Press Release (4 & Final) Re: The Mediation Between ENA & ELF-RC Print E-mail
By Awate Team - Nov 25, 2002   

***image1:left***It is obvious that over the last three-years, the opposition to the dictatorial regime in Eritrea has gained ground. Eritreans who used to remain passive to unjust government actions started to speak out. They started to defy the system and be assertive to free Eritrea of the yoke of authoritarianism. With the coming out of dissidents from within the system, the circle of opposition was fuller and bigger. Eritreans hoped for a coordinated struggle by all opposition forces to rid Eritrea of the unjust system. The public became more demanding and pressured the political leaders of the oppositions groups to adhere to a democratic method of struggle and save Eritrea from further sufferings. The Alliance was put under pressure to introduce democratic reforms in its internal operations and to become more representative of the Eritrean mosaic. 

Internationally, the ELF-RC and other organizations played an important role in providing exposure for the Alliance to the outside world. A few months ago, the ELF-RC and ELF issued a statement informing the public of their intention to unite. The ELF, Gash Barka and Al-Khalas organizations were involved in consultations to unite. There were serious attempts to unity between Sagem and EDM and improve coordination with the Kunama organization. A few months ago in Cairo, Osman Mohammed Abubaker and Ali Berhatu united and formed a single organization within the Alliance. There was a successful step taken in bringing the Afar organization into the fold of the Alliance. Herui formed the Eritrean Co-operative Party (ECP). The EPLF-DP stated its readiness to engage in bilateral talks with some members of the Alliance and in fact held preliminary meetings with different organizations, notably the ELF-RC. Many Eritrean civil societies were formed around the world. The Sudan and Yemen, two important neighboring countries (together with Ethiopia), started to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Eritrean opposition and aired their intention to cooperate with the Alliance. The Addis Ababa conference was called to restructure the Alliance and move on to the next step. Eritreans breathed a sigh of relief: finally, an effective and efficient opposition would see the light and polarization would be rejected.  

The Addis Meeting, however, did not proceed as all freedom-loving Eritreans had expected. An important member of the Alliance, the ELF-RC withdrew from the meeting citing its objection to (1) the election of Herui T Bairu (ECP) as secretary general of the Alliance and (2) the alleged reasons given by the rest of the alliance members for choosing Mr. Herui T Bairu. According to the ELF-RC, Mr. Herui T Bairou is unqualified to lead a movement he had barely joined and the alleged reasons given by those who elected him�that he has the support of neighboring governments�raises questions on whether the Alliance is an Eritrean organization or a proxy for foreign powers.  To many Eritreans, this accusation came as a shock. 

A few days later, the ENA issued a statement basically suspending the membership of the ELF-RC and asking it to apologize to the ENA for the �accusations� it leveled against it. The ELF-RC refused to apologize; the ENA refused to lift the suspension. Also, the ENA alleges that they have not received an official reply to the suspension letter they sent to the ELF-RC to this day. ELF-RC�s objection revolves around the election of Herui which they perceive as a wrong choice. However, unlike the previous times when the Alliance operated on consensus, this time it was based on majority choice. The other members of the ENA have welcomed the election of Herui. This is the stalemate the two organizations found themselves in. 

The ELF-RC is an organization that has played an important role in the coming about of the Alliance; and its presence in the Alliance was always considered a balancing factor.  Given the ugly experience of Eritrean organizational splits, the incident was disappointing to many Eritreans, especially to those who spent their life in exile struggling for political inclusion. 

We recognize the right of leaders to campaign for election because it is an integral part of democracy (Herui�s alleged campaign). We also recognize the right of entities to pull out of meetings in protest of a decision (ELF-RC withdrawal). If anything, we wish ELF-RC had actively campaigned to make its case that it is �the largest, most established organization whose membership reflects the diversity of Eritrea and that, compared to an individual and organization that barely joined the Alliance, it is infinitely more qualified to take the Alliance to the next stage�.  Characteristically, the ELF-RC was too dismissive of an �up-start� and, once again, it was upstaged and paid the price for its overconfidence. The �seyoum-bel� letter sent by the Alliance to the ELF-RC was unnecessary and had the undesired, if predictable, outcome of humiliating the ELF-RC and polarizing the two parties.  For an organization that used to operate based on consensus and common denominators, the ultimatum of the Alliance was not in keeping with the prevailing culture. However, we think what followed was ugly. It shows the weakness of the organizations in resolving contested issues. Still, we believe there is a possibility to resolve the problems if approached with sincere intentions.   

In a democracy, partisan politics and competition is a normal phenomenon. Parties form coalitions and dissolve them all the time. They negotiate and allocate government portfolios among themselves. Parties withdraw from governments. That is exactly what a multiparty politics is all about. However, such political maneuvers require perfecting stronger public relations, communication and organizational structures, which we believe are not satisfactorily done by the opposition groups yet. The public should continue to exert pressure on the opposition groups to take on active approaches that involve the citizens rather than follow the leaders� approach passively.   

We believe suspending the membership of the ELF-RC is not a solution; we also believe the rejection of a majority elected person is not right. An apology should not be a pre-requisite at all in bringing disagreeing parties together. We regret the fact that both parties chose to resolve their differences in a reproachful way not really considering what is at stake. Our proposed solution was going to start off by asking the two parties to apologize to the Eritrean people first because they both took many wrong decisions.  

The Awate Team held discussions on what our role should be with respect to the stalemate.  Our debate centered on two of our mission statements: (1) to provide timely and accurate information to Eritreans to enable them to make informed decisions and (2) to be agents for reconciliation.  We understood that if we chose the latter, we would be withholding information from our readers. Ultimately, we decided to offer our services as mediators to solve what we preferred to call �misunderstanding� with the decision that we would not be entangled in a process without a timetable.  To this end, we pleaded with the public to be calm and prevent escalation. We received many messages of support from the public encouraging*4  us to pursue the mediation. Equipped with this public encouragement, we held extensive discussions with different personalities including leaders of the ELF-RC and ENA. 

From the beginning, we were well aware that we do not posses any concessions to offer to both parties; and if they accepted our mediation, it would only be based on goodwill. It is with this stance that the Awate Team sent the two parties a letter of intent*1  that we required them to sign.  Both parties shied from committing themselves by signing the mediation agreement protocol. We received replies from Seyoum Ogbamichael (Chairman of the ELF-RC), expressing his reservation and fear that we might not be able to maintain our neutrality and advising us to �better spare yourselves such a pain�  (*2) and another reply from Hassen Assad (President of the Information office of the ENA), basically telling us that they appreciate our initiative and goodwill and that they will work indefatigably towards reconciling with the ELF-RC. (*3)     

Meanwhile, we have come to know that Sudanese and Ethiopian mediators were asked to reconcile the two parties. As an Eritrean entity, we had preferred to broker the reconciliation in order to limit the consultations within Eritrean circles and to avoid further complications of �foreign intervention.�  Regrettably, that wish was dashed. For now, we have reached what we consider to be the end of the road for us. With this message, we regret to inform the public that as of today, the Awate Team has withdrawn from the mediation process.  Nonetheless, we hope the two sides will resolve their differences in a short time. Until then, the Awate Team will do what it does best: bringing the issues to the fore and informing the public to make an educated decision. We are determined to remain a citizen based information media and that is what we will continue to do. 

Thank You
The Awate Team
November 25, 2002  

NB: Copies of our *1) Letter of Intent *2 & *3) the responses from the two parties and *4) excerpts from letters of encouragement from the public will be published soon.