Fleshing Out Our Unity Government In Exile

The response to the proposal for A Unity Government In Exile has been extremely positive and encouraging.  As a follow-up, after several weeks of consultations and a “listening tour”, in this edition, the following questions will be addressed:

1. Why Government In Exile?
2. If one is needed, why with the EPLF-legacy and ELF-legacy only? Why Unitary Government? Why not Bayto Yiakl, for example?
3. What are the specific building blocs envisioned for the government in exile?
4. How can I help/contribute?

1. Why Government In Exile?

Let’s begin with the arguments AGAINST forming a government in exile. (a) No State, No Government: there can be no government unless there is sovereign, recognized territorial state. (b) No Territory, No International Recognition: China’s entire foreign policy, specially with regard to black Africa, has been to run a game show entitled: “Have You Memorized One China Policy?” One China Policy says while there are now, due to a temporary misunderstanding, two governments (one for China and one for Taiwan), the mainland and the island are part of one entity named China.  You have no territory to do that and you are not Taiwan   (c) No representation, No Government: whoever claims to be such a government, cannot, in the least,  be representative of the State and thus has no popular sovereignty; (d) No Territory, No Autonomy:  A government in exile is entirely dependent on its host country and has zero autonomy. (e) No chance, No Success:   Except in war and occupation (France, for example), there hasn’t been a successful government-in-exile: Just Hush And Eat Your Hamburger. ሱቕ ኢልክን ሃምቡርገርክን ብልዓ.

Yes, these are all powerful arguments: I probably even made some of them a few years ago.  But behold! There are even more powerful arguments to make for having an Eritrean Government In Exile.

And that’s where I begin with my counterpoint: hamburger.  You see, that statement (Just Hush And Eat Your Hamburger…), which is designed to diminish you, betrays deep ignorance about Eritrea’s history.  For the most consistent thing about Eritrea’s history is that in each generation, it is the exiled Eritrean that directed it, infused it, gave it life.   Let’s begin where post-occupation modern Eritrea begins: Ibrahim Sultan.

By 1948, Ibrahim Sultan’s Muslim League (Eritrea’s first nationalist party of the 1940s) was stagnant due to intense competition from other parties, “internal fragmentation, economic limitations, and the notable increase in Ethiopian-sponsored political violence.” (See End Notes.)  It had to survive even the defection of Siddi Mohammed Abu Bakr al-Mirghani.   Trust me, as big as a gut punch the death of Adhanom Ghebremariam might have been to a people of a certain generation (very much similar to the death of Seyoum Harestay and Ahmed M Nasser), it is not comparable: the Al-Mirghani family were the spiritual leaders of a significant proportion of the Muslim League (Suffi Islam) constituency.  And Ibrahim Sultan’s leadership survived it. How? Because (a) the UN at long last decided to go to Eritrea to verify for itself what the Eritrean pulse was, rather than relying on its representation by Haile Selassie I; (b) the assassination of Abdulkader Kebire (by agents loyal to Haile Selassie) was traumatic shock, whose grief electrified and reinvigorated the Muslim League; and then (c) the Foreign Ministers of England and France (Bevin and Sforza) said to themselves, hey, we know what’s best: let’s divide this country into two.  The combination of blows and threats further solidified the League’s Leap Frog: the murderous and scheming forces arrayed against us are powerful: we can’t face them alone–and thus was born the Independence Bloc Party.  And throughout Ibrahim Sultan got counsel from exiled Eritreans.

While 1959 could not be called the beginning of exiled activism, it certainly was another epoch: the Secretary General of the Muslim League, Ibrahim Sultan, and the president of the now-Ethiopianized Eritrean parliament, Idris Mohammed Adem, evaded Ethiopian arrest of Eritrea’s senior leadership and went to exile, to maintain Eritrea’s voice.  A year earlier, Mohammed Said Nawud had established the Eritrean Liberation Movement (ELM) in exile: Port Sudan, Sudan.  Comrade Mohammed Said Nawud’s communist leanings were pruned in Eritrea: his movement became known as “Mahber Shewate” (The League of 7 to signify the size of cell) to the Christian and Tigrinya-speaking Eritrea, whereas it was “haraka” (movement) to the Lowland & Muslim Eritrea.  The Exiled Eritrean were instrumental in the establishment in Egypt of Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF): intellectuals, university students and lawyers, were its core, its brains:  and they co-ordinated with Hamed Idris Awate, inside Eritrea, who was its conscience and its muscle.  And this muscle was strengthened by another exiled Eritrean group: Eritreans in Sudan, some of whom were even in the Sudanese army. One of the giants of Exiled Eritreans is, of course, Woldeab Woldemariam, who spent half his life in exile, broadcasting emboldening radio messages in Tigrinya from Egypt.  Our friend Dawit Mesfin has a book about him and for all of you English-speaking Eritreans, that is a good start to learn about one of our Pillars ( ኣርካን) and you can read all about him here.  And the EPLF?  Many of its leading lights  had moved from Ethiopia (Addis Abeba: Haile Selasse University) to Eritrea to heed the call of the People’s Revolution.   The two Fronts were (AND STILL ARE) sustained by Exiled Eritrea: Eritrean Student Union (all over the Middle East), E.NA.SE.A  (North America), Bologna Mothers (Italy) and others too many to mention.  Many of our pillars (ኣርካን) spent much of their time in exile, and some died in exile, including the State’s co-founder, Ibrahim Sultan and our first face to the world, Osman Saleh Sabbe.

The point is: Exiled Eritrea has always been, is, and will always be part of Mainland Eritrea.  Not just part, but the founding part of every single one of its movements.  So, do not allow anyone to make you feel like you are an outsider-looking-in: you are Eritrea.  Each generation of Exiled Eritrea had the responsibility to correct the path of Eritrea, and it’s this generation’s responsibility to correct its current path.

A skeptic would say: “all of the above shows that an Exiled Eritrean had nearly 80 years of uninterrupted service to the nation, but it doesn’t argue for Government In Exile (GiE)”  Let’s tackle that. You would agree with me that a GiE is formed when the Government In Power (GiP) is a puppet government in the service of foreign powers and has absolutely zero legitimacy to govern.  For example, French General De Gaulle’s “Comité National Français.” was a recognized government in exile after France was occupied by Nazi Germany.  Now, before we dismiss as absurd the comparison between Nazi-occupied France and PFDJ-occupied Eritrea, here are the similarities:

  • Nazi-occupied France was subservient to one man (Hitler); PFDJ-occupied Eritrea is subservient to one man (Isaias)
  • Both Hitler and Isaias have zero legitimacy to govern other than brute force
  • Hitler’s France and Isaias’s Eritrea are war-staging stations for other forces
  • Hitler’s France and Isaias’ Eritrea have been brought to their knees: crumbling buildings, dead industries and ports, and a severely malnourished people.

We are not saying we need a Government-in-Exile because the Isaias government is dictatorial.  By that standard,  half the world would have a government in exile.  We are saying the government in Eritrea is illegitimate and actively works for the destruction of the State and, unless interrupted,  Eritrea’s future existence is in serious doubt.  If you think that Eritrea’s situation is dire–jumping from one war to another war;  a crumbling state; a state whose foreign policy is dictated by one man–jumping from alliance with Iran, to Qatar, to UAE, to Saudi Arabia; jumping from “Ethiopia is our mortal enemy” to “Ethiopia is our country”, then one has an obligation to act.  All the measures Isaias Afwerki took since 2001 when he engineered his coup solidified his power but came at great cost to future Eritrea.  To pretend that everything will be fine, we all have to pretend that Isaias is not a 78 year old man, without a vice president, without working institutions, a constitution, or a functioning political party.  There is no succession plan in Eritrea and if you are saying, surely, the governing party has its bylaws, remember, this is the quality of the document that has been the most consequential to Eritrea in the last 25 years: 82/1995 – Proclamation of National Service.  And this is how it looks and reads like.  Given the un-seriousness of the government, do not be surprised if there are 3 PFDJ bylaws floating about and, given the Isaias regime’s contempt of institutions and documents (recall how easily he killed the constitution with a wave of his hand), don’t be surprised if his lieutenants have the same contempt for any documents that binds them together.

I was speaking to a highly intelligent and potentially one of the leaders of our envisioned government. When he gave his reasons for why he doesn’t support the Government-in-Exile, he told me that he expects change to come from within.  I didn’t challenge it: I was in my listening and taking notes mode, not my debating mode.  But now I am. So my question to those who say “change from within” is: after the abrupt end of the Isaias Rule, do you have absolute certainty as to which faction from the fragmented PFDJ within will assume power?  Are you sure it is the faction YOU are speaking with or the one I am speaking with?  Remember, the comrades at home despise one another with the same ferocity as the comrades in exile.  The only difference is that those at home have lots of guns and very willing users of those guns (if we are to judge by the recent adventure in Tigray.)  So my question is: are you willing to take that risk, that power transfer in Eritrea will be peaceful and orderly after Isaias Afwerki is gone?   If your answer is “I don’t know”, then you owe it to Eritrea to build a government in exile.  A government in exile that presents to Eritreans at home what a normal government looks like.  You might, if you prefer, call it government-in-waiting.  The form is less important than the essence.

Finally, one of the main questions/criticisms is: is the Government-in-Exile formed by a host country? NO. Host countries have been suggesting it and been rejected for decades.  It is an all-Eritrean initiative.  “Well, you say that now but eventually you will yield to your host country because you are dependent on them!” NO.  You seem to forget that Eritreans are known throughout the world, especially in Africa, for being fund-raising machines, for the right cause.  If you doubt yourself, talk to the leaders of the Yiakl movement.

2. Why ELF-EPLF Only? Why Unity Government?

Eritrea is too small (population) and too diverse (ethnically) to have half a dozen political parties. The first clarification is that “ELF”, “EPLF” are short-hand for “ELF School of Thought” and “EPLF School of Thought.” And for those of you who may not be familiar with it, they are real schools of thought: on governance (centralized vs decentralized), on education policy (mother tongue vs Tigrina/Arabic), on land, on refugees, on military, on foreign policy and a whole slew of issues.   For the last 50 years, the two have been criminalizing one another–as if each policy is taboo–when in fact both are respectable, mainstream views.   In post-Isaias Eritrea, these two visions for Eritrea are what will be on the political menu, for our people to choose that which is most compatible with their reality.   But for now, when we are talking about Government-in-exile, the two have to suspend it and focus all on their energies on the quickest way to put an end to Eritrea’s undeclared state of emergency.   That’s what “unity government” means: a temporary arrangement of actors with different visions for the country, united towards an overriding goal: creation of a people’s government.

But why only ELF-EPLF?  In my interview with Fanus Network, I had said that I would explain in further detail why and here is my reasoning:

(a) Knowledge: They know Eritrea and its composition: from Adi Quala to Karora; from Marsa Fatma to Tessenei, from Marsa Gulbub to Omhajjer. They know the land, the people, their customs and their history.  Nobody else can say that.  To talk to a Tegadalai is to be humbled: they can tell you which hamlet is between which villages.  If we believe in craftsmanship, those most qualified for a job should do the job, then it is ELF & EPLF.

(b) Representative: They represent(ed) Eritrea’s diversity.  It was ELF and EPLF, and only ELF and EPLF, that were true microcosms of Eritrea.  Everything else that has been tried since, including within the Government in Power, including with Bayto Yiakl, has been a monochrome with superficial colors.

(c) Continuity: Only ELF and EPLF have had the ability to sustain themselves as viable organizations.  The rest are unknown quantities, too mysterious to give such a huge responsibility.  They are either too new to gamble on, or too fragmented to bet on.

(d) Unquestionable Eritreanness:  The two are national movements who embrace all Eritreans and are loyal to the foundational ideology of Eritrea.  Sadly, one can’t always say the same about all: with some of them gravitating towards whatever appears to be the fad of the day: Tigray Tigrini, Agazian, Dekebat and other birther movements.

(e) Unabashedly Political:  ELF and EPLF are unabashedly, proud political organizations whose stated goal is to assume power and lead the country.   This is not the case with many of our organizations who are, at best, political movements.   In fact, the answer to the question of “why not Yiakl” is because it is not a political party; it is a movement.  My former mentee and now my peer Ghezae Hagos told me he is disappointed that I did not include Yiakl Bayto in my calculation and my answer is: let’s start with the two, and then Bayto, Eritrea Focus and ten other organizations I am not listing, can negotiate with the two political parties.

What about us, the Opposition to the Opposition, asked me a friend who spends most of his time cursing the opposition.  I told him that not everyone can be in the government: he can now be an opposition to our government-in-exile and we won’t call him names but recognize his right to be an opposition.

3. The Building Blocs Of GiE:   Here’s what my comrades and I have been working on since the publication of the article proposing government in exile: creating its blueprint.  Broadly speaking this is what it looks like:

a. Phase 1: National Task Force.  Composition: 5-7.  Task: identify ELF and EPLF members who can become the Congress Preparatory Committee.
b. Phase 2: Congress Preparatory Committee.  Composition: 11 each, from ELF and EPLF Schools of Thought.   The two Congress Preparatory Committees each have members in the National Task Force.  Mission: to organize an ELF and to organize an EPLF Congress. With help of the National Task Force, prepare documents including draft chapters, agendas, invitee list.
c. Phase 3: ELF Congress and EPLF Congress.   Hold congress, adopt charter and bylaws, elect leadership.
d. Phase 4: Leadership of ELF and EPLF meet with National Task Force to identify personnel for new government, policies, departments, fund-raising.
e. Phase 5: the National Task Force dissolves itself.

All of this will need a spirit of volunteerism and an attitude of “it’s happening!” Can it be done within the May 24 deadline we gave ourselves? YES, but we all have to kill our inner-Gobye (thoughts and prayers.)

And finally, what is that Tigrinya proverb about “መርዓት ከይሓዝክን….?” I never like proverbs: they are invitations to believe that nothing changes.  But, since you asked, those whom we have reached out to have given us the following answer: “Yes, in principle but…”   And “No, but…”  This is entirely reasonable: how can one give enthusiastic endorsement to something that came out of nowhere and is not fleshed out with details.  These organizations did not ensure their continuity by embracing every proposal.  So the burden of proof is, for now, on us to show them that this is real, and it can happen.   It is a lot of work, but very much worth it.  Not only worth it, but it is necessary: the nation calls for it!

4. How Can I Help? As I have said, I have been overwhelmed with the positive response to the proposal (until the ክተት zombies showed up to try to douse the enthusiasm for it.)  How you can help is as follows:

(a) To make this a truly people’s initiative, ask of the congress participants to heed the call.  Hit the reset button on all prior antagonisms and reboot.

(b) All Exiled Eritreans spend their week days and week-ends in zoom meetings discussing our beloved Eritrea.  Please raise the intellectual level of these discussions and come up with ideas and suggestions on how to make the Government-in-Exile work.   Create professional associations (of teachers, scientists, lawyers, doctors, accountants, etc) as they will all be needed to guide our incoming government and to present our people back home a Face of Competence and not what we have shown them so far.

(c) Volunteer to join either national task force, or the preparatory committee or the congress itself.  How? You know how to reach me and Saleh Johar.  But there will be a vetting process because of the lessons learned from the previous 20 years of opposition building.  Please join and take ownership of the organizations.

(d) Mindset: Whether you believe something will happen or not, either way, you are right! So said someone whose name I don’t want to research now.  The point being: we manifest what we believe and if we believe it won’t happen and it can’t happen: it won’t.  If you believe it can and it will, it can and it will.  I am surrounded by hard-working, brilliant people and I always believe we can and we will.

(e) This is really the last part of’s mission: reconciliation.  Reconciliation cannot happen without ELF and EPLF treating each other with respect and equal stakeholders.  An Eritrea that recognizes the mother of EPLF martyrs but not the mother of ELF martyrs is not Eritrea.

(e) No Eritrean Left Behind: This, if done right, should be an all-inclusive Eritrean endeavor.  While different players will have different roles at different stages, we can’t consider it a success until, once consolidated, it welcomes and embraces anyone who believes that Eritrea is too important to be the playing ground of Isaias Afwerki and his enablers.  For example, I can’t envision a government which does not include all our educated and focused Eritreans, particularly the youth, who pretty much reflect Eritrea’s current demographics.  And, remember, the purpose of the ELF and EPLF is to lend our efforts legitimacy and their role will be transitional.

Are you in?

End Notes

“Paths toward the Nation: Islam, Community, and Early Nationalist Mobilization in Eritrea, 1941–1961 (Volume 92) (Ohio RIS Africa Series): Venosa, Joseph L., Venosa, Joseph L.: 9780896802896: Amazon.Com: Books.” Amazon.Com, 2014,


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