Enabling Factors

With the much anticipated EDA Congress in few weeks, the dangers remain in our over-expectations and overemphasis on magically resolving sensitive and delicate issues – and in Diaspora at that.  There won’t be any single wording or position on any issue that will satisfy all political activists.   In our eager desires to tackle delicate and complex issues head-on, we must be cautious against derailing ourselves from developing the more important enabling factors needed in resolving delicate, evolving and complex issues.  

As always, our analysis of the upcoming congress can only begin by asking who would be interested in such meeting. 

  • General public – Domestic audience doesn’t have the means to inform itself on EDA’s activities.  Diaspora audience largely remains detached from the political scene.  It is safe to say that the general public is interested, at this point in time, in removing the regime and as peaceful transition as possible to law-abiding government.  As such, EDA’s general activities and current or modified (if so) charter will have little influence on the general public.
  • PFDJ regime – won’t comment on it although it will be very much interested in it.
  • Non-EDA opposition political groups – As they must differentiate themselves from EDA, they will strongly criticize the meeting and its resolutions.  We hope their criticisms will be constructive rather than propounding heavy doses of numbing politicking. 
  • Wider community of opposition political activists – each will bring his/her perspective on the styles and contents of the meeting.
  • Non-Eritreans – interests may vary.


It should be clear that EDA’s acts and resolutions are designed to reach out to its primary audience.

Quickly gauging the types of general and specific criticisms and comments expressed towards EDA in anticipation of this meeting, one can classify these criticisms and comments into the following calls,

1.      A general call to the opposition camp, and specifically to EDA, to remain united,

2.      A call to include non-EDA opposition political groups,

3.      A call to amend specific sections of the EDA Charter,

4.      A call to de-emphasize on EDA Charter and on other delicate socio-political structural issues that can only be resolved in post-PFDJ Eritrea, and instead to identify and address those enabling factors that enable us to tackle the bigger issues.

5.      A call to address immediate issues such as the struggle to remove the regime, and formulating common position addressing the mechanisms for achieving stability and security in periods immediately following the collapse of the PFDJ regime.

The (1) and (2) calls above are good intentions and should and undoubtedly will be heeded by EDA.   What will keep the opposition camp and specifically EDA united is dependant on a number of factors such as its ability to resolve personal conflicts and the goodwill needed to achieve that, overcoming hidden motivations and agendas, grasp of political realities, individual and organizational capacities and experiences in reaching compromises, public opinions expressed in private, public meetings and over the internet that will nudge them towards unity.  Unfortunately, the mechanisms of including and excluding political groups into alliances remain obscure, and one is afraid of intensely inquiring on this issue out of fear that one may open a Pandora’s Box.   

In discussing the third call (3) above we should segregate the EDA Charter into the following general components,

  1. The broadly shared principles that allow a society to exist in peace.  The most basic principle is the belief in a democratic system that equally addresses the rights of minorities.  A viable system must balance between individual rights and group rights.  EDA’s Charter or any other broad coalition groupings in multi-ethnic, multi-religious society can’t share any other broader principles that will allow them to live together.  As long as EDA’s Charter enshrines this broader principle, it isn’t necessary for EDA to enshrine certain delicate issues into its Charter without first engaging in wider debates within the public arena.
  1. The transition period, or timing, towards a viable and stable democratic system.   EDA’s Charter, as had PFDJ’s proclamations, sets out the timeline for establishing a working democratic system.  I don’t recall any article written criticizing the timing of the implementation period.   It is understood that it isn’t the reasonable timeline stated in EDA’s Charter that can be an issue, rather the challenges and intrigues can only surface during implementation.  


Regardless of the wordings of EDA’s Charter will always be criticized by some for political opportunism, others due to over-analysis, and for various other reasons.  Although they all have the rights to address issues as they see it fit, it our ultimate aim is to achieve positive results, we step back and examine the wider issues.  That is why those who make the fourth call (4) above would like to address the mechanisms that allow us to tackle dynamic and continuous challenges in a systematic manner.  For illustration, the analogy might be the difference between those who harp on the problem itself and those who examine the problem but more importantly examine the systematic, automatic and dynamic mechanisms that are in place to resolve those problems

For all our own individual self-righteousness and our attempts to advocate for or impose certain solutions on others, we should first understand that issues are never as simple as they seem nor are they static.  There are no straight forward solutions.  As such I am wary of those who propound their definitive solutions as if they hold ultimate wisdom.  Instead, we should examine the enabling factors that allow us to tackle national issues in prudent manner.

What are these enabling factors that allow us to tackle national issues?  Each one of us has our own definite solution to every national issue and national malaise, but at a national level, there could be many competing solutions to address the same challenges. The problem is never the lack of proposed solutions but on how to select the right solutionAs long as we believe that differences are reconcilable, and they must be reconcilable if a nation is to survive, we must be able to create the right climate and design the basic rules by which we all accept to abide to select the right solutions in resolving these issuesDemocracy has been a catch-all word without understanding the intricate mechanisms needed to use it.  In addition, we should remain cognizant of how bruised egos and strong emotions of personal grudges can metamorphosis from a personal level to creating obstacles in resolving national issues through ill-will that impede compromises among political leaders.  We can never control human flaws, but we have to build certain safeguards into our political system to lessen its effect. The following factors are some examples. We should also note these factors are interdependent.

  1. Probably the single most important enabling factor is strong culture of public discussions and debates.  PIA’s recent comment that Eritreans shouldn’t know about domestic issues until the “right time” isn’t limited to PIA but is shared within the Eritrean political establishment that underwent the experiences of armed struggle and military codes of silence.  The second problem is that the public wrongly perceives “politics”, which really pertains to everyday issues of the public lives, is something to be left to politicians.  People still don’t understand the connection between their active or lack of involvement in politics and its consequences on their personal lives.  If national issues are left to small group of politicians, there won’t be any enabling factors that ensure politicians address national issues in dynamic and systematic manner.  The most important instrument to raise public awareness and eventually its participation is strong independent media.   We must equate independent media with public awareness needed to tackle issues.  It is for this reason that opposition leaders should strongly advocate for independent media and to ensure that independent media is given the utmost freedom within the rule-of-law to operate a day after the establishment of the next government.  Even within the current struggle, the opposition political groups must use the independent media to raise the necessary public awareness rather than only letting individual political activists to engage in political debate while they remain locked up in their respective closets.  We all have to learn to communicate with each other in positive manner that allows us to feed ideas from each other to arrive at solutions.   
  1. Disputes are facts of life.  Disputes [within the political world] may occur between two individuals, between two organizations or between individuals and organizations.  If there are no strong dispute resolution mechanisms, easily resolvable disputes turn into ill-will or feeling of betrayal affecting national issues.  Most importantly, there should be mechanisms that mitigate disputes of personal [i.e. of those within the political establishment] nature doesn’t spill over into the national political arena impeding national issues from being resolved.
  1. Accountability and transparency – It is human nature wanting to avoid accountability.  We all want the maximum discretionary power to do as we please and not to be made to account for our mistakes.  Politicians are no exception.  The safest assumption is to work on the premise that all politicians have their hidden agendas or that their efforts to serve their nation and people is intermingled with their own personal interests of job security, job advancement, some degree of fiefdom, legacy, and many other personal interests and motivations.  Although there is no foolproof system that will ensure the interests of politicians and the interests of the public is aligned, the following are some systems used to address this concern,


    1. The next government should immediately introduce some form of ‘right of access to government records and proceedings’ to ensure that the public is actively engaged in keeping the government accountable,
    2. All politicians and civil servants should be subjected to conflict-of-interest guidelines.  In third world countries where the income gap between businessmen and civil servants/politicians is wide, lax system shouldn’t allow civil servants/politicians to enrich themselves by virtue of their positions.  If civil service or politics is perceived as one route to enriching oneself, resolving national issues would be interwoven with personal interests.
  1. Principle of small government – 21st century governments have become too big.  The western world has developed adequate controlling mechanism to control its big governments.  In contrast, there are no mechanisms to control governments in developing countries.  The immense power and wealth accumulated by incumbent governments and concentrated into the hands of one-man creates a feeding frenzy among aspiring politicians who view government machinery nothing more than a stepping stone for their personal conquest.  Power is intoxicating.  If history is any indication, even those politicians with genuine interests to address social injustices have tendencies to fall off their tracks.   The vast majority of well-intentioned politicians lose their political virginity on the treacherous political arena.  Therefore, well-intentioned politicians and political activists should advocate for smaller government rather than losing themselves on their own conquest to jump into the saddles of power and then becoming modern day Robin Hood.  As long as politicians strive to lead big governments, national politics will be inclined towards pursuing destructive politics creating obstacles towards resolving national issues.  There are three ways to maintain small governments.  First, government should disengage from running businesses and must only maintain very small civil service and army.  Second, there should be independent media and that government media should be managed as independent entities directly accountable to a legislative body.  Third, devolving power to different levels of governments with significant emphasis on municipalities and sub-regional administrations (as opposed to regional administration).


If we simply allow politicians to tackle national issues on their own individual judgments and discretions without placing the necessary constraints around them, one can rest assured that we will never resolve our national issues.  My fundamental belief in addressing national issues is that the vast majority of the population has much narrower and shared interest than the much smaller group of politicians.  

Whereas the above enabling factors create the necessary climate to resolve delicate and complex issues, the call to address immediate issues (5) above is designed to accelerate the downfall of the regime.   Although ultimately it will be domestic forces that will bring changes in Eritrea, Diaspora opposition can play the following roles,

  1. Exposing the regime’s atrocities leading to its isolation,
  2. Engaging in wider discussions to formulate the frameworks for addressing burning issues such as compensation for Warsai Yikealo, pensions for tegadelties and political reconciliations.
  3. Establishing pro-active leadership


As I will discuss below, our efforts to jolt Diaspora “political” opposition groups into effective and active opposition has not yet yielded the results we expected.  Unfortunately, their efforts are largely limited to issuing periodic communiqués.  

What should be our realistic expectations from Diaspora political opposition groups and activities?

If opposition movement is to be successful, it should first determine realistic goals considering human, financial, legal, political, prevailing attitude, capacity, social, diplomatic, and may other factors.  We don’t want to set goals too low or too high that we miss our targets, but a realistic one that we agree on.

1)     Mobilizing Diaspora Eritreans against the regime is not an easy challenge.  Moreover, it is one thing turning Diaspora Eritreans against the regime, and it is totally different thing to bring them into active opposition.   Opposition media, human rights organizations, individuals and international organizations have done an excellent job in exposing the regime’s atrocities.   Without giving excuse to the opposition political groups for failing to attract new members, it is never easy to organize active opposition in Diaspora.  The regime is playing a ruthless game of dividing Diaspora population, what one may call ‘gifffa catered to Diaspora population’.  The reckless PFDJ regime uses both carrot and stick to control Diaspora Eritreans.  The carrot is to provide land to build their houses.  The hidden stick entails arresting Diaspora Eritreans for even participating at opposition meetings.  The most insidious and vile method is PFDJ’s continued efforts to create schism along regional, ethnical and religious line among Diaspora Eritreans.      

2)     It is more important that Diaspora opposition political groups be largely judged on the following issues,

a.      Ability to resolve organizational issues,

b.      Ability to articulate relevant and timely issues pertaining to people’s immediate concerns such as national service compensation, pensions, demobilization and reintegration, and political reconciliation,

c.      Ability to select and rally behind effective and cohesive coalition leadership,

d.      Ability to campaign and to engage foreign governments to take specific issues that tightens the diplomatic noose on the regime.  Most important is that two or three opposition political leaders together must knock at the door of every foreign government.

Many critics, including this writer, have been strongly arguing that EDA must resolve the delicate and complex national issues in order to embark Eritrea on stable and viable nation building when a legitimate Eritrean government is established.   But political leaders are always in a dilemma – if they don’t take specific positions on all national issues they are perceived as being indecisive.  On the other hand if they appear decisive and advocate for certain solutions to address these national issues, they will be castigated for taking certain political positions without wider public consultation and participation.  Moreover, if public participation takes place in Diaspora, many will say that it is more critical that domestic audience, probably the ultimate stakeholders, must participate in these discussions and debates before advocating for certain solutions.  It is a classic case of “damned if you do, and damned if you don’t!”      

Knowing that any kind of strong position on any national issue would only weaken their own political base, these political leaders don’t have a vested interest in taking the lead in addressing burning national issues.  It is healthier to think of politics as a form of a job, just like a mechanic or a musician, rather than a personal mission.  It is not unlike being a CEO.  They have similar personal and organizational motivations.  This is also the difference between managers and leaders.  Managers attempt to maintain the status quo.  Leaders have the capacity to both manage and effect gradual changes.  Just for those who are curious, committee chairman is largely rule-enforcer.  EDA should ask itself if it elected committee chairman or secretary, managers or leaders.

One should measure gradual change by comparing it with a clearly defined vision and pre-established sets of milestones and targets.  It is dishonest (at PFDJ level) to refuse to divulge in advance one’s change program [social, economic, organizational, etc…] and instead at the end of certain performance period to look back, assess, evaluate and then to announce one’s achievement during that period. 

Considering democratically elected politicians are risk averse in their decision making process (as opposed to dictators who make decisions at their whims), the healthiest way of tackling national issues is for the wider community of political activists and all other interested individuals to engage in wider discussions and debates.  If we examine the type of articles written on opposition websites, we can categorize them into the followings,

1.      Discussions of the state of affairs in PFDJ’s Eritrea, poems and cartoons – As critical as these are in keeping the Diaspora population informed on the real situation in Eritrea, it doesn’t address on how to resolve national issues,

2.      Defamation and slanders of political leaders regardless of which political aisles they belong – thankfully, these types of articles have disappeared from our public discussion forums.   We should limit our debates to issues.

3.      Comments and criticisms of the opposition camp, esp. EDA – Many comment or criticize the opposition camp for failing to take certain course of action or for failing to tackle certain issues, but most of these of articles fail to discuss in comprehensive manner how their suggestions can be achieved.

4.      Only few articles discuss either through historical references or through analysis how we may be address national issues.

Closer examination of Eritrean opposition politics reveals that the efforts and activities of the Eritrean opposition political groups reflects the trends in prevailing attitudes expressed in opposition articles circulated in Eritrean opposition websites and the views and efforts of non-political Eritrean organizations.  This can only be healthy politics.  

The wider community of political activists can afford to share their views and engage in discussions and debates on prospective solutions on any national issues with each other and with the public with little concern on its wider effect or being quoted or misquoted.  In contrast, political leaders must taper their views in order to avoid organizational discord or infighting, or simply to avoid being misquoted that may lead to frenzy feeding by its opponents.  For example, this writer can advocate for certain solutions today, and then make a total 180 Degree turn tomorrow and advocate against my own position tomorrow if other persuasive arguments are presented – without worrying about its wider adverse impact.  The wider community of political activists has the freedom to engage in liberal public discussion that allows us to thoroughly discuss and examine issues.  Through synthesis of different ideas and arguments, we can arrive at a widely accepted solution. 

Guess what happens next – having noticed the emerging consensus among the wider community of political activists and the public in general on how to tackle certain national issues, the politicians begin to poach these ideas and solutions and incorporate it into their political platforms.   The purpose of these discussions isn’t necessarily aimed at finding solutions for every problem, but rather to establish the frameworks and perimeters for addressing them.  Whereas the wider community of political activists may set out the framework for tackling issues, as outsiders, the wider community can’t factor in the personal factors that must be included in resolving issues. Politicians may then fine-tune ideas to include personal factors.  For emphasis, it is worth repeating that the job of tackling national issues can’t be left to politicians alone; that would be totally disastrous because ideas won’t be vented as much as they should.  Instead, it will be more productive if we believe tackling issues and finding solutions is a process; and that process must begin from the wider community of political activists and any other interested group.

This wider discussion would have benefited from the expertise and experiences of many highly qualified Eritreans during our current struggle.  Unfortunately these Eritreans view the task of managing a country – possibly the single most important issue that affects each of us – within the context of being either political or apolitical.  In other words, we are incorrectly viewing some of the current critical national issues as being either pro-PFDJ or anti-PFDJ.  Naturally, PFDJ’s attitude of ‘either you are with us, or against us’ isn’t helping but we have to be able to see beyond the immediate obstacles and ensure we thrown in our two-cent worth towards addressing our overall national challenges.  Regardless, we must march on, which means that interested individuals should begin to widen our discussion in order to build consensus on varieties of issues.  It is also worth noting certain consensuses that are beginning to build within the opposition camp over a variety of issues.  That by itself is encouraging.

To reiterate, as much as we all believe that our own solutions to tackle national issues are absolutely correct, it is more important to acquaint and re-acquaint ourselves in universally developed and accepted methodical approaches to tackling national issues, in fact any issue.  Sometimes, the journey from Point A to Point B might not be straight but is arrived through circuitous routes.  We have to develop the rules to resolving problems.  Without these rules, and instead if we pursue unsystematic methods to tackle issues, we will remove one PFDJ and then replace it with another PFDJ.   

Note:  My messages and articles have tendency to be repetitive.  It is my strong belief that we must hammer out the basics and arrive at a consensus on the few basic factors needed to tackle national challenges, and once we do, we will be half-way towards building a great Eritrea.


PFDJ’s “Tripartite” Meeting

It is interesting that the 2007 development program was held one month into the Year 2007.  One may interpret this to mean that PFDJ woke up on the morning of January 22, 2007 to find out that it somehow survived the Year 2006, and that it now must do something for the Year 2007.  This development program can be summed as ‘What can we buy with five bucks?’ Reading the meeting report, one is highly under-whelmed by their 2007 development programs which are,

ü       To continue engaging in food production – nothing new here as private Eritrean farmers have done that for centuries.  By 1997, private Eritrean farmers managed to produce two-third (67%) of the national food needs.  What was PFDJ’s food production last year despite mobilizing every able body in Eritrea and claiming to use modern technology – still less than 40% of the national food needs. 

ü       Building human capacity – Again there is no statistics given because there can’t be any statistics other than the number of young Eritreans fleeing the country.  

ü       Infrastructure – electricity, port and major dams were completed years ago.  The only infrastructure that is amplified in PFDJ media is roads.  Is that 5 or 10 kilometers a year?  I see that much work in my neighborhood every week.

ü       Balanced regional growth – PFDJ tells us that development growth will be focused everywhere except the central and southern regions.  Who decides which areas should be targeted for growth and what type of growth is appropriate?  This is yet another manifestation of PFDJ’s departure from EPLF’s core values of balanced growth throughout Eritrea.

There are other obvious omissions from this 2007 development program:

ü       Where do these programs fit in our overall long-term development program?  By the way, do we have five-year and ten-year economic plans as every other country does?  Or, are we going to be told at the end of the ten-years what PFDJ’s program was for the previous tens after being re-written to suit its politics at that time?  For instance, the fact there are no development programs in certain regions of Eritrea indicates that there has never been and there isn’t long-term development program.  After all, development program is an ongoing process and not a stop-and-go process.

ü       What happened to the tourism sector?

ü       What happened to the marine resources sector?  We were told a couple of years ago that fishing trawlers were on their way.  Did they get swallowed up by “Harat” [large passenger ship] which was itself scuttled before the deal was finalized?

ü       What is the progress on Massawa Free Port (MFP)?  How come Ethiopia spends $ 200 Million USD (count that in USD$) to develop a cargo terminal at its airport and yet our Massawa Free Port is allotted only a couple of million dollars.  Is MFP yet another Train Project to be developed with “our fingernails”?

ü       What happened to the Shrimp farm?

ü       Etc…

PFDJ has devised, in my opinion, a ruthless policy of meeting its Millennium goals and food self-sufficiency goals,

ü       If PFDJ’s capacity to produce food can’t be more than 50% of the domestic needs, why not exile 50% of the population while maintaining the same level food production.  Voila, in one stroke PFDJ can claim to meet 100% of the domestic needs.

ü       Similarly, exiling most of the population would leave only PFDJ lackeys in Eritrea, thus allowing PFDJ to meet its Millennium goals.

Ooops! I shouldn’t be asking these types of questions.  Sorry Shabait and PFDJ!  My question to Shabait and PFDJ should be, how many woyane soldiers surrendered to our defense forces in the past week?  Will Iran go nuclear and what is the implication on the Middle East?   

Public Uprising

We hear that some villagers around Asmara have been expressing their anger through various ways.  Every villager in Eritrea shares their anger.  Unfortunately, public uprising without opposition leadership can only be spontaneous.  The problem with spontaneous uprising is that there is lack of communication among various villages.  Thus, for instance, if there is a form of protest in Tseazega at a particular moment, the other villages near it won’t know about it until after the protesters have completed their acts.  The challenge is how to inform other villages quickly once one village takes certain action.  Who knows, one may create a chain reaction.      

Based on one’s observation of the political developments in Eritrea, one can easily predict that PIA has run out of political options that will earn him his personal victory.  His only option now is to increase his repressive acts in order to maintain power until some miracle delivers him his perceived victory.  The 50,000 Nakfa ransom on parents is only the latest repressive measure. There will be other measures in the near future – but the effects will be the same, which is to further alienate the population, and thus increasing the likelihood of spontaneous uprising. 

In an age of instantaneous communication – chain reaction can be effectively applied.

Last thought:  many criminals who are on a wanted list and are under intense police search are finally relieved when they are caught.  The complexity or confusion of human nature is that, when these criminals get tired of running and hiding and reach a point where they just want to get caught, and yet they continue running away from the law although they know they can end their misery by just walking into and surrendering at the nearest police station. 

Fellow Eritreans, make no mistake that PFDJ is doing exactly what Woyane and many of our enemies want done to Eritrea.  It is as if Woyane is running and destroying Eritrea by remote control.  What a tragedy!

Berhan Hagos

January 27, 2007

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