If I Were President Obama’s Advisor: Message To The Eritrean Opposition

By: Anonymous Author

As we all know the Eritrean National Commission for Democratic Change has been busy for quite some time organizing a National Congress (Hagerawi Gubae) that will take place in Addis Ababa at the end of the next month. The purpose of this Gubae, presumably, is to discuss and map out a strategy on how to bring democratic changes in Eritrea. To its credit the Eritrean National Commission has been trying its best to make this an inclusive Gubae where all Eritrean opposition groups, activist civic organizations and interested Eritrean citizens will participate.  And we hope they do. For the success of the journey to democracy, it is important that the Gubae will come out with a united voice and a road map that will transform Eritrea to be a democratic country within the shortest possible time. We hope the focus of the Gubae will be on building a bright future for Eritrea, by uniting its people with the spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness. Without unity of purpose and peaceful coexistence of the various ethnic groups and without creating an environment that will bring Eritreans together regardless of their past track records, Eritrea will have a hard time to catch up with its neighbors and improve the conditions of its people.

 The question on how best to bring about democratic changes in Eritrea has been a perplexing question that the author of this piece has been struggling with for a long time.  It is the hope of the author that this piece will prompt thoughtful Eritreans and sympathizers of the Eritrean people to come up with better alternate pragmatic approaches, if they have.

The author is also hoping that some prominent world leaders such as President Obama will take the initiative to provide some constructive suggestions to the Eritrean Opposition groups. This  letter from President Obama to the Opposition Groups, and his letter to President Isaias are meant to capture what this author believes is the best advice world leaders can give to the opposition groups on how to bring about democratic changes in Eritrea.

 The author chose to remain anonymous with the intention of helping the reader to focus on the message rather than on the messenger.  Constructive comments and alternate proposals on how to democratize Eritrea are not only welcome but encouraged. 

Below is the letter that I would like President Obama write to the Opposition Groups.  No doubt that if Obama were to write such a letter his will be more powerful, more diplomatic, persuasive and more politically sophisticated than what is drafted by this amateur author.

Dear Eritrean Opposition Groups,

My Administration is keenly aware of the deplorable conditions in your country. We regret to see a country that had so much promise to be where it is today with its people denied basic human and democratic rights.  Having achieved your independence against all odds and after paying so much sacrifice, you are entitled to live in peace and tranquility and to be focusing your energy on rebuilding your country and improving the standard of living of your people.  Unfortunately, we are disappointed that President Isaias has squandered the tremendous respect and support of his people. And it makes my Administration sad to see a country that is stagnating. We are cognizant of the Eritrean youth who are perishing in the thousands to escape from slave labor and the harsh economic reality they are facing.

Unfortunately, the lack of unity among the opposition groups has become a major obstacle for my Administration to come to the rescue of the Eritrean people. I just want to reassure you that United States is determined to do whatever is possible to ending the misery of the Eritrean people and restore their democratic rights. In this endeavor, my administration will need your help.  With your cooperation, my Administration will take the lead to help you achieve democratic changes in your country in collaboration with our allies who share our commitment to peace and democracy.  To this end, I would like you to consider accepting the following proposals to facilitate the process of ending the suffering your people and for introducing real democratic changes in your country. I warn you in advance that what I am going to ask you will require some sacrifice on your part, but these are reasonable sacrifices that you should be prepared to make for a brighter future of your country and for ending the suffering of your people.  If you hesitate in accepting my proposals, I can tell you that history will not be kind to you and you will be held responsible for prolonging the suffering of your people and the continued occupation of Eritrean land by Ethiopia.  Here are my proposals:

  1. 1.     Have a United Voice.  Remember your strength lies in your unity. The world is not paying much attention to your struggle for democracy because you have not approached the international community and your own people at home and in the Diaspora with one voice. What we have noticed so far is fragmented opposition groups that are not at peace with one another. If you are indeed serious about helping your people, we expect you toforget the petty differences among your selves and work together to help end the misery and suffering of your people.  My Administration and the rest of the international community cannot support you unless you are united.  So, I urge you to take advantage of the planned October 2011 National Congress in Addis Ababa to come out with a united stand for the sake of your people.  I urge all opposition groups and activist civic organizations to attend the National Congress and come up with a consensus on the best strategy to democratize Eritrea.

2.   Renounce violence and commit for a peaceful transition to democracy.  I do not have to tell you how many of your country men and women have sacrificed their lives to regain your country’s independence. The situation now is different. You are not fighting an external occupying force. All that you are trying to do is to democratize your country.   I understand peaceful attempts have been made in the past by several Eritrean groups to persuade President Isaias to lead constitutionally, which were ignored. Be as it may, given my Administration’s assessment of the unique situation of your country, an armed struggle to democratize your country at this time does not sound a feasible proposition to us. We are afraid such a course might end up prolonging the suffering of your people; it will cause unnecessary loss of life with no end in sight.  I submit that you will be able to achieve your objectives quicker and with less loss of life and destruction of your country using the non-violent approach.

3.   Accept the ratified constitution. To facilitate your non-violent approach to democracy, I strongly recommend that all the opposition groups accept the ratified but not yet implemented constitution.  My Administration understands that there are many who do not accept the ratified constitution; and we can understand why they feel that way.  But keep in mind; although it may not be a perfect constitution my administration believes that this ratified constitution if accepted by the opposition groups and if genuinely implemented can serve you well to bring about the democratic changes in your country. And also remember, the constitution is a living document and it can be amended and improved by the will of the people.  Hence, I would like to urge all those who have expressed reservations against the ratified constitution to be willing to compromise by accepting it.  This is the right thing to do unless you want to prolong the suffering of your people.

4.   Creating a conducive environment that gives power to the Eritrean people. If you accept the above proposals, then my Administration in concert with our allies and the international community will urge President Isaias to create the conditions conducive for genuine, internationally supervised, free and fair elections.  In collaboration with our allies and all peace loving people, we will do our best to facilitate the release of political prisoners, and all those prisoners of conscience and members of the press who are languishing in jails; will make sure that there will be freedom of the press, freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of movement; we will urge the Isaias government to ensure that all opposition groups can safely move around the country campaigning for elections.   Once all these conditions are achieved, we believe theEritrean people will be able to elect whomever they chose at their leaders freely without any intimidations.

5.   Amnesty for Isaias and his closest Allies. We understand the idea of giving Isaias and his closest allies amnesty against persecution for alleged past crimes is an issue that many Eritreans, particularly those who have lost their loved ones and those who have been subject to torture will find difficult to accept.  However, in order to gain concessions from Isaias to make the conditions conducive to give power to the Eritrean people through free and fair elections, the Eritrean people should be willing to give him assurance from any persecution for any alleged crimes he might have committed in the past.  Without this assurance, and without the issue of amnesty on the table, we are afraid Isaias will not be willing to accept any of our proposals and the current deplorable situation in the country will go on with no end in sight.   Hence, to end the suffering of the Eritrean people immediately and for a better future of the country, we urge the Eritrean people to be willing to be more forgiving and less vindictive.

6.   The role of the international community should Isaias refuses to cooperate. If the opposition groups accept the above stated proposals, we can assure you that you will not only gain the full support of my Administration but you will gain the respect of your people and the international community at large.  Having made the sacrifices we are asking of you, should Isaias ignore our appeal to give power to the people, we can assure you that we will do all within our means to shorten the suffering of the Eritrean people.  We are confident that the time will then be right for the people to stand up against his regime and the force of the people will bring an end to Isaias and his government.

7.   Prepare a blue print for transition to democracy. At the October 2011, National Congress, we will expect the opposition groups to prepare a contingency blue print on how to bring down the Isaias regime through civil disobedience and how to transition Eritrea to democracy, in the event that Isaias rejects our appeal and the appeal of the international community to peacefully give power to the Eritrean people.  Having exhausted all peaceful means to democratize their country, expeditiously, I am confident that the Eritrean people will get the support of the international community and certainly that of my Administration in their quest to regain their democratic rights.

I trust you will give my proposals your most serious consideration and it is my sincere hope that we will see a truly democratic Eritrea in the near future.


Barack Obama, President, United States of America


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