Democracy and conflict management in Eritrea

By Fesseha Nair

The internal conflict management in Eritrean politics has been volatile and the approaches used never recognized the importance of building sustainable internal political structures but based on temporary agreements that were easily violated. Peaceful management of conflicts has never taken due to the understanding of political elite perception of politics as warring but not bargaining.

 Eritrean political elites see politics as the zero-sum game not as bargaining and compromise. The Eritrean political elites are selfish and do not work with minimal integration and value consensus. Their communication and influences network did not cross their organizational lines. They disagree on the rules of political conduct. They distrust one another deeply. The experience of alliance building that started in 1999 by the opposition political organizations was not successful because of the political elite that have no wisdom of political bargaining. It was full of mistrust and prejudices. Prejudices never solve problems but leads to personal defamation and discrimination.

The process of democratization among political organizations did not proceed smoothly due to political elite perception of politics as a zero –sum game with definite winners and losers.

In 2005, the opposition political organizations reunited and formed a new alliance called, “ Eritrean Democratic Alliance” even this alliance has not worked as expected. The reason why it didn’t work is the same as the previous- the elite perception of politics of zero- sum game.

In 2008, the Eritrean Democratic Alliance come to agreement to work together thanks to the civil society organizations that participated in the unity congress of the alliance. In this article, I will deal with civil societies and their participation in the democratic process. I am not going to define what civil society means but their role and participation in building sustainable internal political structure


Civil society and their role and participation against the dictatorship and democracy


The solution, according to many scholars is a vibrant and mobilised civil society is the force that can shake dictators and promote conflict management. The Eritrean national conference that was held in Addis last summer was a good evidence how the civil society organizations convinced the political organizations to open their hearts and accept each other.

As the studies of professor Gene Sharps ascertains that dictatorships either internal or external can collapse if they are confronted by defiant, vibrant and mobilised civil society. The partnership between civil society and political organizations formed in Addis was the best method to engage the civil society organizations in fighting against the dictatorship and build democracy in Eritrea.

Civil society’s capacity to challenge the dictatorship should be promoted but not discontinued by the existing trends of political elite’s perception of zero-sum games. The EDA member political organizations should open their doors. The participation of the civil society consolidates the democratic process therefore the political leaders of the EDA and others should not resist their participation because of fear that they loose their political power.

In most of African countries transition to democracy failed because of  the weak relationship between political organizations and civil societies. The Eritrean social pluralism like all African countries societies is based ethnic and religious lines.

If we see the plethora civil society organizations of Eritrea in diaspora; we see most of them are based on religion ethnicity and region. Most of them will stay out of struggle for democracy. This can be the result of the opposition political organizations weakness or the repression of the dictatorship in Eritrea.

When civil society organizations act as political organizations it is clear that the process for democratic change weakens. In such circumstances it makes a little sense to look for the definitions of the civil society and political organization. The sources of the uprising in Tunisia and Egypt that have thrown the dictators was joint work of the civil society and political opposition parties. When ANC and all civil society organizations convened in the so called CODESA( Convent Democracy South Africa) they become more powerful against apartheid. CODESA and later COSATU ( Convent South Africa Trade Unions) all these were instruments of democracy to bring all forces together against apartheid.

The Eritrean National dialogue held last summer and the forth coming national congress are instruments to bring all political and civil organizations together in their fight against the dictatorship and for democracy. It is not something to replace the existing political organizations by the civil society organizations but building broad national democratic front including all regardless of their mode of organization. The role of civil society organizations is to mobilise strong protests against the dictator and provide opportunities for controlling and managing conflicts through democratic mechanisms inside the forces for democratic change. Civil society’s role is to act as moderates keeping the two extremists by providing a range of institutional arrangements avoiding the dangers of winner takes all models and instead introducing models of cooperation and unification respecting the interests and rights of all.

Grand strategy of the democratic forces is to bring down the dictatorship and establish a democratic system in Eritrea. The Partnership built between the EDA and civil society organizations must now adhere and not be distracted by unimportant issues of power holding in the process because we are still in process building not in power struggle.

The forthcoming national congress for democratic change aim is to build a broad national organizational structure maintaining constructive, mutually empowering the relationship between the political organizations and civil societies.


In order to strengthen this relationship the following are some areas we need to work on:

–         Building confidence and trust between the political organizations and civil society organizations.

–         Engaging in regular dialogue, consultations and information exchange between political and civil society organizations.

–         Strengthening or organic linkages established at the Addis Conference.

–         Building a broad national organizational structure where candidates for public offices are sponsored by civil society organizations rather than by political organizations.

Democracy means people’s sovereignty, but sovereignty cannot be effectively exercised without  channels to encourage the exchange of ideas and convey the people’s choices.( EDA Conference, 2010) Removing the dictatorship and democratization are collective tasks of the political and civic organizations. Without dialogue and interaction the values of peace, democracy, human rights and the rule of law cannot thrive. We need” joint activities”  to bring down the dictatorship and lay foundations for democracy in Eritrea.

We need national dialogue on the issues of conflict. We are now in the right direction towards national dialogues encouraging wide participation of our people in the transition period.

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Posted by on Jul 22 2011 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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