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Political Dialogue Symposium Needed

[This is a speech presented on March 8, 2014 at the Eritrean Global Solidarity (EGS) Symposium, in the metro Washington-DC, on the general theme: Exploring possible scenario for Eritrean transition to democracy]

The Current Situation of the Eritrean Political and Civic Struggle:
The Need of Symposium for a Political Dialogue

Dear Compatriots and Honorable guests,

I am glad to be here and have the opportunity to share my view and my perspectives with you on the current situation of the Eritrean political and civic struggle; and why we need a symposium at this critical time of our history.

Obviously there are clear misunderstanding about the concept and the role of civic society in the Eritrean political landscape. Because Civic organizations are perceived as mass organizations formed for the servitude of the existing political organizations similar to that of the liberation era, I will try to show the distinction between the two. So, before I move to the current situation of the opposition camp in general, I would like to give a general glimpse about the integral role of civic society in enhancing the current struggle and eventually in establishing a democratic governance and rule of law in Eritrea.

But what is civic society? Civic society is a concept of social science that touches the political life of a society and the public engagement in promoting the ideals of democracy and rule of law. Indeed, democracy requires an adequate level of civic capacity bounded by objective and subjective reality.  In countries that have established democratic regime there has been a broad interest in popular engagement in their political life and everything that touches in the way political culture or basic human values are affected by the states governing them, and how strengthened civic society could contribute to conflict resolutions.

Despite of the fact that there are no universally accepted definitions, there are general parameters that scholars and academicians have seemingly agreed to the characteristics of the concept. And they are as follows [1].

  • Civic society refers to voluntary participation of conscious citizens without the coercion of the state.
  • Civic society includes all forms of voluntary participation be it public or private sector, political or apolitical.
  • Civic society includes not only the individuals who participate but also the institution they participate.
  • Civic societies thrive to bring civic culture and legitimate civic government and all its institutions that could be trusted by the public at large.

Why is civic society a factor for change? To understand its role one has to see the dynamic interplay of civic society, civic culture, and social capital in strengthening democracy and sometimes in conflict resolutions. Clearly the interdependent of these trio-concepts depict that one can’t bring change without the interplay of the other two. Furthermore, Robert Putman also linked with “bonding and bridging” [2] as factors in the interplay to facilitate and bring the needed change. For Putman, in a given social capital with civic culture, individuals form bonds to form civic organizations whereby the various civic organizations make a kind of bridging to effect a social movement for the common good.

In  a developed countries (like the western countries), according Habermas, civil societies are an ideal case when  state institutions are receptive to the inputs of civil society as an arena of democratic policy consultations. In the contrary though, in the developing countries, it is   “the battle field between democrats and dictators (Jehle, 1994 pp-154).  So, civic society is not free of politics. Indeed it is also a political space in the struggle for political decency and political struggle though limited to advocacy. In a state where government usurped the whole society, civil societies have to articulate their selves in anti-state way. In fact Vaclav Havel warned us that if civil societies claim as apolitical, it is illusionary vision of “paradise lost”. That is why Both Gramsci and Habermas defined civil society as a political project (Chandhoke, 2001).

Civic Societies are not without enemies. John A. Hall a professor at McGill University in Montreal has identified five distinct enemies of civil society [3].

  1. Despotism: This is the idea of fear which discourages any type of group that is formed between society and government
  2. Revival of Republican civil virtue: These are qualities that hold a moral values or moral principle and amount to dispositions to obey.
  3. Specific form of nationalism: This would be where the rule of majority wins, and assimilation is used in order to form an ideal society.
  4. Essentialist cultural ideals: These are social cages of individuals that determine the function and value of that person in society.
  5. Totalizing ideologies: This is an exclusive worldview that doesn’t allow an equally valid worldview.

Clearly from John Hall’s distinct premises, we have witnessed that “state despotism” controls the infra-structural power of Eritrean politics and disallowed any civic activities and civic space in the Eritrean social space – “ a structural space that should develop from the  interaction of actors whose actions are reconciled and which is accessible analytically” (Heidrun Zinecker, 2011). In other words civic society as non normative structural space is an independent structure to counter balance the state. In such realistic scenario, EGS as civic society, is striving to fulfill what Helmut Dubiel (Dubiel, 2001, pp-135) characterized it “the aura of unfulfilled theoretical promise” in the Eritrean society.

Apparently, when the public mass moved by plebiscitary rhetoric’s we have to look at the pathology of democratic public sphere in order to see the distinction of rhetoric and deliberation.

Plato in his attack on rhetoric’s indeed became the first who articulate the pathology of democratic public sphere. He argued much for deliberative theory designed to study through a small scale of deliberative venues than public mass. I believe the intention of this symposium is to design a deliberative venue to study and identify the political crises of our nation. In doing so, and in the final analysis, the debate will eventually help us to chart an exit strategy and to the formulation of transitional path to democracy and rule of law.

The broad informal public sphere cannot be deliberative. In fact mini-publics that are designed settings can achieve and maintain standards of critical dialogue and can be molded to do so (Fish kin 1997, Fung 2003, Brown 2006). Plato’s objection of rhetoric is not of its appeal to passion. His strongest objection is that rhetoric is monological rather than dialogical. For him it is dialogue that change rhetoric to deliberative resolutions. Deliberation as dialogue, initiate reasons and enhances the epistemological status that brings the weak arguments into light. Indeed the plutonian cogent argument is the right venue for our political deliberative resolutions as a special interest in our pursuit.

Since the evolvement of the concept of public sphere as a space between private individuals and government authorities during the renaissance in Western Europe, a lot of structural transformation has taken place within the activities of civil organizations. Jorgen Hagerman, a German sociologist and philosopher was the first who examine the structural transformation of public sphere. The most important feature as it existed in the 18th century was that the public use reason in a rational-critical-debate to check the domination by the state or illegal use of power. He saw the public sphere as developing out of the private institutions and form what we call “literary public sphere” and its role is a way for civil societies to articulate their interest (Hagerman). Eventually the literary public sphere developed into political public sphere.

Despite of the non-existent of public sphere and civic societies inside Eritrea, the Diaspora Eritreans have formed the Eritrean public sphere (like this symposium) and civic organizations (like EGS) in order to foster a culture of dialogue between the public and the existing political organizations in the opposition camp – a culture we foresee to introduce to the nation “Eritrea” as we go forward. The Eritrean governance and its institutional structure outlawed the development of public sphere and made their own battle in the Diaspora to stiffen the engagement of the public in the existing civil societies. The challenge for the civic societies is how to boost the low public and media engagement to resist the tyrannical regime.

The political organizations in the opposition camp, as in Hegel’s words are a plethora of interests competing with one another without considerations of the common good or the public interest. They can’t see the universal will of Eritrean society for uniting practical reasoning to fight the oppressive regime in Asmara. Since all their activities are on resentment-based appeal, their policy apparatus are shrinking from time to time losing the public support. It is at this crucial time that the civic societies like EGS and NECS-in-Europe took a courageous step to have an engagement with the political organizations, to create an inflection point by changing their political curve to reverse the public mood.

Indeed, when Alexander de Tocquelle started to characterize Civic society as the schools of democracy where democratic thinking, attitude, and behaviors could learn with the aim of defending the individual and group rights, it has received an impeccable traction and enhanced the democratic struggles around the world. The Eritrean civic societies that are formed around 2008 was then strictly for the following defined purposes:

  • First, it was to enable citizens to respond to the crises peacefully against the madness of the regime in Asmara.
  • Second, to positively influence the existing political organizations in the opposition camp.
  • Third, to educate the public the difference between the civic sphere and the sphere of political organizations in which the later will eventually be the political infra-structure of the civic-state Eritrea.
  • Fourth, to aware the international community about the tyrannical regime of Asmara, by appeals, messages, and peace declarations.

So on the bases of these premises, the civic organizations are working with the existing political organizations in tandem like a two wheeled carriage, to bring a fundamental change in Eritrea. Perhaps it is more instructive to point out, that the purpose of the engagement was to influence and create effective modern organizational climate and to transform the organizational culture of the existing political organizations. But there are distinct difference between organizational climate and organizational culture. Organizational culture is the basic assumption and beliefs that are shared by members of the organizations (Schein 1985); while organizational climates are the psychological environments in which behavior of individuals occur (Otto 1998). The political organizations do not posses good relationship of ethical work climate. And so far, there is no ethical-climatic-construct where the different political organizations could behave collectively in the struggle against the Eritrean regime. Some of the active engagements of the civil societies were to insure the active participation of the Diaspora Eritreans in the political process where the “National Conference” and the “National Congress” were held to form the “National Assembly” in exile.

But, since the political organizations are the infra-structures of any particular form or system of government, EGS perceives that the relationship of political organizations and civic societies in the opposition camp is the mirror image to the relationship of the state and the public sphere for future Eritrea.  From this conceptual understanding, EGS has engaged in the national conference and national congress in 2010 and 2011 respectively, where political organizations, civic societies, and independent intellectuals had assembled to chart a coordinated struggle against the tyranny at home.  In short the aim of participating EGS in the aforementioned Politico-public-forum was to foster a culture of dialogue between the public and the existing political organizations in the opposition camp – a culture we foresee to introduce to our nation Eritrea.  Unfortunately, because of the deep mistrust among the existing political organizations, the current struggle is at its stalemate. Therefore, we are here to change the state of the opposition camp that is strayed outside the bounds and failed to maintain exemplary decorum in their political houses.

As we all know, the doors of democracy always remain open for the systematic discovery of a better and more relevant concept and exercise of democracy in time with each and particular socio-cultural reality [Habtamu Alebachew, 2014]. Henceforth, Our speakers will tackle to clarify the three different concepts for which the term democracy are employed (a) democracy as process with all its mechanisms and procedures from political organizations (parties) to elections (b) democracy as state or condition which implies for a given civic society and its governance (c) democracy as an outcome putting into practices by the governed those agreed upon by the process.

Hence, here now, EGS with its indefatigable spirit has sponsored this symposium and assembled notable intellectuals’ and academicians to educate and explore an exit strategy from the current dilemma we are in. With that I will turn the floor to Mr. Berhane G/Negus the chairman of the board of EGS to run the rest of the program.

Thank you for listening and enjoy the rest of the program.

References
[1] Civil society, an agreed definition (2003) available from htt://pages.Britishlibrary.net
[2] Robert putman, Bowling alone, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2000.
[3] Hall, J. A and F.Trent Mann, Civil Society: A reader in history, theory, and global politics, 2005.

About Amanuel Hidrat

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  • AMAN

    Thankyou both Kokhob tselam and Abinet.
    I agree with you !
    Since recent times when Awte site is overun by ……you know……….
    it is not worth it for the legends to be around.
    We rather leave them recycle and dulicate from our wrttings and
    contributions.
    ========== I / WE CHOSE TO BE MINDFULL OF THE INTELLIGENCE GAP========
    Since you been on the LAPSSET stretcher for quite a while and consequently affected
    as a result; we do not or should not need to be so hard on you . I UNDERSTAND !!

  • AMAN

    Folks and Readers at AWATE.
    Execuse me I can’t fit in the present awate discussion forum.According to me it doesn’t fit or qualify for intellectual discussion. It fits more for coffee house rumor or discussion or for edaga kebti or Bela Roba area political discussion. So execuse me I hope you do not mind my EXIT from such forums.

    • Abinet

      You will never be missed since most people don’t know you ever existed

    • Kokhob Selam

      Aman, awate site was better without you and it will shine as usual.

      • Aman

        All right I will leave you both recycle our previous works.
        I feel sensitive to your LAPSSET syndrome methodically
        effected and conducted on you and your thinking.
        Do not mean to hurt…………..!

  • tafla

    Hope,

    Do you know “ሓቂ ትስዕር”? a notorious paltalk activist…a really funny guy.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eInPhus5od4

  • haile

    Selam Hope,

    Not sure whether I should be disappointed or feel pity by
    the point you made. You said the Smret movement is “puppet”? Really?
    Let me list what goes through my mind:

    1 – One would understand you to lash out at PFDJ for
    striping you off of your rights and and reducing you to this. Yet, it is beyond
    belief that you feel the need to insult fellow Eritreans that neither needed
    your approval to defend themselves nor have done anything to you! Why a
    senseless attack on your fellow people?

    2 – What is your evidence that Smret is a
    “puppet”? Have you concrete evidence for that?

    3 – Suppose that you are right and they are indeed
    “puppet”, what does that make you? Another “puppet” with a
    different owner?

    4 – The Smerr struggle mode can mean many things to many
    people, yet they accept and support any and all forms of struggle. As far as
    Ethiopia is concerned, it is currently a view held that those to engage PFDJ by
    force would launch attacks from the Ethio-Eritrea borders but the actual
    fighting would of course take place inside Eritrea itself. There is documented
    and incontrovertible evidence that PFDJ is the main instigator of civil and
    armed unrest in the country. IA and many of his ambassadors have repeatedly
    bluffed the nation and its men, women and youth to take up arms or go to the
    moon. This is a valid and reasonable response by Smeret.

    5 – You are entitled to to curse woyane for all your
    miseries and keep writing letters to PFDJ to change their mind. Smret has no
    insult for you. In fact, it is good that you are doing something, that is acknowledge
    the existing crisis. Why insult others who are fighting for themselves out of
    their own grievience for which they seek to address?

    The reality is that the Smerr movement seems to be the one
    giving the regime the worst nightmares, hope to restore dignity of our people
    and a proper avenue to engage PFDJ. You don’t have to be down at the battle
    field, you can assist the effort in different forms, including minding your own
    business if you feel this is not for you. Those who are opting the “all means”
    route of struggle hold nothing against you nor any other movement. All
    movements are justified because there is repression. Period.

    • Hope

      If you have the gut to define “Puppet”, I will answer your question.

      • haileTG

        hope,

  • Hope

    This should be an “Every Morning Prayer” of each and every Eritrean.I wonder what else Abona Wede-Ab Weldemariam would have said considering the precious human and material loss we have had thus far.

    • haile

      Hope,

      “ዘይመሰለካን ዘይተሰምዓካን ነገር ግበር ኢሉ ንምቕታለይ ድፊኢት እንተ ኣሕደረ ኸኣ: ኣነ ‘ውን ስለ ፖለቲካዊ
      እምነተይ ስለ ሓርነት ሃገርይን ስለ ኡነተኛ ጥቕሚ ኣሕዋተይን ንሙማት ትብዓት ኣሕዲረ ኣለኹ!!!’’

      PFDJ Killed many “ዘይተሰምዓካን ነገር ግበር ኢሉ”, are you ready to say “ስለ ፖለቲካዊ
      እምነተይ ስለ ሓርነት ሃገርይን ስለ ኡነተኛ ጥቕሚ ኣሕዋተይን ንሙማት ትብዓት ኣሕዲረ ኣለኹ!!!’’?

      Or we still can’t get off that “woyane and the la la land” bedtime story?

      • Hope

        I am against both the PFDJ and the Weyanes as Abona would fight them all as both are against Eritrea and Eritreans.Which way are you against? Just PFDJ?An enemy is an enemy—

        • haileTG

          …although it happens that the “woyane” is in your mind and the “PFDJ” is in your midst. Using a gun to kill the first is suicidal and using it to kill the second tactical 🙂

  • Dawit

    Has any one see Hayat Adem. Has she run out (steam) words. She’s been absent for days. Where is that SAAY, a brilliant person who sees Eritrean history like a cook book;-)

  • tes

    Hope this civic society will be the center of think-tankers and attract the all able Eritrean thinkers, policy makers, strategists, programmers, writers, reporters and creators in one table from all spheres of the world who want to put their beautiful minds and precious time first for Full freedom in Eritrea and at the same time with neighbouring countries and beyond for the international harmony.

    I can not say good inititative, as it has years of age since its existence, but, I would thank you for making us [me] to know such think-tank group. Wish you miles and miles progress.

    with all love
    Tes.

  • Hope

    Contd:
    ‘’ክሳዕ ሎሚ፣ ንዝኾነ ይኹን ናይ ባዕዳዊ ስልጣን ዓላማ ኣገልጊለን ተላኢኸን ኣይፈልጥን:: ንባርነት ዘበለ ኹሉ ጸላኢኡ እየ: ዝኾነ ይኹን ሕብሩን መልክዑን ዝኾነ ይኹን ሰብ ኤውሮጳዊ ይኹን ወይስ ኣፍሪቃዊ: ኣብ ዝኾነ ይኹን ኣርዑት ባርነት ንምቑራን ክግድደኒ ኣይኽእልን። ዘይመሰለካን ዘይተሰምዓካን ነገር ግበር ኢሉ ንምቕታለይ ድፊኢት እንተ ኣሕደረ ኸኣ: ኣነ ‘ውን ስለ ፖለቲካዊ እምነተይ ስለ ሓርነት ሃገርይን ስለ ኡነተኛ ጥቕሚ ኣሕዋተይን ንሙማት ትብዓት ኣሕዲረ ኣለኹ!!!’’
    The words of our Harbegna,Abona Welde-Ab Weldemariam.

  • Amanuel Hidrat

    Mr. Hope,
    I am here to give hope to our people. Just watch and follow the journey of the organization. That is the only I can say at this time. Besides I can’t miss your attempt to create a friction between friends. Kobe Abiloyo aleku.

    • Hope

      Emma,
      This is a forum of opinions.No need to be paranoid.Based on the past history,I asked relevant questions that need relevant answers.We have an obligation to clarify and disclose facts specially when dealing with such a serious National Issue.
      Again,you have to explain to me as to why the old EGS–scrambled and hijacked and as to why it was hijacked and for what purpose.
      Answering these and related questions will only strengthen the organization.Otherwise,it will expire as a simple and transient Spring Project.Wecho ente ghelbetkayo wecho koinu keiterif.
      Am not here to redicule and belittle noble causes like some of us did to similar projects and Progressive Parties here and there.
      We Eritreans are fed up to death as to who to believe and what not—too much confusion here.
      And we have plenty of scenarios where, we have been cheated,tricked,manipulated,etc–in the name of Eritrea and Eritreans but only to find out the other way round,where these and those ones were in fact evil wishers—–

  • Saleh Johar

    No Hope, I didn’t miss it. This is an organization I formed in 2006. A few people hijacked and redirected it to a direction I would rather not say anything about at this moment. Please, don’t force me into trouble, I have enough already 🙂

    • Hope

      Ahlen Wed Ad,
      I am glad you understood me.I think I spoke to you face-to-face few years ago about this initiative and ,honestly,that approach,was and could have been, “THE PERFECT ONE”—as its name depicts–Eritrean Global Solidarity.I wish we were/are able to bring all the stake holders together(the Opposition Parties,The Student and Youth Groups,The Women’s Association,The Eritrean Intellectual Association,The Human Rights Activists and The Refugee Advocates/Voices Association and have a common ground and a common but an INDEPENDENT STRATEGY under ONE Umbrella with a binding INDEPENDENT Guidelines/Rules/Regulations–with NO, I repeat,with NO EXTERNAL INTERFERENCE,as we are Eritreans with a UNIQUE History of Independence and Confidence,without a single exaggeration.
      Yes, we need sponsosrs but I think we could have our own sponsorship too.
      So,Bro Johar,you deserve to reclaim what belongs to you and psuh for it and NEVER give up,as I thought,that is your nature—someone who never gives up,no matter what!
      I still have my favorite Bohashim’s” Letter of Resignation” from the EGS after it was hijacked,as you correctly said it.
      Hailat,you see,where I am coming from?I am NOT against “SMERR” and other related “Puppets” but I am against its dependence on Eritrea’s sworn enemies and I am against the hijacking of it.
      Why in the world Eritreans with huge resources of all kinds,would be forced to be trapped under those powers,when we are able to do things perfectly and successfully by our own,with our own???
      Why would I leak the left over dishes like a homeless dog when I am blessed with all kinds of resources and wealth?
      Can some one help me understand this as to why we are begging our sworn enemies for help?
      I love the quote of Aboy Welde-Ab Weldemariam as quoted by Drs Tseghe-zeAb(Courtesy: meskerem.net)

  • Hope

    Hello Emma and the Forum,
    -Where has the EGS been?I thought it was dismantled due to obvious external interference.
    -To re-phrase Rodab’s question:
    Who are these sponsors and for what purpose?
    Who are the members of the EGS?
    Who are you intending to include to the “Political Dialogue”?
    What is EGS’s position on the recently formed ” Dialogue Group” that the AT presented to us and you and the AT rediculed?
    Don’t we have enough of these groups?
    I heard some Ethiopians were invited? If true,for what purpose?Are they also sponsors–as before?
    Johar,is this another Spring Project?You missed that,huh?

  • Dawit

    ..

    • Amanuel Hidrat

      Hey Dawit,

      There is a common core that unite them, though it isn’t understood yet by the political organizations. You may call it unity in diversity, the same term we use for diversified societies. Since you can’t miss that “common core,” as our cartoonist, I would like you to re-sketch it, in such a way to show where they meet in the common core and differ in their mission. There is no impossible for you. Am I right Dawit?

      • Dawit

        Selam Aman,

        The target audience for both organizations (political as well as civic) is the nation or the people if you will. In other words, the audience (the people) has problem/problems in need of solutions. It is this problem or problems the
        organizations intend to address and seek a solution or solutions. Where they differ is on the means by which
        they undertake to solve the array of problems the nation faces.

        The picture above depicts the different roles both organizations play to solve problems the nation as a
        whole faces. As can be seen from the picture, I try to convey that the civic organizations’ roles are not generally given as enough attention as the political organizations’ even though both organizations struggle to alleviate or solve Eritrea’s problems. That’s why I made the notice board for the political parties bigger than the board for civic organizations in order to suggest the differences in their perceived importance.

  • Kokhob Selam

    nice opening Aman. you let me read more about civic struggle and know more today. by the way, those ordinary people like me don’t just read only what is written here but we start reading other books after reading the articles and you guys are opening the opportunity to know more about different subjects. keep it up. I wish also read what was said after the meeting starts, please advice if any. thank you Amuni.

  • Rodab

    Any reason the discussion was in English?

    • weygud

      Rodab,
      I guess sometimes you just have to say something for the heck of it. what in the world is wrong discussing in English if the audience is ok with it.
      come on why don’t we stick to the matter in hand rather than jumping in to negative comments.
      Peace…

      • Rodab

        Yes sir, officer!
        That was a silly question, wasn’t it?

        • Kokhob Selam

          This was the first mistake in history of Rodab.

        • weygud

          Rodab,
          Copy that sir, let’s point our guns to the enemy. You are too good to be engaged in this kind of argument.
          thx.

        • weygud

          Copy that sir.
          thx

        • Dawit

          What an amicable way of resolving differences ! Keep it up guys:-) We need people like you who resort to resolving differences in a peaceful, and respectful manner. Rodab! you know what you did ? You deflated the balloon which would otherwise have busted and injured every one around: you, Leutenant Weygud, and Amanuel Hidrat.:-) Thank God! No causalities occurred.

    • Amanuel Hidrat

      Rodab,
      The reason why the discussion was in English – because there were some representatives from different civic organizations from the US and some ” the would be sponsors” who came to observe the Symposium. Besides aren’t we debating in English here including yourself? I don’t expect this question from you.

      • Rodab

        Aman,

        I got you on the language issue. You and weygud win.
        Btw, you mentioned sponsors. I do understand the nature of sponsors and sponsorship when it comes to products, commercial businesses etc… But what do they sponsor in this case? What role do they play?

        P.s. Aman, I am looking at your photo above and man, you do know how to dress, don’t you. Nicely dressed, sir! Keep up the good dress:-)

        • Amanuel Hidrat

          Rodab,

          The role of the “sponsors would be” to finance such kind of symposium. They came to watch the symposium so that we expect them to finance the following symposium, as this one was totally financed by EGS members and its supporters. Actually they promised to do so right towards the end of the session. So we shall see. As to your compliment to my dressing….I could only say thank you.