National Conference or National Dialogue for democratic Change

A Paradigmatic Shift

By Fesseha Nair

The Eritrean national Conference for democratic change which has taken place in Addis from 31st  july to 9th August 2010 has realised the need for a new paradigm shift or new model of working after assessing that our old  methods  have no longer solved our problems adequately. In case of our country’s problem, we have reached a stage that the present political organizations cannot themselves solve the problem without the participation of the people, therefore, they now agreed to build a partnership to win the dictatorship and build a democratic Eritrea where all citizens rights are respected without segregation.

 The conference in Addis was an opportunity to deal with these unsolved problems. The conference has developed a process for identifying the knowledge or skills needed to solve problems or carry out projects. Three levels of change were identified:

–          Strategic level- where the needs which legitimise  the opposition forces, what they ought to be doing, the resources in the form of competence, finance etc which the organization is in control, and the will,  motivation or vision of the opposition. Basic national principles were discussed and laid as foundations of the struggle.

–          Working methods- organisational structure, political and public mobilisation, media and financing were mapped.

–          Operative level- the national commission for democratic change has already announced its project life cycle by defining its goals, specifications, tasks and responsibilities and is in planning the schedules, budgets, resources , risks and staffing and later executing and delivering at the final life cycle of the project.

The conference has evolved or generated a partnership between the EDA and those non-EDA political organizations, Civil society organizations, Independents, Youth and Women Associations. The contracting parties committed themselves to the respect and promotion of all human rights, the application of democratic principles/ without no Midiskal[1] as practised by PFDJ and later by the EPDP leadership, and the consolidation of the rule of law and recognized the importance of transparency in their struggle against the dictatorship and in the aftermath of the fall of the dictatorship.

The opening and expansion of this dimensions in the partnership is a reflection of a new era in the Eritrean politics, which is profoundly demanded by the oppressed Eritrean people at this time under a brutal tyranny.

The unique contractual nature of the conference outcome is the introduction of partnership guided by the national principles that guarantee all rights and freedoms for all Eritrean citizens without segregation.

Much of the debate and negotiations at the conference workshops were the essentials of national unity and the injustices that are the main causes of our disunity. The conference focused on this issue and formulated the essential elements of national unity such as:

–          It should be voluntary

–          Unity in diversity

–          Sharing common interests

–          Mutual trust

–          Free and fair competition

–          Enhancing regional and international interests

The conference has chosen or opted the phrase “ Democratic Principles” instead of “ Democracy” and in its charter emphasized the universally recognized principles that can underpin the organization of democratic state that guarantee the enjoyment of rights and fundamental freedoms after the fall of the dictatorship in Eritrea.

Using the term democracy is not enough but what important is the democratic principles. The conference has reaffirmed that a “state building” after the fall of the dictatorship must be based on a democratic system that enables human rights to flourish in a climate of respect and recognition of the different cultures making up the country by basing political power on the will of the people and every individual’s voluntary contribution to the life of the community.

The Addis conference has initiated a new political dialogue that is both inclusive and participatory and has eased crises. It has developed a new political culture by persuading groups to participate more actively in the political decision making process and by emphasizing compromise and negotiations.  It has provided a framework for future works by establishing national commission to prepare a national congress inside one year. It has formed a conflict prevention forum or commission representing the diverse political and civil society organizations with its guidelines formulating new political institutions, such as public mobilisation, strategic media campaign, financial resources and organizational development.

The conference has stressed the need of international support in Eritrea

The conference has discussed the international community’s approach to building democracy in Eritrea. The conference has seen the regional and international perspectives and urged the these organizations( IGAD, AU, EU,  and many others) to provide a framework , as well as supporting structures and mechanisms for strengthening democratization process in Eritrea.

The conference has assured that democracy is not an easy task but requires skilled leadership and an active and vibrant civil society and functioning political institution and most importantly – a significant degree of time: These are the scarce commodities of our opposition camp, because of these scarcities the commission was composed of full time personnel and half time to run the tasks of the project assigned to them by the conference.

The conference ascertained that the struggle from dictatorship to democracy requires the fundamental harnessing of the ordinary people behind democratic values-values based, above all, on the people themselves being the ultimate arbiters of their political leadership and their country’s destiny not based on the elite political leaders.

Why paradigm shift

The conference has assessed the traditional practices of political organizations that couldn’t solve the problems but increased them and introduced key practices in partnership relations.


The conference has presented a practical working model based on national ideas where this working model leads to a concrete plan of action related to all areas of development in the struggle against the dictatorship and build democratic institutions. These partnership relations are based on mutual trust, shared goals, open communication and joint project team like the formation of the commission. The traditional practices like suspicion and distrust where each political organization is wary of the motives for action by the other, and where communications are structured and guarded, where objectivity is limited due to fear of reprisal and lack of continuous improvement opportunity have been discarded. The conference has laid a road map to enhance trust and build a strong opposition. Traditional method of mistrust and suspicion was replaced by mutual trust and shared goals. Then, such changes in the old methods and creating new models of work are indicators of paradigmatic shift is on the process.


[1] Midiskal is a new word used by Essayas to defame the good name of his critics. The person who is in “ midiskal” is abhorred and hated by his supporters and all his human and fundamental rights are violated in the organization. In other words,  it is a human rights violation.

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