In its Unification Conference, The Eritrean Democratic Alliance invited some members of the Eritrean Civic Societies as observers. The invitation was considered a positive step in the right direction and a historic achievement though a tiny fraction of what Eritreans aspire. The members of the civic societies were to the expectations of our people; they played a constructive role in the unification of the Eritrean Democratic Alliance.
This constructive move encouraged and at the same time pressured the EDA to prepare for the national conference; and to accomplish this task, the EDA convened many workshops in different regions of the world. The workshops culminated in the convening of a general workshop in Addis Ababa in 2009 where the delegations debated and identified the issues for discussion in the national conference. All participants regarded the general workshop as a success for the opposition camp and the Eritrean people. This mature work was believed to bring the opposition camp closer to each other more than any time before for the achievement of the goal.
Many Eritreans understand that the journey towards the national conference is not smooth; the main challenge being financial in nature. Putting this into account, Eritreans do not press the EDA much than what it can afford. However, this doesn’t deter them from reminding the opposition camp to speed up the convening of the national conference.
The purpose of the national conference is to forge a contract about Eritrean national fundamentals among the components of the opposition camp. The majority of the Eritrean people agree on most of the terms of the national fundamentals. It is believed that such a contract would help the components of the opposition camp to work together with confidence.
Many ordinary Eritreans might wonder about the continual criticism of EDA by a group from within the opposition camp. This group comprehends the objective difficulties of the opposition camp, but depicts the EDA as a weak organ while at the same time, they portray themselves as sophisticated, dynamic and the only skilled entities to lead.
In the past, they blamed the delay of the national conference, but when the EDA appointed an organizing committee, they began to complain about the lack of enough time, misleading expectations of the conference, deliberate exclusions, bilateral engagements, confidence building, etc.
Many understand that Eritrea is in an extraordinary situation. Such an ordeal dictates on us to be rational in our requests. Even Isaias is in a very critical situation due to his crimes that he committed. Therefore, it is irrational to demand him to feed the people of Eritrea with macaroni and pizza though it would be reasonable to request him to permit mothers to smuggle dough to feed their hungry children.
A close follower of the Eritrean politics would conclude that the period of two years planned to prepare for the national conference is more than enough. The long period of preparations brings an obvious questions: where has the EPDP been in the past two years? Where has the EPDP been when the EDA conducted regional and general workshops? Where has this group been when Eritreans were forwarding their research papers? Where has this group been when our people were calling the EDA to quicken the convention of the national conference? Where has this group been when the EDA was composing the organizing committee? Where has the EPDP been when the EDA was inaugurating the commencement of the organizing committee?
The answer to these questions is simple; it doesn’t require an extraordinary genius. In the period the EDA and the Eritrean people were conducting workshops and forwarding papers, this group was secretly hatching the Brussels conference. They were busy about their mergers that resulted in the creation of the Eritrean People’s Democratic Party. They were preoccupied with the London Peace Conferences. Precisely, they were in a campaign of defaming the EDA, defending Isaias’ grabbing of land and injustices perpetrated against the majority of the Eritrean people. They were in a mission of protecting the regime from being labeled a sectarian regime. Concisely, they were in a campaign of concealing the disgrace which they intend to inherit.
This group pictures the national conference as something very difficult to organize and if convened, it will result in failure.
Below is a rough sketch of my opinion of the contract that is expected to be agreed upon in the national conference. The aim of this draft is to assist us in judging whether the whole assignment of the national conference is doable or not. The terms of the contract are not issues from the blue; most Eritreans have debated them for decades and the majority accept them without hesitation. I am sure, it won’t take much time to mention the terms of the contract.
The following is a sample of the contract just to prove the paper-work of the national conference is simple.
The contract will probably comprise of the following terms and conditions: protecting Eritrean sovereignty; preserving Eritrean culture; freedom of worship;, freedom of expression and press; just distribution of resources and authority; equality under the law; dual official languages; embracing the culture of dialogue; peaceful transfer of authority; establishing a diverse political system; preserving Eritrean history; protecting the ownership of land; preserving historical names of places; presenting and agreeing on the system of governance; etc.
The second task of the national conference is to elect a council that will be responsible for appointing experts to prepare strategies and to supervise them. If the organizing committee of the national conference prepars some of the experts’ work, it will not be the master draft of the strategies. The transitional period and regime change requires sound studies by experts from different fields and it also longer time.
The group that deters the national conference misleadingly mingles the contract with strategies and tactics and the works of experts. The reasons the EPDP presented in its press release plainly exposes the rejection of the Party to active participation of the Eritrean civic organizations and the common person in the decision making process. The following are quotes from the press release that I translated to English from the Arabic version published at harnnet.org.
· It is necessary, for all the members of the Alliance, to insure and confirm upon the pivotal questions that guarantee the role of the EDA in the process and steps of the national conference. It is also vital to know the status of the EDA umbrella after the national conference. The EDA should call for the national conference after verification and approval on the success of the factors raised in the questions above.
· The EDA members should commence the organizing process and invitation of delegates for the national conference after confirmation the outcome of the agendas and goals which is built on trust and common satisfaction agreed upon by the EDA member prior the call for the national conference.
· The EDA members should primarily agree upon and approve the drafts previously prepared, and later present it to the organizing committee to forward it to the delegates of the national conference to edit and make changes.
It is clear from the quotes above that the EPDP doesn’t desire the Eritrean civic organizations, intellectuals, religious leaders and the Eritrean people in general to have a vital role in the Eritrean political arena. It is apparent from their press release that the participation of the Eritrean people in preparing the contract disturbs them and the exposure of their maneuvers in the political kitchen of the opposition camp terrifies them. They aspire to invite the people only to cheer—another feature of the regime in Asmara. They appear worried about the situation of the EDA after the national conference; this is a feigned worry. The chief purpose of this rudimentary drama is to keep the EDA without any effective role until they gain the upper hand in the Eritrean political arena. The moment they grip power, they will definitely say goodbye to the EDA members. It is shameful and unacceptable for the EDA to be a prisoners of the whims of one group.
A similar incident had taken place In our political history, Isaias kept the ELF crippled in a dialogue box by arguing for a united front while at the same time he was conspiring to sweep them out from the Eritrean field. A similar act is taking place now by the group that refuses dialogue with their compatriots. The national conference is for a democratic change in Eritrea; it is not a conference for replacement of an ethnic or tribal group with another. The Eritrean people will never serve one more time as a bridge for a similar replacement group. Eritrea is for all Eritreans who have the will to embrace the culture of dialogue and sit under one umbrella with the rest. I think it is rational to question: why are the leaders of EPDP scared to offer their wisdom to the delegates of the national conference?
The national conference is expected to elect a council from the EDA, the civic organizations, religious leaders, intellectuals and prominent persons who will guide the struggle against the regime and prepare strategies for the transitional period. For the first time in our political history, a national umbrella will embrace an authentic participation of our people in steering the Eritrean vessel to its berth. Certainly, the outcome of the national conference will shatter the ambitions of the extremists and empower the people of Eritrea to achieve the democratic change that they aspire for.
Our compatriots in the Eritrean People’s Democratic Party should shoulder their responsibility and take a decisive action against the leaders of the Party. They should not allow them to repeat old mistakes that we still suffer from today. It is a historical moment for the grassroots of the EPDP to rectify what has gone wrong.
Eritreans have a great confidence in the wisdom and courage of the grassroots of the EPDP. It is their role to isolate the escapists from the national conference and join their brothers at the national conference. This is a moment that calls for making history, and the grassroots of the Party are competent enough to take the challenge. It is illogical to assist and counter productive to create a fresh extremist group under the sponsorship of the EPDP members. The betrayal that occurred in the EPLF members should be a good lesson and the best example for all Eritreans. The very people who nurtured and assisted the regime are now languishing in container prisons chained for 24 hours a day. Many have lost their lives under severe conditions and the rest are en route to lose it.
This shows that securing our national and individual interests should not be left to Parties and Party leaders. It should be recognized that the Eritrean people’s interests can only be secured by embracing diversity. I hope the EPDP grassroots to remember this lesson when dealing with their leaders. Let us not out our eggs in one basket, but in different baskets. As the Amhara say, Hulet balla tikel, andu bisseber, bandu tenteltel—fix two poles; if one breaks down, cling at the other.
The following are excerpts from the press release of the executive office of the EPDP. For the original version of the press release visit harnnet.org
- ضرورة التأمين على الإجابة المشتركة بتفاهم وتأكيد جميع الأعضاء على الأسئلة المحورية التي تتضمن دور التحالف في مسيرة وخطوات مؤتمر الحوار ووضعية وظروف التحالف كمظلة جامعة بعد انعقاد هذا المؤتمر بحيث التعرف على شكل وماهية هذه المظلة الجامعة في المراحل القادمة، وبالتالي الدخول إلى مؤتمر الحوار بعد التأكد والمصادقة على العوامل الدالة على نجاحه.
- البدء في عمليات التحضير والمراحل اللاحقة لها والدعوة إليه عند التيقن من أن نتائج المؤتمر ستنبني على الإيمان والقناعة المشتركة للأطراف المنخرطة فيه على أساس الدخول إليه بأجندة وأهداف مشتركة متفق عليها عند تقديم الدعوات.
- إجازة الوثائق الموضوعة مسوداتها أصلا باتفاق التنظيمات والأحزاب العضو والمقدمة في مرحلة لاحقة من قبل اللجنة التحضيرية والتي تم إجراء التعديلات والتنقيحات عليها من قبل الأعضاء الآخرين في مؤتمر الحوار.