Towards Sustainable Peace And Justice In Eritrea: Introductory Article (I)

Author’s Comment: – This article is not designed to serve as a framework for the analysis of specific ideas. Rather, its purpose is to touch on issues of broader relevance to the state of Eritrean politics. In sequence, the word ‘peace’ precedes ‘justice’ in the title of the article; I understand for some justice is a pre-requisite for a durable peace, and I take note of that argument, but this author believes Eritreans first need to give peace a chance and then seek justice. Others may argue the two (peace and justice) should go together, meaning both need to be prioritised simultaneously. That line of argument should also be respected. (Dr Salah I. Jimi, 28 November 2010)

It is now crystal clear – even to supporters of the Eritrean regime despite their apparent reluctance – that the abuse of power by the Eritrean authorities has reached a critical stage. The frustration and anger of the Eritrean people have reached an intolerable level, though that has yet to galvanise the people into collective concrete actions to bring the regime down. The exodus of Eritrean youth to neighbouring countries and beyond is direct outcome of the dire situation inside Eritrea.[1] The uprise by members of the Eritrean Defence Force in the East of Akele Guzay and perhaps other similar revolts that did not come to light are desperate actions by desperate youth to free themselves from slavery and persecution. The youth revolts are waged against brutal military commanders and loyal soldiers for the never-ending abuse of conscripts and violations of their human rights. Of course, the subordinate officers, who treat the conscripts with no mercy, take orders from their seniors who always deny any knowledge of atrocities committed in Eritrea.

In the Diaspora communities, the frustration against the Eritrean regime has also reached a peak as shown by the ever-growing political and human rights activism and peaceful rallies in many cities around the world. The mushrooming of Eritrean civic societies, independent media outlets including Pal-talks, calling for an end to human rights violations in Eritrea and the respect of the rule of law are part of the growing trend in the fight against the Eritrean tyranny. Moreover, the Eritrean opposition groups seem to have realised that an individual organisation/party is incapable in bringing about the desired changes, hence the Eritrean political arena has witnessed solidarity and merging of groups that seem to have ‘similar’ political programs. In the midst of this momentum towards a united and strong opposition, the non-participation of EPDP in the National Conference for Democratic Change (NCDC) and the subsequent bickering within EPDA is an unfortunate development and it represents a setback to confidence-building in the opposition camp.[2]

It has also become abundantly clear to the International Community the rouge nature of the Eritrean regime, which warranted UN sanctions on the PFDJ’s regime through resolution 1907. Also, two unprecedented diplomatic developments preceded UNSC sanctions:- firstly, the European External Policy Advisory (EEPA) conference in Brussels, focusing on a regional approach to ease tension on the Horn of Africa; secondly, the 6th United Nations Human Rights Council Universal Period Review (UPR) session held during the period 30 November – 11 December 2009. The human rights situation in Eritrea was reviewed and a number of countries made strong recommendations to the Eritrean regime to stop its abhorring human rights violations, and in due process, encouraging the Eritrean authorities to take concrete steps to improve the appalling human rights conditions in Eritrea. As we know, Eritreans participated in the above-mentioned two conferences. Without going into details of each relatively to the Eritrean opposition conference, it suffices to say the outcomes of these two conferences have added impetus to the struggle for democratic change in Eritrea. But again, the sad thing is, in spite of the such pressure, the Eritrean opposition is still unable to capitalise on the weaknesses of PFDJ because of lack of focus on big issues. Therefore, we haven’t yet seen tangible success against the PFDJ regime.

Though the Eritrean government’s military is strong relative to the Eritrean opposition forces, it is not unreasonable to contemplate the demise of PFDJ, or at least, some form of change in the status quo. History teaches us dictatorial regimes crumble if they are challenged by a popular uprising. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, people around the world witnessed dictatorial regimes of the Eastern Bloc nations crumbling in the face of popular uprisings and defiance. A classical example of the power of people that defeated repression is the fall of the Berlin wall on the 9th of November 1989. On the occasion of the Berlin wall downfall, Gordon Brown, the ex-UK Prime Minister said, This wall was torn down not by the demands of political leaders, not by dictat[e] from on high, not by the force of military might but by the greatest force of all – the unbreakable spirit of the men and women of Berlin. In recent times, similar uprisings toppled dictatorial and corrupt regimes in other parts of the world.

By the same token, the anger and frustration of the oppressed Eritrean people (in conjunction with clarity of alternative objectives coming from the opposition camp) can provide a recipe for the collapse of the Eritrea’s dictatorial regime. Sooner or later, PFDJ’s tight rein in Eritrea will come to an end and its negative legacy will be relegated to the dust bins of history. The demise of PFDJ is the first crucial step towards any hope for a bright future marked by lasting peace, justice and democracy in Eritrea. The key for this to happen is to devise a strategy that empowers the youth (Warsay),[3] who are fleeing the country in droves. There is a second crucial step the Eritrean people need to be assured of, and that is, the Eritrean opposition groups must unequivocally prove they are better alternative waiting to take power. That can only be demonstrated through constructive and civilised dialogue, and through comprehensive political consensus among the diverse opposition groups. Therefore success of the upcoming NCDC is paramount, and the hope is the rest of EPDP will join and contribute positively.

Against the uncertainties with regard to the lack of a viable alternative, it becomes crucial to ask an important question: Will the demise of PFDJ regime mark an end to the misery of the Eritrean people and a dawn of a bright future in Eritrea, or will it take the country in the road to anarchy and destruction? This question is hotly debated by Diaspora Eritreans, and the majority of them have not yet been convinced a better alternative is ready to take power and govern the country responsibly and effectively. The opposition needs to lift its game to the level required of it in relation to this critical development.

In a series of articles[4], I seek to initiate discussions on how to guarantee, firstly a smooth and orderly transition from dictatorship to an era marked by governance of the rule of law, and more importantly, how to achieve durable peace, justice and democracy in post-PFDJ Eritrea. The series of articles intend to cover wide range of issues deemed necessary to be articulated for achieving these three political milestones. The discussion will cover issues along the following broad lines.

(i)  The importance of political consensus in the opposition camp, and specifically at the level of the Eritrean Democratic Alliance (EDA’s). Can we afford to convey TWO National Conferences? And what does this imply for our national unity?

(ii) Social justice in an Eritrean context. Comprehensive social justice programmes to counter-balance social exclusion and marginalisation. Reliable and accurate historical and contemporary information will be crucial for developing strong social justice policies in the future (for example, Ahmed Raji’s recent research on the topic, The Lost Rainbow series which featured on this website).

(iii) A strategy to embrace good elements of the Eritrean regime, which will in part, guarantee smooth and peaceful transition from dictatorship to the rule of law.

(iv) Fostering relationships among opposition political parties/organisations and civil societies.

(v)  National Unity/Cooperative Federalism

It is important to finish this introductory article by posing a host of critical questions that the reader can think about in the meantime:

1. How do we deal with the past ills of our liberation struggle that many Eritreans are still captive of? How do we reverse the negative legacy of PFDJ extreme marginalisation and exclusionist policies that subsequently further polarised the Eritrean society? What do we put in place of historical injustice as an alternative?

2. Can we predict the future political climate in Eritrea in the absence of a comprehensive political consensus among the opposition groups?

3. What are the most viable options in post-dictatorship Eritrea? An Alliance of organisations/political parties under one national umbrella – like EDA – whose members are elected through consensus democracy or the merging of parties with similar political programs and contesting for power through general elections? Can any Eritrean political party/organisation claim to possess ‘broad-based’ or popular support with a clear mandate to govern in its own right?

4. Have we formulated the right policies for the right time? And should policies be developed by political organisations/parties or in conjunction and close collaboration with independent research centres?

5. Eritrean opposition political parties/organisations seem to be more obsessed with their political programs, which are not markedly different! Do they really have sound policies on issues most important to the Eritrean people? What is plan A, B, C, etc. and their timelines in the post-PFDJ era?

6. How can we empower leadership of the young generation?

7. Can we come up with an exit strategy for the founders and veterans of the Eritrean revolution, so their life-long sacrifices are recognised and honoured for the contribution they have made to the liberation struggle and to the current democratisation struggle?

These and many other unanswered questions will be discussed. Miscellaneous issues raised in this article need to be articulated to guarantee a long-lasting sustainable peace, justice and democracy in the post-PFDJ era.

[1] To be fair, PFDJ seems to be investing in big infrastructure projects, including urban and rural developments, irrigation, schools, health centres, etc. More importantly, PFDJ came to understand that “injustice is unsustainable”, and it is trying to address the gap that was created by its own discriminatory policies. Some may say it is too little too late to fix the problem. I agree, but also we need to appreciate little is better than nothing. My assessment is based on Eri-TV programs and news received from people visiting Eritrea. When I say positive things about PFDJ, am I praising the ruling party? No! Am I naïve? May be yes! Am I PFDJ convert? Certainly not! But as the expression says, give credit where credit’s due; we need to appreciate whatever accomplishments PFDJ has achieved! Its rouge nature and appalling human rights record is a separate matter. 
[2] EPDP soon needs to soften its stand against NCDC and participate in the upcoming conference. EPDP’s concerns can only be addressed inside the venue of conference, not outside. Be in for your voice to be heard loud!
[3] Is it easy for Warsay to challenge the Eritrean authorities? No, considering the brutal nature of PFDJ regime which resorts to extreme violence to squash any dissent. However, PFDJ will never relinquish power unless supreme sacrifices are made.
[4] First I have to finish a series of articles that I promised the reader and then come back to the subsequent parts of this article.

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