Post-Dictatorship: A Government of National Unity

By Dr. Salah Ibrahim, 16 May 2006

The logical step would be to deal with the current dilemma Eritreans are facing, which is, oppression of the worst kind. The focus, therefore, in the first place, should have been on how to remove the autocratic regime ruling Eritrea. Briefly, it can be said that one of the best ways to bring about democratic political change in Eritrea would be through a popular uprising by the oppressed citizens, similar to the one that has recently restored the democratically elected parliament in Nepal. The opposition camp needs to continuously remind the patriotic and conscientious members of the Eritrean Defence Forces (EDF) of their obligation to side with the people and to support any uprising against the Eritrean government. The reasons for jumping a step ahead and contemplating the post-dictatorship political climate in Eritrea are manifold. History reveals that transition from dictatorship to democracy does not always pass through a smooth road. On the contrary, the change to democracy encounters various challenges and setbacks that can only be overcome with sound plan. The main theme of this article is to express views how an orderly transition can be achieved, which undoubtedly will be one of the crucial factors to guarantee a viable and prosperous Eritrea in the Horn of Africa.

Eritrea is deemed a small nation by any measure. In a global context, a population of around four million (exact figure is 4.4 million, UN 2005) and an area of 117,400 sq km is like a drop in the ocean1. In the horn of Africa, Eritrea is the smallest state after Djibouti, a country of about one million (exact figure is 721,000, UN, 2005) and an area of 23,200 sq km2. The Human and Natural resources in Eritrea are limited and in need of development. Even after Eritrea amalgamates all of its talented Human resources, the country still faces the risk of being under-competitive regionally and globally. For Eritrea, to preserve its national identity and to also play an important role in regional and global arenas, national unity based on social justice, is paramount. A necessary question to ask is, how many qualified politicians, legislators, economists, medical professionals, engineers, academics, public administrators, etc. Eritrea has? For sure, they are not in abundance, and so, Eritrea will face a shortage in all areas of life unless the country effectively integrates its skilled manpower. Eritrea will be forced to hire foreign nationals to make up the shortfall. There is nothing wrong with importing foreign skills, as it will be an opportunity for Eritreans to gain extra experience, but the problem is hiring and paying foreigners is not sustainable in the long-term for a small economy. The other valid question is how much reserved resources the country possesses? The simple answer is we don’t know, as resources haven’t been effectively explored in Eritrea.

Having put the Eritrean capacities into perspective, it would be important to express one’s view on major issues that presumably will emerge in Eritrea post-dictatorship. Plans need to be put in place today to resolve contentious issues and challenges of tomorrow. Among other things, these include: the make-up of a future government and its election procedure; justice for the victims of the dictatorial regime; and the expectations from an alternative government. In the immediate years following the fall of the despotic regime, an appointed government representative of all the diverse groups may be the preferred option. With some modifications (discussed later), the current make-up of the Eritrean Democratic Alliance (EDA) represents the required broad coalition. It is possible that problems might emerge to immediately conduct a democratic election. The reason being the Eritrean people, particularly those inside Eritrea, will not be ready for a democratic transition after being ruled for so long by a brutal dictator. It can also be argued that political organisations will need time to grow and mature, and to acquaint the people with their visions of governance. Therefore, fair and transparent election may not be guaranteed in the immediate post-dictator era.

The appointments of ministers should be made by general consensus of all political organisations and civil societies that currently are struggling toward the demise of the dictatorial rule. I am tempted to name some potential candidates, but, better I don’t just in case I inadvertently miss some important figures. During the transitional period, it will be one of the grand responsibilities of the appointed government, in consultation with the public, to map out long-term and sound strategic plans that will take the nation forward. There should be plenty of opportunities for public dialogue on the future of the country. In this regard, it is important that EDA strengthen itself and becomes more politically mature, so that it can devise concrete measures and strategies to govern the nation smoothly post-dictatorship. Although the famous writer, Berhan Hagos, most of the time is too harsh (hopefully with good intensions and for good reasons) on EDA, his visionary recommendations undoubtedly are among the best of those contributing to the current debate3. It is important that EDA carefully studies and analyses constructive criticisms of its performance. Indeed, it is utterly important that EDA pays attention to recommendations put forward by groups and individuals such as The Awate Team4, Mr Nair5, Mr Hagos, and others who are trying hard to strengthen the EDA via various inputs.

Now to the controversial part of the discussion: there is no doubt that the Eritrean Peoples’ Liberation Front (EPLF) failed to control the dictatorial character of the self-appointed president of Eritrea. The whole organisation should be responsible for the severe consequences that the dictatorial regime brought about to the country and its people, currently reflected in the appalling violations of human rights, poor governance and extreme hunger for power. In spite of this, any future government that attempts to sideline all EPLF members will face civil unrest and perhaps even military confrontation. To avoid that, the future coalition government must be extremely cautious; it should reconcile its differences with the ‘good’ elements of the EPLF and must take them on board in forming the new government. In this regard, the creation of the Eritrean National Salvation Front (ENSF) can be considered a step in the right direction, as this organisation encompasses members of the ELF and EPLF. The formation of such organisations is one of the requirements for reconciliation and for reducing the tension and bitter rivalries that have existed for many years between these political foes. There will be various challenges and difficulties ahead that ENSF needs to face with new ideas. I wish ENSF every success for its unification congress scheduled to be held in July of this year.

It is undeniable that the role of the resilient EPLF marked by the ‘can do attitude’ was a fundamental factor in the liberation of Eritrea. Unfortunately, that resilience has not brought the long-awaited justice to the Eritrean people. In spite of this, a significant portion of the Eritrean people still has respect and admiration for the past achievements of the EPLF. The opposition camp needs to recognise that there is still support (rational and non-rational) for the EPLF (not PFDJ) despite the extreme hardship inflicted upon Eritreans by the ruling party. At present, the patriotic EPLF members have been frustrated by the one man rule and their dreams of peace and prosperity for which they sacrificed dearly have been shattered by the leadership that has monopolised power and extremely abused its power.

There are numerous examples that demonstrate the road to a democratic change is difficult, one of which is the current situation in Iraq. Although the Iraqi experiment of democratisation is encountering more complex situation and may not be quite applicable to compare it with anticipated Eritrean post-dictator situation, there are still good lessons to be learned from the misjudgement made by the coalition of the will led by the US. To start with, the presence of foreign troops is seen by many Iraqis as an invasion of their country, and it is normal to expect some sort of violence and resistance. If the coalition had a contingent plan put in place, for example secured the border of Iraq by immediately including some ‘good’ elements of the deposed regime, the transition from dictatorship to democracy probably would have been smoother.

That did not happen, and what we see in Iraq today is a lawlessness freedom, which is not better or even worse than a dictatorial oppression. While the continuous failure of the Iraqi people to form a viable government of national unity is a setback to the democratisation process, the US and its allies also now bear strategic and moral obligations to bring the situation under control. Some analysts and experts described the invasion of Iraq and the aftermath of the war today associated with huge deaths of Iraqi civilians on daily basis as a strategic blunder. It is true that living under dictatorship is a hopeless situation with no plan for the future, as individuals have no freedom to manage their own affairs. But, it is equally a precarious situation to live under anarchy, which is not unexpected in Eritrea post-dictatorship if mechanisms to avert lawlessness are not put in place today. We must learn from others mistakes!

What should be the fate of those who committed crimes against humanity?

Undoubtedly, they should be excluded from any future government and must face justice for the colossal pain and sorrow they have inflicted upon the Eritrean people. Eventually, the inevitable will happen and the perpetrators who terrorised the Eritrean people will be cornered and brought to face justice for their crimes. A typical example is that of Charles Taylor, ex-president of Liberia, who was arrested and charged with crimes against humanity. He is now facing justice in the court of law. While reconciliation and forgiveness is crucial to move forward, the victims of dictatorship should not be forgotten so as not to repeat similar victimisation in the future.

What do Eritreans expect from an alternative government?

The Eritrean people expect the establishment of a true democratic system that guarantees better governance. This can only be realised if public figures are appointed or elected on the basis of merit. The ministers should be competent and law obeying and free of any sort of corruption. It is undeniable that poor governance leads to problems such as corruption, collusion and nepotism that can significantly restrict the capacity of government to promote development. Therefore, there shouldn’t be a place for corruption and abuse of power in future Eritrea. Corrupt ministers and public officers must face the full weight of the law. A treasurer who cannot deliver a viable annual budget must be sacked. All minsters should be accountable for any failure in their ministerial duties/portfolios. There must be an independent free press, which is one of the crucial elements in any democratic society, as it keeps an eye on law breaching government officials.

Last but not least, Eritrea with its limited manpower and possibly limited resources cannot afford to move forward without forging unity and cooperation. It is inconceivable for Eritrea to progress while suffering from polarisation and division. The challenge is to find a patriotic national leader acceptable to the majority. A leader who can rise above a sentiment of hatred and who can unite the Eritrean people after so much distrust has been created among the diverse ethnic groups. And, more importantly, a leader who believes in social justice and firmly upholds the ideals and principles of this great ideology.

Yes to Reconciliation and National Unity!

Yes to Peaceful Coexistence!

No to Dictated Centralism!



[3] is one of Mr Hagos’s recent articles sharing his view on Miscellaneous issues that are of special relevance to EDA.





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