Coaxing The Variables Of Socio-Political Groups

In medicine a far more promising approach to treating advanced cancer is to coax the immune system to recognize cancer cells as deadly. Similarly in the socio-politics of multi-ethnic society, it is vital to coax the unity of minorities to recognize that “majority supremacy” is deadly to the survival of minority’s identities. I believe this is a reminder to the Eritrean political luminaries from all stripes to face head on, the concept of supremacy of ethnic majority in order to deflect the surge of violence against our common vital interest. Obviously, it is no surprise, perhaps, that in the last decade, I have been drawn to examine the historical sense of identity and allegiance of our complex diversity. But, societies are flexible and more mutable. At the same time however, its bars are less visible and less open to discovery. That much is how hard and complex the “diversity-politics” it is.

As a gentle reminder, and for a balanced and widely beneficial political decision, the real make up of our nation must not be ignored. Any imagined notion of a nation, ignoring the fundamentals (fair representation, equitable resources, human dignity, etc.) can not result in a sensible decision in our current tough national issue. In my opinion, keeping aside the self-dejected EPDP-1, the NCDC of Addis has resolved the principal-agent problem that plagued EDA for the last 10 years. The ultimate outcome now depends as much on one’s strategy to position in the new political environment as to the importance of how the political organizations (PO’s) abide by the outcome of the national conference and the mandate of the commission.

However, despite EPDP being given equitable share in the new political environment, its leadership by its own sheer arrogance and desire for power, and neglecting the power of their base, chose the politics of self-dejection, which consequently hit back the nucleus of their organizational institution to split horizontally and vertically into EPDP-I and EPDP-II. Welcome EPDP-II to the loop of new political environment to join your sisterly PO’s to work in partnership with our people in the Diaspora.

While the environment is otherwise, EPDP-I is now bound to heighten its insecurity. Groups who have fought bitter war of words fear that, their opponents might exclude them from equitable of power (Sisk 1996; Lund 1996; Kumar 1998). I believe their dilemma of insecurity could only be warded off by providing mutual assurance against any potential marginalization. Indeed the commission is now structurally framed as a function to assign equitable seat for partnership and power sharing.

In his article “Emotion and Politics” (Sri Lanka Guardian 18 January 2010) Prof. Carlos Fonseka has discussed the factors that influence politics from physiologist’s angle. Leaving aside the intricacy of the subject, Dr. Carlos Fonseka reminded us that “emotions associated with politics include anxiety, fear, anger, and hostility”. Certainly EPDP-I is trapped with fear and anxiety of insecurity on one hand, and its endless of anger and hostility against the commission on the other. Parallel to Dr. Carlos Fonseka, the 1950 Noble prize winner in literature, Bertrand Russell in his acceptance lecture, he spoke of four politically important desires: “acquisitiveness, rivalry, vanity and love of power.” No wonder EPDP-I became the victim of these politico-emotional traits. But the good news is, for every politico-emotional trap there is always a graceful open door to them with a reserved seat to join the commission.

Power Sharing – A Transition to Peace and Democracy

Power sharing (in our case which is the commission at this stage) refer to a set of institution that aim to address the problem of credible commitment by ensuring “inclusive decision-making, partitioned decision making, predetermined decision or some combination of these” (Roeder and Rothchild 2005:30). Inclusive decision making addresses the fear of marginalization or exclusion, in which parties like EDA-PO’s engage in a trust-building task with the Eritrean people and their civic societies. This is a new experience in its embryonic phase of transitional cooperation. This requires not only ethnic representation in the political power but also decision rules that ensure minority voices are heard. Many analysts and practitioners in political science and sociology have thus advocated power sharing as a means of defusing group insecurity and obtaining the parties’ commitment to peace and stability. Be this as it may, a proponent of power sharing argues that “power sharing encourages factions to credibly commit to peace settlement by providing guarantees against exclusion that mitigate the security dilemma” (Lijphart, 1996).

In my view, and pertinent to its mandate, the commission is drafting post-conflict organizational institutions and a road-map to the current struggle for the opposition camp that will provide us with a strategy to peace and democracy. From these context of limited strategic choices, post-conflict institution must both “initiate the transition to peace and democracy in the short term and facilitate the consolidation of these over the long run” (Roeder and Rothchild 2005: 5). Since the stability of power sharing depends heavily on the elite’s willingness to cooperate, the Eritrean elite should absolutely avoid the game of “brinkmanship and immobolism” for the sake of the common good of our people.

In a symmetrically divided society, elites can stabilize the polity by a conscious effort to counteract centripetal tendencies, and thus “patterns of inter-elite accommodation will form an independent variable that may impede and reverse the centrifugal force at the level of the masses” (Daalder 1974: 607). Indeed, if one took a counsel of history and sociology, he or she might be reminded that conflict-time leaders are always constrained by “survival imperative.” By that I mean, when their stand on a given issue is likely to jeopardize their vanity and acquisitiveness to power, elites would rather be intransigent than loosing it. EPDP-I is doing just that for its survival. They are particularly sensitive to the need to remain in power. In other words, for both economic and political reasons, survival assumes a particular importance to them, and they will try to do it even at the cost of our nation and its people.

Hard Guarantee and Soft Guarantee

Can a circle be squared? Are there specific configuration of power sharing more likely to secure the credible commitment between parties and political organizations in the short term without impeding the transition to peace and democracy in the long term? If so, what kind of configuration? And what makes them successful?

Power sharing and institutional structure can be divided into configuration that offer ‘soft guarantee’ (opportunities) and configuration that offer ‘hard guarantee’ (mandate) [Roeder and Rothchild 2005: 30-32]. Mandates or hard guarantee stipulate that specific groups must occupy designate posts in the institutional structure, While soft guarantee don’t assign institutional post to specific groups, but “provide selection procedure that increase the probability of all major ethnic group will in fact be represented” (Roader and Rothchild 2005: 32). Soft guarantee can either be informal or formal. They have the advantage of being more malleable and adaptable to context than hard guarantee (mandate). The harder the guarantee (mandate), the greater the risk the envisioned institution will be. In other words, it will be sticky and inefficient, as such, elites will able to exercise brinksmanship.

By the way, is there a discernible pattern in terms of guarantee that our diversity groups seek? In my opinion there are specific issues of concerns to our minorities other than the common concerns. Our minorities clearly understood that a “centralized unitary government” will never accommodate the interest of a diversified society. Not only they learned it from other countries history, but they practically experienced it with the existing government that is installed in the capital since the independence of Eritrea. Rightly so, they have never hesitated to tell us, if there weren’t Isaias there are many Tesfai (s) in line for the same purpose.

 In fact, I could argue beyond the assertion of our minorities that centralized unitary government is a “structure of government” advocated by any majority group in any given society to monopolize power and resources in their nation. A case in point is the Sinhalese and Tamil conflict mismanagement in Sri Lanka. The Sinhalese as the ruling elite slowly abrogates the rights of the Tamil. The minority Tamil are concerned that the policy of the Sinhalese government disrupts their everyday life. First they fear that the Sinhala language only as the official language would cause problems in their carrying out the functions of employment and hinder their prospects of promotion to higher offices. Second implementation of Sinhala only would eventually result in their fundamental rights being curtailed. Quite frankly, the Sinhalese chose bad politics; as such they ignored the willingness of the Tamils to live in the united island and rejected the idea of comprehensive solution. Doesn’t it sound one of the grievances of our minorities? You bet!

It is true the chauvinist establishment manipulates the highlander’s fears and symbols as a means to seize power. For their own political gains they deliberately kept alive various issues that target our minorities. On the other hand the leaders of the minorities are not free from blame. Their leadership didn’t adequately explain to the ordinary Eritrean people, that their reasons for seeking self-determination up to secession in itself doesn’t mean to cut Eritrea into pieces. They must have unequivocally declare (a) Eritrea belongs to all Eritreans, and that they are calling for comprehensive solutions (b) that their struggle is for the restoration and reconstitution of the free, sovereign, secular state of Eritrea (c) that the right to self-determination is to safeguard their inherent full rights (d) that the chauvinist used the power that flows from independence to deny their fundamental right and reduced them to the position of a subject people. It is only by doing that our minorities can defeat the politics of “distortion” and win the battle of justice within our population.

Fast forward, with the underlying grievances being unattended cautiously, the stage could be set to unpredictable political phenomenon. Despite this fact, I am absolutely convinced that our ethnics understand that separation is not a desirable solution. In fact they are calling for a comprehensive solution to arrest an unhealthy political situation surrounding the Eritrean political landscape and give justice to the marginalized. Their real willingness to act beyond the ethnic emotions and their commitment to balanced power sharing shows their desire to cohabit in the same political space. Therefore in response to their willingness, innovation of ideas is vital on variety of contours of our socio-political relations. Successful innovations often entail intensive interfaces between socio-political actors along with pragmatic solutions that fit our reality and give soft guarantee to our minorities with moderate degree of devolution of power.

Competitive Chauvinism

Not too far, for one who experienced first hand the Eritrean politics of the armed struggle, it was in the early 1980 that the Labor party (LP), the secret party of ELF, had a conference (guba’e) to restructure its leadership in order to file a memorandum to the communist party of USSR. One of the top cadres of LP who was assigned at “Radio Hafash” as a member of the subcommittee formed by the upper political leadership of the two organizations (ELF & EPLF) had participated at the conference of the party. On his way back to Sahel from Barka he stayed one day at the ELF’s office in Port Sudan. As usual and normal political talk of combatants we exchanged our views about the intricate dilemma of unity in the Eritrean politics. On the one-to-one exchanges, he sarcastically dropped an amorphous sentence to indicate the new political position of LP. In his gutsy language he told me as follows, and I quote “harnet mallet eko dobka felika minbar aykonen, kem u’wun mis kaleot bihabar biselam minbar mallet eko eyu” which means, to be liberated does not mean only to have your own border, but also to live together with others peacefully.

Right after the trip of the chairman of the ELF-RC conveying the new memorandum to the Soviet communist party, the strategy of joint effort of the two organizations halted drastically. ELF started to withdraw from the North Eastern joint front to liberate towns in the Western and South Western Eritrea to heed the advice of the Soviet Union. EPLF knew that the new strategy of the ELF as dangerous and detrimental to its existence, and opted a policy of “nip the problem in the bud” both politically and militarily. Their political response was “nitsela’ena gesgasi elomo.” The rest is history.

The history of a nation and its people is not a set of different and separate events; rather it is a chain of action and reaction that has infinite dialectical and historical relations. The Eritrean Peoples Revolutionary Party (EPRP) and Labor Party (LP) as products of certain epoch of our political history, were in fact, in the mode of competitive chauvinism especially on the senior cadres level. The nature of competitive chauvinism is still alive and thriving in the opposition camp. Look now, that all the senior cadres of the LP of that era are senior leadership of the EPP, one of the sister organizations who formed the EPDP last year, and who are still setting themselves in the competitive mode against the commission and its task. However, any resistance against the wave of change, and people’s movement is purely self-suicidal, as simple as it is. It cracks their organization, causes lose of popular support, and positioning themselves against unity of purpose. The remaining card is the old card of Isaias to blackmail and accuse the process and its commission as a sectarian of an ethnic movement. Leaving aside the empirical composition of their organization which no one can account for it at this time, they know the perception of resemblance and how to exploit it. But, I believe the Eritrean people who are conscious of the past history and its consequences will deflect their political maneuver once for all.


In concluding my remark, as Lane and Errson (2000) have indicated out in Lijpart’s subsequent writings, especially of the 1990, adopt a much more assertive argument, that power sharing is better than majoritarian government irrespective of the social structure. Eritrea is made up of diverse socio-cultural groups. Consequently the management of ethno-grievances as well as nation building has to be on the long term agenda of the opposition camp. Different type of ethnic structures and inequalities require different combination of “reform instrument” in order to manage our diversity and build stable inclusive society.

However, the current ethno-regional organizations should not be forced to repackage their programs and transform themselves into national parties; because such act will not yield much dividend for them in any electoral system. Once the national constitution is structured in a way that minorities can get representation in the power-sharing, it is quintessential to merge with compatible organizations to form a formidable competitive party to win in the national electorate.


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