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The Road To NCDC: Challenges And Opportunities

These are the main highlights of the presentation I gave in a seminar in Birmingham on 09.07. 2011. The seminar was organized by Eritrean Cultural Forum in Birmingham:

Stock assessment:

  • Our basic background: What? -Will always be part of us
  • How we dealt/ deal with it?           -Our experience
  • How does it look? Where we stand? -What have we learned/ did not learn?
  • NCDC (National Conference for Democratic Change) -a means to an end

Our geographical Contrasts:

  • Highland – lowland
  • Plateau to Red Sea
  • Landscape in Dankalia: Formidable desert, artistic volcanic rocks, ostriches
  • Massawa – global gateway: Citizens of the Red Sea
  • Geographical contrasts influence cultural, economic, social & political contrasts

Our social contrasts:

  • Muslim / Christian /animist
  • Farmer / Pastoral / traders
  • Ethnicity (homogeneity /diversity

Our political contrasts:

  • Local: ELF / EPLF (PFDJ)
  • Region:  Arab / Israeli
  • Memberships in regional and international organisations

Our main problems with our contrasts:

  • Denial of the other (Exclusion / Negation)
  • Failure to cherish, to value, to enjoy the diversity
  • We define with one perspective
  • Claiming to be vanguard: I know what is good for you (elitist arrogance)
  • Failure to read and understand history
  • Failure to reach out to all internally & externally
  • There is place only for one political organization (party), line of thought
  • You agree with me 100 % or you are my enemy
  • You show you are good by attacking others not highlighting your merits

History of conflict resolution:

  • Culture of violence
  • Resolving conflicts through force:
  • ELF – ELM
  • ELF – PLF
  • Within ELF: ‘yemin’ ‘falol’
  • Within EPLF: ‘yemin’ ‘menkae’
  • Proliferation of organizations, if disagree can have ones own organization

Consequences of the defeat of the ELF and hegemony of the EPLF

  • Proliferation of political organizations
  • Appearance of religious and ethnic based organizations
  • EPLF social engineering of tigrinization in all fields, defining ethnicity
  • Sowing of strong mistrust among Eritreans to the extent of questioning living together
  • Still some claim we are perfect: regime has done us no harm

Positive development in the last decade:

  • ENA/EDA  a positive development: a political exercise for tolerance & democratic practice though far from perfect
  • A rift within EPLF/PFDJ leadership: G13, G15
  • Development of civic societies in the Diaspora
  • NCDC: a breakthrough in bridging differences & Bringing us together again
  • Vibrant opposition media
  • Exposure of regime’s brutality & self isolation & excesses

Current characteristics of our political and civic organizations

  • Both are weak
  • Limited in influence (constituency)
  • Some have few members
  • Divided by our contrasts: most dominated by ethnic, religious, regional despite national claims
  • Some are not independent
  • Some elitist to say the least
  • Need not under- or overestimate each other

The need to work together:

  • We are under very special circumstances
  • We need to mobilize all resources against the brutal dictatorial regime that does not give any breathing space: urgent
  • NCDC meant to do that, best possible alternative we have, if some have a better alternative present it
  • Civic societies can have a positive influence on political organizations
  • Can play their role from within not from outside
  • Practicing democracy
  • Working together widens diversity and promotes tolerance
  • We will always have differences in policies, approach & processes: healthy

Towards changing the regime, we need a code of conduct:

  • To respect each other’s choice of struggle
  • To refrain from defaming each other
  • To tolerate each other’s views
  • There is no absolute truth
  • Only history will show who was correct
  • Talk and listen to those with different opinion
  • To show one is better by focusing on own merits not on failures of opponents

How was the road to the national conference in 2010:

  • There was a concerted effort by EPDP (though was part of the process) and its affiliates to foil it with ‘meskerem’ leadership (same trend again)
  • To disagree OK, defame NO
  • It was portrayed:

–      an all Muslims conference

–      An agenda of the Weyane
–      Badly prepared
–      Papers not discussed beforehand

  • Despite all thorns, it was a success

Why the 2010 conference was a success:

  • Widest peoples’ dialogue in the last 3 decades irrespective of outcome vs. ‘waelaa halibo’
  • A journey of discovery & healing & understanding
  • Microcosm of Eritrea: ethnic, religious, political diversity
  • Bridged the gaps
  • Improved trust
  • Created alliance of civic and political organizations
  • Laid foundation for a new relationship with Ethiopia
  • Touched and discussed and agreed on all major issues
  • Paved the way for a transitional phase after the fall of the regime to avoid vacuum
  • Created a wide popular global movement for democratic change
  • Paved the way for a wider national conference
  • Gave hope to the Eritrean people & scared the regime
  • Those who opposed it became even more marginalized: split of EPDP

The shortcomings of the 2010 conference:

  • Translation problem: Papers & communiqué
  • Logistics problem: tickets & reservations
  • Financial dependency
  • Some documents prepared in haste
  • No input on strategy for regime change
  • The papers presented were not discussed beforehand
  • Ineffective use of time
  • No clear cut roles of EDA & NCDC

On those who attended: how Amanuel Sahle described it

  • All were there:
  • The victim of Shaebia who fled to Shimelba or Mai Aini
  • including the regionalist,
  • the fanatic,
  • the odd man out,
  • the pain in the neck,
  • the provocateur,
  • the nihilist,
  • the killjoy,
  • the schizophrenic (whose mind swayed between PFDJ and the Wa’ala),
  • the ELF member with a grudge in his heart,
  • the painter,
  • the poet, the
  • singer, etc.
  • All came to listen and to be heard.

On the road to the next conference: Challenges related to process & procedures

  • Build trust to ensure widest participation
  • Transparency
  • Representation: organizations, civil societies, individuals, election of representatives
  • Finance: fund raising
  • Facing elite internet warriors: we only possess the truth
  • Political organizations & civic organizations appreciating roles of each other
  • How to deal with areas of disagreement
  • Translation: need to ensure high quality
  • Decisions & ownership
  • Future structural organizational choices: How far we should go & clarify roles
  • Need more work in Sudan & Ethiopia to ensure broader qualitative participation
  • Focus on mobilizing the youth & women
  • Engage actively to assist asylum seekers and refugees
  • Make best use of social media and networking
  • The regime is scared of any opposition gathering
  • The regime will unleash a campaign spearheaded by ‘meskerem’ and its other satellites against its convening and later try to discredit the outcome
  • We need to expose this and challenge it, but need to listen to genuine concerns
  • Some will even attend and try to distract us from within
  • There will be some in the opposition who will not attend for various reasons which is within their rights: Let us refrain from defaming them even if they do so
  • Misconception & underestimation that all those who opt to attend are homogenous, have same opinion and understanding and will try enforce their views on others: far from it they are very diverse

Challenges related to issues:

  • Agenda: draft transitional constitution: need & how far to go/ others
  • Peaceful/all means: EDF are victim, not to be targeted
  • Issues missing:

–      Mechanisms & strategies of regime change
–      National reconciliation (included in transitional council item 64/65 + peace & peoples interaction 70/71)
–      Peace & order

  • Relations with Ethiopia
  • Future organizational structure

–      what form
–      How far

  • Future role of EDA/ individual political organizations


  • Assert that ultimate power lies within the People of Eritrea and whatever we do or programs we suggest has to be ratified in free Eritrea
  • We have the luxury of being able to express ourselves freely and we have every right to draft mechanisms, suggest roadmap or charter to facilitate smooth transfer of power
  • Can mobilize all our resources for a regime change and creation of democratic country
  • Can give our people hope that we stand together
  • Can send a strong message to international community that we are a better alternative to the regime
  • Those who become members of the transitional structure not to run for office in the first elections

About Dr. Mohammed Kheir

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