Awate Interview With Mr. Mengestab Asmerom
By Saleh Younis
Jul 25, 2005, 18:45 PST

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In March 2005, sixteen opposition groups met in Khartoum, Sudan and reached an agreement to form an umbrella group governed by a common charter. Known as the Eritrean Democratic Alliance (EDA), the group is represented by 27 delegates who make up the Central Leadership, the group's legislative arm. The Central Leadership has a Secretariat, chaired by Mr. Berhane Hanjema, who was already interviewed by The Central Leadership elected a nine-member Executive Office, which is chaired by Mr. Hussein Khalifa. To acquaint our readers with the EDA, the history of its leaders, as well as to update you on its progress and raise with them your questions, concerns and suggestions, we intend to have a series of interviews with its elected leaders. This is our interview with Mr. Mengestab Asmerom, who heads the News Office of the EDA. The interview was conducted by Saleh Younis.

Let's begin with a profile, a mini-biography, beginning with your education.

1st - 8th Grade: Wengelawit Betekrestian, Asmara; 9th - 12th Grade: Leul Mekonnen, Asmara; 1st - 4th year: Haile Selasse I University, Addis Abeba

Could you add the years to the period you attended school? Many readers find it easier to relate to somebody who went to school with them or somebody they know. Can you mention some individuals (that later joined the armed struggle) who attended Leul Mekonen with you?

First to eighth grade (1957-1965). Secondary school (1965-1969). Haile Selasse I University (1969 -1974.) Of those who attended secondary school with me in Leul Mekonnen in the same class and joined the Revolution, I recall Martyr Abraham Tekle; as well as Tesfay Baire, Semere Tesfay and Yemane Kidane (Jamaica.) But if we are speaking of students, in general, without confining it to Leul Mekonnen Secondary, [I would include] Iyob Bisrat, Petros Solomon, Zerai Tesfatsion, Haile Asgedom, Asgedom Embaye, Giorghis (De.Ma.Ha.E), Mihretu Gebretensae, Girmay Bahre, etc.

Before I could finish my fourth year, the Haile Selasse administration was overthrown and replaced by the Derg. I enlisted with the ELF on 11/27/1974. After receiving military training in a place called Ribda, I was assigned to the Forces as an ordinary fighter.

You had attended Haile Selasse I University, yet you joined the ELF in 1974. Wasn't there some level of concern, given the view in some circles that ELF was targeting Christian highlands and university students? I ask this because that was the rationale for Isaias¡'s nHnan elmanan: that the ELF hated Christians, particularly highlanders.

True, at that time, the members of Popular Forces [Popular Liberation Forces, precursor to EPLF, later PFDJ] were disseminating intensive propaganda that the Front [ELF: Eritrean Liberation Front] was killing Christians. It cannot be stated that this saying did not raise some questions on one's mind. But then, if the Front was targeting people merely for their Christian faith, why does it not kill Herui Tedla [Bairou], Melake Tekle, etc ­are questions that are also raised [in one's mind.] And it becomes clear that the issue is not truthful. Moreover, because many of my neighbors and relatives had enlisted in the Front and not one had been killed by the Front, the propagation of the Popular Forces had no impact on me.

In September 1975, I was pulled out from the Forces and referred to the Cadre School to receive political course. In March 1976, after completing a six-month course, I was assigned to Akele Guzay (Administration # 10) in the Cadre unit. In June 1977, I was told that I had been reassigned from Akeleguzay to Sahel (Administration # 5), and I traveled to Barka to receive my assignment papers. Once in Barka, at Aliet, I and other cadres gave a three-month political course to individuals who were either held [prisoners] or were returnees from the Falul movement. [Interviewer's Note: The ELF had numeric codes for the traditional provinces.]

In 1977, you were logically an ideal target for the Falul movement. Did they attempt to recruit you? Now that you look back to towards that period, how do you assess the movement?

I don't recall any attempt by the Falul movement to try to recruit me. At the time, I was stationed in Akele Guzay and at that place and within the cadre unit, the impact of the Falul movement was not felt much. When we were new enlistees, there were cadres that attempted to educate us on the differences that emerged following the Second Congress. They used to mention the names of leaders we didn't know and tell us so-and-so is progressive and so-and-so is reactionary.

The ELF had received scholarship opportunities from Southern Republic of Yemen [The People's Democratic Republic of Yemen.] Thereafter, Combatant Teklehaimanot Ugbazgi, Combatant Alem Gebremariam and myself went to Aden. We took a one-year political course (approximately, 10/77 through 10/78.)

From 10/78 until EPLF's attack on the ELF, I served as an instructor at the Cadre School. In September 1980, I was assigned as a Company or Platoon Cadre in Brigade 72.

When the ELF was pushed out to Sudan, I resumed my struggle with the segment of the ELF-RC which was known as "Teyar Al Am" [The General Tendency]. For a period of about nine months, 1983-1984, I was jailed in Sudan. My imprisoned comrades from ELF-RC included Ibrahim Mohammed Ali, Amanuel Habte (Mengistu), Romadan Saleh, Berhane Gebremedhen, Tekle Melekin, Abdella Nasser, and Mohammed Nur Abdu Kahssay. From Saghem, Abarhaley Kifle and Ahferom Tewelde were also in jail. Earlier, Weldeyesus Amar and Girmay Geberselasse (Qeshi) had also been arrested; but they were released before long.

After our release, because the Numeiri regime had demanded that we get out of Sudan, I received asylum in Sweden and moved there in November 1984. There, I resumed my struggle as a member of the Upssula group and later as its chairman.

Once again, Mengestab, you were faced with another fork on the road when the ELF splintered in 1981: some chose ELF headed by Abdella Idris, some chose Sagem, Sagem-Ketsel, Tripartite, Central Command, etc. You chose "Teyar Al¡¯am." Was this an easy or hard decision for you? And what was the criteria you used to make your decision?

There were no causes for deliberation in my decision to join the "Teyar Al Am" or ELF-RC. And the reason is because "Teyar Al Am" was the continuation of the programs that were adopted in the Second Congress. And this is because, as its name implies, it was a front that represented the political sentiments and social reality that were prevailing in the Front. Moreover, it was a front that was safeguarding the legal process. Its position was that the leadership who were elected at a congress should be brought down only at a congress. No other alternative would have organized us.

It seems to me, Mengesteab, the period between 1981-1985 was a highly demoralizing period for Eritreans. The story of the traumatic experience of the ELF during this period; their imprisonment by Numeri's officials, the mysterious assassination of some of the better known leaders, and the shame of having "Jebha Abbay" expelled from land it shed precious blood to liberate is overshadowed by what was happening in Eritrea: Mengistu's terrible Red Star Offensive, the liberation and re-occupation of Barnetu and Tessenei. Could you shed more light on this period, from your perspective as a prisoner and a persona-non-grata in Sudan?

1981-85 was a very bitter period for our struggle. One cannot find expression for the low morale and bad feelings that resulted following the move of the Liberation Army [Eritrean Liberation Army, the fighting force of the Eritrean Liberation Front] to Sudan and its being disarmed by the Sudanese government of the period. But with all that, the combatant lived on the hope that he would return to the field and waited in Korokon and Tahaday [in Easter Sudan] for two years. The crisis escalated after the March 25 coup d'etat [Abdella Idris, who initiated the overthrow, described it as an "uprising."] The armed forces of both sides then moved to the field. And this progressed until it culminated into an infighting [between the two factions of the ELF.] Later, Saghem's splintering appeared in Korokon and Tahaday. This affected the morale of the combatants and the hope of returning to the field began to die out. Consequently, many combatants fled back to their village or Sudan.

During this period, there was an international conspiracy to ensure that the Front's combatants never returned to the field. The Western nations had opened up their gates for migrants and this was the period when many combatants got the opportunity to go to Germany, America, etc. Moreover, the the Numeiri regime had given us only three choices: either live as refugees in the refugee camps, or go back to your country, or join the Popular Forces that were headed by martyr Osman Saleh Sabbe. We did not accept any of these choices. And the Numeri regime's arrest of our leadership and cadres was part of this conspiracy.

As for the People's Front [EPLF: Eritrean People's Liberation Front], it exploited the differences and dispersion between the fronts, as well as the international conspiracy to eradicate the ELF. It took measures to assassinate well-known leaders and cadres of the ELF including martyr Said Saleh, martyr Weldedawit Temesgen, and martyr Idris Hangela. And these measures continued even after 1985: one can mention martyr Mahmoud Hasab as an example.

On the other hand, this was the period when the Derg regime took advantage of the conflict between the fronts and in an effort to weaken our people's resolve to struggle, it waged attacks in a campaign it called Red Star. Our liberated towns were reoccupied and the People's Liberation Army [Eritrean People's Liberation Army, the fighting force of the EPLF] retreated to Sahel. It is also recalled that this is the period when the Derg, exploiting the weakness, tried to put in practice its concept of Lowland Autonomy, after 1986.

Given the pressures of the time, the ELF-Revolutionary Council had joined the Popular Forces, albeit for a brief period. But then, based on the initiative taken by the Liberation Army, it was able to part from the Popular Forces and assert its identity. And in 1985, in an Organizational Congress it held, it elected its provisional leadership. Based on its stand that a Palestine-like umbrella movement is needed in Eritrea, it sent out its invitation to other organizations.

On ELF-RC participating in the "Unity Congress" of EPLF's Second Congress...­

To answer the question of why did the ELF-RC join the unity congress of the EPLF, the basis was as follows:

(a) Our belief that the situation of our revolution was going from bad to worse and that the unity of the revolutionary forces was, more than ever, needed;

(b) Based on the comprehensive unity call made by the ELF-Revolutionary Council in 1985, a dialogue and good rapport had been established between the ELF-Revolutionary Council and the People's Front.

Ultimately, the effort was discontinued because we disagreed with the proposal put forth by the People's Front: that our forces join People's Army and our leadership join the leadership of the People's Front.

I was elected to leadership (Revolution Council) position in the Third National Congress, which was held in 1989. From 1990-1995, I was the front's representative to Germany. I was elected to the position of Director of Organizational Affairs and member of the Executive Committee, in August 1995, at the 5th Ordinary Session of the Revolutionary Council which was held in Kassel, Germany. I stayed in the German office until approximately October 1997, I don't remember the precise month. Thereafter, I was assigned to Khartoum. I remained in this post until June 2002, when the RC has its 3rd Ordinary Session, which was held in Addis Abeba. In this session, I was elected as the Director of News and Information department.

Another neighboring nation, Ethiopia, arrested and then expelled some of your colleagues in the mid 1990s. Have you gotten any explanation for why they did that?

The reason our cadres were expelled from Addis Ababa in 1994 is because our presence in Ethiopia was a threat to the Isaias regime. At the time, our cadres were conducting intense campaigns. Newsletters were finding their way in Eritrea. And in the newspapers and TV, they were, on occasion, providing explanations. And our membership drives were evolving. Under these circumstances, and exploiting its military, security and other agreements with the Ethiopian government, the Isaias regime put a lot of pressure on the Ethiopian government to surrender our cadres. It was threatening that unless this was done, it, too, would support the [Ethiopian] opposition. It was under these circumstances that our cadres were made to leave.

In March 1999, I, representing, ELF-RC, was a member of the senior leadership of the Alliance of Eritrean National Forces (AENF.) And now, in the Eritrean Democratic Alliance which was formed in March 2005, I am serving as a member of the Executive Committee, responsible for the News division.

Mengestab, you jump from 1999 to 2005. I know the ELF-RC split of 2002 is not necessarily something you want to talk about. But I have to ask this question: with the benefit of time, now, why exactly did that happen? Are there lessons to be learned from that period?

With respect to the ELF-Revolutionary Council split, much has been said and written about. The position, from our side, has been stated in detail in our newsletters and the releases of our Executive Committee. If it is deemed necessary, one can refer back to it. In brief, the cause was competition for power/authority. As can be recalled, Ahmed Mohammed Nasser was elected chairman in the first RC session after the Fifth National Congress. A year later, in 2003, in the second ordinary RC session, we demoted Ahmed Nasser and elected Seyoum Ogbamichael to the chairmanship. From this point forth, we did not have a period of calm. Many other explanations may have been presented; but the truth is what I stated above. In Addis Ababa, in the third ordinary session of the Revolutionary Council, we reached agreement and elected a new executive committee. And after we announced the good news that the Revolutionary Council and the Executive Committee are in accord, suddenly, two members of the Executive Committee elected to split and announced that they are splitting.

Regarding what lessons can be drawn from the experience, first, since peaceful transition of power is an exemplar of democracy and since we say that we are struggling to implement a democratic system in Eritrea, we should be subordinate to the voice of the majority and internal constitutions. We should believe and accept that whoever gives us authority has the right to take it away. We should be ready to be leaders today and followers tomorrow.

Another thing we can learn from this experience is that splitting and mutual accusations harm everyone and weaken the opposition camp. Therefore, splintering, under any circumstance, should not be seen as a first choice. And it is unavoidable, if it is based on goals and principles, it should be done in a peaceful and developed way so that the people know and learn from the differences. Meaning, without recrimination and accusations, you should be able to explain to the people, clearly, what your differences are. It should not be forgotten that, sooner or later, as a member of the opposition, you are going to need one another. One can mention the Eritrean Democratic Alliance as an example of this mutual seeking process. Democracy means having the freedom to choose. It means the freedom of people to choose from different ideas and parties whichever one considers the better idea, the better party, or the better collection of parties.

A skeptical Eritrean who may have seen the formation, dissolution, splinters and name changes of opposition organization may not be excited about the formation of EDA.  How would you answer those skeptics and, in fact, the Eritrean people in general?

Yes. For a considerable number of Eritreans, who have witnessed mergers, splits and dissolutions of organizations and coalitions, to look at the Alliance and be anxious that its fate is similar is accepted and understood. That is why our forefathers say, "He who has been frightened by a snake is intimidated by peel bark." Having said that, it should be clear that this does not mean that the Eritrean people are opposed to the establishment of the Alliance or to unity. Our people are always for joint effort and unity. Their concern deals with whether the Alliance that has been established shall be sustained or not. In other words, their [the Eritrean people] concern or doubt is with the issue of leadership, and not the goals of unity or alliance per se.

On the other hand, for the Eritrean opposition groups to bypass the pre-existing stage of differences, ostracization, and attacks and think in terms of working together---that is a big change. We should not forget that there are optimists who have assessed that they are learning from their experiences and accepted this development with goodwill and doing their utmost to make it work. Both of these views are partly correct. Thus, to assess prior negative experiences and reach a negative conclusion that this, too, shall fail or, without evaluating its work, and just based on goodwill, to assume that it has learned from its experiences and this time it will work--neither one is a correct conclusion.

The Eritrean Democratic Alliance should be evaluated based on its accomplishments and the path it follows. Thus, to assess the just-established Alliance will require time. It has been only four months since the Alliance was established.

Was it a coincidence that the EDA was formed literally days after officials of EDP and ELF-RC met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in Khartoum, Sudan?

My answer to whether the establishment of the EDA within days after the leadership of the ELF-RC and the EDP met with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is coincidental is "yes, it is coincidental." And the reason is because the issue of organizational unity is a stand-alone issue and one that we all have been following for a long time. If we speak to the history of organizational unity briefly, it is one that has been in progress since 1999 at the very least, and even prior to that, if one to takes a comprehensive view. It is recalled that in March 1999, an alliance that comprised of the then-ten known organizations, the Alliance of Eritrean National Forces, was formed. In 2002, the ENA froze ELF-Revolutionary Council based on the crisis that emerged within the Alliance. The Alliance grew to 13 when three organizations (one headed by Herui Tedla Bairou, one headed by Osman Abu Baker and the Ibrahim Haroun-led Red Sea Afar) joined it.

On the other hand, the initiative to form an all-inclusive opposition was being pursued by the Alliance and three organizations outside its umbrella as well as the bilateral efforts between all organizations. As we all know, this resulted in the establishment of what came to be known as the 4+1 on the one hand and the Six Organizations, on the other. In their Khartoum meeting of November 2004, the Six Organizations agreed that, instead of establishing a front within a front, outreach should be conducted to the Alliance to form an all-inclusive opposition group. Similarly, in its last meeting, the Alliance reached a similar conclusion. On this basis, an Alliance that comprises of 16 organizations was formed in March 2005.

What this demonstrates is the unity of the organizations was achieved, above and ahead of all reasons, by the drive of the organizations and their supporters. To discount all of these efforts and limit the resulting achievement as one caused by the meeting of two [member] organizations with the Prime Minister of Ethiopia is not correct.

There are some who say that the Eritrean opposition parties had turned a deaf year to the Eritrean people's appeal to them to form a coalition but they listened to Sudan and Ethiopian politicians.  Is that a fair assessment?

I have already answered that the claim that the organizations gave a deaf ear to Eritreans but listened to the politicians of Ethiopia and Sudan is not a correct one. Whether it is the 1999 Alliance or others that followed it could not have happened without the initiative of the people and the grassroots of the organizations. And the opposition did not turn a deaf ear to the thrust of the people, but accepted it.

Now, let me ask about the election process.  Was this a direct or indirect vote: did you elect parties or individuals?   If direct, why so?  If indirect, why so?

With regards to the Central Leadership, the agreement reached was that the big organizations would be represented by two individuals and the small organizations would be represented by one. On this agreed-upon basis, each organization chose its representative(s). However, from this body, the nine-member Executive Office was elected in a direct vote. Those nominated to the executive office were elected not on the basis of their ability to represent their organizations, but on two benchmarks: merit, and their ability to devote 80% of their time to the goals of the Alliance. What explains the fact that these nine members are from different organizations is the recognition that qualified people who meet the stated criteria are present within each organizations and the effort to widen the scope of participation.

Organizing, traveling requires time and expense.  Who funds the EDA?

Regarding the sources and utilization of funds for the Alliance or my front, I do not think it is proper for me to share. Nor is there anyone who has authorized me to do so. Beyond that, what is evident is that the Alliance or any opposition group has the right and duty to struggle to receive moral and material support from the people, from neighboring nations, from international governments and NGOS.

What was the biggest issue that the EDA had to overcome?  Which articles in the subsequent charter were the most contentious?  And, incidentally, why did it seem like it took forever to publish the draft?

The biggest obstacle, and a challenge that the Alliance overcame, was the repelling and rejection that was going on among the opposition groups. To work on shared interests was a major accomplishment.

The contentious and controversial articles were the ones known as articles 3 and 4, those dealing with Sheria and rights of nationalities. For me, since the issue of Sheria is now within the context of a constitution and to be decided by the people, I am of the view that it has been handled properly. As for the issue of nationalities, since it was an elastic clause, it was a contentious issue. And that's why the ELF-Revolutionary Council has registered its reservation on the matter. As far as the ELF-Revolutionary Council is concerned, the issue of nationality rights up to and including session is a matter that should be addressed by the people in a democratic environment. The ELF-Revolutionary Council holds as a principle the belief that since the opposition organizations represent their membership and their supporters, and not the Eritrean people, this is not an issue that they are mandated to address.

Structure:  Could you, using examples, tell us what the responsibilities of the Executive Office and Central Office of the EDA are?  Who reports to whom?  How often do these bodies meet?

Regarding the structure of the Eritrean Democratic Alliance, it is based on three institutions. The highest authority is the Central Leadership. Composed of 27 individuals delegated by their organizations, this body legislates the Alliance's agenda, policy and laws. For the sake of simplification, we can equate it with a parliament or council. The Central Leadership meets every six months and its term is one year. The Central Leadership has its own Chairman and Secretary. And this body is known as the Secretariat of the Central Leadership. Moreover, the Central Leadership, in its ordinary session, elects an Auditor General. The Chairman of the Central Leadership calls and chairs ordinary and extraordinary sessions of the Central Leadership, sets its agenda and receives reports from the Chairman of the Executive Office. In addition to the above, an emergency meeting of the Central Leadership can also be called by 1/3 of the body or the decisions of the Executive Office.

The second component is the 9-member Executive Office, and it is democratically elected by the Central Leadership. Its job is to implement plans that were laid out by the Central Leadership. For the sake of simplification, we can compare it with a Cabinet of Ministers. The make up of the Executive Office is the Chairman, the Vice-Chairman, the Secretary and six offices. They are the News Office, Social Affairs Office, Foreign Affairs Office, Community Affairs Office, Security & Information Office and the Economy and Finance Office. Then there are the branch offices of the Alliance which are established by representatives of the organizations.

The Executive Offices conducts its regular meetings every three months. The Chairman of the Executive office calls and chairs all ordinary and extraordinary sessions. And he synthesizes the work of the various offices. Each office submits its report to the Chairman.

The term, we understand, is for one year.  The Executive Office had a priority-setting meeting shortly after the conclusion of the EDA session?  What are those priorities?  And what has been accomplished to date?

The tasks that the Executive Office prioritized are to disseminate the goals and objectives of the Alliance; to strengthen institutionalization; strengthen informational, diplomatic and social work; as well as highlighting and alleviating the situation of Eritrean refugees.

In the matter of strengthening the institutions of the executive office, it has established administration for each office. It has also established bylaws for its administration. Moreover, representatives have opened Alliance branches in Sudan, Ethiopia, Europe and America. This is a continuing effort.

Regarding community affairs, a delegation headed by the Chairman of the Executive Office toured the refugee camps in Khartoum, Gedaref, Kessela and Port Sudan. It explained the resolutions of the Central Leadership and the goals of the Alliance to the people, the cadres and senior citizens.

In the affairs of diplomacy, a delegation headed by the Chairman of the Executive Office met with the local authorities of the Sana'a Alliance in Sudan and provided extensive explanation on the prevailing situation of our country. In America, a delegation headed by the Vice Chairman of the Executive Office and, in Europe, a delegation led by the Foreign Affairs Director met with international affairs divisions of the respective countries and explained the goals of the Alliance as well as the prevailing situation of our country. While on their visits, they also held open public sessions.

In the affairs of News, a daily radio broadcast of the Alliance has started. Three issues of the Democratic Alliance newsletter in Tigrigna and Arabic, as well as one bi-monthly in English, have been publicized. Members of the Executive Office have held interviews with Sudanese, Italian and Middle Eastern newspapers. Eritrean internet sites are also playing a big role in disseminating the agenda of the Alliance.

In social affairs, the Executive Office has presented reports that summarize the condition of Eritrean refugees in Sudan and Ethiopia and a proposal to alleviate their problems to the authorities of Sudan, Ethiopia and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Additionally, the Director of Social Affairs is holding continuous meetings with the leadership of the Eritrean refugee community.

You, Mengesteab, serve a dual-role: news & information director for the ELF-RC and for the EDA.  How do you prioritize your work?   

True, I am in charge of the News Office of the EDA and the News & Information Ofice of the ELF Revolutionary Council. My priorities are the goals of the Alliance. 80% of my time is devoted to the Alliance and the balance of 20% to my organization.

Some critics have looked at the names of the elected officers of EDA and said, "it is the same individuals, recycled, but using new acronyms for their parties, and new titles for their positions.  They haven't accomplished much in the last 20 years, they are not likely to accomplish much in the next 20 years."  What do you say to the critics?  And what is the EDA doing to attract new members, specially the youth.

The claim that all those who are in position of leadership are those who have been there 20 years ago is not true. It is exaggerated. For example, in the ELF-Revolutionary Council, those who were in leadership positions [and are in leadership positions now] are no more than 3. Even those are not in the Executive Committee but in the revolutionary council (the legislative arm.) Some of the organizations were established in 1988, others after 2001. And in these organizations, the majority of the leadership positions are held by new individuals. It is true that some individuals who were in leadership positions 20 years ago are in leadership positions now, but they are very few in number. Overall, to state that "all were leaders 20 years ago" is generalization, and one that does not seem borne out by closer scrutiny.

In my opinion, I am of the belief that the leadership of any organization should be composed of veterans and the new. This is because the veterans have experiences and knowledge that the new do not possess. Additionally, a person of advanced age is not, for the most part, emotional and impatient. There are also positive benefits that the new have that the veterans do not have. Due to their relatively hot-blooded nature, they are more likely to examine, innovate and solve. And they are more productive and energetic, etc. And therefore, it is best that one [the new] benefit from the experiences of the veterans and gradually come to leadership position. It is a must, however, that the leadership bring in new blood or new generation into the leadership. If it doesn't do this, it won't even have continuity. But if there is a view that states that it is only the new or the young that can bring forth victory, it is a mistaken one. For example, the leadership and membership of the Movement for Democratic Change were the youth: so why did it not succeed? There are also other organizations that are not led by veterans: how come they did not best the other organizations?

Thus, it is my belief that at this time, when we encounter anyone who is ready to struggle, we should be pleased and encouraging regardless of whether they are veterans or young. If the youth are willing to commit full-time to the struggle, and if they find acceptance to lead their organizations or associations, there is no reason why they cannot come to leadership. What is best is for somebody who is experienced and someone who is not too advanced of age to be in position of leadership. And the veteran whose contribution has been declining should be ready to vacate the position. The veterans should remember that they can always work as advisors.

One more thing I'd like to mention: leadership does not necessarily mean being a chairman. It means to be a decision-maker and to present ideas that are acceptable to the people. Therefore, members of the assembly, members of the executive office, cadres, etc, as well as various civil societies, professional societies, news institutions, etc should know and believe that they are in decision-making positions. And victory will be assured when all, in their respective fields, work with goodwill, competence and volunteerism.

Earlier, you told me that in your dual role as the Director of News and information for ELF-RC and EDA, you have found a way whereby you dedicate 80% of your time to EDA and 20% to ELF-RC.  Ok.  Let's look at the issue from a different angle.  Mr. Adhanom Gebremariam is the Vice Chair of EDA's Executive Committee as well as the vice-chair of EPM as well as the Chairman of the Four Plus One (National Salvation) group.  Doesn't this create an organizational chart that has no clarity?

The decision of the Central Leadership is that members of the Executive Office should be able to commit all their time towards the goals of the Eritrean Democratic Alliance. A related question is that these members of the Executive Office of the EDA are, within their own organizations, elected to positions of leadership at congresses. In trying to reconcile these two facts, it was decided that 80% of their time should be devoted to EDA and 20% to their organizations. It was stated that even the 20% of the time they are devoting to their organizations should be done with the knowledge and consent of the Chairman of the Executive Office. So the mechanism was not invented by me, but by the Central Leadership.

Does this method of work create ambiguity? Who is following this directive and who is not? Will this method be pursued or will it be abandoned? It is something that the Central Leadership will consider and review in its next meeting.

Do you agree that the behavior of the individual organizations (and the leadership) of the members of the EDA reflects positively and negatively on the EDA overall?  If so, do you think Mr. [Ibrahim] Haroun's decision to write his correspondence in Amharic reflect negatively not just on him, or his organization, but on the EDA overall?  And if the answer is yes, does the EDA Executive Committee to whom he belongs, have the authority to tell him, "knock it off!"  Wasn't one of the major grievances that resulted in waging the struggle the elevation of Amharic over our own languages?

Let me address your last question first. We were not opposed to Amharic as a language, but the policies of the Ethiopian rulers to replace our languages with the Amharic language. Since Eritrea is now an independent nation that uses its own languages, there is insufficient cause to be anxious that Amharic will dominate or replace our languages.

Moreover, we all accept the fact that language is a means of communication. We should not overlook the fact that if we are able to comprehend the language of our neighbors and our neighbors are able to know our languages, this will have a big role in strengthening our political, economic, social, cultural and trade relations.

The question of which language should one use is decided by the question of whom is one trying to address one's message? What is natural is that when the message is intended for Eritreans, one should use Eritrean languages and when the message is intended for Ethiopians, one should use Ethiopian languages. From this perspective, I would have preferred that Brother Haroun's message, since intended for Eritreans, be addressed in Eritrean languages.

One cannot say, however, that Amharic, as a language, should not be spoken by Eritreans. At this time, the Eritrean government's "Dimtsi Hafash" broadcasts Amharic programs regularly. Additionally, when leaders of the organizations meet with newspapers that are published in Amharic, their interviews are conducted in Amharic.

Morever, depending on how they were raised, their education or experiences, some people master a certain language. Some find writing in English easier than writing in Eritrean languages; others in Amharic; still others find it easier in German, etc.

On whether this will have a negative impact on the Alliance, I cannot say whether it will or it won't. However, based on the reasons I gave above, I believe that it should not.

One of the complaints of some organizations who are not members of the EDA is that, beyond the public meetings, EDA has no mechanism to solicit their views and give them fair hearing.  They argue that the formation of EDA has pre-empted and derailed the convening of a "national reconciliation" or "national convention" or "national congress" that many organizations, including the ELF-RC, used to espouse.  How do you respond to this criticism?

The Eritrean Democratic Alliance believes that its relationship with civic societies should not be confined to public meetings but utilize other venues as well and that the two should work in concert. We believe that the Alliance, as a political organization, and the civic societies, as social societies, should work together in all areas to bring about an era of peace, justice and democracy in Eritrea. And with regards to this matter, the branches of the Alliance, wherever they may be, have been directed to work closely with the civic societies. And the civic societies are able to communicate their ideas in whichever means they chose¡ªwhether through the branches or directly with the leadership.

Regarding reconciliation and national conference, I would like to assure you that it is something that my organization, ELF-Revolutionary Council, and the Alliance believe in. The question is not on the objective, but on the manner. The question of who is to be reconciled and who should participate in the national conference should be addressed. On our part, we believe that who should participate in reconciliation and national conference is the Eritrean people in its entire underpinning: political, civic, faith-based organizations. This can be accomplished only in Eritrea. Not only will reconciliation and conference outside Eritrea be incomplete, it is possible that many questions that we will be unable to answer will be raised. For example: questions of "who delegated you? who elected so-and-so as representative of the scholars, or religious leaders or a province or nationality or tribe, etc­" may be raised. I do not think we have adequate answers for these questions. An enabling environment, one that provides representation to all, must be created in Eritrea first.


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