In Eritrea, the reason for political activism since independence is legitimized by the following reasons.
a) Denial of History
b) Lack of legitimacy in power
c) Lack of the rule of law
d) Democratic Centralism
a) Denial of History: In 1991 immediately after the liberation of Eritrea by the EPLA (Eritrean Peoples Liberation Army) PIA (President Isayas Afewerki) declared the prohibition of political organization in Eritrea. (diHri hiGi Nai Wedibat Hashewye Yelen). By that decree he (PIA) took away the history of those who struggled under the banner of other organization for liberation of the country. By denying their history he denied their existence. A nationalist who aspired to be free from the yoke of a colonialist oppression, had to re-evaluate his own past and existence in-conjunction with the new realty, whether to disappear into oblivion or not. As Fredrick Nietzsche (a 19th Century German philosopher) on his article �on the use and abuse of history for life� said that �in three respects history belongs to the living person: it belongs to him as an active and striving person; it belongs to him as a person who preserves and admires; it belongs to him as a suffering person in need of emancipation�.
I should say no more, but for further clarification let me elaborate on the point. Universally humans are defined by their past. When their past is taken away from them or they are denied of it, they lose meaning in their lives.
History is not only written interpretation of the past, you see, existence itself is an interruption of history. The present undefined by the past does not exist. The present might not define the future, we do not know for sure. Do we? But we are sure of the past, especially the recent past, the twentieth century past. A simple illustration of these facts could be attested by asking a veteran EPLF fighter why he/she is willing to serve under the repressive regime? Their response almost always is that � Izome kullom bisSotNa zihaLefu� translated into � for the fulfillment of the aspiration of those martyred comrades�. Ask a veteran ELF member why he/she is still a member of ELF RC will give you the same answer it is because of the past. Is not that what we call history?
PIA�s declaration prohibiting political participation in Eritrea was to haunt him with disastrous consequences. It was a recipe for a disaster.
b) Lack of legitimacy in power: The victorious EPLF created a provisional government by decree. 13 years later it is the same provisional government and the same decree. In 1991 it was the domination of power by a single splinter organization that seemed illegitimate power. In 1995 it was a group of individuals who represent their own interest that seemed the illegitimate power. In 2003 it is an individual � the dictator� that holds power illegitimately.
c) Lack of the rule of law: Respect for the Rule of Law is the single and profound attribute that could be claimed by the Eritrean people. It could be surmised without further research that the source of this attribute could be their faith. Christianity was introduced in the 3rd century AD, while Islam was introduced since its inception before Arabia itself. Their fear of God compounded with their civil laws that go back for centuries (Higi-indaba and Sharia) makes the Eritrean people one of the few societies on earth to be ruled by the rule of law, uninterrupted for centuries until 1991. Since 1991 the country is governed by a decree. The Eritrean people in unison do not know what to expect, how to behave, what to do and not to do. There is even a joke that illustrates this assertion. It goes like this. The government�s laws are written, by a pencil in order to erase them and write a new one the next morning. Hitherto, confusion reigns.
d) Democratic Centralism: In 1994 on its 3rd Organizational Congress the EPLF changed its name to PFDJ and strengthened the position of the presidency by yielding the following powers;
Chapter 6 of the decree that formed the Eritrean government was upheld by the congress.The president is the leader of the Eritrean State.
1. The president represents the government inside and outside the country.
2. The president is commander in chief of the Eritrean Army.
3. In addition to number one to three the president also have the following powers
a. To safeguard the unity, peace and stability of Eritrea.
b. To control the implementation of domestic and international policies.
c. To control international agreement, to allow their acceptance and control their implementation.
d. To assign diplomatic missions.
e. To control and implement all decrees (awajat) of the Eritrean parliament, the Eritrean consultative chamber and his own and declare them through a Negarit gazette.
f. To control the duties and responsibilities of all government ministries, commissioners and governmental office holder.
g. To select Ministers, commissioners government office holder and commanders of the army.
h. To pardon
i. To give political asylum
In the year 2000 when the president was asked if he was wielding too much power as his critics have suggested? His reply was emphatic no. He said that the fact was that he should be criticized for not using all his power. He was absolutely right. Under the principle of democratic centralism, he was elected by his party�s congress that bestowed upon him an absolute power. The president has wielded a lot of power no contest on that, but if we are to measure his performance from 1 to 3 and all the additional powers, I know, you know (the reader) the Eritrean people know, and all international actors who interact with Eritrea know, even the president himself know that he has failed miserably.
Let�s illustrate by picking few of his powers and show his leadership.
a. To safeguard the unity, peace and stability of Eritrea.
Under his watch unity, peace and stability in Eritrea has deteriorated so much so that we have ethnic and religious armed groups. Regionalism is rampant. Read keleta Kidane�s piece on New Higdefite Culture in Tigrinia at Awate.com)
b. To control the implementation of domestic and international policies:
Eritrea is the most isolated nation on earth. It is in a war footing with its neighbors and in conflict with everybody else. Oh, except Libya that is.
c. To select Ministers, commissioners, government office holder and commanders of the army:
His vice president, his foreign minister, fisheries minister, and members of his military staff are in prison without charge for almost two years. Tens others from the economic office known as 09 are in prison for corruption.
d. To assign diplomatic missions.
Can the reader help me count the names of his ambassadors to Washington? Hags Gebrihiwet, Tesfai Girmazion, A/micael Kahsai, Birhane, Haggi, Semere, Girma, and who? One can safely say they have been replaced before they know how to get to U street leave alone the intricate corridors of Capitol Hill (the halls of the American legislative branch)
The Eritrean Liberation Front Revolutionary Council (ELF-RC) legitimized its existence and maintained itself in due course as a champion of democratic governance, national unity, harmonious neighborliness, stable and prosperous Eritrea. For every blunder the government committed, the ELF- RC could say we told you so, in reaction. We, the rank and file members of the organization believed on the principles of the organization to remedy the ills of the country by being true to what we preach at the cost of our daily livelihood, families, friends and personal ambitions.
Then comes a time, after the disastrous border war with Ethiopia the Eritrean government due to its own weakness and mistakes found itself alienated and vulnerable.
Change seems to be closer than ever. The change and prospect of political power opened a Pandora�s box in the ELF-RC.
The second regular meeting (after the 5th organization congress that was help in Gonder) of the Revolutionary Council replaced the Chairman of the organization (Ahmed M. Nasser by Syeoum O/Micheal) and the speaker of the RC (Dr. Habte by Ibrahim M. Ali). This was a new development, since; usually the chairman of the organization was not replaced before organizational congress. It was not, the replacement of Ahmed by Seyoum that created a problem, rather the reasons given to do so. The change of the chairman was needed because it was necessary to face the PFDJ dictatorship with a Christian at the helm of the organization. Per Weldeyesus Ammar�s Admission. (W/yesus Ammar a veteran of the ELF and one of the main power players of the ELF-RC). A new office for unity Affairs was created for Ahmed and a new position of official speaker of the organization was created for Dr. Habte.
In October 2002, with great anticipation the 5th regular meeting of The Alliance of Eritrean National Forces convened in Addis Abeba. The ELF-RC delegation was led by the new chairman (Seyoum) and included Ahmed. The meeting did not go well because of leadership issue.
Since the creation of the Alliance in March 1999 the leadership position was rotating among member organizations. By the way, The AENF started as an umbrella of 10 organizations and two prominent Eritreans. Its leadership (Secretariat of the alliance) was composed of two persons from each organization (the head of a member organization and a second person at the member organization�s selection). So far three organizations had served as head of the secretariat (ELF, ELF-RC, and the current chairman was from SAGEM Mr. Tewolde G/Sellasie). There were also two new organizations whose membership was accepted at the meeting. The Eritrean National Democratic Party led by Osman Abubeker and The Eritrea Cooperative Party let by Mr. Hurui Tedla Byru.
After agreeing on all issues discussed at the meeting, the election process for a new secretary general of the alliance began. Since a call for a structured permanent leadership preceded the meeting, the ELF-RC expected its chairman to be elected as the new Secretary General of the Alliance.
When Hirui�s election to the position of Secretary General of the ENA became imminent the ELF-RC delegation walked out of the election process accusing external interference in a �Sovereign Eritrean matters�. The newly elected Secretariat of the alliance suspended the ELF-RC�s membership.
The Rank and File �meseretat� of the ELF-RC in Europe met in Germany. They met to discuss the preparation of the annual festival at Kassel. They also discussed the new development that arose at the Alliance meeting in Addis Abeba. They called upon the leadership to re-examine what happened at the meeting and come with plausible explanation. I support the call for the leadership to be accountable because it was prudent to do so. By supporting the issues raised by the �meseretat�, all wel- wishers of the ELF-RC expected the leadership to take stock of its actions and respond without delay, to save the organization from disintegration.
From that date up to this day there has been nothing but name calling blaming the �meseretat� for been misguided, sub-nationalists, followers of Ahmed etc.
I would like to mention few of the inflammatory articles posted on the opposition web sites.
1. Fessehaie Hagos�s response to the open letter by Ahmed and Dr. Beyene.
Fessehaie (in Tigrinia) said his farewell to Ahmed and Beyene after discounting and denigrating their contribution in the ELF-RC. The point that interests me most is Fessehaie�s accusation of Ahmed�s activity in his brief visit to the USA in 2002. Fessehaie claimed that Ahmed was unwilling to meet members of his own organization while he kept himself busy meeting with Moslems, and that has something to do with what happened in the organization.
The fact is, when people heard that Ahmed M. Nasser was coming to the USA many concerned Eritreans, his old Friends and Family members were asking if there was a possibility to meet him. We asked the ELF-RC representative in the USA. Tesfai (Degiga) if there was a possibility. After reviewing his schedule, that is Ahmed�s schedule which was in the hands of the USA representative and his group. Tesfai gave the permission for Ahmed to meet with those who want to see him for few hours in a Saturday afternoon. We knew we could not take him from house to house in those few hours so I facilitated a meeting place at the Marriott hotel in Virginia. It was mostly personal exchange of friendly and brotherly conversation. Ahmed took the opportunity to inform and explain what the ELF-RC is struggling for. A united Eritrea People, Secular governance, justice for all under a constitutional and participatory government. When I facilitated the meeting it was with the understanding and knowledge of the organizations members and local chapter leaders. The only other request that came was from Atlanta, Georgia. Ahmed traveled to Atlanta and met Eritrean from all backgrounds and organizations and it was an informative and healthy meeting. Those who participated could not resist expressing their gratitude, admiring his sincerity and honesty. Some of them actually said if the Eritrean people are lucky Ahmed is the only person who can save the country from disaster.
Personally, I was surprised to receive inquiries from prominent Eritreans, to meet him for few minutes while we were in a demonstration in Washington DC. Again no one from the cadres of the organization where to be seen talking to him. When his flight time came closer it was I who gave him a lift to the airport.
Fessehie Hagos wandered about Ahmed�s meeting with some Moslem dignitaries and relatives. Now, I wonder why members of his organization did not call for a meeting or wanted to meet him in person? Could it have been because they knew he was going to be replaced by Seyoum at the upcoming second regular RC meeting or was it a matter of bigotry?
I also facilitated a secret meeting between Seyoum and an Eritrean Opposition group. There was an agreement to meet second time in my presence. The ELF-RC members sidestepped me on the second meeting. Was there something that they did not want me to hear? Could I accuse Seyoum for attending that meeting, outside his duty as a leader? No, I can�t. Because, I don�t know for Seyoum to be a bigot. But he has to see what kind of bigotry is surrounding him and decide for himself.
2. W/Yesus Ammar�s Religion and Ethnicity in Eritrean Politics I & II
The fifteen pages two part articles; despite of the length could be summarized in the following points.
1. That Woldeyesus Ammar is not a sectarian, because he knows history.
2. That Eritrean politics is never free of ethnicity and religion.
3. That Eritrean Moslems are victims of the PFDJ Government and their frustration is well understood.
4. It is better to face the PFDJ government by a Christian leader than a Moslem
5. The Eritrean Moslem Elite and nationalist are not doing their part in calming down the sectarian and religious sentiments among the Eritrean Moslems.
A simple historical interpretation disguised under an academic heading, great writing skill, and I know it all attitude, is not going to exonerate the writer. Mr. Ammar dispite of the influence and respect he wielded in the ELF-RC, he has broken one of the cardinal rules of the organization for judging his long time comrades not by their capabilities and performance but by their ethnic and religious backgrounds.
It is sad to hear and later to read his taboo breaking argument of Moslem Christian analysis. He might know it but it has become an inhibited discussing point to categorize individuals by their background and religion as wedebat and non-wedebat alla Embaye Melekin in his part of the ELF-RC.
In the Eritrean Liberation Front Revolutionary Council, we where taught that the first inhabitants of Eritrean are the Kunama and Baria. Later people from Sabean, Hamrite, Cushites, and Semite origins settled the land. Their mixture and respect to each other�s culture and identity gave us what we call Eritrea. Some in the last two hundred years might have come from Dembia, Tembien, Shire, Agew (Ethiopia) and as far as Chad (Tekarin) and Eastern shore of the Red Sea (Rashaida). What happened? In less than one year, the rank and file members of the organization are been attacked as sectarians that follow blindly. If you and your elk have started this ethnic politicking, which, I have witnessed with my own eyes, nothing will absolve MR. Ammar and his group from taking their responsibility in the ELF RC intra-organizational debacle. Recycling a depleted PFDJ tactics does not suite or fit the tradition of the ELF.
3. Gere Tewelde�s article � let us split with civility if it is inevitable�.
First let me say that Gebrezgiabiher Tewelde is a well-respected member of the Revolutionary Council. I have great respect for his contribution especially in those difficult days in the 1980�s when he held the position of organizational affairs of the organization. I was dumbfounded to see him depart from that position, because he has accomplished so much in reorganizing the former ELF members into ELF-RC. In the article mentioned above Gere alluded to Democratic Centralism and accused the grassroots of the organization as �ahmed followers�. With due respect sir, why not Beyene or Habte followers? Is not it politics?
As to the Democratic Centralism allusion the following is my take.
Politics is an art more than a science they say. It is an art of compromise. As a science it deals with peoples affairs whether it is on government level, or on Political Organization level. As an art it takes a great deal of compromise to execute the affairs of the people.
Except under Democratic Centralism that is. As a matter of personal opinion I thought Democratic Centralism as a Leninist Concept died after the disintegration of the former Soviet Union. Resurrected by the current posting in relation to the ELF RC intra-organizational crises it is breathing stench to get a life. Amanuel Habte�s definition is correct (for those who followed his article on Democratic Centralism on the official ELF RC website Nharnet.com) I have no disagreement on his definition except to identify it as a Marxist Leninist utility that was suppose to be dead and sealed in its burial for good.
For those who wonder what is it that I do not want to see it resurrect, here is my reason.
The Idea of Democratic Centralism might have originated in ancient Greece from Plato�s Philosopher King, a wise and just leader who must be followed to stability and Prosperity. An enlightened leader of the people, with the exception of women, slaves, and the poor. In the Marxist tradition it is the proletariat, the conscious member of the working class, the intelligentsia and progressive petty bourgeoisie. In short it is those enlightened few who must be followed in creating a Utopia. In other words it is the Central Committee members and the secretary general of the party who monopolize power to such extent that they become a new ruling class (Nomenclature) beyond the reach of the masses in short period of time. Once at the helm of power whether by nominal election, selection or conspiracy they cling to power until they become senile. They create circles in the square like a dartboard, of supporters and stooges to maintain their power. They kill, massacre, imprison without due process of law for minor infractions. If those to be persecuted are public figures they create Kangaroo courts (Special Courts like those in the former Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin) for public consumption. They need no proof of criminal act except that those accused did not respect the Democratic Centralism of the people�s party or that the accused is a reactionary, regionalist, opportunist or idealist (metaphysically).
In the traditional left wing political party all of them from the CPSU to EPRP EDLP.
They have the same structure. It is people�s Congress or Congress of the masses. The Executive Committee, the Secretary General, the Chairman of the Executive committee. Few of the advanced ones like the French and Italian Communist parties might have experienced extreme right, extreme left, Centrist groups. The others showed no mercy to a slight deviation from the Official Party Line.
Isayas�s PFDJ is very good example. In the 3rd Organizational Congress of the EPLF, he tricked his old comrades by proposing an infusion of new blood in the leadership meaning we need to elect promising young leaders. Then he dropped the old blood from the leadership (Romodan Mohamednur). The he offered ministerial positions to some of those he could not challenge him immediately, but they had to report to the new leaders (young blood). He was certain that some one inpatient would feel irritated to report to his junior and break dawn. They saved him time by requesting a meeting as a group. The party unleashed its running dogs to defame and denigrate them. Haile W/tenssaie, Mahmud Sherifo, Petros Solomon, who held ministerial positions and their comrades were incarcerated in September 2001. He used the terrorist attack in New York as a distraction to his actions.
The world knew and inquired of their where about to no avail. After accusing them of treason, regionalism, corruption and what have you. Recently, one of those young blood leaders was asked, what the government has in store for those prisoners? The response was �Bhigi Hzbawi Ginbar Kinferdom iNa� (the government will charge them under the rules of PFDJ). In other words it is Democratic Centralism that they are alluding to. But they are smart enough not to mention it. PFDJ as a leftist organization is one of the worst types. It is in the level of Poll Pot�s Khmer-Rouge. But its leaders so far have managed to foul the masses with the exception of the diplomatic core. The political professionals can sniff its nature with no effort. As far as they played the game safely no one could have raised eyebrows. They failed not because they wanted to, but became victims of their choice and they are leading the country into abyss.
The 3rd ELF-RC meeting, the meeting that was supposes to resolve the intra-organizational crises, decided to reorient the �meseretat� on Democratic Centralism.
Simply put the meseretat were to be told, to shut up and follow. I saw no hope for an argument but dismay. I am not against discipline. I know I am not. My understanding is that an organization is composed of three elements. People, Goals and Principles. The Goals define the type of organization. Its inertia defines its characteristics.
The ELF-RC is a National Democratic Front that works for democratic governance in Eritrea. As a front it does not claim ideological purity. Its inertia is composed of Eritreans from different socio-economic strata and different ethnic- and socio-cultural background. The diversity and its ability to harmonize the divergent interests was its quality. It�s success extraordinary by any standard, was due to its collective leadership that went an extra mile to lead by consensus. If one or more than one person try to impose his will on others, then you want have an organization. No one could impose himself on this type of an organization in the name of democratic centralism. If there happen to be a majority and minority, compromise is the key to reach a consensus. If the majority insists on its right of domination there is nothing left for the minority but capitulation? That is what they call tyranny of the majority.
The rank and file members of the organization have rights and obligations. In the ELF-RC members have rights and obligations. Some of the senior cadres the Welde Ammar�s have only rights no obligations. They just have to show up. The others have obligations but no rights. Basically this misunderstanding fueled by personal egos is the problem of the ELF RC. When some members have obligation with out rights and others have rights without obligations or limitation. The relationship becomes Master-Slave relationship rather than a congregation of persons with mutual goals.
Glory to our Martyrs
The Eritrean People Deserve Better, much Better!!!!!!!!!