Yes to Reconciliation, No to Factionalism: A Call to Unity

By Salah Ibrahim, 18 June 2005

The creation of the Eritrean Democratic Alliance (EDC) was undoubtedly a huge step forward, but, in my opinion, that would have been preceded by the unification of the various Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) political factions. Since its early history, the ELF has been known as a relatively democratic organisation that has succeeded to accommodate different political views within the front. Its spectacular collapse in 1981 by the allied evil action of the then Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (EPLF) and the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), and so-called regional and international conspiracies led to the formation of the factions that we subsequently witnessed, with ever increasing numbers over time. Off my head, I can immediately name the following ELF splinter groups among others of course:

1.         ELF Chaired by Abdalla Idris/Hussien Khalifa

2.         ELF-Revolutionary Council chaired by Seyoum Ogbamichael

3.         ELF-National Conference chaired by Dr Beyene Kidane

However, when I call for unity of these factions, I am not arguing unity for its own sake. I am totally aware of the need to scrutinise the past. Unity achieved at the expense of burying history is an untenable arrangement that can only prove transient. The past should inform the present and map out future progress. I set this as a precondition to any renewed efforts towards reconciliation/unity.

As it is known to most of us, with the collapse of the former Soviet Union, the United States has become the only superpower in the world, and since it has been dictating its foreign policy terms without much resistance from the international community for most of the time. By the same token, since the fall of the ELF and its disintegration into the smaller ineffectual groups, the then EPLF, now Peoples Front for Justice and Democracy (PFDJ) has monopolised ultimate power over Eritrea to implement its agenda. One possible way out of this crisis is the unification of the ELF factions to counterbalance the supremacy of PFDJ that has dominated the Eritrean political arena without a rival.

Knowing that the historical ELF was a very diverse and tolerant group, it should not be impossible for today’s factions to be together again once more. I see many advantages to a unified and a strong ELF as opposed to disintegrated and weak ELF factions; below are some of the advantages:

  • Gain more credibility: people will see a unified ELF within the EDC as a more effective and credible force than in its current factionalised form. Then, there will be a better chance for the ONE ELF to receive as much support as was the case in the past.


  • Broader representation: a unified ELF with a multi-dimensional political program would be more representative and acceptable by the Eritrean people.


  • Better chance of forming a government: In future democratic Eritrea, a unified ELF will attract more votes than disintegrated ELF factions. Here, I will briefly mention examples from Australian politics. We have a coalition government of the Liberals and Nationals. We also have an opposition Labor Party made up of right and left wings. Both the government and the opposition are well aware that the best way to attract more votes is to have a broad agenda that accommodates the different political views. This is an illustration that unity is strength.


A different but relevant point is to refer to the recent developments in Lebanon. After the assassination of former Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, some media and political analysts predicted of another civil war in Lebanon. That, in my opinion, is not likely to happen. It is important to give some credit to the Lebanese people who learned from their past mistakes and have managed to avoid another devastating civil war. What is more interesting is that Christian leader, Mr Michel Aoun, who was in exile for 14 years because of his strong opposition to the presence of Syrian army and intelligence agents in his country, has allied with pro-Syrian groups in recent parliamentary election and made some remarkable gain (won 21 out of 58 seats). While I was on my way to work I heard on ABC radio that Mr Auon reportedly calling for a change of political discourse, urging politicians to listen to the need of the people and to move forward together. Here I am not admiring Mr Auon as I don’t know much about him, but there is a lesson to be learnt, and that is to acknowledge how this man played the game smart enough to even make alliance with his former political opponents. So, why is it difficult for ELF factions to be smart enough and unite so that their voice can be heard louder? Can’t we learn from our past mistakes and as a people reconcile our differences? I think, we must if we want to see a peaceful and prosperous Eritrea.


The ELF has been in the wilderness for what is close to a quarter of a century and will remain powerless unless it starts the processes of unification of all its factions. ELF may regain its pre-1981 eminence and could be a significant balancing political force in Eritrea ONLY AND ONLY IF it becomes ONE organisation, regardless of the diverse political views held by the various factions. How can this unification happen? Under the present climate of reconciliation and good-hearted gestures, it is imperative to have ONE UNIFIED ELF if there is a will and determination from the leaders. Abdalla Idris, in his 2003 visit to Australia, advocated the need for unity. The same emphasis was placed on the issue of unity by the recent ELF-RC delegations to Australia, Mr Seyoum Ogbamichael and Woldeyesus Ammar. Therefore, now, unlike any other time, is the right time for the unification to happen. Opposition leaders must show responsibility and play a positive role for that to happen. What options will we be left with if unification fails? The leaders should be accountable for any failure that is not beyond their means to identify and then rectify. I have this message to them: I have deep respect to your sacrifices and contributions to the liberation movement and your firm stand as opposition leaders to the current government. I further acknowledge the need for your expertise at this critical moment, but, if you cannot unify the factions and form a modern up-to-date ELF, then I kindly request you to hand over responsibility to the younger generation. The Eritrean people cannot tolerate disunity, with its attendant burden.

One Final Note

I would like to end this article with a positive note regarding the wonderful atmosphere that we had during the celebration of Eritrean Independence Day in Melbourne, on 11 June 2005. Emotions run high when Ahmed Hebtes recited a poem in Tigre as part of the celebrations. The poem’s address was the twin operations carried out by ELF to free political and other prisoners from Asmara and Adi-k’oula in 1975. This was expressed more so in the faces of veteran fighters, Abdalla Elaj and Seyoum Ogbamichael, who were set free as a result of the adventurous and risky operations led by martyrs Abdelghadir Ramadan and Saeed Saleh. The audience were deeply captivated when Mr Hebtes mentioned the heroic role of Saeed Saleh in the Adi-k’oula operation and the tragic end of his life in Kassala in 1983. The other wonderful poem was in Tigrinya by Hailyesus Meles, who, in his own words, dreamed of peace and harmony reigning supreme among Eritreans. I believe for that dream to be fulfilled, the unification of ELF factions will be a step in the right direction.


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