The following was presented at the workshop organized for Eritrean opposition groups by the German NGO, The Felsberg Institute for Education and Academic Research. EYSC was represented by two of its Board Members, Miriam September and Wedeb Tedros. The questions were posed by the organizers before the event to all invited organizations. At the end of the workshop, an agreement was reached and a Communique issued.
Dear representatives of invited parties,
EYSC would like to express its gratitude for this special occasion. Not only because we are appreciative of the fact that we are able to participate, but because we whole heartedly believe that this initiative addresses one of the most important milestones Eritrea’s opposition entities have yet to make- and that is: Effectively preparing for a transitional period in Eritrea post PFDJ.
Recognizing the huge importance of this undertaking, our organization added a call for “swift transition to a democratic and constitutional governance” as a central demand in our vision document in 2013. As one of the most-action oriented Eritrean opposition groups we further – and very consciously – shifted our action-focus from exposing PFDJ to empowering change agents inside Eritrea in that same year.
Given the current situation in Eritrea, the dwindling and increased dysfunctionality of the PFDJ regime, and now growing rumors about Isayas Afewerki’s poor state of health, the pressing urgency for such an effort has never been greater than today.
Being well aware of the fact that everyone present today knows about the dire situation in Eritrea and having had the opportunity to introduce EYSC during the first day of this gathering, we would like to keep this introduction short, and focus on the key questions and tasks at hand.
a) Transition: – How do you expect a future transition in Eritrea to take place? – What is your standpoint on a peaceful, or a military solution, respectively? In your organisation’s point of view: what should be the “starting point” or the fundament, on which Eritrea’s political, economic, military and societal reconstruction should be based upon?
For EYSC, it is paramount that we do not focus on change or the dismantling of a dictatorial regime only. Much more important for us as a grassroots based movement of young Eritreans is our willingness to demonstrate an absolute commitment towards a non-violent transition. A transition that has the ability to pave a fertile ground not only for a new leadership, but for one that is also guided by strong democratic principles.
If indeed not merely regime change is our goal, but the replacement of a system that has brutalized the people of Eritrea for far too long by one that has democratic values at its core – then this conviction comes with certain conditions and parameters.
Democracy starts with a political mindset and certain prerequisites that enable it to grow from seed to fruit.
These prerequisites are:
- Applying a political direction that accommodates the values and change we want to see. The promotion of a peaceful solution and transition must therefore be adhered to at all times. We do not support a violent solution for two reasons: It can quickly spiral out of control creating chaos and huge loss of lives and the promotion of violence does not provide a fertile ground for a democratic building process. In fact, more often than not, it undermines it.
Having said that, we regard the Eritrean Defence Forces – largely as part and parcel of the people. The EDF consist by and large of young conscripts, former freedom fighters, and low ranking army officers, who are suffering under the regime as much as everyone else. We are of the opinion that those entities would potentially play a vital role in expressing their loyalty and support to the people and help advance and safeguard a peaceful and orderly transition towards democratic governance. That expectation should be immediately promoted and communicated in Eritrea through various media channels to increase awareness.
- Building a democratic system, a cohesive society, intellectual pluralism and legal institutions is contingent upon a nation’s ability to remain master of its own destiny. We believe that it is imperative that the agenda of defeating the dictatorship and subsequently rebuilding the administrative functions remains under the total control of Eritreans. Our legitimate cause deserves help and support from the international community, but decisions are best left for Eritreans to decide independently. There is a major and stark difference between help and interference. While we unequivocally reject any outside forces interfering in our national matters, we do acknowledge the need to obtain material, moral, and political support from our neighboring countries and the international community at large. However, it is important that such alliances are mutually beneficial, strategic and far sighted.
- A transition towards democratic governance cannot be promoted or successfully led when key roles in that young process are held by the very people who have become the symbols of the regime that has brutalized the people of Eritrea; those who are up to this hour sitting in the driving seat, calling the shots – literally. Those who are designing, ordering, and committing thousands of crimes against the people of Eritrea on a mass level cannot be expected to be part of a transitional system and constitutional governance that will expose their crimes.
Democratic governance should be led by people who believe in democratic values and who have demonstrated that commitment or transition in one form or another. We recognize that it can be a challenge to draw the line, but a democratic building process can most certainly not come into fruition through people who have stamped on these values in every way possible causing immense pain and destruction. Nor would these personalities have the moral right to play an active role in that process.
So to summarize the last points, the wider context for a swift and peaceful transition in its many stages needs to be clear. It includes:
1) Non-violent means
2) An effort led independently by Eritreans
3) It should be free from the influence of the current regime’s henchmen
Further, and most importantly, we also believe that the transitional plan requires an approach that is marked by several anticipated stages with a clear set of timely priorities. For example, the planning towards the establishment of peace, order, reassurance, an emergency response system, and a functioning media arm to support the above, would be of immediate importance while other less urgent questions and policies could be further carried out by the transitional government once certain stability, supply of vital livelihood necessities and emergency assistance, and mutual cooperation among political entities has been established.
The “starting point” or the fundament, on which Eritrea’s political, economic, military and societal reconstruction should be based upon should be Eritrea’s constitution of 1997. This ratified but never implemented document could serve as an ‘interim constitution’ and until some sort of normality and stability have been achieved.
The transition towards which the Eritrean opposition should work from this day forward should include three main stages:
ONE: An Immediate Interim Period
Priorities may include:
- Immediate release of all political, religious, and unlawfully held prisoners. This immediate act will serve both as a symbol and moral duty.
- The continuing functioning of government organs
- Emergency supplies from the international community for the people of Eritrea
- Ability to maintain law and order
- Ensuring sovereignty and territorial integrity of Eritrea
TWO: Establishment of a transitional government with a clear deadline. Priorities may include:
- Mandate and structure of government
- Implementation of the 1997 constitution
- End of military service beyond 18 month, demobilisation and re-integration
- Truth and Reconciliation efforts
- Independent advisory groups, observers, and mediators
- Announcement and preparation for Eritrea’s first free election.
THREE: Eritrea’s first free and democratic election
b) Political Parties: – How does your organization want to promote its political program inside and outside of Eritrea? – How is your organization preparing for acting as a political party in a future post-Isayas Eritrea?
Currently, EYSC is not a political party. It is a grassroots based civic organisation whose main goal is to ensure that the country’s transition to democratic governance is peaceful . However, as a strongly action-oriented organisation whose board, members, and followers are largely made up of young Eritrean men and women under the age of 40 educated in Eritrea and the Diaspora and who largely effectively use social media and technology in an increasingly fast changing world, we believe we have a unique contribution to make and an active role to play towards both promoting democratic governance and reconciliation post-dictatorship Eritrea. What is your organisation’s standpoint of the role of ethnicity in a future post-Isayas Eritrea? – What is your organisation’s standpoint of the role of languages and education in a future post-Isayas Eritrea? EYSC is in favour of a parliamentary democracy. It is a system of democratic governance of a state in which the executive branch derives its democratic legitimacy from, and is held accountable to, the legislature (parliament). The executive and legislative branches are thus interconnected. We believe that after a huge misuse of power and lacking respect for the democratic law, this kind of state structure would increase trust, accountability, and interaction.
c) State Structure: – What kind of state structure does your organisation promote? – What is your organisation’s standpoint of the role of religion in a future post-Isayas Eritrea?
Regional, Religious and Ethnic Demands
We believe administrative regions, religious associations and ethnic groups have the right to peace, security and equality. The Eritrea we are aspiring to help build should be one that respects the sanctity of religious doctrine and one that does not compromise the interest of one religion, region, or any other group at the expense of the other. Freedom to religion should be a given. However, in order to build a peaceful, prosperous, and united nation, we believe that the interim government urgently needs to promote Eritrean nationalism, so Eritreans can re-build their country and lives together as Eritreans first and foremost. To safeguard that unity and national stability, there should be a constitutional separation between religion and state.
The discussion or promotion of a federal government based on ethnic lines is in our view not only difficult to implement in a small country of just about five million people, but above all bears a very serious risk to result in major frictions and division among a people who need to redefine national identity, reconcile, re-build trust, confidence, and a nation.
Further, the building blocks of democracy are free citizens who take responsibility for their rights. We have learned from the past decades that collectivism leads to conformity and the surrendering of individual freedoms. We therefore believe, that all people are born with undeniable rights which supersede that of any group, association, or government.
d) Military: – What is your organisation’s standpoint on the role of the Eritrean military in a future post-Isayas Eritrea? – Will your organisation promote a downsizing of the army? – Will your organization promote an end of the National Service?
Securing Eritrea’s interests, borders, and the safety of its citizens is important and shall be the responsibility of Eritrea’s national army post PFDJ. However, it is finally time that Eritrea moves away from military conflicts. Instead, the new government should run a politics of diplomacy and mutual economic relations with its neighbours, in particular Ethiopia and the Sudan, but also within the wider region.
It is equally important that Eritrea’s youth finds its way back as fast as possible into class rooms, universities, employment, and business and away from the military service by which is was held hostage for decades with serious implications on Eritrea’s social make-up.
For those reasons, we believe the process of demobilization should start during the interim period – as a sign of best intention to bring the youth home and to re-install hope, trust, and respect. The Interim Government would then have the responsibility to gradually continue that process, without endangering the country’s ability to defend itself.
This will go hand-in-hand with an end of the perpetual National Service as people have come to know it. National service can be cut back again to 18 months and be conducted in a manner that spreads pride, not fear or intimidation. In order to bring the youth back into the towns and cities and to avoid frustration and unrest among them, the demobilisation of the army needs to be carried out alongside the development of new opportunities for education, apprenticeship, business, and special youth projects until full re-integration and rehabilitation is concluded.
e) PFDJ: – What is your organisation’s standpoint on the role of the PFDJ in a future post-Isayas Eritrea? – Are you willing to negotiate and/or cooperate with parts of the PFDJ in case a change comes from within?
The PFDJ has been a symbol of fear, destruction, and oppression. Thousands and thousands have suffered in the hands of the PFDJ regime and its iron fist, in fact hardly anyone in Eritrea has been spared. Many thousands and thousands have fled Eritrea as a result. The level of pain and suffering has not even yet fully be revealed and even post PFDJ the pain will continue for the majority of families and individuals who have experienced loss, intimidation, torture, lengthy imprisonment, and who have witnessed crimes, and brutal violations committed against themselves or loved ones.
It must be understood that the PFDJ (People’s Front for Democracy and Justice) is not a political party but a tool of intimidation of the dictatorial regime. It does not follow its own National Charter, never had an election or formal meetings. We expect, after the removal of the tyrant, this tool will dissolve itself. If change comes from within, it will because the change agents inside Eritrea have finally rejected this tool of intimidation. The interim period should be based on truth, reconciliation, justice and looking towards the future of our country.
There are three more important issues we want to mention:
1) Education and economic development
We believe that education and economic development should be two top policy priorities for the interim government: the set up of both a functional educational system and a sound strategy towards economic development are absolutely vital to re-integrate Eritrea’s youth, military, and people at large back into normal life, to create jobs, to groom the leaders of a healthy society for tomorrow, to reduce poverty, increase opportunity, and jumpstart Eritrea’s broken economy. That work needs to start immediately and is of undeniable importance to the security, stability, economic progress, and spirit of the people.
2) Women and youth inclusion
At EYSC, we believe that the pro-active participation of women in the transitional period and the rebuilding of Eritrea is of utmost importance that many have not sufficiently recognized. Women have for example played a vital and very successful role in various leadership positions in the reconciliation and new development efforts of several African countries such as Rwanda, South Africa, and Liberia. More Eritrean women need to be involved at that level.
We also believe in the young generation of Eritrea, both inside the country and in the Diaspora. Many have knowledge, skills, connections, ambitions, and drive that are of great need. Again, several African countries had huge success with putting the young generation in charge of certain leadership positions across society. The youth is generally more open, adaptable, responsive, and in sync with the global community – all attributes which will be important to a faster and lasting progress in Eritrea.
So when we talk about inclusiveness post PFDJ, let us very pro-actively include women and youth in all aspects, they make up the majority of Eritrea’s population and it will positively enrich the process.
3) Reconciliation & healing
The promotion and active integration of reconciliation and healing efforts need to be considered at all steps of the way. The interim government needs to see the effort as a top priority and as part of its goal to increase security in the country. Strong reconciliation efforts in a broken nation will achieve more than armed entities.
We therefore advice for separate reconciliation committees to be set up, which are in charge of related campaigns and projects. Communities, elders, and women should play a key role in a nation-wide effort that promotes healing, forgiveness, trust, and the joint work towards new democratic values and prosperity in Eritrea in all segments of the society.
In closing, we call upon all Eritreans to engage in a politics of hope and diplomacy strongly rallying around democratic principles – both in theory and above all in practice. This way, we are convinced Eritrea can make it and in due course, will brightly shine.
November 13, 2015