Speculations about a National Convention of opposition parties and civic organizations aiming at working on a road map for the future of Eritrea, have been on the airwaves and headlines of major Eritrean websites especially during the last six months preceding the first week of August 2010. And after a prelude of a lot of polemic and heated controversies blended by conspiracy theories, bland and often outright dismissals and denouncements, and resigned reactions, the National Conference for Democratic Change (NCDC) has come and gone leaving its forensic imprints on Eritrean history.
During these engaging months those Eritreans who welcome change and reform had everything good to wish for the success of the Convention and they were prompting themselves to hear the good news from the get go. The protagonists hoped that the National Convention will be the first of its kind and one step forward to drawing the road map to a more democratic and liberated Eritrea and to correct the missteps of the incumbent government during its 20-year dictatorial rule. On the other hand, the antagonists , who are mainly those loyal to the ruling PFDJ party, were obviously uneasy for fear that the Convention might stir a hornet’s nest of organized and deliberate public opposition to the provocative and cocky dictatorial regime by drawing the ball marks for the beginning of the end of the government’s grip to power in Eritrea.
The organizers of the Convention could not have chosen a better time than now because there are some precursory signs that the Eritrean regime is weakening and may fall on its own volition in the not too distant future. The regime has been slapped by a UN sanction on the pretext that it has refused to withdraw from Djibouti territory and is continuing its unreserved support for the Al Shabab terrorist group of Somalia. Also the regime’s support base seems to be waning both inside and outside Eritrea. Not to mention, of course, that there are indications that most of the powerful western countries, with the United States on the lead, have the ouster of the Eritrean President high on their wish list because they perceive him as a counter force to their national interests on the strategic greater Horn of Africa region. Also there could not have been a better host country for the convention than Ethiopia – a country which has a bitter border conflict with Eritrea – and would definitely be more than willing to support any organized effort that would result in the overthrow of Mr. Isaias’ regime. The opposition may have thought that the right momentum has arrived for it to put in motion a movement to brace itself for a struggle to bring about regime change and reform in Eritrea.
In view of all of the above, everybody waited in great public curiosity to see what kind of infant might be born out of the Convention. There have been some puzzling and lingering questions begging for answers about the EDA (Eritrean National Alliance) who launched the National Convention. Would the Convention be a venue for special interest groups with narrow ethnic, religious and separatist agenda, or would it be something that will embrace a wider national vision that aims at bringing national reconciliation and unity for the people of Eritrea as a whole? Does the EDA have a viable party program which can be translated into a workable political formula? Does it has the capacity to execute what it vows to execute? Will the EDA be able to strike a political consensus among the various parties under its umbrella or would the Convention be an exercise in futility owing to the fact the Coalition is made up of a number of strange bed fellows with irreconcilable political ideologies?. Would there be a fair representation of Tygrina Eritrean Christian Highlanders who are the most dominant population group in Eritrea or would this ethnic group also be singled out for blame and reprimand along with the regime as seems to be the popular outlook often aired by some vocal radical minority groups within the EDA coalition?
Preparations for the Convention was up to a bad start when one of the major political parties, the EPDP (Eritrean Peoples Democratic Party, run by several high profile political figures who command considerable influence and respect) opted out from participating in the Convention. Many people wondered if the EPDP and the EDA (Eritrean Democratic Alliance) will ever be able to resolve their differences in the future and coordinate their efforts towards a common goal or go their own separate ways. Ironically, however, there are many Eritreans (particularly Christian Highlanders) who look up for the leadership of the EPDP and would rather have this party emerge as a major contender to the EDA coalition than be part of it. When one thinks of this from a political hindsight, it may not be such a bad idea after all, because a strong EPDP may enable Eritrea to have two strong political parties instead of one dominant party (EDA) packaged under one loosely connected coalition. Having a strong and independent EPDP party may avoid the risk of having a lopsided power sharing formula, such as the one that exists in Ethiopia, where the EPRDF has technically evolved into the single most powerful party with negligible contest from other political parties.The question is then, would the EDA be arm twisted to adopt the EPRDF formula ?
Considering all of the above questions for which we do not have answers at this junction in time, the EDA is apparently running into a political minefield and any misstep may undo it. Although it is too early to pin point what the EDA has been able to achieve during the Convention, many Eritreans have been encouraged by the way the Convention has been wrapped up. But a couple of advices seems to be in order. First, the EDA should be able to restrain the extremist and separatist parties under its umbrella from running their exclusionist agenda if it is to get the support it badly needs from mainstream Eritrean population. If some minority elements on the fringes of Eritrean social makeup are able to aggressively use the Convention to position themselves at the center stage of Eritrean political power structure, by manipulating the EDA to over represent themselves, and the EDA cannot temper such excesses, it will be locked in a stiff resistance and opposition from the majority. So, the EDA needs to draw a fine line between respecting the rights of minorities and also embracing the majority in order to emerge as a viable liberator of the Eritrean people as a whole. Secondly, political activism often takes radical forms. So, instead of making political activism as a genre for its struggle, the EDA needs to focus on establishing a constitutional democracy that guarantees the rights of individual citizens irrespective of their religious and ethnic affiliations. The goal should be to enable people to exercise their voting rights and be able to elect or change their government through a one man one vote democratic election. A clear and democratic vision is the ONLY WAY that the Eritrean people are waiting for, like an expectant mother would wait great anxiety for its first child to be born sound and healthy. We need the EDA to succeed. We cannot afford it to be swallowed and obliterate itself into the dark chamber of political infamy.
In conclusion, I would like to commend the organizers of the Convention for a job well done. And I also like to entreat all Eritreans to buy some wisdom from our bitter history and work very hard towards finding a political solution that will redeem us from our miseries and bind us as citizens under the rule of law and with love and compassion for one another.
God Bless Eritrea.