Why Decentralisation and democratic governance in Eritrea?

By Fesseha Nair

 Today’s dominating issue is the restructuring of the Eritrean state. People want to change the fundamental characteristics of the dictatorial state. What are the contents of the state restructuring project? There are no surveys conducted but public opinions show that some in favour of federalism and some others favour unitary state with decentralization of power.

Decentralisation and governance have been the central issues of discussion in the opposition camp. The polity in Eritrea during the colonial period was a unitary one under one central government. But in traditional Eritrea, the ruling system was decentralised with its chieftains and other governing bodies.

What is decentralisation? Decentralisation is the devolution of power or delegating functions to bodies at lower levels. Decentralisation can be administrative or democratic. Administrative decentralisation aims at efficiency by delegating functions to bodies at lower levels, especially through bureaucratic structures.

Democratic decentralisation means the devolution of powers regularly elected locals bodies, which have maximum autonomy as institutions of local self-government. In the democratic decentralisation the accountability is to the people. It is the people who decide. It is constitutional, while administrative decentralisation accountability is to the higher authority. It is not the people who decide but the higher authority. It can only function by the permission of the higher authority. It can be removed at any time.

This article examines why the issue of polity- kind of government is important issue is because the root cause of conflict is the formation of state and governance.


How is the society and the state organized in the post-independent Eritrea

Most Eritreans and especially the self –serving political elites will never discuss on state structure and formation. For them this subject is taboo but conflicts come from the formation of state in the society- how it is organized and structured is very important and helps solve the internal conflicts. In most countries, the state is the most powerful organization and control of the state provides access to economic power and the major means of the reproduction of the capital. The cause of conflict in Eritrea is state power. This conflict can be solved restructuring the state.

 In this article, I would like to discuss ways of devolving power and good governance as means of solving conflicts in Eritrea. 



What is governance? It is the exercising of political, economic and administrative power in the management of public affairs. Good governance is managing the public affairs in a transparent, accountable, participatory in decision making and equitable in its distributive policies showing due regard for human rights/ citizen rights and the rule of law. It embodies every aspect of the state’s dealings with civil society, its role in establishing a climate conductive to economic and social development and its responsibility for the equitable division of resources.

The Eritrean national liberation movements have no idea of what kind of government and state structure would they form after the liberation of the country. They were only imbued by Marxist-Leninst theories and far away from organizing the society in a structure that can guarantee them peaceful coexistence, democracy and development.

Pre –colonial Eritrean was characterized by its self- governing village communities.

These village chiefs were looking after the affairs of the people in their own communities.

With the advent of colonialism, the self-ruled villages remained unchanged and were called the little republics of Eritrea. With the advent of British rule, the village communities were replaced by some constituted administrations and the cast system that was dividing the society in categories were gradually abolished providing equal rights to all residents.

As the long period of Italian colonialism has never organised the Eritrean people to promote its political, economic and social developments but organized them as its soldiers and cheap labour for its colonial interests, the PFDJ government is practising the same method of organizing the Eritrean people as its soldiers/ askaries. The regime in Eritrea has failed to establish a state that accommodates multi-ethnic and multi religious Eritrean society.

Why decentralization?

Decentralization is the latest model of power sharing remarked by its accountability and transparency of running the public affairs. Accountability in a sense that it functions as responsive ( meeting the demands of the people) effective(  meets the objectives) and efficient.( allocate national resources equitably).

Decentralization brings government closer to the people and makes the citizens participate and exert influence on the decisions that affect their lives. The political process becomes more tangible and transparent and makes people involved. It creates more open political system ensuring division of powers that counteracts the monopolisation of power by certain elite groups like that of our Eritrea today.

Decentralization promotes participation and improves the controlling function of the government organs and levels.

Its political inclusiveness has an important conflict reducing effect and is more accessible to minority groups in their attempt to influence politics. It can be also an effective means of enhancing state capacity. ( Bhattacharyya, 1994)

Decision makers who are rooted in the locality and knowledgeable of the conditions on the ground are better placed to formulate concrete policies than functionaries from the centre.

Decentralisation gives decision makers a considerable room for different initiatives so that it can function as an open market. It is from these perspectives that decentralisation is preferred than centralised political and administrative structures that breed authoritarian governments in the developing countries.

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Posted by on Jul 30 2007 Filed under Articles. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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