Who has the legitimacy to organize national conference in Eritrea?

By Fesseha Nair

When the Eritrean Democratic Alliance appointed a national conference committee some internet writers from the opposition camp has reacted in different ways but from the same point of understanding. Some of the reactions are without deep understanding of the distinction between the meaning of national conference and the implementation.

During recent years there has been a lot of interest in the subject of national conference. This interest emerged as one issue in the debate on transition to democracy. A range of studies were produced in the late 20th century. Well known studies include:

–         Baker, Bruce. 1998. “ The class of 1990: How have the Authocratic Leaders of the Sub-Saharan Africa Fared under Domocratization.

–         Boulaga, Eboussi.1993 Les conferences Nationales en Afrique Noire,  Bratton. Michael and Nicolas van de Walle:1997 Democratic experiment in Africa. Regime transition in comparative perspective.

–         Clark. John F. 1994. “ the national conference as an instrument of democratization in Francophone Africa.

–         Monga, Celestian.1994. “ national conference in Francophone Africa: an assesement” paper presented to the annual conference of the school of advanced international studies.

–         Robinson, Pearl.1994. “The national conference phenomenon in Francophone Africa.

–         Wiseman,John. 1996. The new struggle for democracy in Africa.

–         Professor. Tesfatsion Medhanie, Bremen 2006. “ National Conference for unity and Salvation in Eritrea.

No doubt, national conference is a public forum where representatives from key political and civic organizations are invited to discuss and develop a plan for the country’s political future, preferably on a consensus basis. National conferences are designed to fulfil two goals: first to address the demands for political changes; and second to achieve gradual, “ pact” or “ managed” transition, often with the incumbent leadership believing that it can maintain control over the process.

What is national conference? What are the goals of national conference in case of Eritrea? The historical analysis and its impacts in general, and the Eritrean experiences, in particular, on national conferences has been studied and presented by professor. Tesfatsion Medhanie and being published in the opposition websites and there is no need to write on the national conference’s importance at this time by the opposition forces.

What matters now is ;  who can organize national conference? What are the conditions? What are the prerequisites?  Who are the participants? What are the activities? Who will finance the conference? When and Where? This article will attempt to answer these questions briefly.

Organizing national conference requires some degree of law making authority. Who has this authority today in the opposition camp? The mushrooming civil societies , the Eritrean Democratic alliance , the political organizations who are no members of the Alliance, religious leaders, academic and professional organizations and members of the existing regime.

In the Eritrean opposition case,

–   The growing civil society organizations indiaspora has no clear civil society vision and program promoting democratization except eroding the legitimacy of others and indirectly serving the non-democratic regime in Eritrea. Instead of supporting the opposition groups and grow strongly to pressure the dictator to liberalise, they continue to attack and blackmail the opposition political groups. There is no trust between the growing civil society organizations and the opposition political organizations. The civil society organizations are just increasing tensions between the political organizations, instead of playing the role of arbiter they play partial and divisive roles among the political organizations. How can such civil society organizations be organizers of the conference? We lack the moderate civil society that can arbiter the political organizations impartially, like that of South Africa in 1980-1990.

First, the existing civil society organizations must be investigated , their stand, support and role in transition to democracy.

–         The political organizations outside the EDAThe political organizations outside the EDA must first fulfil the standards of political organization and enter to a dialogue with the Allaince on this issue, because the national conference to be convened by the opposition camp is to initiate political dialogue easing the mounting tensions between the  forces in the democratic camp. It must provide a framework for agreeing on the country’s political institutions and rules through negotiated democratic transition, and create the rules and institutions for a stable democratic state formation. I recommend the EDA leadership/ Committee take contact with these organizations.

–         The existing regime in Eritrea: Cannot be an organizer or participant.

–         Academic and professional community: There is no organized academic and professional civil society organizations working for democracy in the opposition camp.

–         Relgious leaders: There are no religious leaders or institutions supporting the democratic transition like that of Benin or other west African countries.


       – The EDA ( Eritrean Democratic alliance )

It is the EDA umbrella organization with clear program and policy that has some degree of law –making authority. They have the legitimacy and the legality from their constituents through appropriate constitutional congresses and elections. This does not mean they represent the whole Eritrean people but work for the benefits of the Eritrean people and it is this that gives validity or acceptance of their actions. Some discussants on this issue confuse the term , “ national” as inclusive but this is not true. How can one include that who is against it- national conference.  The recent national conferences in Benin, Congo, Mali, Togo, Zaire  and Ethiopia have never been convened by the existing governments but governments started to join because to stop it or recognized the opposition. Therefore, the Eritrean opposition need no permission from the regime in Eritrea.

Here , the writer will recommend the EDA, the experience of the Somalian national conference that has taken many years and never succeeded to reach consensus and at last disintegrated, therefore, the EDA must include the other political organizations. Designing of the national conference require skilled and competitive leadership.

The EDA committee, consisting of representatives of various political organizations, other political groups the international community can organize national conferences.


–         Members of the opposition political organizations

–         Representatives of key social, religious and professional interest group

–         Other participants can include academics, NGOs, human rights organizations, women’s organizations, trade unions, student unions and aid donors.

–         Regional and international observers

The debate on national conference- who is organiser? Who is the invited and invitee should be discussed and be reached to a consensus before convening the conference. The formation of  committee by the EDA is a positive initiative but the suggestions coming from some internet writers should be given considerations and be listened. It is equally important to support  the initiative and develop it further to be broad and inclusive. This article suggests that there is a need to convene national conference preferably based on consensus.

When the oppsition reach the consensus, the activities such as drafting the agenda and clarifying the issues of priority , costs of the conferences can be applied to donor countries when all is prepared the time is decided , then the conference is declared to take place.

 Let us all be committed to succeed this public forum/ national conference to develop a national plan for the salvation of our people and country suffering under the repressive regime.

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Posted by on Jul 26 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

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