Reconciliation or Rehabilitation?

When this page was constructed, it had specific ambition. That was to open a culture of a civilized dialogue among Eritreans and bridge the differences of opinion. Based on that principle, we are introducing a series of articles under the heading of “Alphabet of Eritrean politics” written by Mr. Omar Jaber. It’s our hope that this will open a new phase of dialogue. This page is open to all interested Eritreans and non-Eritreans to take part and enrich the dialogue.

     And we would like to thank Mr. Omar Jaber for taking the bold initiative and entertain his views clearly to the public acknowledge, that a writer with such caliber and magnitude will draw plenty of attention. Moreover, it’s imperative, his views is valued very much by many Eritreans who are in touch with the Eritrean political dynamics.

The editor


Reconciliation or Rehabilitation?


by Mr Omer Jaber Omer 21-09-2004

The mood of societies – as of individuals – has a cyclic rhythm. After independence, an interval of lassitude came where vitality declined and the zest for creation seemed to be lost. What is needed is a renewal of conviction, a new sense of collective purpose. It is a frightening phenomenon when objective difficulties increase without a simultaneous rise in the spirit necessary to surmount them.

It is true that values, heritage and the positive outcome of the revolution experience can be considered as a defence mechanism and can act against erosion and decay of the state. But it is equally true that material necessities and objective reality cannot be challenged with values and morals alone.

That is why I am trying in this series to address ‘basic facts’ of Eritrean politics.

We might agree with Dr. Bereket Habte Selassie in his conclusion of a ‘Grammar of Eritrean Politics’ when he said: past imperfect – future indefinite, but the important question is not ‘how’ everything happened but why it happened?

The significant difference between the two questions is to learn from our experience and be able not to repeat our mistakes. It is fundamental that we use one ‘language’ to understand and analyse our history and before going far in exploring the ‘grammar’ and ‘elequency’ of that common reading, we should agree on the ‘alphabet’ we have to use.

I am not addressing the governing party (PFDJ) because it had already taken its option and decided what to do and where to go.

On paper, the party recognized eight ethnic groups, in reality and on ground they promoted and recognized one ethnic group: Christian highlanders.

On the other hand, I am not targeting the opposition organizations because their programs say what the majority of Eritreans want to happen, but the composition, social and cultural polarization of those organizations send a different message and keep us in the dark about the hidden part of the iceberg.

In fact I am trying to communicate with ‘ordinary’ Eritreans from the different walks of life, from the whole social fabric of the country, all sectors that represent the true diversity of our people.

During the last few years, I was trying to discuss issues of common concern to all Eritreans: Co-existence – National unity – Democracy – Justice and equity. What happened was that only Eritrean Muslims were following what I wrote simply because I was writing in ‘Arabic’. I was trying to tell Christians highlanders about the ‘concerns’ of their Muslim brothers and how they – the Muslims – understand the concept of Coexistence.

The question is:

            Have we ever – as Eritreans – shared the same dream?

Before Italian colonization, we did not even have a unified geographical entity (1890).

After the second world war, the challenges – internal and external – came forward and the relationship between Christian highlanders and Muslims experienced its ups and downs.

Phase I – Self-determination

  • The majority of Christian highlanders guided by their elite and pressured by the church looked to the south ‘Ethiopia’ searching for a ‘protective mother’.
  • The majority of Muslims directed their eyes to the west and across the Red sea trying to restore lost historical ties and hoping that they might find at least moral support.
  • But at the end of the day, the external factors decided the fate of the whole nation (USA – Ethiopia – UN).

Although geography shaped that social and cultural diversity and the division appeared as being between highlands and lowlands, yet in reality the religious factor was dominant in deciding that polarization.

‘Geberti’ and ‘saho’ – speaking groups – although highlanders – played a leading role in that phase ‘Islamic league and Independence Block”.   

Phase II – Armed struggle

After Federation, Eritrean Muslims became the most disadvantaged (lost employment opportunities, their language – Arabic – had been undermined – their economic conditions deteriorated, their culture marginalized and their future became uncertain.

For all above reasons, Eritrean Muslims started armed struggle in 1961 and the dream was: Independent Eritrea.

For more than a decade (until 1975), Eritrean Muslims in general and lowlands in particular were paying a heavy price – massacres everywhere – villages destroyed and burned down – thousands of refugees fled to neighbouring Sudan – imprisonment and curfew laws implemented in their areas – In short lowlands were considered a ‘war zone’. At the same time highlands were a safe haven and people there were receiving the news from the lowlands as if things were happening in Vietnam.

With the escalation of the Revolution, highlands became part of the ‘fire-ball’ – why?

Christian highlanders discovered the true nature of Amhara chauvinism, they became the second-class citizens in the empire, their language ‘tigrinia’ became marginalized and the possibility of sharing power with the Amhara became a hoax.

They found out that all ethnic groups in the Ethiopian empire – except Amhara – have no rights, no place and no future. They also came to know that the ‘protective mother’ was not concerned about religious ties and values – the only thing Ethiopia was interested in was the: SEA.

That is how and why Christian highlanders joined the Revolution in 1975.

Phase III – The State

The three phases are not separate and not isolated. In fact each phase was leading to the next one and the accumulative experience of each side (Muslims and Christians) driven by heritage and culture reflected an unresolved internal contradictions. When both came together in the Revolution phase, two opposite notions appeared on the surface:

  • Muslims believed that they were the ‘pioneers’ and sacrificed more and accordingly should be rewarded after independence.
  • Christian highlanders – driven by the feeling that they could not control what was already established (ELF) and to secure their future, they should have their own organization – that’s how highlanders’ chauvinism started and that was why EPLF was established in 1976.

The confrontation between the two organizations was an ongoing challenge, but at the end, due to internal and external factors, EPLF was victorious and became the single organization from (1982 – 1990) and the one eligible to take over power after the defeat of the Ethiopian forces (1991).

Taking into consideration that background and unresolved ethnic and cultural issues, EPLF established its state. The outcome was a state – in shape and content – that did not represent the social fabric of the Eritrean people and one that did not reflect the ambitions and dreams of Muslims in particular.

On the other hand, Christian highlanders – in their majority – supported the new state.


1)      The brain washing and mobilisation for that new vision was an ongoing program since the establishment of EPLF.

2)      Christian highlanders found out their culture was dominant and the political power became in their hands.

3)      On employment level – more than 90% of state positions went to them (G13 open letter), and on economic benefits – all financial resources – Red Sea Corp. and banks – gave them priority.

4)      In short, they had the feeling that the state is their state and all other ethnic groups are second-class citizens.

However, because they need more power to build the state they established, they  implemented a ‘rehabilitation’ program for other ethnic groups. What does ‘rehabilitation’ mean? : Literally it means rebuilding – re-educating – putting back on track and convincing the individual and the groups that it is for their benefit. During the ‘cultural Revolution’ in China – leaders and senior cadres of the Communist party who did not show enough loyalty to Mao-Tse-Dong, were asked to ‘confess’ that they were ‘traitors’ and were against the people…etc…

EPLF in its ‘Rehabilitation’ program re-educated the people and the cadres that the experience of ELF was a failure and that history begins with EPLF. Also all Eritreans should learn Tigrinia and try to adjust themselves to the culture of the superior ethnic group. But then things went wrong. Why?

When people – especially Christian highlanders – supported EPLF and agreed that their recent history started with EPLF – they discovered that they were not supporting a party but a single dictator who does not care much about culture or values. When they were donating to rebuild the state, they found out they were contributing in creating a semi-god, self-centred and an arrogant dictator.

That is the other face of chauvinism.

Yes – they were convinced that their contemporary history started with EPLF – but what they didn’t realise was, that same history ends up with PIA!! It was a late discovery – that is how and why they joined the present opposition. That is chauvinism – it starts with exaggerated and aggressive loyalty to an attitude or a group and ends up to a blind support to the ‘leader’.

The present political polarisation is based on ethnic and regional grounds. I am not saying that we are heading forward or returned two steps back. What I am trying to say is that the religious factor gave way to those new factors.

It is the socio-cultural dynamics of Eritrean politics that are shaping the new organisational structures (in the opposition camp) and even in the grass root level.

That fact might not be new, because we have the example of ‘Kunama’ and ‘Afar’, but here the picture is a little bit different:    

Kunama and Afar took the initiative to organize themselves and declared their objectives earlier than other ethnic groups because of:

1)      They are semi-isolated communities and their cultural and social communication with other ethnic groups is limited.

2)      Internal social and cultural structure and built is more intact and homogenous

3)      When the dictatorship marginalised and oppressed all ethnic groups, the impact on Kunama and Afar was easily and directly seen. The feeling of negligence in their respective communities was deep and the response was quick.

The question is: What have Eritreans in Common?

                          What are their differences?

                           That is next.

Reconciliation or Rehabilitation?


by Mr Omer Jaber Omer 04-10-2004 

The question was in two parts:

  • What have Eritreans in common?
  • What are their differences?

Let us take the differences first.

1)      History

2)      Symbols

3)      The concept of Co-existence

4)      The notion of power

5)      Language

History:            Our past history is full of mixed events, colours and signals that need to be recorded, researched and analysed. No matter what the final picture is, we need to have a common understanding and accept that part of our history as it happened. Here comes the problem, what is happening is that we reach different and contradictory conclusions simply because we have different readings of that history.

In fact we are reading two or more versions and that is why we get that difference in conclusions.

Some Eritreans influenced by familial and ethnic relations found close affinity across the border in the Ethiopian region of Tigrai and beyond. Others traced ancestral origins across the Red sea.

That was not just an academic research or a mental tour in history, but was materialised in a well-defined social and cultural polarisation that influenced the political life after World War II.

In other words, Eritrean identity was in the making and in later stages specially during the Revolution era it found a fertile and positive ground to flourish, but again the dictatorship after independence and chauvinism took us back to square one.

  • The past is how we understand it and learn from it.
  • The present is how we deal with it.
  • The future is how we prepare and work for it .


Symbols:            I am not discussing here cultural or religious symbols – those are part of our social life and if they are looked at in their context and natural environment  – they constitute part of the Eritrean character.

Examples for those symbols: cheek marks – sharpening of teeth to a V shape (Afar) – wearing turbans on the head (Muslims) – putting a black thread around the neck (Christians) ….etc….

I mean other national symbols that should be accepted by all Eritreans as their symbols:

1)      National symbols – Eritrean Muslims recognise and acknowledge certain figures as being national symbols: Ras Tessema Asmerom – Abdelkadir Kabere – Ibrahim Sultan – Waldeab Weldemariam (Welwel) – Idris M. Adem …etc…

How many of those do Christian highlanders acknowledge and consider as their national symbols?

2)      The national flag – The Eritrean nation settled to the blue flag with the olive branches in 1952. Until this day Muslims consider it as a national symbol – so does a minority of Christian highlanders. The infamous Unionist party considered it as the ‘flag given by the United Nations’ – so does the EPLF and its supporters.

Officially the new flag of (PFDJ) is transitional since it had not been approved by an elected legislative body,  it is a creation of (PFDJ) and of PIA’s personal artistic genius.

For Muslims the blue flag is part and parcel of their historical memory and it is a symbol under which they sacrificed, were fighting and singing for freedom.

Co-existence:               This is needed when there is diversity – ethnic, cultural and religious. There are conditions to make that happen:

  • Recognition of the others – in other words – there are groups with different cultures and ethnic background – they live in the same land and enjoy the same national identity.
  • Listening and understanding – before deciding on issues of national nature or issues related to those groups – we must have their consent and participation.
  • Co-existence needs concession – to be prepared and willing to share the land, wealth and power with others.
  • To be inclusive and disseminate the message of reconciliation and collective purpose.

During the past (more than half a century) the concept of co-existence had been challenged and rejected three times:

  • The self-determination era when the Unionist party refused to join the independence  block.
  • The second time was when EPLF was established (1976) with a different vision and program.
  • The third time after independence (1993) when the Eritrean state became one sided,  guided by Christian highlanders’  chauvinism.

The great lesson we learn from those three examples is that without co-existence the nation will not go forward, peace and stability will be lost and even the ‘benefits’ that some might think will be for them alone will evaporate.

Wide scale dreams that cover the whole nation and land with partial involvement of the people is a wishful thinking.

As Ras ‘Tessema Asmerom’ said once: “Aqmekhen Helema” – i.e. to dream achievable dreams.

Power:             This is the most controversial notion and although it does not float on surface and is kept in the secret agenda of each side, yet on ground it is the daily and ongoing challenge. It is a natural finding that people looking for a better life want to take things in their hands. They like to have control on whatever affects their lives, but when it comes to ‘government’, other factors are involved: The concept of co-existence, partnership and the rights of all citizens.

Christian highlanders – in general – never accept the notion of partnership – EPLF was the best example despite the presence of Muslim names and figures within the leadership of PFDJ and in the cabinet.

A friend of mine – not an Eritrean – visited the country after liberation and made an appointment with ‘Ramadan M. Nur’ the then Minister of Justice.

The guest went early in the morning and was asked to wait at the reception until the Minister comes. While he was there, he was listening to the radio “Dimsi Hafash’ in Arabic. Then suddenly he heard in the news that a new minister had replaced ‘Ramadan’. For a while he hesitated and couldn’t decide whether to stay or to leave – after all most probably the minister might not come. While he was in that situation, Ramadan arrived, whistling and smiling and hugged his old friend, took him by hand and entered the office. He started – Ramadan – explaining to the guest his plans in the department and that he is going to make it a modern and effective site to implement justice in the country! Poor man – he didn’t even listen to the news.

Next day – I met my friend, he was shocked and started putting questions – at the end he said:

I understand that ministers come and go, but at least they should be given notice, or consulted – then he added: Don’t these people have a ‘say’ on issues directly related to them?

I said: they do – they already signed a blank paper and PIA puts whatever he wants in that paper!! Those ‘Muslims’ are vulnerable individuals, victims of a prolonged and intensive Rehabilitation program.

Sharing of power is influenced by culture, a fact that can be detected even in the opposition camp! Although they joined the opposition in a later stage, yet Christian highlanders give the concept of leadership a priority and they believe that they are more eligible and deserve to be followed not to follow. Even the culture of teamwork is not deeply rooted in their experience, which is a natural outcome of lack of the concept of partnership.


Language:        That was one of the greatest challenges and an issue that is still not agreed on by all Eritreans. The first time Christian highlanders opposed openly to recognise Arabic language was in the Eritrean parliament (1952). But then, the emperor instructed the Unionist party to agree; telling them in a later stage it (Arabic) will be cancelled!

The second time was when EPLF was established – there was no mentioning of Arabic language in their ‘constitution’ or programs – Tigrinia was recognised as a defacto official language and Arabic was only used for external propaganda in their newsletters.

The third time is after independence and the state is using Tigrinia in all its activities and legislations. On the other hand, Eritrean Muslims in that historical session of the parliament were defending and adopting Tigrinia as an official language (with Arabic) – why?

When the ELF started armed struggle in 1961 – the High council (political leadership) and the military leadership put a constitution where Tigrinia was considered an official language of the organization (ELF) and the country (Eritrea) beside Arabic.

At the time – there was not a single member of Christian highlander’s background, yet those veterans acknowledged Tigrinia – once again, why?

The third time, after independence, 1993, all opposition groups – including those described as representing ‘Muslim movement’ acknowledged Tigrinia as an official language, again and again why???

  • Arabic language came to Eritrea before Islam i.e. before fifteen centuries across the Red sea. Then with Islam, it became the language of the holy book for Muslims (Koran).
  • When the Portuguese came in the 16th century and landed on the Eritrean shore, they brought with them an interpreter from ‘Morocco’ who can speak Arabic to the local people – there were no ‘Rashaida’ by the time!!

            In the 16th century, Arabic spread   by the ‘Funj’ kingdom and ‘Mahdia’ from the west side (Sudan).

  • When the Italian occupied Eritrea (1890) – they   issued decrees and announcement in Arabic, they even used Arabic language in their currency (the silver coin) – there were no ‘Rashaida’ also at the time!!
  • All Muslims – from different ethnic groups – including ‘Geberti’ agreed on ‘Arabic’ as the language that ‘represents’ them.

For them, Arabic is not just a ‘religious’ based language, most importantly it brings them (Muslims) together and helps  them in sharing power with the other partner!

Without Arabic, they are tribes and regions lost in minor politics and secondary contradictions of Eritrean society. With Arabic they are a ‘power’ that puts back the balance and will be equal partners.

If those are the differences, what have Eritreans in common?

                                                                                  That is next.

Reconciliation or Rehabilitation?


by Mr Omer Jaber Omer 19-10-2004

What do Eritreans have in common?

  • Geography – land
  • History – shared experience
  • Opportunity to fulfil a lost dream
  • Future

The land:            After (1890 – Italian occupation) – Eritrea became one geographical entity with fixed and recognised borders. After independence (1993) it became a state recognised by the world, UN and African Union. Taking into consideration global political relationship and the role of international community, it is impossible to make changes that affect that ‘geography’ or try to impose partitions or alterations on borders that result in ‘new’ political entities.

It is our destiny that we live in that demarcated area – Eritrea.

Whatever administrative and political measures we take to organise our internal governance, be it central, decentralised or even federated, the outside world will recognise “one Eritrean state”. If that is the case, we have to take care of that land, protect it, develop it and live on it peacefully. In that geographical area there is wealth, resources, fertile land, natural scenery and a healthy environment. That should be utilised and shared by all Eritreans and priority should be given to the most disadvantaged groups and regions- that is how we achieve justice, equity, peace and stability.

Shared experiences:

            When a group of people face a common danger, they  will cooperate and coordinate to protect themselves whatever big and deep their differences are. Those shared experiences are seen in the following:

  • Before the Italian occupation, there was not a unified Eritrea, only separate Emirates , local tribal and regional administrations in different parts of the country- Highlands, lowlands, Red Sea, Sahel and the central plateau. Slavery was seen everywhere, feudalism was dominant and tribalism shaped the social relationships.

It is true that everyone (Prince or leader or governor) was defending ‘himself’ and the people he represented and the ‘big picture’ of Eritrea was not part of his thinking. But the outcome was different,  while that resistance appeared separate and not a nationwide movement, yet the impact on the invaders and external enemies was effective and created the common spirit of resistance among the people of that area (Eritrea) and elevated their joint conscious against colonisation. During that period the economic and social relations among the different tribes and regions developed and became more established.

The joint feeling against invaders and the common ambition to be free put the seeds for future joint struggle.

It was in that period of time that names of leaders against external invasion were known and became part of the folklore songs of the people each in his own region or tribe.

To mention some of those heroes:

1)      Ras Wald Michael – against ‘Alula’

2)      Adem M. Beck – Massawa – also against ‘Alula’

3)      Naeb Idris – Massawa (Ballow) – against Italians

4)      Kantebai Hamid (Habab) – against Italians

5)      Degat Bahta Hagos (Segenieti) – against ‘Alula’ and the Italians

6)      Zamat Uked – against Italians (lowlands)

7)      Ali M. Osman – Afar – against Italians

8)      Sheik Mohamed Arie – Nara tribe – against Italians

9)      Abubaker Ismail and Ahmed Said Ismail – ‘ASAWRTA’ – against Italians

10)  Branberas Sulieman Degat Kafel – against Italians in Damblas region

11)  Degat Abra – against Italians in ‘Adi Shehai’

  • The second shared experience was after World War II (1945-1952).

The ‘Independence Block’ was a Coalition of different parties, regional leaders and independent individuals ( Christians & Muslims ).

In that experience, the dream was unified ‘Independent Eritrea’ and the political vision covered all the land and the people. In fact, that experience was one of the brightest initiatives in the contemporary Eritrean history before the Armed Struggle.

  • The third experience was the Armed Struggle – the Revolution. History will record and tell the coming generations that Eritreans put aside their differences and joined the great march towards freedom. Whatever the setbacks were, however the leaders of the revolution handled their differences, but the unforgettable fact remains:

Eritrean blood was mixed, Eritrea as a land and a nation took priority and the national pride and dignity reached its highest level.

Accumulation of continuous confrontation with the enemy, unlimited and priceless sacrifices and  un shaken determination to achieve the goals helped in making the Eritrean dream come true. But then comes the question: why and how that organization succeeded and not the other? That is part of the negative side of the experience as one veteran put it: It is like a soccer match – all members of the team play but only one scores the goal and EPLF was that player!

The present:            we have the “independence”, the recognition of the world and our people are still looking and hoping for a prosperous, democratic and stable Eritrea. The hope is there, but PFDJ became an obstacle, a “worm” that is exhausting the energy and resources of the people and country.

Since we are in the “State” stage, we should not expect all Eritreans to agree on all issues. Even in the stage of Revolution, there were traitors and opportunists. Since we are asking for democracy even then there will be different parties and the majority that rules might be only 50% plus or even less (more than two parties coming together to form the government). If that is the case – today’s political reality in Eritrea is that the ‘majority’ whether organised (opposition groups) or independent groups and individuals is against the PFDJ government – no doubt about that. The question is: does that majority have a common platform, a unified program, a coordinating leadership, a common vision?

That is the common objective that should bring them together to fulfil the lost dream.

EPLF – PFDJ enjoyed continuous victories and unexpected successes, that  is why in the past as well as in the present, it is taking no advice and listens to nobody. Its leadership says: ‘if our program was not correct and our tactics were not effective – how then it happened that we scored all those victories’??

We are proud of that success, but the fact is that they were successful despite their errors and mistakes. Moreover,  their hidden agenda that was revealed after independence was ‘Achilles’ heel’ of EPLF. The leadership of PFDJ is living in a state of self – deception, but the problem is that their failure is affecting the whole nation and is not limited to the ruling party.

They came to build the state, what is happening on ground is that the task of the state became the building and reinforcing of the party and its members!

The PFDJ is still continuing its policy:

  • Ignoring or misplacing the schedule of priorities
  • Selective and stereotype dealing with issues of major importance (Democracy and national unity)
  • Over confidence and arrogance, ignoring and underestimating the opposition

So what is the reaction of the opposition?

Asking the regime to make some reforms and tries to get back to his “mind”?

If that is the case, the opposition is not eligible to be an alternative – those demands can be submitted by ordinary citizens inside the country, who have no ways and means to change the regime and who want to make their lives less miserable.

Concessions and political compromises can only be possible if:

1)      The vision is totally changed and the PFDJ admits that it is part of a wider political spectrum

2)      Recognition of the presence of others – political organizations, ethnic and cultural diversity.

3)      Sharing of political power – either by democratic process or reconciliation agreement as a beginning.

4)      To accept the notion of equality of all Eritreans – right and duty wise.

If any opposition leader or organization still believes in the possibility of that ‘dream’ to happen, he must have still some ‘traces’ of PFDJ vision and the concept of ‘change’ is not yet clear in his mind.

Again what should be a common ground that brings us together might be the one that divides our efforts and influences the political polarisation. That is why I said at the beginning of this series,  the hidden part of the iceberg might send wrong messages.

What about the future?

                                    That is next.

Reconciliation or Rehabilitation?


  The future:            Is it indefinite? That depends on

  • How we look at it (vision)
  • What are our objectives? (hopes and expectations)
  • What are we preparing for it? (plans  and programs)


The vision:            During the different phases of Eritrean struggle (political and armed) the main and central notion for those who were involved in the fight for independence was: A free country by all Eritreans and for all Eritreans. Without any details – the independence movement believed that Eritreans would be better off after independence.

When we got independence, every one was expecting to see his dreams come true – that did not happen. Why? The simple answer is that the country and the whole nation was controlled and governed by a totally different vision. Now   the majority of Eritreans (including organised opposition) came to a conclusion: The present regime of PFDJ must be changed and a new Eritrea should be in place – the question is what guarantees do we have that the same experience could not be repeated?

In other worlds – certain political group(s) might ‘highjack’ the present movement and impose their vision, which might not meet the aspirations and hopes of the Eritrean people? There is no guarantee that we can take in hand and say: We got it!

That does not mean we should accept sugar coated promises and rely on good intentions – what I mean by guarantees is that we should lay and agree on issues that shape our future. We should start that process now. On practicing what we agreed upon we can discover the errors and weaknesses during the experience, and we can know those who really believe in what they say and those who do not – those who say it just for political consumption.

Do the leaders of the opposition groups want us to take them for granted, how can we be sure that they will do the right thing when the regime is toppled?

What we can do is: asking them (opposition leaders) to show us now what is their vision and their understanding of the issues included in that vision and how they are going to make that vision a reality that every Eritrean can feel, touch and live on ground?

It is not enough to talk about the PFDJ program and policy to show the failures and corruption of the regime – everyone knows that – but what is the alternative – the way out?

Hatred alone cannot change a regime – a quick look into the last century, gives us examples of dictatorships that lasted more than three decades despite the fact that their nations ‘hated’ them.

No one is ready to die or to sacrifice (prison – being a refugee…etc…) if the vision is not clear and those who are promising to bring the change lack credibility and do not have the relevant ‘ways and means’ to achieve the mission. The most serious signal that any opposition group can send at this stage is: hoping the regime might change its policy or programs and come to his ‘mind’!!

The interpretation of such stances mean that we are embroiled in the same political quagmire and that we failed to free ourselves from that vision of PFDJ.

There had never been in the recent history, a dictator who done all evils, then became repentant and asked his fellow citizens to forgive him and work together! The starting point is that: No compromise – No reconciliation and No place for the dictator and his close aids and entourage in future Eritrea. I am not talking about the cadres and members of PDFJ, those are Eritreans who had been misled, forced to do actions that they didn’t agree with, subjected to a prolonged rehabilitation program. It is the duty of the coming government to include them in the reconstruction process and take advantage of their experience and qualifications.

Issues that can be included in the new vision are:

  • National unity
  • Democracy
  • Equality
  • Reconciliation

We must as Eritreans, reach a common understanding, consent and commitment about those issues and pave the way to build the future. That is the guarantee not to repeat that awful experience – or at least minimise the risks and negative outcome.

National Unity

In order to achieve political stability and coexistence, national unity must be one of the top priorities in our future program. National unity had always been part of the political discourses during the different phases of Eritrean struggle (peaceful and armed)

National unity is one component of the identity – it is the framework (shape and  content) where citizenship is identified and the notion of collective purpose is materialised. It is not religious or ethnic – rather it is the expression of belonging to the higher level of social and cultural values (the nation).

It is a conscious and voluntary connection of the individual and groups with the soil and people of that land. That status of belonging is not a static one that cannot be changed or affected by external and internal factors. On the other hand it is not also a mercuric status that is changeable every now and then.

  • Stability is relative and depends on the subjective and objective conditions that affect the individuals and groups of that particular country.

History might change that relation, internal economic and social life might interact to make the land bigger or smaller and the belonging deep or superficial and national unity becomes the junction between the ‘homeland’ and citizenship.

  • At that junction – many factors interact. The human will, lifestyle, the objectives of the people….etc….

It is impossible to find a group of people (nation) with the same interests and objectives – that is why national unity represents a state that touches the bottom line and the ‘roof’ of the junction between the nation and citizenship.

The bottom line is: common destiny – in other words defending the motherland, to have national sovereignty and to run their lives (government) independently.

The highest level of that unity means social harmony that supports the bottom line to be stable and continuous.

In between those two lines – the middle area – is about the political system (social and cultural diversity) – In other words, national unity does not close the door against diversity.

The question is: Is the national unity of the Eritrean people in danger?

The basic conditions are there, but the factors that support that bottom line are getting weaker and weaker. The political system is the one that can endanger national unity – the vision and policy of PFDJ destroyed that unity – how?

Because of its chauvinistic approach, PFDJ implemented the policy of national unity in this way:

It conducted selective representation of the different ethnic and cultural groups.

1)      Because it does not believe in democracy and elective representation.

2)      Because it didn’t believe in equality – all ethnic groups were brought together in an accumulative form, putting them one over the other (in layers) and the superior ethnic groups (Christian highlanders) was on the top instructing and imposing a rehabilitation program on all other ethnic groups.

3)      The outcome was a distorted, crippled and paralysed ‘national unity’.

If that is the PFDJ vision and policy, what is the alternative for the future?

How can we build a genuine, active and lasting national unity?

The ‘pillars’ for that unity are:

Reconciliation – not rehabilitation!

            This is a people’s movement – every place and anytime Eritrean fellows must put it in mind and heart, express it in their discussions and political organizations and must practice it. We need a new attitude and new approach:

  • To become more assertive without being self centred.
  • To have a voice without being culturally biased.
  • Recognition, understanding and respect of each other’s culture and to have the opportunity to sanctify the cultural integrity without pontificating.


It is an ongoing process and that attitude should never change and the efforts and spirit should never stop. It is like a truck going up hill, once you take your foot off the accelerator, the truck will come down with a double speed.


            Article one of the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ states:

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.

In other words each of us is born with an equal moral worth and entitlement to dignity and citizenship. Ethnic and cultural diversity should be seen as indications of the richness of a society, only political ideals endanger equality.

Often political ideas are fine in theory but do not work in practice, with equality it may well be the other way around. In other words, building equality into political practice and institutions gives tangible results:

  • It alleviates the suffering of the worst off.
  • It increases a sense of citizenship and trust.
  • It provides the basis for policies that address issues like public education and health.
  • It promotes self-respect and respect for human dignity.
  • It is an essential element in reducing poverty – a precondition for genuine implementation of democracy.

Equality is the corner stone of democracy; it involves the sharing of resources so that all may benefit (land, industry, mineral wealth, environment…. etc.).

Redistribution of wealth doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone has precisely the same, rather it ensures that all have equal opportunity, equality of welfare, equal access to services like health, education…etc.

Equal opportunity means that people should have access to employment and other services based on merit alone – but because equal opportunity policies come too late for certain regions and ethnic groups in Eritrea, what is needed is to prioritise the delivery of services and allocation of budget according to the needs – that is the disadvantaged regions and ethnic groups come first – so that the whole society moves together.

Human beings  are deeply diverse and have different  needs. They have an equal right to the freedom to pursue the goods that are valuable to them. Those goals may range from elementary things like being well – nourished to something complex like as happiness.

Equality can only be achieved if the ‘state’ has equal concern for all its citizens and the different ethnic and cultural groups share the same attitude and trust.


The conditions and criteria of liberal democracy are known – whatever the difference in shape and form the content and basic concept remains the same.

Democracy might not be the ideal solution for all problems; still it is the best – among the worst – that can offer a better prescription. It is the outcome of human experiences, what needed from Eritreans is to add their experience in the implementation of the concept – without changing or distorting the basics:

  • Constitutional state – a government governed by law and order – a state of institutions.
  • Separation of authorities: Executive – legislative and judiciary.
  • Freedom of parties – press – demonstration – expression of ideas – practicing religious and cultural beliefs.
  • Free elections to choose representatives of the people and form the government by the majority.
  • Equality – social and economic – to guarantee that the democracy we are implementing is not a ‘folklore’ show and that every citizen has full opportunity to exercise his rights without being pressured – directly or indirectly – to give his vote to someone without his consent.
  • Civil society is another guarantee of genuine democracy – human rights organizations, NGO’s, social and cultural movements and environmental activists. In other words, democracy must be deeply rooted in the values and relations of the society, in the education, work place, a society of tolerance and acceptance to our diversity.
  • Although in democracy all citizens are equal and have the same rights, still there can be ‘group – differentiated policies’ to address specific social and cultural needs. In India for example, there are different codes of family law for Hindus, Muslims and Christians.

The question is: Do the opposition organizations have the same vision for the future?

How do they understand and practice the above mentioned issues?

                  That is next ….

Reconciliation or Rehabilitation?


  by Mr Omer Jaber Omer 21-11-2004

The opposition: A realistic alternative or just a ‘bogey man’??

To start with, we have to acknowledge and appreciate the role played by all opposition organizations. Whatever their weaknesses and shortcomings are, they represent the other side of the equation:

  • The voice of resistance against dictatorship
  • The movement that is promising a bright future
  • The hope to create a new democratic Eritrea


That is why our criticism must be constructive, we want them to be united, stronger, effective and with transparency and credibility.

Saying that, there are certain issues of concern about the approach, understanding and relations of the opposition that do not fit in the vision of future.

That makes it necessary to put more effort and time to improve their performances and to do their ‘homework’ more efficiently before it is too late.

Those areas of concern are:

  • National unity
  • Democracy
  • Collective leadership
  • Foreign relations


Although they might appear as being separate, in reality those issues are inter related and connected together to the extent that you cannot achieve one of them while ignoring the others.

Putting them separately is for the purpose of elaboration and stressing the importance of each component.

I.                    Unity – Without unity, opposition groups will remain weak, ineffective and embroiled in continuos internal conflicts and rows.

  • They will be weak simply because people will not be around them and will not support individual organizations
  • They will be ineffective because their energy and time will be consumed in fixing internal problems
  • Without achieving unity – all efforts will go to the wrong direction and that will directly affect the trust and confidence of the people on those leaders.
  • It is not expected to have a one united organization – but at least a ‘united front’ that includes all opposition groups and brings them together on one charter and program but at the same time gives a margin for each group to have its own name – long term program, social and cultural composition.


That formula, on one hand will consolidate the unity of the opposition and strengthen its force and input against dictatorship, on the other it will promote the concept of ‘diversity in unity’ and will be a good experience to learn how to exercise democracy on ground before the expected change in the country.

II.                 Democracy – It is true that the majority of the opposition leaders did not find the chance to exercise democracy, but at least they should have the knowledge, awareness, commitment and determination to make democracy a key issue in their bilateral relations as well as in their internal organisational system.

They have to start it now and exercise it on daily bases , other wise democracy will be just a slogan raised against dictatorship without being  a real and authentic alternative.

The continuous amoebic divisions that we see in all organizations, the polarisation and regrouping within those organizations in so short time and complex arithmetic equations that need a ‘calculator’ to know who is who manifest lack of democracy within the opposition groups!!

Democracy is not just against dictatorship, it is part of a totally different vision – if we don’t have this vision we simply can’t apply democracy.

You can’t show your commitment to democracy by participating in events that condemn dictatorship or issuing statements that reveal the abuse of human rights – then when you come to your family, community and other opposition organizations, simply take off that mask and behave like a ‘dictator’ in exile!

Democracy necessitates tolerance, understanding and acceptance of the others and their choices.

III.               Collective Leadership – Sometimes when you follow news of the opposition, you find certain similarities with those of the dictator in Asmara!! How can a single leader – even if he is a chairperson – change the whole outcome of a congress or a central committee by one statement with his signature!?

How come that a leadership cannot respond to the calls and demands from the bases if things gone wrong?

How come that the expression of different views within an organization become a public issue in the Internet!?

How come that an elected leadership within certain organization cannot accept any feedback from its members and gives the dispute within its organization a priority over that with the dictatorship!?

How come that the concept of ‘collective leadership’ is not clear yet among many opposition leaders!?

If the impact we are witnessing now is so disastrous but in a small scale (opposition groups), what will be the extent of that impact on national level when the change comes?

IV.              Foreign policy – Defining the national interest of the people and putting a strategy that reflects the historical relations and addresses the impact and challenges of the geographical location, committed to the values and heritage of the Eritrean people and secure the communication and interaction with human civilization.

It seems that opposition organizations did not agree yet on how to deal with foreign powers (especially neighbouring countries) and there is confusion about strategic and tactical policies.

  • They are accusing each other of being (puppets) of that regime or the other (Ethiopia or Sudan)
  • They are polarised politically according to that concept and the relationship with the regional powers.
  • Sometimes those differences and accusations reach a level that crosses all red lines: for example one camp accuses the other of  ‘selling the nation’ !? The other camp responds by accusing the first one of conducting secret negotiations with the dictator!

Neighbouring countries have their own national interests and agenda – we cannot change that, but we can simply reject that agenda if it contradicts our interest and objectives.

The other fact that we should know is if at any time our interests and objectives coincided with their interests (the neighbours) it will be temporarily – and might change and be against the opposition movement at any time.

  • Understanding and follow up of regional interests and relations
  • Prioritisation of the objectives – to deal with the neighbouring countries according to what brings us together at a particular phase of our relations with them.
  • Receiving any support of any kind from any country is to be appreciated – but never should the opposition expect or accept those countries to take over the job and act on their behalf.


V.                 Keeping up the hope – The dictator regime knows that the spirit of democracy burns in the hearts of Eritreans, the only way to win is to stop all Eritreans’ hearts from beating!

Opposition should work it the other way – keep those hearts beating,  minds open, spirit high and hope always there giving the power to overcome all obstacles.

There are certain phenomena’s that appeared during the last decade and gave the anti dictatorship movement a momentum and hope:

  • Grassroots’  movements in the USA – Canada – Europe – Australia – the Middle East and Sudan although the majority of those involved in that mass movement are not members of the opposition groups, yet they achieved what many opposition organizations failed to do.

It is a mass movement reflecting the awareness of the new generation – Muslims and Christians, lowlands and highlands, males and females.

  • The new awareness of the Muslim movements and organizations. Hundreds of educated Eritrean Muslims are involved in the struggle against dictatorship with clear vision about Co-existence, reconciliation and sharing of power and wealth. This phenomenon is seen in the Sudan and Middle East and in the Internet where writers express their views openly and objectively.


Recommendations: The opposition organizations are expected to be the spearhead of the anti dictatorship mass movement.

  • They should take the lead, not to wait to react.
  • They should communicate with grassroots and govern from the bottom up.
  • Concentrate more on the positive and less on the negative (in bilateral relations)
  • Christian’s highlanders should understand and accept that: Muslims do not accept to be followers or second-class citizens.

They are equal partners and have full right to share power and wealth of the country.

  • The nation and state can only be built by the consent and involvement of all Eritreans right and duty wise.
  • The new vision for the future is against chauvinism and selective representation (done by Ethiopians and PFDJ). From now on,  only elective representation of all ethnic groups will be accepted and will make difference.

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