The Roadmap to democracy in Eritrea

By Fesseha Nair

 This is an article to share with you my experience on mapping the road to democratization in Eritrea.

 Dictators either persona, or military, internal and external can only be defeated by defiant, mobilized citizens. In the Eritrean case, the strategy of defeating the dictatorship still is not clear because we have not organized  defiant and mobilized citizens inside Eritrea.

Those who claim themselves political organizations are just engaged in in-fighting. The Eritrean Democratic Alliance established 10 years ago couldn’t organize its people and is unable to shake the dictatorship in Eritrea.

 Looking back to the collapse of dictators in Latin American, Europe and Africa since 1980 and the situation of dictatorship in Eritrea one can see that still we have not used the means of non-violence or violence except accusing each other and creating obstacles so that people lose confidence on the struggle against the dictatorship.

There is a confusion and distortion between the non-violent and violent.  Non-violence does not mean pacifism but is a struggle or an action employed to defeat the dictatorship. The political organizations who claim non-violence have never employed all their resources but still they are in confusion and distortion.

Similarly, even those who claim all means have not allocated their resources and fight the dictatorship in Eritrea. Altogether, the Eritrean opposition is in confusion and distortion.

The Eritrean national conference for democratic change held in Addis has defined and cleared this confusion and distortion so that EDA/ Eritrean Democratic Alliance has built a partnership with the civil society organizations and associations of the youth and women to fight the dictatorship and build a democratic Eritrea.

In this article, I would like to discuss on the road map that can guide us to defeat the dictatorship and build a democratic Eritrea. The focus of this article is how to defeat the current regime and prevent the rise of a new one.

  1. The pre – transitional period or the time of struggle against the dictatorship
  2. The period after the fall of the dictatorship to democracy
  3. Consolidating democracy and good governance


  1. The pre- transitional period


The past ten years of struggle against the dictatorship in Eritrea have exposed the brutality of the repressive regime in Eritrea but has not brought an end to the ruling. Current situation in Eritrea is much worse and is deteriorating every time. The Eritrean people is living in extreme deadly life, facing harassing and persecution, deliberately weakened, subordinated unable to work for their livelihood. They are living under terror and shoot to kill policies. What is to be done in such circumstances? Reacting to these brutalities, torture, disappearances and killings need organizing the population with all the capacities they muster.

The Eritrean people inside and those who are in diaspora most of them has no confidence or the ability to face the dictator in Eritrea and save the Eritrean people. Many place their hope on external forces. Waiting outside saviour has its own problems therefore it is better to avoid it.

Since dictatorships exist because of internal power, we must first face this truth and our first tasks must be;

–         strengthen the oppressed population themselves in their determination, self –confidence, and resistance skills,

–         strengthen the independent civil society organizations and institutions of the oppressed people,

–          create a powerful internal resistance that can defend the people,

–         design a wise grand strategic plan for the liberation and implement it skilfully.

The pre –transition period will not be simple it requires great strategic skills, organization, and planning. Above all, it will require power. The Eritrean National Congress for Democratic Change must come with a grand strategy to destroy the dictatorship, institute organizational structure and capacity building.

Formulating grand strategy


Assessing the situation of the Eritrean people under the brutal dictatorship is crucial to formulate the grand strategy. How can we muster sufficient confidence of the people? How can we strengthen the people to challenge the dictatorship?  What institutions of the people can be regained from the dictators’ control? What institutions must be created by the opposition? How can organizational strength of the democratic forces be developed? How can the forces for democratic change be trained? What resources( financial, equipment,,…etc) will be required throughout the struggle? What types of symbolism( Peace, Democracy, Human rights, and rule of law) can be most effective in mobilising the population? What kind of actions and in what stages could the sources of power of the dictator be incrementally weakened and severed?

The strategy to win the dictator must be drafted and presented at the coming congress.

As the victory approaches the democratic forces must also prepare build institutions of their own to make the transition smooth.

The road map drafters commissioned by the national conference for democratic change must draft a grand strategic plan for bringing down the dictatorship and establishing a democratic system after the fall of the dictatorship.

  1. The period after the fall of the dictatorship to democracy


This period after the downfall of the dictator need careful precautions to prevent the rise of new dictators. The road map drafters must prepare the serious political, economic, and social problems after the fall of the dictator. This period must provide the opportunities of peace and security of the population and need the cooperation of the whole people.  The road map drafters must clearly prepare how the democratic forces avoid the forces of the old regime not to pre-empt their victory and cut off the process of building democracy in Eritrea.

Interim -Constitution drafting


The Eritrean constitution of 1997 and the 1952 are not appropriate constitutions to manage the current conflicts in Eritrea. In designing their constitution, citizens must identify their fundamental values they believe in and the sort of institutions they want to be governed by.

This may involve inclusive and participatory national deliberation resulting in agreements that establish the country’s basic law. Main processes in constitution making includes,

–     political negotiation,( did this happen during the 1997)

–      legal drafting,

–     popular participation and implementation of the 1997 constitutional arrangements, ( How was the popular participation?) Why not implemented? Was it people’s constitution or political elites? Discuss.


The constitution of 1997 and 1952 were simply political elite document drafted by legal experts who were not independent but enforced by political leaders.

The congress must adopt a constitution draft that can serve as interim from the fall of the dictatorship to the formation of Constituent Assembly. Eritrea has no constitution under the dictator and the constitution that was drafted under the order of the dictator was not in its spirit and process democratic, therefore it is necessary that the coming congress of the forces for democratic change draft an interim constitution. The interim constitution can only serve up to the formation of Constituent Assembly is elected by all the Eritrean people’s representatives. In the interests of the Eritrean multi-ethnic and multi-religious and culture and avoiding dictatorship, the constitution must preferably be one that establishes a federal system with significant prerogatives reserved for the provincial and local governments.

A constitution of centralized and unitary state lead to dictatorship and internal conflicts as we now see it in our country.

The congress must debate on the state structure after the fall of the dictator.  The draft must set the purpose of the transitional government, limits on government powers, the means and timing of elections and party formation laws based in the constitution.

  1. Constitutional period


This period is after the interim period is ended. This period is when the Constituent Assembly in cooperation with the constitutional lawyers draft constitution drafting and constitution making)constitution drafting is the legal and technical aspect of the constitution and constitution making is when the draft is discussed and validated by the people. The draft must be discussed and endorsed by the people in all parts of Eritrea. Similarly, the interim –constitution draft must also be discussed by all those who will endorse it in the congress.

The National Commission for democratic change must prepare from now the main agenda and issues for discussion to the congress:

The main agenda must be

  1. Road map from dictatorship to democracy/ grand strategy, organisational structure and capacity building
  2. Charter drafting
  3. Interim-constitution drafting
  4. Defence policy
  5. Institutions building( Political, economic, social and cultural)


Issues for discussion

–         Modes of transition

–         State and religion

–         The role of Constitution making in Eritrea

I think some professionals must be given an assignment to present papers at the conference at least on the issues of constitutionalism and constitution making in Eritrea to help us with academic enlightening.  This can help us in our arguments when making decisions.

Outcomes of the Congress


  1. 1.     Adopt charter
  2. 2.     Adopt interim constitution
  3. 3.     Adopt policies( political , economic, social and cultural) constitutional bodies.
  4. 4.     Defence policies
  5. 5.     Establish interim authority/ Eritrean National Democratic/ Council Congress/ENDC and alternative government
  6. 6.     Congress statements



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