert the focus or deter from achieving the main goal of changing the regime. Thus, as it is a duty of every one concerned, we find ourselves obliged to suggest a way out of the current problem.
- As the ENCDC (the Council & Executives) has proved beyond reasonable doubt to be incapable of executing the mandated tasks it is time to call for a national Congress to be held soon.
- A Preparatory Committee to be formed for that purpose. This is to be in coordination and consultation with all concerned parties and on the basis of a democratic and transparent process.
- Adopting a clear policy and criteria for candidacy that will guarantee:
- Fair and inclusive participation,
- Proper qualifications and political work experience,
- Positive personal record of active involvement, clear stands against the regime and devotion for the cause of the struggle for democratic change that ENCDC stands for.
- The ENCDC while facilitating the work of the Preparatory Committee for the National Congress, should attend to its mandated tasks as far as it possibly can, be alert and prepared if necessary to call for an emergency Congress to deal with serious developments as deemed necessary by the urgency of the eventual situation.
- The ENCDC in coordination with the Preparatory Committee should seek the assistance of professionals and experts to help in the preparation of documents and case studies necessary to facilitate a smooth and organized approach towards the Congress.
- The Preparatory Committee to work independently within the guidelines and purpose set out during its formation and in full coordination with all concerned particularly the ENCDC and its relevant bodies.
- The ENCDC and the preparatory Committee should provide proposals for:
a- Clear cut work and organisational relationship proposals or studies that define and regulate the relations between the ENCDC and its constituents, EDA, non EDA political organisations, civil societies, non-affiliated individuals and public. A problem that had been left undefined and unresolved which has been a cause for speculation, confusion and unnecessary competitions and interferences.
b- Clearly define the organisation structure and nature of the ENCDC. Whether it is a parliamentary coalition between completely independent organisations or blocs and alliances of organisations and works as a parliament? Or is it a new organisation that merges and replaces all former constituents that agreed to join it not permitting for constituent organisations or blocs to continue functioning as independent entities outside it? A question to be clearly answered.
c- To consider all other unclear relations that contributed to the failure of the ENCDC as the adoption of policy of nomination and candidacy with the proportions to be allotted to political organisations and to civilians and civil societies etc. lacked in past experience.
Despite all the failures mentioned we believe that the ENCDC is an appreciated national achievement that all concerned have dearly invested in and are keen to preserve and develop further. Objectively analysing and criticising the defects and shortcomings is a necessary step in a problem solving process. Scrutinising, evaluating and openly criticising the work of our organisations which are in the public domain and concern should be a tradition and a norm to follow and foster as a culture in order to improve future performances of such establishments. It would be more effective and purposeful when the objects of criticism appreciate and positively respond to the effect of mending and improving their activities including the addressed public.
Therefore, this is a modest attempt from our part contributing our share in the task of identifying and searching for durable solutions to our chronic problems with the intention and purpose to avoid or mend the damage and help to break the vicious circle of continuously repeating old mistakes. We as usual have tried to be as accurate and objective as possible in our evaluation expressed as our opinion but we are also aware that it is difficult to completely exclude judgment errors or subjectivity and we cannot exclusively claim too that the asserted opinions are the only version of the truth or the whole truth.