Social Justice: A Crucial Element for the Creation of a Viable Nation

By Dr. Salah Ibrahim, 27 January 2006

 It is not difficult to realise that most of the Eritrean communities, including even civil societies residing in the Diaspora, are either aligned or divided along ethnic and religious lines. Similarly, the majority of our political organisations are also divided along the same lines. The reasons for this polarisation are deep-rooted, reflecting accumulated grievances stemming from a general sense of lack of justice. And, more importantly, the legacy of our self-determination struggle had also horrendously failed to unite the Eritrean people.

The current Eritrean government (in its capacity) could have played a crucial role to diffuse this polarisation, but on the contrary, its unjust rules and policies at home and its continuous interest-driven intervention in Diaspora communities’ affairs through its supporters and diplomatic representatives worsened the situation. For example, the Eritrean Community in Melbourne, Australia was ONE body prior to independence and in the immediate years following independence. However, this one time harmonious Community drifted dramatically towards polarising affiliations. The ramification of this, among other things, is that today there exist several communities functioning independently in the name of one and the same people. The cause for this major split is primarily the unwillingness and incompetence of the Eritrean authorities to bring these communities together by immediately abolishing its unjust policies that are marginalising some sectors of our society whilst privileging others. Indeed, division and disharmony is a reflection of the unhealthy situation inside our country.

But, the Eritrean government cannot be blamed for everything, as there are also some other local issues that are splitting the community which need to be addressed. The situation is relatively better inside Eritrea due partly to the tolerant character of the Eritrean people and also because of the bitter reality of living under the rule of a ruthless dictator. A classical example of the latter is Iraq, which its society (excluding few isolated dissent activities) seemed to had been united under the rule of Saddam Hussien. But we have witnessed a sectarian division in the Iraqi society since the fall of the dictatorial regime. Of course, foreign intervention – represented by the deployment of the coalition forces and cross-border fighters – added fuel to the existing hatred between the Suni and Shitte and further complicated the problem.

Eritrea is far away from the concept of a just society and social harmony can be found ONLY in a just society. Whether we like it or not, present-day Eritrean society is to a certain level polarised. The fear is, this will deteriorate to a dangerous level unless contentious issues dividing our society are properly dealt with. Some irresponsible leaders are taking advantage of this ill-situation to promote their political agendas. Undoubtedly, it will take time to reverse this polarisation, but starting now must be better than sitting idle and just hope for divine intervention so to speak. Although I don’t expect significant progress in a short period of time, I can say with some confidence that the Eritrean Community in Australia Inc. (ECA) is well placed to play a crucial role to bring reconciliation and harmony among Eritreans in Australia. The current executive committee of ECA, of which I am a member, is of the conviction that a polarised society cannot move forward because its effort is wasted in claims and counter-claims rather than on focusing in promoting the supreme interest of the nation and its people through development that leads to prosperity.

What should be done?

One of the fundamental roles of civil societies is to bring harmony and reconciliation by siding with justice and by taking firm stand against divisive policies. Therefore, we strongly suggest Eritrean communities in the Diaspora recognise the importance of partnership and cooperation, and the numerous benefits that can be gained by creating a cohesive society. It can only be achieved by indulging in civilised and constructive discussions that look into the future with optimism and that avoid at the same time negative issues from the past. We, the Executive Committee of ECA, hope to initiate a process of reconciliation in the near future and we also urge other communities to do the same. It might be useful to seek expert advice on how to start the process, as we seem so far to have failed to do it on our own. A possible method would be to educate our respective community members of the concept of equality in its broad context which includes: equality in education, employment, wealth and power sharing, in health services, in the law, in labour relations, etc. Equality in these different areas of life should be understood as the driving force for any potential harmony. Such knowledge can be gained by organising public seminars to be delivered by academics.

If we fail to create a just and harmonious society in the foreseeable future, then it seems we are left with the option of a federal democratic system of governance that recognises “unity in diversity”. Federal democracy with decentralised political authority may work well if we cooperate. It is also possible for it to go horribly wrong and fall apart. It is up to us to make it successful, believing that federal governance is a better alternative. But if the majority of the Eritrean people remain unconvinced that we have not done enough studies on what model of federal system is suitable for Eritrea, then the viability of this option will also be doomed. Some experts have set pre-conditions for any successful federal system, one of which is:

“… it would be true to say that federalism requires a high degree of co-operation, compromise and mutual toleration on the part of its practitioners – attributes which are more likely to be found in democracies than in totalitarian regimes. One observer has gone so far as to characterize federalism as “the twin brother of pluralistic democracy.”

The current Prime Minister of Australia and his treasurer don’t go along well. Nevertheless, except in few occasions, they have never displayed their disagreements in public because they understand only by working together they can deliver stable and good governance. For over the 10 years that they have been in power, they have managed to promote and implement their long-awaited political agenda through internal unity and harmony. The lesson that can be learned here is that we don’t necessarily have to like each other, but we must cooperate to find a solution to live together in peace.

The reason for all these cries (unity, social harmony, federalism, etc.) is because we cannot afford to be ruled for so long by the unjust rules of PFDJ. The latter’s legacies will inflict huge suffering on many generations to come. Democracy alone cannot resolve our problems. Democracy requires a fertile ground to succeed, one of which is a cohesive society that is built on justice and tolerance. We, in the opposition camp (excluding few), seem to be obsessed with the idea of democracy in our writing and seem to never address contentious issues that are splitting the Eritrean society. The Eritrean Federal Democratic Movement (EFDM) identified the multi-ethnic imbalances existing in Eritrea as a time bomb that can eventually explode if this dangerous problematic situation is not addressed. EFDM proposed federal democracy as a viable and a democratic system of governance that can avert or manage any potential conflict via constitutional legislations. To my knowledge, Woldeyesus Ammar (known in his writing to touch on sensitive and important issues that many others dare not to tackle) is one of few authors who presented in-depth discussion of the root causes of polarisation in the Eritrean society*. The author comprehensively covered the polarising tactics that were employed by some leaders during the years of struggle and beyond. What Woldeyesus says in the articles in question is very interesting, not least of all for the historical record aspect of it. He suggests ways to rectify the deeply-dividing problem Eritreans is encountering today. I would very much have liked to follow the details of solutions he proposes. Unfortunately, Woldeyesus falls short of elaborating this. I do understand that the problem is huge and finding solutions for it is far beyond the capacity of an individual effort or vision.

The real solution lies in upholding the principles of justice, fairness, equality, partnership, cooperation, inclusiveness, empowerment of the disadvantaged minorities, promotion of ethnic diversity and cultural expression. These are crucial elements to achieve social harmony. Working together we can establish democracy and rule of law only after we successfully achieve cohesion among the multi-ethnic groups of the Eritrean society. It is a huge challenge for all political organisations, civil societies and concerned individuals to reach to a satisfactory solution.

 *For the interested reader, Woldeyesus’s articles can still be found under Spotlight in Please note that I am not referring to the claims and counter-claims made in relation to the split of ELF-RC.


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