The only Eritrean opposition umbrella has been at a standstill for almost three years. Relentless attempts to move ahead with its preparatory activities to convene its second congress has failed leaving it in a critical situation.
The Eritrean National Council For Democratic Change (ENCDC) was established in November 2011 in Hawassa. However, since its formation it has been marred by a myriad of crisis that made it ineffective. Currently the ENCDC has a membership of 15 political organizations while another group of six entities is operating outside the umbrella.
At the center of the ENCDC crisis is an adversarial confrontation with the six entities who had put many conditions for their participation in the preparation for the congress. However, though one of their main demands was met when the ENCDC revised the documents for the planned congress, they have been reluctant to join the efforts to mobilize for the congress. A number of the entities within the group of six are not members of the ENCDC while others have made statements declaring the ENCDC dead.
According to a senior member of the opposition, “The ENCDC has taken charge and is working to convene the congress.” The source added, “on March 10, 2016, we had a seminar and decided to meet the six entities for a dialogue, but after meeting them for one time, the leaders traveled and we have been waiting for a reply from them.”
On April 27, a written message was relayed to the six entities inviting them to resume talks, but so far, “the ENCDC team made up of Hussein Khelifa, Abraham Negassi, and Abdulrahman Taha, has not been able to meet with them.” Some members of the ENCDC suspect “they are playing a stalling tactic.”
The Ethiopian Factor
The ENCDC states that the Ethiopian authorities have indicated in many ways they will not allow the congress to be held in Ethiopia unless the two sides come together. The Ethiopian liaison office has made its position clear a few months ago when the ENCDC explained its three options in relation to the impasse: 1) both sides of the opposition to convene the congress together, 2) if the six entities refuse that, then the fifteen to convene the congress alone, and, 3) if Ethiopia doesn’t permit the convening of the congress in its territories, the ENCDC members will have to decide on the fate of their operations in Ethiopia.
According to our source, “the Ethiopian authorities insist that both sides must come together, though they know many attempts to bring the two sides to work together has repeatedly failed during the last three years.”
Sources accuse the Ethiopian authorities of siding with the six entities, and they argue, “a few weeks ago, they were given permission to hold a seminar in Mekelle.” It’s believed they are working to create their own group umbrella in cooperation with some marginal diaspora interest groups.
Supporters of the ENCDC around the world are still mobilizing and have been fundraising to help fund the planned congress. However, the support groups are afraid the interest of the public might wane. Also, apprehension against the Ethiopian authorities for “hindering the efforts of the ENCDC, and against the opposition leaders for failing to find a resolution to the perpetual problem” is noticeable within the Eritrean opposition. A member of the ENCDC said, “We should not be held hostage by whimsical politics.”
Meanwhile, information from Ethiopia indicate that a problem has surfaced among the group of six entities; two of them are developing relative distance from the others over strategic issues. While the four entities insist on reevaluating the past experience and history of the Eritrean struggle, the two hold the view that such issues cannot be addressed politically and with a partisan attitude. Partisan handling of academic and historical issues has been behind many crises that has poisoned the Eritrean political arena.
A source from the group stated, “history is not our priority, it should be left to academic institutions and scholars to debate inside Eritrea under a free environment.”