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2001-2011: Eritrea’s Wasted Decade

If Eritrea was a democratic republic and all the fronts, movements, groups were political parties, the Eritrean people would have voted “No Confidence” on every single one of them.

Eritrea’s self-imposed ruling party, the PFDJ, spent an entire decade in a futile effort to get the world to pay attention to the 2002 border demarcation ruling. Of course, the futility of this was entirely predictable to anyone who has a passing knowledge of how the world works: that those who win a war get to dictate the terms of surrender.  But the PFDJ, which had fooled itself into believing it won the combat war and diplomatic war, waited in vain that the “international community” will compel the victor of the war—Ethiopia—to comply with the surrender terms. It is still waiting, and, left to its own devices, every indication is that it will wait for another decade.

Just last month, Ethiopia demonstrated once again that the PFDJ was completely incapable of defending Eritrean sovereignty. For reasons that are incomprehensible—what else is new—Dictator Isaias Afwerki said that Ethiopia violated Eritrean sovereignty to make the world forget that it has been violating Eritrean sovereignty for the last 10 years. This is like saying that a bank robber robbed a bank to make the world forget that he had robbed a bank once before. What was remarkable about the incursion is not that Ethiopia held a press conference to announce what had happened and may happen again, in the future.  This is because Ethiopia was assured that nobody would give the Eritrean tyrant, with his bad-boy record, a sympathetic ear. And nobody did.  What is remarkable is what the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry said after the event: “President Isaias did not and would not escalate because his survival would be at stake, not Eritrea’s.”

Isaias Afwerki had been justifying every offense and brutality against the Eritrean people by using the shield of “national security” and “national sovereignty” and the Ethiopians demonstrated again that he is entirely incapable of safeguarding Eritrean sovereignty if it means, as it does, endangering his own safety and hold on power. Eritreans now have the worst of all worlds: the indignity of having a neighbor cross Eritrea’s borders using any definition it sees fit (“national security”), and the indignity of having a dictator who says he must be a dictator to preserve their sovereignty—but can’t.

The Eritrean Opposition & Its Wasted Decade

The last decade was also a lost decade for the Eritrean opposition. For the last 10 years, the Eritrean opposition organizations have been doing what all companies who lost their sense of vision or direction do: re-organizing (commonly referred to as “re-org.”) They have been spending all their time branding and re-branding themselves. They have changed their names: Jihad becomes salvation, ELF-RC becomes EPP. They have changed their “incorporation”: fronts become movements; movements become parties; parties become individuals, inc. and forums become civil society. They have changed their logos, they have changed their stationery, they have traded their imaginary guns for imaginary pencils.  Friends have become foes; foes have become friends.  And every time they have found themselves on the losing end of an argument, they have blamed Ethiopia for “interfering in our internal affairs.” All this blur of activity was to create a sense of movement—to hide the fact that there was no movement, that it was all “Gam-Man, Left-Right, fi mekanek…” military drill, without the added benefit of having a military or making the organizations structurally fit. Pick any year from 2001-2011, pick any random year, and you will find that this “re-org” consumed more time than what is the alleged priority of these organizations: challenging the PFDJ and shortening its life.

The Alliance (AENF, then ENA, then EDA) was necessary because the political organizations in existence in the 1990s had completely different perspectives and, therefore, different ideologies and strategies which worked at cross-purposes from one another. Notwithstanding their evolving names, for the most, the 10 organizations (and 1 individual) who founded the Alliance in Khartoum, Sudan in March were former Marxists, practicing Marxists and Islamist groups. But notwithstanding their differences, the organizations had, for the most part, one thing in common: they were fragments of a liberation movement, the Eritrean Liberation Front. When the Alliance was conceived in 1999, it was with the noble intention of having all Eritreans opposed to tyranny to put their differences aside and focus on removing the “dictatorial regime of the Peoples’ Front and replace it with a democratic government based on the principles of political pluralism,” as its Charter put it.

The first shock to the system occurred in 2001: the year the G-15 (former PFDJ members) “defected” from the government to the Opposition.  While they expressed their divorce from the PFDJ as something tragic that (with the exception of a few) most of them made every effort to avoid, the majority of them saved no punches in their characterization of the Alliance as “extremists”, “enemies of the people”, and “Ethiopian lackeys.” At the forefront of this destructive campaign of defamation was none other than Mesfin Hagos, who then had a huge following within the new opposition and his words poisoned the well.

It is hard to overstate how differently those with EPLF/PFDJ background and those with ELF background looked at the world. Ask an Eritrean with EPLF/PFDJ background what the most shocking news that happened in January 2001 was, and s/he is likely to tell you about the freezing or arrest of a G-15 or G-15-sympathetic Eritrean. Ask those with opposition background and you will hear about how the PFDJ went to a refugee camp and mowed down children in a refugee camp. There was one organization, ELF-RC, who, by virtue of its unique history and outlook, could be expected to be the bridge for the two groups, but it did not rise up to the occasion for the reasons we will explain.

The second shock to the system also occurred in 2001: that was 9-11. In a post-9-11 era, how sympathetic is the world going to be to an Alliance which included Islamists? The opposition (including in one instance, we are sad to say, did not have a good answer to this question. But whereas everybody else regained their footing after the temporary shock, one organization, ELF-RC, went into a downward spiral of splintering, plastic surgery and endless temper tantrums demanding dramatic changes in the charter of the Alliance. The ELF-RC was already showing the strains when it withdrew its membership from the Alliance to protest the election of a “Johnny-come-lately”, Herui T Bairou*, as the leader of the Alliance—a soap opera that took months to remedy. After 9-11, its “soul-searching” (“In a post 9-11 world: is a person with a Muslim name the best face for the Eritrean opposition?”) would splinter it further—and that entire process sucked every ounce of energy of the Alliance for an entire decade.

There were other shocks to the system: The long absence of the strategist Abdella Idris, and Sudan’s turncoat actions denying its eastern zone, traditionally the base of Eritrean opposition.  And Ethiopia’s ambiguous policy.

The Alliance has lived up to one and only one of its expectations: to convene a national congress.  This national congress was, fairness compels us to state, the brainchild of the Alliance (EDA) including the ELF-RC. Accuracy also compels us to state that when it was being convened, a wing of the old ELF-RC was too busy to attend because it had yet another appointment with its plastic surgeon: to become EPP in preparation to be EPDP. The ELF-RC essentially became the EPLF-RC: now its political program devotes more space to animal husbandry than to the return and resettlement of Eritrean refugees. Through a series of self-inflicted wounds, it has made itself so inconsequential that a political organization whose entire reason for existence is the salvation of the Eritrean people is now begging the Eritrean people to help it save its leaders from abduction.

So now there is the question of the Eritrean National Conference for Democratic Change (ENCDC) and its relationship with the Alliance, i.e., the EDA. Should the EDA be dissolved? Is the EDA trying to dominate the ENCDC? Is the EDA trying to emasculate the ENCDC? Does the organizational chart of the EDA and ENCDC make sense? Should this person be in that position? Who reports to whom? Why was this person elected and why was that person not?

These are all Europe & North America-centric questions. The Alliance had as many hard-core and unrepentant Marxist organizations as it had Islamist organizations.  But nobody asked “at this time and age should we have Marxists organizations? What will it mean to Eritrea to have Marxists organizations?” But they asked, “should we have Islamist organizations?” Why is that?  Because, living in Europe and North America, being associated with Marxists poses no danger, but with Islamists it does.  But, form an Eritrean perspective, which form of ideology poses a bigger threat?

With all due respect to everyone asking these questions, we think of them as no more than the continuation of the last wasted decade. The AENF became the ENA then became the EDA. The EPLF-DP became the EPDP.  One wing of the ELF-RC became the EPP then the EPDP.  Another wing of the ELF-RC became the ENSF.  It is all re-arranging of chairs on the Titanic. The answer is really simple: SHOW RESULTS. Nobody, at this very late stage as Eritrea is in the emergency room hooked to IV tubes, is interested in discussing what college the doctor graduated from or what the paint color of the room is or why the nurse gave you a dirty look. DO SOMETHING. The EDA has been around for 10 years, it has been a huge disappointment, but it delivered one solid result: a national conference.  The ENCDC has been around for 5 months. Before we can call for the removal, replacement, dissolution of the EDA, our question is: and to replace it with what? With part-time strugglers and stragglers? With people who don’t even have the time to lobby congress? People who do things only when they take a sabbatical from the university, or take a 3-week vacation from work? Is that, really, how we are going to save the Eritrean people? Are some calling for the destruction of organizations composed of full-time strugglers (however inept they may be), with part-time strugglers (who are giving every indication that they may be equally inept)?

Finally, to the youth organizations. Everybody is giving you advice, and we would like to give you ours. First and foremost, if you want to avoid the mistakes of those who came before you, the right path is not to avoid all contact with them, but to gather as much information as you can, from as diverse group as you can, to get different perspectives. Here’s our perspective:

(a) Avoid creating parallel universes. Diversity is not just a pleasant desired goal; but something that will help you speed up the struggle. If you surround yourself with people who share your background, your socio-economic status, your perspective, you are only delaying the inevitable: the rude awakening.

(b) Quality counts more than quantity: There is power in numbers; but there is even greater power in a dedicated few who have no confusion about what needs to be done and are willing to roll up their sleeves to get it done.

(c)  Avoid the adoption centers: Just like Google, or Facebook, or Youtube who will approach you with advertisement the minute you build traffic, there are “NGOs” with noble-sounding names whose entire basis for existence is to sell numbers to their funding sources. They will promise you funding and prestige in exchange for you adopting whatever platform they are selling. Your mission and your independence mean nothing to them: you are just another addition to their portfolio.  They will promise funding that will never come, “future bigger meetings” that will never occur. Avoid them like the plague that they are.


2001-2011 has been a wasted decade for Eritreans.

In 2002, when the border ruling was passed, this website called on the Eritrean government to enter into “dialogue” with the Ethiopian government. This is not because we believe, as some naive Eritreans still do, that the settlement of the border issue would compel Isaias to “implement the ratified constitution” (he won’t: because a constitution constrains his powers); it is not because we believe the demarcation of the border will suddenly bring about an era of peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia (it won’t: because Eritrea and Sudan have a “demarcated” border and that did not stop Isaias from exporting war); it is not because we believe that this will “pressure” the Isaias regime to dismantle the endless-conscription campaign (it won’t: because, technically, Isaias does not consider them “soldiers” but “nation builders.”) We called for a dialogue because we believe it will bring marginal improvement in the quality of life of Eritreans and Ethiopians who live in the border areas. Isaias’ bet that he could “pressure” Ethiopia to comply—either by use of diplomacy or guns—resulted in an AU call for sanctioning his regime (the first in the history of AU), as well as two UNSC sanctions.

Since 2001, the Eritrean opposition groups, who had been making steady progress to consolidate their gains since they formed an Alliance in 1999, have been engaged in fruitless re-organization and re-structuring campaigns. Like a directionless and visionless company constantly bringing consultants to tell it what to do, the Eritrean organizations have spent more energy on cosmetic changes than in working to execute the mission—“overthrow the dictatorial regime of the People’s Front and replace it with democratic government based on the principles of political pluralism.”  Even more worrisome, it has not learned from the mistakes of the wasted decade: the spoilers change, but the spoiling continues.

The youth movements must maintain their independence at all costs—but in their effort to be independent they should not be ignorant of the factors that contributed to what made the last decade a wasted decade. Or they, too, will unwittingly be the prey of the spoilers and the adoption centers.

* Eritrean history is a series of cyclical events. One of the triggers for ELF’s demise was the non-election of Herui T Bairou in the 2nd National Congress, largely as a result of “foreign manipulation,” hastening the “Falool” movement, whose biggest critic was the late Seyoum O. Michael.  Two decades later, the reason that the ELF-RC (then led by Seyoum O. Michael) gave for suspending its membership from the Alliance was the election of Herui T Bairou as a result of “foreign manipulation.”

About Awate Team

The Awate Team is a group of individuals who collaborate in preparing editorial contents that mainly appear under the PENCIL signature and other columns that carry the Awate Team signature. It represents the collective team's view.

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  • Gobian Garibaldi

    selam Kokhob Selam and all,

    We were and are sailing to the East on different boats but the human journey is the same. I had Tseba for my first seven, Dolishi, Siwa, and caramele for my second seven, had wedi Tseba, wedi Aaker, and and aba gobiye for my third. The worst thing that can ever happen to one who lives in the wild were there is thirts and hunger and the death hounds, is to give him a bitter type of Wedi Aaker with out oil, salt, or onion, to bake it and it. And so it was and so we ate what we could find, a bitter testing Wedi Aaker with water from the well on the river:-) Now, after eating Shaiya and muluKhiya and drinking coffe with zenjebil and then a cool Haja barda, you would think one should stop there and make a living among the people of the heart, the lovely people of Sudan. And I said people and not the others that live downtown.

    So, one lives in and leaves Ebonyland and comes to Ivoryland to get an education and thinks about Shaiya and mulukhiya in terms of huberger and Tacol Bell with something to wash them down. And suddenly he finds he has to struggle his way back to Ebonyland but the choices are not that simple and easy for Ebonyland has not come of age yet and is getting worse than her days of old as it fights within itself and with others. Let us work for an Eritrea that will be at peace with itself and others and hope that our neighbors do the same. Retiree politics is easy and simple for an Aama of the Seventh Blade:-)


  • Sam

    Well said Awate! Two thumps up! Hey Denden it’s your turn now. You have 9 days to come up with a link that shows Awate has expressed with sectarian or regionalist views in the past. I need to know too!

  • Abreham

    Meles asked for dialogue. If Meles is sincere enough, why did he go to war and sucrifice the lives of thouzands. Eritrea have the wright to say yes or no for dialogue, neither of the two countries have the right to say no. If one of them come up with different idea, it has to be acceptable to the other side; otherwise the dicision made in The Hague should be implimented, because Meles and Iseas signed for it not conditionaly but unconditionaly to impliment the dicision. Please, Awate drop your support for the “dialogue”.and don`t concider Meles as a good guy or Ethiopian government as a good system

    • awatestaff


      You said: “Please, Awate drop your support for the “dialogue”.and don`t concider Meles as a good guy or Ethiopian government as a good system.”

      The second half of your argument is known as non-sequiter. It is entirely irrelevant whether we think Meles is a good guy, a bad guy, or an ugly guy. We would have advocated for dialogue whether Meles supported it or not because our focus is “what is good for the Eritrean people.” The Eritrean people includes people who live in the border areas who want to remain Eritrean, who want to remain in the land of their forefathers. The EEBC’s decision is “That’s tough, you accepted in advance that the decision would be final and binding.” We respect their decision. Isaias Afwerki’s position is: “not many people are affected and we will relocate them to another land.” We don’t respect that decision at all because, to Isaias, the people are cattle that can be moved around anywhere because the land belongs to him. But, as the late Seyoum O/Michael used to say (and he should know because he used to chair the “Mahber Harestot” of Eritrea and that’s why for years he used to be called Seyoum Harestai), every inch of Eritrean land has an owner. Long, long before Ali Salim described the PFDJ as land-grabbers, Seyoum Harestai had called the existing PFDJ policy as “a policy of plunder; it is a policy of looting.” Your position of no-dialogue results in people being displaced and given somebody else’s land. Back to Seyoum Harestai:

      “In Eritrea, there is not a compact entity [land] that is not owned by the people; there is no piece of land that is not territorially delineated and that can not be identified by a people, regardless of the number of the people. There is no land that is outside the control or ownership of a segment of the people. There is no commune or county that cannot be identified with the people. The people own the land; they are identified by the land; they are identified with the land; and their livelihood life is based on that land. They can use the land for grazing, settlement, farming and whatever: it is their identity, their roots and their base. Therefore, whether in one place there are more people and less land, or less people and more land, regardless, it is delineated and all of us Eritreans have to accept this fact. ”

      Please read the entire interview: Seyoum Harestai was one of the rare diamonds of Eritrean politics.

      We can understand why the EEBC would take a “tough luck” position because it is interpreting the law clinically. We understand why the Eritrean dictator would say that because to him people, like cattle, can be moved anywhere, and the land, all of it, belongs to him. We honestly have no idea why some people who are supposed to be fighting for the rights and dignity of Eritreans keep refusing to think things through.

      awate staff

  • Gobian Garibaldi


    The folks at Awate do their work and stick their neck for it. Kudose to that even if I did not like all the ways they stick their for what they believe. Let us say we all did our best and all was not in vein for the Ero-Ethiopian border war is going to be only just about 14 (May 13, 1998__May 13, 2012) years old. This our baby is just like a human baby become a teenager. We have done very well as teenagers going at it to save our mother from a destructive end one way or another. As our 14 years old child of war have come this far, it had gained what could be gained, it brought a rude awakening of all the human children that it is meant to devour. The slogan is now “United We Stand and Divided We Fall”. The little unities that we have created have done their job with many self-induced or otherwise wonds still irritating them and us and that is all we know. Now, we are in Junior High and should not curse our Elementaries but assign them their grades and move on to the future that we have to create today.

    I asked one of our Awassa friend how the their boat is fairing so far. Same old same old seemed to be the summary of his answer. I asked another one and he forethrightly said, “we faild”. I asked him, “failed from what?”. Power politics has its measure of failure and success and so do activist politics. Eritrean power politics has failed but Eritrean civic politics has come into being which was not there till our collective baby was born the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea went to war in 1998. We have gone through two cycles of seven years, from 1998 to 2005 and from 2005 2012. The first was good bye to diapers and the second was “wecome puberty” and we are there now. We are in heat now:-). We need teenage gloves and hats and the bellbottoms and dance not “twis-tege baAlege” like PFDJ but sing and dance “abashawool lomi kiderefela Terisa bi’Kula kayferest kela and eskitishim”:-) Boys and girls, it is “aga wegHta diQdiQ e’U tselmat” but there will bee a light at the end of the tunnel on our way to young-adult-hood. Two 7s are gone and we are left only with one till we graduate at 21 and go look for work and stop bothering mama Eritrea with all our teengage beckering:-).


    • Kokhob Selam

      here you are man. this is the way it should be. now this is how you see things. let me add one more thing. the child is growing while getting intensive care from nice Eritreans around the glob but facing some type of hereditary deficiencies. But we are sure he will get cured and all his problems will end by the time he become adult. we will need to work hard and cooperate more than ever.

      for me those 10 years were better than the 10 years before as at least we have developed openness. all those joining and rejoining journeys are not so bad as every one has tried to be part of the other and experienced different ways and let them become tired till they reach of the new place enough for all.

  • Mogos Tekeste

    Selam the Awate Team and all,

    First and foremost I thank you for the editorial. For a change we will debate real issues.

    I agree with some of your conclusions and thus I do not need to rehash them. Here I would bring to light some major qualms I have with some of your points; some are so significant that they may warrant an article and thus I reserve the right to rebut them fully at an opportune time.

    For today, I will deal with the Eritrean-Ethiopian border legal decision (Dialogue and the ratified constitution to follow tomorrow):

    I believe you are playing fast and lose with historical facts as regards the Eritrean-Ethipoian border legal decision. Ethiopia flatly rejected the authority of the Commission as well as its verdicts when the Delimitation Decision was issued first. In fact, Ethiopia appealed to the United Nations Security Council and demanded Dialogue as a precondition. At that time, to comply with Ethiopia’s request was foolhardy, and it means to completely surrender what Eritrea legally gained whatever it may be at a recognized International Court at The Hague. Remember, Eritrea became an independent nation without at least legally delimiting its borders with Ethiopia, if not demarcating, in 1993. (Bringing the border issue of Eritrea with Sudan only confuses the issue; and this is immaterial, since we Eritreans were not colonized by the Sudan.) At that time, the Eritrean Government’s position to reject dialogue was absolutely correct. For Eritrea to accept dialogue at that time, it was necessary that Ethiopia accept the decision of The Hague unequivocally. The intentional community rejected Ethiopia’s position and encouraged Ethiopia to accept the decision of The Hague unequivocally. The position of the Awate Team of dialogue at that time was premature and absolutely wrong.

    Ethiopia fought with the Commission for almost a year before it finally declared that it accepts the decision of The Hague at least in principle. From that time onwards, I believe there was no need for the Eritrean Government to be so rigid and decline dialogue. Still, it is my strong belief that if any Eritrean entity who holds a state power in Eritrea insists that its desire is to implement the decision of The Hague as is, then one cannot legally quarrel with that decision. We cannot violate the rule of law to please certain groups, in this case Meles.

    The Awate Team is correct when it stated that victors of a war decide the terms of surrender. That is the story of the Second World War, the American Civil War etc. The borders of Germany in the Second World War were decided by the victors. The Germans were not invited to a court and plead their case. Truth be told, this was not the case with the Eritrean-Ethiopian border war.

    I have never read in any history book where a victor in a war willingly went to an international court for its borders with its enemy to be adjudicated by a foreign (though international) court. Only when wars exhaust nations, only when nations see that they are not winning wars (though they may not be losing too) and only when nations reach a stalemate in wars go to a negotiated settlement or go to a neutral court and accept its decision. That was the case with the Eritrean-Ethiopian border war. Both Eritrea and Ethiopia willingly went to an international court without duress. More, Eritrea and Ethiopia beforehand decided to be bound by the decision of the court in The Hague; and the decision to be final and binding.

    This border issue will be with us Eritreans whether the PFDJ is in power or not. I believe we, Eritreans, have to be wise and careful on how we handle it. The PFDJ has created a hell in Eritrea. Still, the TPLF has not created a heaven in Ethiopia. We have to be mindful of that.

    • awatestaff

      Selamat Mogos:

      We will wait for your article before we fully engage you. For now:

      (1) Rule of Law: this must be your favorite phrase because we can’t think of a single article, comment you have written that doesn’t include it. When you have been challenged about it, you had nothing but snide putdowns: it is as if you are for the law and everybody else is for the jungle. There is agreement that “rule of law” means that the ruler cannot be above the law. By this definition, if the law says there are traffic laws to be obeyed, taxes to be paid, and children to be sent to conscription, all a ruler has to do is obey traffic laws (Yemane Gebreab said Isaias does that), pay taxes (Isaias supposedly pays his), and send his children to Sawa (Isaias supposedly did that.) Does that mean Isaias is obeying the rule of law? Of course not because there is wide divergence on what “the rule of law” means. Rule of law tells us nothing about the “justness” of the law. Next time you write about it (and we look forward to your article), please make reference to how you would have dealt with the fact that slavery was legal, and for a long time: it was “the rule of law” for a a white man to treat a black man less than human. It was the “rule of law” for a woman to accept that she has no voice in the running of the affairs of the nation. Apartheid was the rule of law. Right now, Isaias Afwerki could cite all sorts of laws from the Penal Code and tell you that YOU are not complying with the rule of law. The whole history of society’s progress is about overcoming unjust laws. So, beyond repeating that phrase as if it is your version of “awet nHafash”, and making everybody who disagrees with you feel like a rube, please, please flesh it out.

      (2) We gave the Sudan example to answer the very naive among us who believe that “implementation of the final and binding ruling” would bring in an era of peace and stability between Eritrea and Ethiopia, that Isaias would “no longer have an excuse” to maintain the Wefri Warsay Yeka’alo campaign, or that he would “implement” the ratified constitution. That Ethiopia was once the colonizer and Sudan wasn’t a colonizer is immaterial to the issue that Isaias is a war-monger who would not be restrained by treaties.

      (3) Everything you said about the narration of the EEBC is true, including one you left out: The EEBC said that nothing in what we have ruled precludes the two sides from dialoguing and swapping lands if that advances the interest of their people. If there are thousands of Eritreans who considered themselves Eritreans and now have been told that the land of their forefathers is in Ethiopia proper, or if there are thousands of Ethiopians who consider themselves Ethiopians and now have been told that the land of their forefathers is in Eritrea proper, there are only three options: (a) one is to relocate the people; (b) another is for them to be naturalized and acquire the citizenship of their new country or live as permanent guests; (c) a third is for re-drawing of the land so that the people maintain their identity. We think the third option is the most humane. It is simply a difference between a people-centric approach and a land-centric approach. When Isaias was asked about this, he said words to the effect that “it is not a big deal, we will relocate the people.” Do you, Mogos, right now, know how many thousands of Eritreans will be relocated? And what that means to them? We are pretty sure you don’t or, even worse, you don’t care. But do prove us wrong.

      If you are worried if what we are proposing violates the “rule of law”, don’t worry, according to you, whatever the law is (Meles and Isaias can pass a law tomorrow) complying with it is the “rule of law”, right? You mention the “law” often, but we have never heard you mention the word “justice.” But justice trumps law. Always.

      Until later…

      awate staff

      • Dear awate staff,

        Well done awate staff. Mogos understand only what is in his mind and his only definitions to a rule of law. Mogos understand “rule of law” means to respect the law. But when he was ask what kind of law he always failed to answer it. He doesn’t care whether the law is ” a law that respect justice” or not. He doesn’t understand even dictators have law and rule of law. When he is challenged he always throws his temper tantrum.

      • Tazabi from London

        Whether or not Ethiopia had secured a decisive victory, there is no doubt that it had the upper hand when it agreed to cease hostilities and sign the Algiers Agreement. As such, it negotiated the Algiers Agreement from a position of strength and used it to secure its terms/conditions. For instance, it is my understanding that Eritrea had initially wanted the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to determine the dispute but Ethiopia’s preference for an adhoc arbitral tribunal prevailed (perhaps the Ethiopian Government did not want the ICJ lending its authority to any decision adverse to it ). However, it seems to me that the battlefield advantage should have ceased to have a direct effect once the parties agreed to cease hostilities and refer the dispute to arbitration. After all, the Algiers Agreement had the blessings of both the UN and AU.

        International law is as much about realpolitik as it is about ‘international law proper’ as, unlike national legal systems, it does not have law enforcement institutions, hence compliance with the decision of an international tribunal is achieved normally only through diplomatic pressure. So a major reason for the Eritrean regime’s abject failure to secure Ethiopia’s compliance with the Ethio-Eritrea Boundary Commission’s ruling is its international pariah status and its consequent inability to bring diplomatic pressure to bear upon Ethiopia.

        It is of course right and proper that every effort is made to ensure that Eritreans and Ethiopians living in the border regions are not forced to live under an alien administration as a result of any delimitation/demarcation exercise. So the two countries will have to negotiate in good faith to avoid such an eventuality. However, it is right to set the record straight: Ethiopia’s initial position was not motivated by any concern that border communities may have to be displaced and relocated as a result of the Boundary Commission’s ruling. As Mogos pointed out the Ethiopian Government had categorically rejected the Commission’s ruling and it is only later when it realised that its friends would find it difficult to defend a stance which represents a flagrant breach of international obligations that it decided to modify its position and accept IN PRINCIPLE the Commission’s ruling. Should we care what the Ethiopian Government’s motive is for calling for negotiations? As long as it genuinely wants to implement the ruling with necessary and just modifications to ensure that populations are not displaced, we shouldn’t. I am doubtful that the Ethiopian Government has either the will or the political capital to allow the border to be demarcated in accordance with the Commission’s ruling, but its bluff needs to be called.

        Your discussion of the Rule of Law is interesting. One pertinent question to ask is, “if a senior PFDJ official, including the president, fails to comply with the laws you mention, is there an independent organ of state that can take enforcement action against the official?” It is one thing to choose (decide it is politically convenient) to comply with the ‘law’ and quite another to be under an obligation to comply. Of course, there are many other fundamental questions like, “can there be a Rule of Law when there is no democratically ratified constitution?” As the Awate Team have highlighted the Rule of Law and its relationship with justice and fundamental human rights is a contested and complex concept and cannot be addressed in a few lines.

        I thank the Awate Team for their thought provoking leader and many years’ of outstanding work.

      • Mogos Tekeste

        Selam the Awate Team,

        It appears to me that you are mixing up three terms and how they relate to a particular political system – (1) The Law of the Land, (2) The Rule By Law, and (3) The Rule Of Law. Right off the bat, as examples there is no rule of law in Eritrea, Ethiopia and China. I wrote a detailed account on this subject on December 2009. Your questions are fully answered in that article. Here is a link to the document:

        Slavery, disenfranchisement of women, and the apartheid system were the laws of the land in their respective nations. These were enforcement of oppression of the worst kind using laws that is categorized as the rule by law. These bad laws are antagonistic to the rule of law.

        You also accuse me that I never use the word justice. As far as that word is concerned, I have no defense, I am guilty as charged. I also confess on my own that I rarely use the words – democracy and multiparty elections too. This is a deliberate plan on my part, since these three terms expressed as a stand alone are not coherent and if not handled properly give rise to divisiveness.

        Democracy and justice, whatever they mean since they are some of the most abused terms, along with elections bring about chaos, anarchy and despotism in a nation if the necessary prerequisite — the rule of law — is not fulfilled. Just examine very closely on what is going on in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Egypt. The ethnic and religious groups are at each others throats, as all typical tribal societies that have not yet transitioned to a liberal democratic society behave. If things in the Eritrean opposition do not improve drastically it is within the realm of possibility that the above mentioned nations in a weird way display what is awaiting for us in future Eritrea. (For more insights see: (1) Francis Fukuyama, the Origins of Political Order; Chapter 17; The origins of the rule of law; and (2) Why Nations Fail, by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson.)

        If one takes justice, we have the justice of the socialists and collectivists. Under a term called “social justice,” collectivists of all stripes expropriate private property; abolish middlemen and traders that are essential to a good functioning market economy. The excuse is in order to have “an equitable distribution of wealth.” This is a favorite term of the PFDJ. Under a term called religious justice, the Taliban and other look alike in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan chop the hands of thieves, stone to death female ( not male) adulteress, these actions are antithetical to the rule of law.

        And what is the name of the party in power in Eritrea? You guessed it – People’s Front for Justice and Democracy — again the abused terms justice and democracy.

        Unlike the terms justice and democracy, the definition of the rule of law is somewhat precise, and this is unless one wants to play dumb on purpose. Here is a definition from the United Nations.

        “The Secretary-General defines the rule of law as: a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards. It requires, as well, measures to ensure adherence to the principles of supremacy of law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness and procedural and legal transparency.’’


        The rule of law as defined above already incorporates whatever good one wants to associate with “justice.” When I advocate for a rule of law, in a way I am advocating for something good that one associates with justice. At a conceptual level, this is my defense as far as justice is concerned.

        • awatestaff


          One wikipedia citation deserves another…

          “Despite wide use by politicians, judges and academics, the rule of law has been described as “an exceedingly elusive notion”[4] giving rise to a “rampant divergence of understandings … everyone is for it but have contrasting convictions about what it is.”[5]

          At least two principal conceptions of the rule of law can be identified: a formalist or “thin” and a substantive or “thick” definition of the rule of law. Formalist definitions of the rule of law do not make a judgment about the “justness” of law itself, but define specific procedural attributes that a legal framework must have in order to be in compliance with the rule of law. Substantive conceptions of the rule of law go beyond this and include certain substantive rights that are said to be based on, or derived from, the rule of law.[6]”

          For years, you have described “rule of law” as if there is a universal and unanimous understanding of it, and you have been like a pitbull completly rabid, like one protecting a master’s property, that you have discouraged anyone from engaging you. You are in such “thin” category of rule of law as to be invisible.

          There is Justice, and there is “social justice”, “economic justice”, etc. If you really don’t know what justice, unqualified justice is, you are so lost in esoteric-ism, we can’t do much to help you, really. Suffice to say that your squawking about “rule of law” without once mentioning Justice is beyond annoying, it is becoming a self-parody. Try again, and try to stick to the same screen name you have chosen for yourself.

          awate staff

  • wed garza

    AWate Team, thanks for the analysis
    The decades of debacle, changing colours, yet the essence remained one and the same; namely dividing ourselves like bacteria.
    Yes, future is what we make today. If we don’t do it today we miss future. Each organisation, movement, party you named cemented its narrow views through own narrow congresses, seminars and otherwise and locked themselves and lost the key.
    What they concluded was their narrow agendas and took it with absolute perfection thus cemented on that biased view of Eritrean reality that we see today apparently. Without thoroughly thought out conclusions and unchecked theories and perspectives narrowed their views of those named above. These impediments have blocked us much of our wishes and aspirations. Up to now I feel we are hostages to our past narrow views.

  • As always, good editorial, to the point. Keep up the good work.

  • Abel

    Nice analysis- There was much time wasted in divisions and sub-divisions within the oppsitions groupes themselves rather than taking the advantage to tackle the despotic regime by mobilzing their diversity based on common grounds. We witnessed the set back of the opposition grupes competing each other for illegitimate chair and power without addressing the peoples’ isssues. And yet there will be uncertain future concerning grouping and re-grouping of the opposition forces, and nobody knows in what kind of situation it can unfold.

  • Serray

    Selam to all and what a timely and honest article.

    The mission:

    “overthrow the dictatorial regime of the People’s Front and replace it with democratic government based on the principles of political pluralism.” 

    Here in the US, there are two groups of middle-aged people: those who save for retirement and those who don’t. These two groups agree on the goal, the mission, of saving for retirement. One group works to achieve the goal and the other DREAMS to achieve the goal. The later is forced to dream either because money is tight, the goal is such a tall order or it is not in their nature to plan ahead.

    In 1999, when the Alliance came up with this mission, nobody bothers to ask, how? How is it a movement that was defeated over two decades ago and was out of business ever since reconstitute itself to become a force capable defeating an old nemesis who is now running a State with a regular army counting in the hundreds of thousands? I don’t think the Alliance had a single tank when it came up with this mission to “overthrow” the regime. So how is this collection of unemployed liberation movements, angry but very weak ethnic and religious movements get the resources to “overthrow” a fire tested militarized regime. The Alliance pretended, just like the EDA after it and the ENCDC now does, that the question is irrelevant. But the Eritrean people answered the question themselves, that the retirement fund is going to come from the not so rich neighbor. That answer liberated the washy-wishy, the opportunists, and the principled to look at this organizations as not up to the task.

    You see, for Alliance, EDA and ENCDC, the mission is the problem. When you eliminate negotiated settlement, when you eliminate changing the system from inside, when you eliminate shaming, exposing, weakening the system, when your goal can NOT be achieved with the resources you have, the resources you plan to have, the MISSION becomes by definition unattainable.

    The second reason the mission is unachievable is the opposition has no skin in the game. They are not the victims of the regime. They have the luxury to wait for their winner takes it all proposition. For them to win, the regime must lose completely. The mission is to “replace” the regime.

    Retirement is a tall order, once you figure you need at least a million dollars while making a minimum wage, you are free to spend every cent you make….the goal is simply and logically unachievable. But the opposition want us to believe that we are eritreans, we have achieved independence against all odds. Given the cost, achievement like ours is a once a lifetime miracle and those who made that possible are now the targets. Our problem is those who want to chase them out by force are a million times weaker than when they fought them and lost some three decades ago. How about the woyanes, the unmentioned power behind the bravado of the mission? Here is a modified Sun Tzu military strategy for you, if your enemy is doing to itself what you plan to do it to it, wait for it to finish. The woyanes are not its victim, the regime boots are nowhere near their necks, they can afford to wait another ten years for the regime to implode or self-terminate.

    So here we are, our people facing brutality rarely seen on the planet, an opposition with no skin in the game and no capability and, an alley happy with status quo propping the opposition to go for all or nothing. If you ask me, it is time to reevaluate the mission. If that is not possible, then we should at least talk openly and honestly about HOW an organization with no military power can overthrow the most militarized regime in africa. Or we can keep dreaming everything will workout our way the way we did the last ten years.

    • kaddis

      Serray – great comment –

      Your comment was summerized somewhere as ‘ a democracy project’. Meaning everybody is hidden under the democracy curtain not to face the abnormal regime in Asmara. You need an abnormal strategy to deal with an abnormal regime. Not the usual democracy project.
      You said it well.

    • awatestaff

      Serray The Great:

      All we can say is “Whoa!”

      Ok, when the original Alliance drafted its charter, it was March 1999. At that time, its “by any means necessary” slogan was not far-fetched as the PFDJ was wobbly and about to be over-run. That version of the Alliance had DEDICATED fighters with a “skin in the game” (trust us, if your constituency includes hundreds of thousands of refugees stranded in refugee camps for 30 years, you have skin in the game.) And honestly, Serray, do you really think a “negotiated settlement” is even a remote possibility with the PFDJ?

      As for your assessment that there is absolutely no sense of urgency in the Alliance, we can’t disagree with you, even if we don’t fully buy into the motives for that.

      awate staff

  • Sara is right what they said, it is exactly what is happening in the opposition and being cause for PFDJ to stay in power. First and formost we need to deal with the so called oppisition to strength our power to tackle Hegdf. The opposition is the cause of divisions in diaspora by creating non-existing problems, this was manifested in the WALAE Awassa. They are very eager to stay in power may be next president in Eritrea !! if that could happen easily.

    Now they are trying to divide the youth in diaspora, by doing this they are buried in the country where they die instead of working to remove issais so that they could go to their country and when time come to burie in their village right in Eritrea with their beloving,

    • sara

      this comment is not from the true sara…

  • Mussie

    God bless you Awate team, what a brilliant analysis of the Eritrean situation.

    • Daniel Joseph

      indeed is a brilant analysis
      The struggle is between Mehayman hagereseb and the educated cultured Eritreans the problems is the majority are the mehayeman

  • denden

    Another work of fiction or a figment of Awate’s imagination! From its inception till now Awate has been beating a drum of setarianisim and reginalisim. Though, I have not read the whole article as it does not merit my time or attention, however my cursory reading has got the better of me to write, still my disapproval of your site and your trash article. Please, devot your time to write constructive articles nevermind about PFDJ but about Eritrea; your articles regardless of the PFDJ does you are set up to antagonize, divide and humuliate Eritrea and Eritreans. I f you havea stake in a better and prosperouse Eritrea do see the good things what is happening in Eritrea but you will not: this indicates that at best you have a personal grudge so as to settle score from Alqieda Ama at worst you don’t have any postitive agenda to see Eritrea in peace and harmony.

    • Answer

      You said “I have not read the whole article as it does not merit my time or attention” but you found the time to comment on an article you didn’t read? Come on Dendani, at least make some time to read your own garbage before posting it.

    • awatestaff


      You said, “From its inception till now Awate has been beating a drum of setarianisim and reginalisim.” Ok, you have 10 days to come up with a link, a reference from our 10 year long editorials to come up with a single sectarian or regionalist view we expressed. Then, after 10 days, if you can’t come up with a single one, you will need to apologize to awate readers for insulting their intelligence. Failing that, show yourself the door, and make sure it doesn’t hit you in the butt on your way out. Your clock is a-ticking.

      awate staff