Transition Period

It is said, ‘once bitten, twice shy.’  During the days of our euphoria over our hard won independence, many of us said that Eritrea will live peacefully for years to come and that Eritrean society can’t tolerate dictatorship.  We had barely gulped one sip of our victory champagne and put down our ‘minilikh’ on the table when our optimism was proven wrong.  Enthusiasm should never replace prudence.  If anything, Eritrean tragedy is not an isolated phenomenon or Eritrean curse, but rather remains true to human history.

I don’t know whether the current state of the opposition is a blessing or a curse or a mix of the two.   Definitely, the fact that the vast majority of opposition political parties have agreed to form a coalition is one major progress by itself.  However, and unfortunately, the current success of the coalition can only be measured by the negative/destructive propaganda [against each other] that has been avoided rather than their abilities to use their coalition to create a positive and robust opposition movement.

Generally, there are certain issues that need to be addressed today.  To avoid putting the cart before the horse, issues that can only addressed through prolonged debates and with the full participation of the entire Eritrean population should wait for the appropriate times.   To some of us, the most critical issues today that should preoccupy us are those issues that help the Eritrean public to mobilize and, second, to draw up plans to ensure that the periods immediately following the collapse of the regime doesn’t create a power vacuum that will lead to the old saying, ‘from the frying pan and into the fire.’

In an armed campaign, or similarly to military coup d’etat, the armed forces are organized into an established chain-of-command that enables mobilization against any regime.  The army’s organization, and not necessarily its weapons only, becomes the instrument of change.  To the contrary, political campaigners must be able to organize the public against the regime.   This is no easy task!  The path of least resistance is to seek to establish armed struggle to pursue one’s political aim.  In reality, the struggle for Eritrean democracy can only begin and began in earnest after Eritrea’s independence.  Once Eritrea established its statehood, we transcended from the armed struggle for independence of yesterday to the significantly more challenging struggle for democracy which can only be brought about by the full participation of Eritrean people.  Those Eritrean political clerics in Diaspora who announce their fatwa for armed struggle from safe distances are condemning others to the abyss of tragedy.   We have lost faith that there can be benevolent dictators.  Democracy can’t be brought about by the barrel of the gun.

Mr. Adhanom Gebremariam hit it on the nail when he said that there is ideological void in our current struggle.  Much of the 20th century was mobilized by socialist/communist ideologies.  Even the Eritrean struggle for independence was nudged by social activism that emanated from socialist/communist ideologies.  During those days, every youth in many parts of the world subscribed to Leninist and Maoist theories, which allowed many organizations to establish their movements by emulating established communist organizations.  Unlike democratic societies that required slow evolution to attain their political achievements, communist organizations burst into the scene within short times.  As such communist organizations can be replicated because their successes are revolutionary – thus the results are attainable within short period of time.  For restless and untested youth, social change coupled with revolutionary change was simply irresistible.  In addition, whereas democratic societies attempt to juggle individual rights with group rights, socialist/communist ideology offered an illusionary alternative – replacing class, religious and other ideologies with one ideology.  As the 20th Century neared its end, the socialist/communist ideologies collapsed.

The collapse of one ideology, i.e. political, spawned another ideology – religious.  Youth will always be just that, ideological, enthusiastic and restless – indeed a natural phenomenon that has ensured human history remains dynamic.   PFDJ’s continued ‘giffa’ and endless national service, religious persecution and especially of smaller denominations where youths tend to congregate, and the dismantling of University of Asmara and the education system in general are some of the examples of PFDJ’s awareness of these types of ideological issues that bind youths to form resistance.

PFDJ, or rather PIA, is acutely aware of what constitutes his immediate and future dangers.  Unrestrained by the need to consult colleagues, PIA continues to make decisions based precisely on lessons learned from other people’s history.  PIA’s “Achilles Heel” remains the border issue, which has pitted him against his enemy who is equally resourceful and possible more shrewd than him.   In its desperation, PFDJ has even resorted to confronting the world’s sole superpower.  In its scorched earth politics, it has entered into unholy alliances [possibly Iran] to become a pawn in international dare game of ‘Russian Roulette’ for a couple of tankers of crude oil to meet its most basic domestic consumption requirements.  While admonishing the sole superpower for interfering in international politics, PFDJ has found no shame and hypocrisy in pronouncing itself as spokesperson of every anti-government movement in the region. 

The collapse of dictatorship can only be expedited by draining its resources.  By staking its political future on the outcome of the border, PFDJ is ensuring its own demise.  Naturally, PIA is fully cognizant of this fact and thus has launched his proxy war to bring about the collapse of the PMMZ regime.  Time, and very soon because of unsustainable pace, will tell us where we are all headed.

What next?

There is no doubt that PFDJ is accelerating its downfall.  There are three possible scenarios that are needed to deal the final blow,

  1. Popular uprising,
  2. Military Coup,
  3. Armed struggle,
  4. Clash with Neighbors,


The likelihood and chances of success of each scenario can be debated endlessly.  But what can’t be debated is that something must deal the final blow to the regime, otherwise it will continue to limp forward taking the whole country into an abyss.

If the only aim is to knock off the regime, any of the scenarios might be valid alternatives.  However, if our current struggle is considered part and parcel of our overall struggle to create a sustainable and democratic Eritrea, we can only preoccupy ourselves with ways to mobilize popular uprising.

In our struggle to mobilize popular uprising against the regime, we can’t separate the post-PFDJ transition period from our current struggle to remove the regime.  It is intertwined, it is intractably tied together.  Beyond PFDJ’s security apparatus that has engulfed the whole country, we have to ask ourselves what will mobilize Eritreans to act against immense risks against themselves and their families.   Eritrean youth are taking immense risks to escape Eritrea and to cross the Mediterranean Sea despite high risks.  We should ask ourselves how we can use this propensity for taking personal risks and use it against the regime.      

To find our answers, we should use the powerful tool of “re-engineering” to wage our opposition movement.   “Re-engineering” or ‘starting from clean slate’ would ask, ‘how would we wage our struggle if we were to erase our memory of yesterday’s excess baggage and then wage our struggle on clean slate based only on today’s realities and lessons of other peoples and nations that have gone through the same experience?’  

“Re-engineering” is a natural phenomenon.  Any living matter, ideologies, concepts are affected by ‘re-engineering’.  If man doesn’t undertake re-engineering, nature will take care of it for him.  Ultimately, human death is nature’s way of ‘re-engineering’, ensuring that old ideas are allowed to die.  The question we should ask ourselves is, ‘do we always force nature to undertake the ‘re-engineering’ for us or do we accept this natural phenomenon and use it to our advantage.

To mobilize the Eritrean public, first-and-foremost the Eritrean opposition leaders must be confident enough to challenge their own organizations to address the tough questions that are needed to bring the opposition camp out of its doldrums and become a dynamic force for grassroots change.  The emphasis is always on strong leadership and clear vision because navigating through the tricky and winding stream of democracy is very tricky.  Otherwise, one can get lost quickly in the jungles of democracy with tragic consequences.   We should clearly distinguish between being managers, caretakers, supervisors – and leaders.  In order to avoid debating the tough but current issues, no one should simply wrap themselves in their ‘charters’ or ‘visions’.  That would be equivalent to an ostrich hiding its head in the sand.

‘Kab zeytefelto Amlak, tifelto seytan’ is an old adage.  People are asking themselves and are apprehensive about what may happen if the regime was to collapse.  Whereas the general public will have general apprehensions, there are other thousands of Eritreans who have specific concerns.  Some of these concerns are,

  • Would the new regime throw me out of my job?
  • Would it throw me out of my government house?
  • Would it refuse me my retirement income?
  • Would it compensate me for this national service?
  • Would it prosecute me for having PFDJ membership card?
  • Would it ….would it …. Would it …


As many people there are, there are equal numbers of concerns.  Unfortunately, none of the opposition charters or policies specifically addresses these immediate concerns.  As these political organizations are handcuffed by their own internal organizational politics to explicitly address these timely questions, Eritreans will continue to remain apprehensive about their future – hence apathy.  The general Eritrean public may deduce explicitly or subconsciously that the opposition camp’s inability to address these issues in an open and transparent manner is by itself a manifestation of its inability to transcend certain constraints. 

If an uprising is to be orchestrated, the general public must be choreographed to the same tune.  This requires ‘change management’ – to assure that public that the opposition camp has well-defined strategy as well as tactical/operational plans to address both long-term and short-term concerns and challenges.  It isn’t suffice to simply state that the opposition camp will bring about multi-party democracy.  Instead, we should get into the average Eritrean’s head and understand its concerns and apprehensions.  As long as we can’t or don’t want to address those issues in specific manner, we have lost the battle before we have even began.           

I continue to advocate, to some people’s disappointment and criticism, that there must be one leader (preferably) and definitely not more than a couple of prominent leaders to speak on behalf of the opposition camp.  Only then can the campaign be taken in earnest against PIA/PFDJ, which is immensely more resourceful than the opposition camp.  To stand down this challenge, the opposition camp must pool together its most important resource – its oneness of message which can be used to put the final nail into its coffin.   The public can only rally behind well-known leaders – and hardly behind committees, nor behind some foggy ideas. 

Without leadership, the general public can’t organize themselves into a public resistance.  They need leaders that can speak to them, organize them, tell them how and when to act.  As a legal organization needs its leader, the invincible organization that binds domestic and Diaspora opposition forces requires one leader.  To reiterate for emphasis, significant portion of the campaign to remove the regime involves appeasing the general public about post-PFDJ Eritrea by addressing their direct concerns.      

It is also important to inform the general Eritrean public by addressing specific issues before the collapse of the regime what it should expect from the next government.  This will help to appease the public’s concern during period of turmoil.  It is naïve to think that one will be able to inform its policies to the public in periods of turmoil.  Messages propagated during periods of turmoil will be lost in rumors and uncertainty.  If we want to bring about change and also avoid chaos, there is no substitute for laying the groundwork for the post-PFDJ regime during the current period.  We need strong leadership!

The Dilemma

The biggest dilemma is faced by those opposition political parties that are non-EPLF origin.  The biggest issues in mobilizing the Eritrean public opposition in Eritrea against the current regime and in governing post-PFDJ Eritrea requires addressing the very sensitive issue of how to deal with hizbawi ginbar tegadelties, PFDJ card holders, and other remnants of EPLF/PFDJ.  The question becomes, can the non-EPLF origin organizations be able to address the burning issues without sparking bitter debates within their organizations or espousing or propounding unworkable solutions?  Equally important, can they debate these questions without politicking on how EPLF tegadelties and PFDJ structure make up a minority compared to the general population, when one fully knows that one can’t uproot an existing whole structure and expect to build another from scratch.

The time is way past due to address burning issues without any further delay.  As much as we need one strong leader within the opposition movement, equally we need strong leaders for each one of the opposition parties.  Having reached the same level of understanding among the opposition leaders, these leaders must return to their organizations and challenge their members on addressing the burning issues and to strategize on how to best serve their organizational interest while ensuring that the bigger burning issues are addressed without further delay.

There is also a scenario that may legitimately concern non-EPLF origin opposition political groups, would supporting EPLF-origin leaders [as opposition camp leaders] to engage/confront the regime lead to the continuation of power in the hands of remnants of the EPLF/PFDJ regime after the fall of the current regime to their [non-EPLF political organizations’] exclusions?  But this concern spawns many other questions, among which is whether it is better to leave the current brutal regime in power rather than having the specter of another EPLF/PFDJ who consider themselves as ‘reformers’ take over power, or is it tactically better to allow the EPLF-PFDJ struggle to continue to ferment by continuing the play on the EPLF/PFDJ split, while the non-EPLF organizations pull the string from a distance?  In my view, tactically it is still better to play the EPLF/PFDJ rift and thus expediting the fall of the regime, which by any standards should remain the number one priority. 

When analyzing the various scenarios, the odds are stacked against the opposition political parties in Diaspora.  Examining again the types of changes that can bring about the fall of the regime, the Diaspora opposition parties don’t have any influence in any of the factors.   Even if we assume spontaneous public uprising, and if the regime was to collapse, the following few hours are the most critical period.  The important factor is that, unfortunately, certain segments of the armed forces must respond to a call by certain leader.  Otherwise, certain other military officer(s) may take over government – with possible clash among the various armies in competition for power.

Ultimately still, I don’t believe that even a Diaspora leader – including an EPLF-origin – can bring about total allegiance without informing the public beforehand [before the collapse of the regime] that the caretaker government will be established with the help of the brave men in PFDJ prisons.  It isn’t necessary to know whether the brave men are alive or not.  But it is important to say that the caretaker government will be established by these brave men.

My esteemed colleagues within the opposition camp know more than I do that one can’t supplant or parachute a Diaspora political coalition into Eritrea and expect situations to return to normalcy.  To think otherwise would be a crime of epic proportions.  First, the question becomes what is the connection between domestic and Diaspora political movements.  Second, people will say, ‘where were you when we suffered under the brutal regime?’   In contrast, the Eritrean people can’t say where were you to the imprisoned ‘reformers’ and to prisoners of conscious.

These are dilemmas and questions that each of the opposition political organizations must ask themselves before they can earnestly embark on realizing their ultimate goals.  When we delve into the political programs and aspirations of each of the major opposition political organizations, we find that there is little difference.  The only is of power, and equally important, legacy.

For emphasis, ultimately a knock-out blow is needed to bring about change in regime.  The best scenario for future of Eritrea is popular uprising.  What coherent strategy do we have to achieve this?  Or are we just leaving the chips to fall where they may?  If left to chance, this doesn’t bode well for Eritrea’s future.

Tsigena [Reconciliation]

Some falsely believe that ‘tsigena/wiayan’ label is necessarily a politically liability.  However, those who use such words will never dare to define nor explain the label to us without any political rhetoric.  There are some factors we should keep in our mind when addressing this issue.

First, the vast majority within the opposition camp prefers to bring about political/regime change in Eritrean in a controlled manner but which doesn’t leave core PFDJ in power.  This is prudent decision by those leaders who want to avoid bloodshed.  Those who oppose tsigena are advocating for bloodshed to bring about political change.  They can advocate for bloodshed because they are far away from it.

Second, tsigena is needed with many Eritreans within the regime who had passive role in propping up the regime.  You can’t exclude a significant segment of the population and hope to build democratic Eritrea.  Those who seek to pursue witch-hunt are those who, again, are striving to precipitate the whole country into the abyss.  

Third, those who want to regurgitate what they believe to be divisive politics can’t possibly have positive agenda.  If they did, they would have engaged us in discussion or debate of the burning issues.  In politics, there is a spectrum of political opinions.  Some 65-90% of the population congregates around the mainstream political positions.  However, there will always be fringe elements who take extreme positions not so much because they believe in those political positions but because they need continuous public attention.  They need to draw unnecessary controversy to be heard. 

Fourth, these ‘aspiring’ politicians continue to exemplify why Eritrean politics remains an uphill challenge – every excluded politician flexes his muscle by playing intrigues of King’s Courts, and never by giving genuine analysis devoid of any destructive politics.                           

I hope I have given my readers much to swallow in this analysis.  It is time, as the brave young Eritreans of South Africa aptly said, for ‘bidho Antsar Atehasasbana’.

Berhan Hagos

September 23, 2006

Short URL:

Posted by on Sep 23 2006 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

Leave a Reply

Photo Gallery

Log in |2011