Democracy and conflict management in Eritrea

By Fesseha Nair

Democracy is a political system that can offer effective methods for peaceful handling of deep-rooted conflicts through inclusive, just and accountable social framework. The Eritrean experience of conflict management and the methods used instead resulted to mobilise ethnicity and religion and turning politics into “ us “ versus “ them”  Eritrea is deeply divided societies. The so called we are “majority” and you are” minority” can often make things worse.

There is no case study of Eritrean conflicts and its management. Eritreans failed to build a state with democratic institutions. The methods used for conflict management and conflict resolutions were inappropriate and unsustainable. The results of such methods have increased the possibility of conflict persisting and escalating. Eritreans lack the knowledge the basic democratic values such us pluralism, tolerance, inclusiveness, negotiation, and compromise which are the main building settlements to conflicts. They deny the diversity of the Eritrean people and will not accept the reality in the ground. Eritrea is a pluralistic nation with diverse people in ethnicities and religion. It is natural in such diversity conflicts of identity rises but needs appropriate democratic methods.

Historically, Eritrean political elites failed to achieve in managing and resolving their internal conflicts, this in turn led us to splitting in identity based nationals. One of the reasons why we failed can be the lack of a system that realistically enabled us build institutions best suit to our needs.

In this article entitled,“ democracy and conflict management “  I will deal with the Eritrean conflict case and its management.

We Eritreans are more concerned on symptoms than the causes of the problems. Conflicts are not all negative but are also positive. Conflict is the interaction of different and opposing aspirations and goals in which disputes are processed but not definitely resolved. It is a necessary part of healthy democratic debate and dialogue provided it remains within the boundaries of the commonly accepted. “ rules of the democratic game”. 

We Eritreans do not have the culture of practicing the rules of the democratic game except a violent expression of conflict and neglecting the rights of the various ethnic and religious in our tiny Eritrea.

Some think themselves that they are the only who are Eritreans the others have no place in Eritrea. It is this attitude of ignorance and arrogance that is the source of conflict. Conflict can be the starting point for energizing social change and improvement. But our leaders of the political and civil society organizations see conflicts as taboos not to be appeared. It is the lack of doing things right or do the right things.

What is conflict management and conflict resolution?

Conflict resolution is ending or removal of a conflict. Conflict management is the positive and constructive handling of differences and divergence rather than removing conflicts. The Eritrean experience and the existing understanding of conflict management showed us that they just are advocating methods of removing conflicts and unity by coercion.

Arguments that express , “ The people in Eritrea has no conflict and are united” is not true and logical. That is simply denying the reality in Eritrea. Eritrean elites failed to address the differences and divergences of the Eritrean diversity needs and aspiration.

What is needed is not advocating for unity of the diversity but addressing the more realistic issues of conflicts in Eritrea.  

What we need is:-

–         how to deal with the issues of conflict in a constructive way,

–          how to bring opposing sides together in a co-operative process,

–         how to design a practical achievable co-operative system for the constructive management of differences.


Recent studies of conflict handling by scholars show that most identity based internal conflicts in the world are more complicated than external conflicts between states.

Addressing the real causes of the conflict in Eritrea is the task that faces us. As we see it in the opposition forces for democratic change neither the political organizations or the civil society has no clear method of conflict handling except simply surfacing on the symptoms blaming each other or calling some political organizations as ethnic and religious without addressing the cause why these organizations have come to exist. Treating such organizations as separatists and tribal brings no solution but escalates the conflict. A political leadership that approaches with such arguments is a loser in Eritrea. Those political organizations who claim at this time that their core principles centred on the people must shift their focus beyond the surface approach of treating symptoms of the Eritrean political arena and to a deeper level where underlining illnesses are directly addresses.


Here, I would like to quote Ibrahim M. Ali’s citation when he was the leader of the Eritrean National forces alliance asked about the ethnic and religious political organizations, he said that existence of these organizations is because the oppression of the ruling regime in Eritrea, therefore it is the lack of managing conflicts and addressing the issues of conflicts, replied our prominent leader.


Blaming the rise of the Ethnic and religious political organizations as problem is failure not to address their issues of conflict. This process of negation and denial of the ethnic and religious issues can inevitably harm the process of national unity and peaceful coexistence in Eritrea.


The process of managing conflicts in Eritrea in general and in the opposition camp must move from short term settlement to sustainable settlement.


Assessing the process of alliance building between the political organizations and later the partnership between political organizations and civil society through conferences and congress is still is not satisfactory and sustainable if it is not addressing the issues of conflict democratically. Democracy sometimes is messy, incremental and difficult but it is the best method to handle conflicts.


The process and the outcome of the recent conferences and congress held in Ethiopia- their strengths and weaknesses has been debated and discussed by the Eritreans in social media but still there are no empirical evidences how much these events have enabled Eritreans to manage their conflicts democratically.


The Eritrean opposition for democratic change must design the process and outcome of any national dialogue by themselves without the intervention of the foreign. But they need to be aware that there may be also obstacles. What is required from the opposition leaders is analysis of the conflict- identifying its history, its core issues, its participation and so on.


The Eritrean conflict has its history from the very beginning of the Eritrean nationalism and the long process of political and armed struggle before the independence and the post liberation period of state building. Its core issues are the state structure, constitution building process, the means of struggle from dictatorship to democracy, its participation in decision making and power sharing.


How far are cultural differences acknowledged and how well are the ethnic and religious rights protected? These are the current conflict issues.  These are the key issues to be focused and managed by not isolating them but accommodating them. Denying and condemning these political organizations escalates conflicts to internecine war inside the country.


I would like to conclude my short article by quoting some scholars citation that says so here: “ Management is doing things right and leadership is doing the right things” have we such leaders in our current political and civic organizations then we hope our internal conflicts will move towards the path of sustainable conflict management and resolution.

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Posted by on Apr 2 2012 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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