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Reflections of a semi-outsider on the National Congress


Last Updated on Friday, 09 December 2011 22:22 Written by Nitsuh Friday, 09 December 2011 22:20

The author, way back in 2010, believed that the process followed for the conduct of the National Congress was flawed, and that is would be difficult, if not impossible, to expect a positive result from a flawed process. As such, process is as important as the product of the process itself. Nevertheless, in the world of Social Science, anything could be possible. Hence, it was the author’s prayer and wish for the National Congress and its aftermath to succeed. At the same time though, it was the author’s conviction that getting involved in a flawed process would be not in the best interest of the author’s precious time.

As a semi-outsider, the author observed the activities of the Commission for Democratic Change. As a construct of a faulty process, it is the conviction of the author that the Commission failed to conduct its affairs in a satisfactory manner to the audience, mainly the Eritrean diaspora. This was clearly reflected in the number and variety of participants in the different public seminars the Commission conducted. The meetings attracted very few new faces, and very little from the youth, the engines of change.

As such, it was even difficult to comprehend some of the activities done in the buildup for the National Congress of 2011. Drafting a big document like a constitution representing the Eritrean public, which does not even represent the Diaspora Opposition was one. The rushed call of seminar by top EPRDF cadres both to the Eritrean Political Parties and Intellectuals was another. Contrary to established norms and principles, these meetings were called as a matter of urgency, with guarantees not to worry about transportation and related expenses, which shows how little value the EPRDF government gives to the Eritrean opposition. This was, in the eyes of the author, a sign of the lack of respect by the EPRDF government on the Eritrean opposition and a dark point in the Eritrean opposition and Eritrean history.

Then also followed the damning news of the 6 political parties threatening not to attend the National Congress if the date of the National Congress is not postponed. It was beyond the author’s comprehension for such political parties to make such demands. It was also laughable to see the date being postponed for only one month. More damning was the failure of the leaders of these parties to face the media. Worse was when the troops of Mr. Tewelde Gebreselassie, the people he lead for about 30 years, defend him in the aftermath of a public outcry of the act of 6 political parties.

Shocking was also the news that some areas elected their representatives for National Congress in November. It was the expectation of the author that taking into consideration the year and half alloted for preparation, representatives, especially from the western world, need to be informed at least two months ahead to make proper preparations.

Then, around the eve of the National Congress, damning news came following a meeting of the Commission. We heard an allegation from Mr. Daniel Tewelde, that his tape recorder was confiscated, his computer searched and he was interrogated by Ethiopian Security officials. Further, he was accused of being a PFDJ messenger/spy. More followed; Mr. Daniel Tewelde was made to resign from his position as head of Media Department of the National Commission. He was also dismissed from the Commission and was made not to attend the National Congress. Waw, it was like “the Revolution eats its own Children”.

As a result, when the National Congress was being conducted in the beautiful city of Awassa, Ethiopia, in the Haile Gebreselassie resort, the media and the public were wondering what was really happening. Mr. Daniel was out demonstrating alone outside the meeting hall, with placards reading 'the Commission violated my right'. It was a very big distraction for the Congress. There was no official explanation from the Commission on what led to the actions taken against Mr. Daniel Tewelde. They are adopting to the “we prefer silence” strategy of the PFDJ. This silence continued up to this time, and Mr. Daniel Tewelde and the outcome of the National Congress is being discussed in the media in a comparably similar level; what a distraction.

The composition of the Secretariat of the National Congress raised eyebrows of many. The sidelining of the Constitution was a positive step. Then, the Congress elected a National Assembly for Democratic Change composing 127 members, in the proportion of 48% civic and 52% political party members. The National Assembly also elected its executive committee composed of 21 members.

Given the mistrust of the general Eritrean public towards the opposition political parties, the author had expected the ratio of civic organizations and political parties to be about 60 to 40 in favor of civic. It was however, about the reverse. The author had also expected not to see the veterans of the despised opposition political parties’ leaders in the 21-member executive committee.

However, the leader Dr. Yusuf Berhanu, is a member of the Eritrean National Salvation Front that would mean an alienation of a significant part of the Eritrean opposition. The executive committee also includes established names like Mr. Tewelde Gebreselassie, Qenerlious Usman and Ibrahim Harun, whom the author believes lack trust from the general public, and are thought to have philosophies not different from that of the PFDJ. They have been leaders since the establishment of their respective parties, and have been in actors in the unity and breakup of the Eritrean opposition political parties for the past 10 years or so.

Can we thus genuinely expect a positive contribution from this Assembly and Executive Committee. I wish I could be optimistic!