A General Evaluation of the Eritrean National Congress for Democratic Change (ENCDC) held in Hawassa 21-30 Nov. 2011)
by Eritreans for Democracy, Justice and Equality (EDJE)
The convening of the National Congress marked the culmination of extensive preparations that lasted over a year. The process was based on the main decision of the Eritrean National Conference for Democratic Change held in Addis in August 2010.
The participation of 594 delegates representing Eritreans from all walks of life across the broad spectrum of the Eritrean political and social entities constituted a historic landmark in our long history of struggle.
The Commission mandated with conducting and facilitating the preparations for holding an all-inclusive National Congress, realised that task within the scope of the time and objectives set out for it. The success of the National Congress could mainly be attributed to the fact that, it constituted a national dialogue forum. People of different age-groups, life experiences, political and social backgrounds had seriously and consciously undertaken the task of streamlining their differences and finally converging their views into adopting consensual decisions and resolutions the gist of which has been formulated in the National Charter, a socio-political contract that binds all.
No doubt, this conference was an authentic manifestation of the Eritrean diversity in its religious and cultural forms; reflected in the colourful participation of different political organizations, civic societies and prominent individuals.
The preparation process was, generally speaking, satisfactory and contributed to the success of the Congress. However, like any work of such a magnitude there were areas that could have been done better. Mentioning some of which would not in any way underrate or deny the over all success achieved.
Since the early stages, certain disturbing and undesired tendencies and trends, which focused on power control in the upcoming leadership, had emerged and accompanied the process, unleashing unnecessary competition among the partners. We believe that this contradicted the spirit, the underlying principles, and the essence of the Congress preparation process that demanded the rallying and mobilising of all stakeholders towards convening an all-inclusive Congress as a prerequisite to its success. The sole purpose of the Congress was to lay the solid basis for change including the adoption of mechanisms necessary for the establishment of a new organisational structure and leadership that would facilitate and accelerate the process of change.
That meant realising the goals of the democratic change, replacing the regime and the establishing of democratic governance based on the rule of law where the fundamental rights and freedoms of all national components would be achieved. We tried our best to deter and resist the erroneous attempts of derailing and reducing the whole process into a power control struggle instead of striving towards power sharing with all concerned partners. Thus, the scenario of power struggle that finally unfolded during the Congress was not much of a surprise to many. It was certainly a disappointment as we apparently failed in preventing it. Nevertheless, we considered the mere convening of the conference with a participation of the majority of the opposition force; the successful conclusion and the forming of a collective leadership amounted to a historic achievement in the Eritrean resistance struggle against the sectarian, chauvinistic and dictatorial regime in Asmara. This revived and instilled new hopes and confidence in the Eritrean people and signalled the approach to the end of the dark tunnel and the start of the countdown to the demise of the dictatorial regime.
We have been realistic in our expectations and the prospects of the outcome. We think this result was the minimum possibly attainable scenario in light of the background of the realities of the past that were full of missed opportunities and squandered potentials. Certainly, we are not fully satisfied but we have to accept that as an unfortunate part of the rules of the democratic game that we all chose to play. We should also try to make the best of it, develop and improvise to make it work for the common good of all.
We embarked upon this analytical study and critical appraisal of the process in order to identify the areas of strengths and weaknesses. The objective of such evaluation is to learn lessons from the failures and shortcomings to avoid repeating them and enhance the achievements so far made.
The role of the Congress’ Secretariat was basically limited from the time it took over from the Commission to the conclusion of the Congress, which was from 24-30 November. Despite the fear and uneasiness expressed by some groups, that the composition of The Secretariat was disproportional and did not reflect the religious dichotomy of the nation, its selection of the leadership team in a way reflecting all stakeholders was a good role model to the Congress’ attendees and a sign of a mature and good spirit to begin with.
Taking into consideration the disparate representation in the Congress, it was not an easy task to manage and moderate such a diverse group with different tendencies and political outlook. By all standards, and despite the hiccup of the transitional draft constitution, which was a very unfortunate event, The Secretariat has fully and satisfactorily accomplished its mandate within the period allotted to the Congress.
Having said that, there were issues which could have been handled better such as double-checking the workshop results pertaining to the constitution, compiling the final agreed decisions in a better way so as to be handed over to the ENCDC’s Secretariat.
Roles of the Major Players
The Commission had satisfactorily achieved its assignment of preparing for the conference when considered from a technical task perspective. Despite all the criticism that could be expressed against it, the Commission and its supporting Committees cannot be denied their due praise and credit for the overall work accomplished that finally culminated in the convening of a successful National Congress and for the selflessness and devotion exhibited, time and effort expended in accomplishing that duty. Nevertheless, there were some aspects where it had failed and that negatively reflected in the process that we need to dwell on.
The Commission was born with inherent flaws and weaknesses that it certainly cannot be solely held responsible or accountable for. Members were not chosen carefully on the basis of personal merits and on the criteria of qualification and competence needed for the task but merely to fill in posts for representation purposes. All partners bear the responsibility of that shortage and consequently the failures entailed. Thus, many members were practically idle and rendered redundant. Only a few members of the Executives were active and tried to assume the magnanimous task of the preparations that was a heavy burden to shoulder. Fortunately, the bulk of that burden was shared by the Supporting Committees formed in the different places, which finally helped to deliver the task required.
There were also setbacks and shortcomings committed during the process. Some of these were due to overlapping and sharing of responsibilities with the different partners.
- The deterioration of inter-relations between the Commission and EDA as a result of gradually mounting tensions that were not handled in time and which eroded the ground for building good relations of trust and cooperation. We consider this had primarily arisen from the absence of clear work relations and the misunderstanding about the statutory independent status of the Commission. That consequently negatively affected the coordination and cooperation levels that should have characterised the work relationship between these two partners.
- The failure of re-drafting the documents in their final refined versions incorporating all the recommendations and amendments forwarded from the public discussions. That would have greatly improved the quality and content of the documents and spared the unnecessary time wasted in re-discussing them in details in the Workshop Groups.
- There were unnecessary logistical problems that occurred where the same old mistakes of last year had recurred and which, could have been easily avoided only if lessons from previous experiences were learned.
- The last minute emergency measure of unplanned calling of over 160 new delegates to join the Congress membership was a deviation from the procedural norms and the promotion policy adopted by the Commission, which badly damaged the credibility of the commission and set rampant rumours rife. The formal justification provided by the Commission in their report ‘as a necessary measure to maintain the right balance’ was not convincing enough to buy. It was a major sticking point that would have jeopardised the work of the Congress if it were not for the prudence and the farsightedness of the attendees.
- The revision of the previously agreed and practiced quota share of 60% & 40% for civil societies and political organisations respectively was a blunder that fuelled a competition race permeating members of political organization to be elected within the public quota from the different regions, which tilted the balance of representation to the benefit of some political organisations.
- The mismanagement of Daniel’s case.
- The unscrupulous and disproportional representation of some of the non-EDA political organizations.
Eritrean Democratic Alliance (EDA)
EDA evolved through a long time and hard struggle to the present umbrella organization of national coalition of different organisations willing to work together with the minimum commonly shared program was a democratic achievement that has to be applauded. It should also be commended for originally initiating the process that culminated in the Addis Conference, which constituted the underlying basis of the National Congress, and for its unwavering resolute resistance against the dictatorial regime since its formation. Yet, its role and impact on the preparation of the National Congress was noticeably small and worrying. Naturally, it was expected from such an important major partner to play an effective role corresponding to its history and responsibility. However, its subscription was symbolic and ineffective commensurate to its potentials and its national role. It could not even establish proper links and communications with its members in the Commission. It failed to adopt a unified stand and formulate a common vision and a conceptual perception about the outcome of the congress. Thus, it could not set a plan towards reaching a meaningful and consensual conclusion that would consolidate and advance the democratic change process. Consequently, the lack of active and effective engagement in the preparatory stage exposed the future of EDA to speculations. It further resulted in the lack of formulating clearly defined organizational and work relations between EDA and the Eritrean National Assembly (ENA) created the current challenging problem that should had been resolved long before the Congress.
It is comprehensible that EDA as an alliance composing different organisations that sometimes have conflicting interests would struggle during its early transitional stages to establish a collective working culture. However, it would not be acceptable after a decade long period to be still suffering from the problem and even retarding compared to its constituent organisations that actively engage and compete in promoting their respective individual organisational programs at the expense of the alliance’s performance. No wonder then such a failure to create a collective work culture and routine practice has rendered it ineffective to form a unified policy and leadership needed to deal with different groups as well as with eventualities encountered during the Congress. It lacked the promptness and the agility necessary that would enable it to effectively manage issues and problems that prevailed in the course of the Congress. Something that EDA’s leadership has to seriously consider and address in any planned restructuring.
Eritrean Solidarity Front (ESF) – Tadamun sub-alliance:
The (Tadamun) sub-alliance apparently functioned as a lobby group inside the EDA. Its raison d’être was to safeguard the interests of its constituent organisations that possessed great untapped potentialities. It could have played a pivotal role in maintaining the balance within EDA but lacked clearly defined programs, organisational structure and targets. Since its formation, it had apparently existed and functioned on leadership level only dealing with emergency cases and has not evolved to a full-fledged organisation. Thus, it could not exert the political leverage expected from it and that would have secured its interests and its due share in the leadership struggle. In short, it did not do its homework well in advance in terms of building necessary task alliances, agreeing on leadership nominees in good time and properly campaigning for their policy and choices.
It is worth mentioning that one of the main weaknesses of the opposition forces in general and Tadamun in particular has been exposed during the Congress when confronted with the leadership selection challenge. The constituent’s social affiliations were found to be more decisive and stronger than their organizational commitments. This has cast doubt on the premise of dichotomy that has been considered by many as a central pivotal axis around which all other problems and solutions revolve. In the leadership contest, it was found that the alignment of some was along their social background division lines in contrast to the official stand and choice of their respective organisations. This underscored the fact that in reality, social relationship bonds were found to be more fundamental and more durable than other forms of relationships.
Eritrean National Salvation Front (ENSF) & Al Nahda Party:
The National Salvation and Al Nahda were among the very active member organisations of EDA which out of interest-consciousness purposefully steered their actions towards predetermined objectives. They exhibited very essential characteristics of an effective organization focusing all resources and finally delivering results. These are traits that all political organizations need to develop and nurture into a working culture that would serve the realisation of common goals. Unfortunately, most of the effort and focus was directed towards achieving narrow organizational interests that would allow power control in the new structure. They finally managed to secure a major share of the new leadership but at the expense of proportional representation that maintains and reflects the diversity needed. They primarily focused on that task and relatively were not much preoccupied by other preparation tasks thus their contributions to the different papers submitted in the conference (charter, roadmap, bylaws of the council, and the draft constitution) were not up to the level required. Their members were strongly vocal in criticizing the principles of the rights of nationalities, decentralisation and the right to self-determination. Despite that fact they were able to create a functional coalition with different organizations including nationality based ones on interest basis to secure their goal. Having stated that we still look forward to the new leadership, and hope the dominance obtained will be utilised positively to promote the common goals and objectives of the democratic changes aspired in replacing the dictatorship with democracy and domination with inclusive representation and fair sharing of power and wealth with all.
The Nationality based Organizations:
Red Sea Afar Democratic Organization (RSADO) & Democratic Movement for the Liberation for Eritrean Kunama (DMLEK)
Some of the nationality-based organisations are serious and devoted to their causes, that we in principle share with and support its legitimacy. But these organisations mainly opted to and resorted to unnecessary over sensitivity and alertness to any criticism relating to nationalities and self-determination issues suspecting the intentions of others as hostile. We believe that they could have exerted much effort in trying to convince sceptics of the legitimacy of their cause and should have shown a strong enough interest in sharing equally and enthusiastically the common national issues with others. This would have gained them much support and recognition needed for their cause. It was also inexplicable about the coalition they formed for the leadership contest despite the known stand of some of the coalition members from the rights of nationalities, decentralization and self-determination.
Though it was very positive that the number of non-EDA organizations had increased greatly in the congress denoting the wider popular support, the political organizations and the struggle for change against the regime has regained. Yet some of them were just one or two man organizations. There were also very serious and effective organizations that joined and contributed positively in the process towards holding the National Congress for democratic change. But the lack of clear criteria of identifying a genuine political organization cast doubt on the eligibility of some non-EDA organizations particularly the new ones that joined the process of holding the conference. We think most of these organizations need to be redefined in line of a clear standard based on certain agreed criteria and conditions necessary to characterize and define a political organization. The contribution of many of their members in the conference was not vivid apart from very few organizations. There were alarming and conflicting signs sent from certain organizations that seemed to be in a degree of conformity with the regime’s policies while not greatly deviating from the policy of domination and monopoly the regime exercises against others (nationalities and social groups) still they agreed in principle with others to get rid of the regime. Most were strong opponents of the draft constitution document proposed which implies that they support the 1997 constitution. The saga of the attempt of tampering with the decision of the majority regarding the draft constitution is a testimony to that fact.
The participation of the civil society and the alliance it had forged with the political organizations was an important milestone in the road to democratic change. We struggled hard to maintain and enhance the alliance created based on the deep conviction that would furnish the solid ground and guarantee for establishing a real democratic change. They had also played a decisive role in the successes of the Addis conference and the preparations for the National Congress. They constituted the yardstick against which we gauge the success and popularity of our struggle versus the isolation and the losses the regime suffers in the strategic sense.
During the Congress, few displayed attitudes and practices uncongenial to the natural role, norms and principles of such organizations. Some have been vigorously involved in the contest for power struggle in a sense not much different from their counterpart political organizations. They left the wrong impression that they had only come to the congress with the sole purpose of power seeking. The perception of some was unrealistic as they envisaged themselves as the most qualified to lead the change process underestimating the role of the political organizations who have been tested and proven resolutely committed and who were consistently devoted in struggling against the dictatorship through long years.
Nevertheless, the mere presence of civil societies in the conference itself added credibility and broadened the popular base of the opposition. There were also reasonable and sound persons and organisations that really made positive contributions to the over all success of the Congress.
The participation of youth in greater numbers in the Congress and the change process was a qualitative addition to the change-force that has been essential and badly missed. Youth’s potential power and vigor as partners of today and sole owners and leaders of tomorrow must be appreciated and encouraged to share the burden of the struggle for democratic change alongside the rest of the opposition in all levels. They are a potential power that if properly oriented and utilised would play a decisive role in bringing about the aspired change sooner.
Some of the youth attending the Congress had displayed signs of impatience and lack of tactics in their attempt and desire to take over the leadership from the traditional opposition groups. Inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings they believed that it is time to exercise their natural inalienable right and that the others should, give way and allow them to lead the change process uncontested. But the worrying part was that some were unaware of the role of the opposition-forces and also unappreciative of the long struggles waged by them. This probably may be the side effect of long years of indoctrination, bias and the misinformation campaigns they were exposed to by the regime’s propaganda machine that aimed to sow and instill deep mistrust into the psyche of the people in general and the youth in particular. In this respect, we need to work hard to raise the political consciousness and dissipate the mistrust created by trying to embrace and accommodate all youth diverse groups and encourage them to work in coordination with the other forces including the political organisations without alienating any.
The participation and contribution of women in the opposition forces in general is below the required levels proportional to their size and natural role in society. Although the percentage of women participants in the Congress was low (less than10%), but their share in the NA is fair. We hope that this will send a positive message and encourage women’s turnout and participation in the struggle against the regime. Without their full mobilization and active involvement, our victory against the regime and for the democratic change would be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.
The Host Country:
The generous hospitality and the strong unwavering support extended to the Commission and the Congress by the Ethiopian people and government should be highly appreciated and commended.
The sponsoring host country and government of Ethiopia no doubt has its legitimate national interests to preserve and observe in supporting the Eritrean opposition forces’ struggle to overthrow the common enemy and to replace it with a democratic system. This change would also bring about stability in the region and establish strong and durable relations among the two brotherly people and sisterly countries. The Addis Conference of 2010, the Seminars and the National Congress sponsored by the Ethiopians, were serious and positive attempts that have to be seen in the context of upgrading and promoting the opposition’s capacities to the levels of the task required. Overall, their role in supporting the opposition was positive and highly regarded.
The National Assembly:
The modest result obtained was not a surprise at all, seen in light of the background of pre-congress shortcomings, flaws and the failure of the major players to play their expected role.
Therefore, the outcome of the National Congress was nothing but the sum total and the resultant effect of the multitude of subjective and objective factors interacting in the process. The result obtained, realistically considered, was a reflection of the reality that had prevailed no matter how much that corresponds with the expectations awaited. Politics is the art of managing what is possibly to be achieved. In order to address the inherent defects in the leadership, it should adopt well-prepared realistic work plans, activate the collective leadership, work jointly and creatively together with all opposition forces and improve that in all possible ways. Thus in our opinion, we suggest the following as the way forward.
The Way Forward:
- The ENCDC must be formally and fully empowered and recognised by all constituents as the only legitimate, nationally mandated body that should assume the overall leadership role of the opposition forces for real change. It should also be urged to play its collective leadership role by activating all the standing committees to function properly and exercise its role as a legislative, policy & plans maker, scrutinizing/supervising and checking organ. The complete separation of powers of the two authorities has to be observed to entrench the culture and practice of parliamentary democracy.
- The Standing Committees specialised groups should assume their task of drawing long-term work plans. Carefully prepare plans in the different fields and if need be through soliciting the help of professionals. These plans after approval have to be forwarded to the Executive Committee to implement according to the priority and timetable it sets.
- Clear-cut work and organisational relations to be defined between the ENA and its composing elements, EDA, non-EDA political organisations, civil societies and the non-affiliated individuals and public. Based on that the ENCDC and the Executive Committee would be able to draw a clear delineation between what its task and that of its constituent organisations is in such a way that the role of the constituents complements that of the ENCDC to avoid unnecessary competitions and interferences. Thus would be able to reorganise its constituents into suitable forms to mobilise and start engaging them in translating the work plans adopted into actions.
- The Executive Committee should play its leadership role as effective implementers and facilitators of the ENCDC work plans. Set the work priorities; innovatively translate conceptual plans and principles from theories into tangible results in all fields of action. It has to use all the potentials within the Eritrean Diaspora communities, skills, expertise, financial capacities available and manpower to help develop and execute its plans.
- All organisations that participated and have been represented in the ENCDC should consent to work within the Council through blocks that constitute pressuring lobbies to influence and promote their national concerns and interests via the channels of the NC not through the creation of parallel competing organisations.
- Regarding the relations between EDA and NA, we recommend that both EDA and ENA as major partners should consider redefining their relations on a common understanding that should be given precedence and set a standard and role model for other interrelations that would be applicable to all constituents. The EDA was the entity that initiated the process that ultimately led to the National Congress held in November 2011 and the creation of the National Assembly, bringing the various components of the Eritrean movement for democratic change under one umbrella. The EDA, therefore, should be most committed to making this project an unqualified success. Hence, it has to channel the greater part of the energies of its member organizations to the pursuit of the common programmes and activities of the Eritrean National Council.
The EDA has the full right to continue discussions on its future evolution; but, in the meantime, should work, as a bloc, within the ENCDC. Hence, the EDA would serve as a forum for consultation, coordination and dialogue among its members. Of course, each of EDA member organization could continue to have its own programmes and activities. The bottom line should be that activities and programmes that are of a broader national nature and/or scope should be pursued through the ENCDC. Which programmes and activities are to be considered as such (i.e. of broader national nature and/or scope) is, in a way, a matter of judgment and could be resolved between the partners. But, let us just stress that these are activities and programmes that are common to the entire resistance camp and are better served through the broader national reach and bigger weight of the ENCDC. In any case, the EDA as a bloc, as well as individual political organizations both within and outside the EDA, should seek to pursue these common programmes primarily within the ENCDC.
In conclusion acknowledging the fact that what has been achieved through the long struggle against the dictatorial regime for years has now been culminated through the National Congress for Democratic Change, and as such it is a hard won national achievement that all should preserve and further promote.
We believe in and therefore would like to remind all stakeholders to rally around the pivotal guiding principles for all the opposition forces and its leadership represented in the National Council (NC) & Executive Committee (EC) are the following:
The National Charter: A consensual socio-political contract between all stakeholders composing the fundamental principles, the basic rights and freedoms, and the final goals aspired.
The Road Map: Mainly defines the objectives and the mechanisms used to realise that in space of certain timetable comprising the proper tactics and strategies to achieve the objectives set.
The By Laws of the Council: Mainly composing rules, relations and work specifications that regulate and define the work relationship of the NC and the EC within the framework of a defined organisational structure and relations.
It is necessary to avoid any attempts that deter or retard the momentum of struggle from attaining its priority, task number one which is getting rid of the dictatorial regime in Asmara that is to focus into this “BIG PICTURE”. Task number two is to avoid adopting the malpractices and policies reminiscent of the regime and adopt policies and practices that enable us institute a just and democratic system in a country where our people look forward to a better future living free from any form of oppression in peace, harmony and prosperity.
We call upon the National Council, Executive Committee, EDA and ALL POLITICAL GROUPS and CIVIC SOCIETIS as well as patriotic individuals to work together jointly in achieving the task at hand and refraining from being distracted by petty squabbles and competitions that focus on temporary gains which only serve narrow organizational interests. It is high time we all act in a responsible manner and project an image which reflects what we aspire to be in the future and show clear signs that we are different from PFDJ and that we are a viable and reliable alternative that deserves the support and the trust to realise the aspirations of our people.
25th March 2012