Why federalism or democratic decentralisation in Eritrea?

Nair Fesseha

Paper presented at the EFDM 3rd  Organizational Congress


The aim of this paper is to clarify the essence of federalism to resolve
conflicts of power- sharing in political, economic, social and cultural
livelihood of the Eritrean diversity. The Eritrean National Alliance has put
two on its charter, “ the principles of federalism or democratic decentralisation
and the fundamental rights “ of the various communities of Eritrea. But,
how are these principles be put in practice are still to be studied. The
Eritrean scholars and intellectuals should focus their studies on the realities
of Eritrea.
In Eritrea,
there is an oppressed and oppressor.

Who is the oppressor, its structure and its functions, and its
supporters will be exposed to the people. One cannot bury the facts and build a
false history in Eritrea.
The state building in Eritrea
must be based on federal democracy


The analysis of issues of conflict in Eritreahas been discussed many
times. The long traditions of political, economic and social differences inside
the Eritrean socio-economic and socio-politic structures had been neglected and
passed by saying , “ We Eritreans are one people and one heart,  “ or say don’t speak about our difference,
because we can be divided. In the first place, the socio- economic and
socio-political structure and its divisive
forces – ethnic ( race , language and culture ) religion and political
ideology must be addressed properly without fear. Generally speaking ,
Eritreans have been escaping from the realities, that Eritreans are different
in their socio –economic and political structures. Eritrea can be divided into three
categories based on its socio- economic and political structures. 1. The west
and east lowlanders. 2. The kebesa people- comprising tigrinya speaking
christians and jeberti moslems and the Saho People on the eastern escarpment of
theprovince ofAkele- guzai. 3. The Afars of the Red Sea.


The knowledge of these
communities’ socio –economic and political structures help us understand the
contradictions that disunited Eritreans to build a nation. Neither, the
colonialists, nor the liberation movements have brought integrative changes ,
except divisive and polarising politics in Eritrea. The politics of division
and polarisation have been inherited by the ruling party of PFDJ, direct after
post liberation. The building of a nation inEritrea by PFDJ/ EPLF.


Nation –building can not be achieved by enforcing/ coercing the various
communities in Eritrea
, without taking their views and respect their
fundamental rights of citizenship. The PFDJ and its proponents , policy
of  “
tight centralism “ for building a strong
government in Eritrea is, indeed a colonial heritage, disregarding the
Eritrean diversity. The dream of building a strong nation dominated by one
ethnic group- kebesa christians and its aggrandising politics plunged Eritrea into wars inside and outside. The dream of Issyas still is not materialised. The consequences of tight centralism adopted by PFDJ are clear. The argument for tight centralism, especially advocated by the Kebesa christian intellectuals and intelligentia had never led to solutions of the Eritrean internal conflicts. The process of unity still is not completed in Eritrea. The
government in Eritrea
supported by the kebesa christians created a bitter hate against the other
ethnic groups. The kebesa christians consciously or unconsciously are still
supporting this government, despite its brutality even against them.


The Eritreans still lack an experience and knowledge to find ways and be
able to live together under one nation, in equal terms. When a solution to the
internal problems be available, then the internal disruptions will be avoided
and all Eritreans, regardless of their ethnic, religious and cultural origin
will be proud of their Eritreanes.  As I
understand the feeling of hegemony of the christian kebesits in general and
their elite power greediness that make the Eritrean people live in
misunderstandings and fears of each other.


The Eritrean people need a political innovations- rearranging them to
come close together and grasp modern conceptions of organising political, economic
and social activities that promote mutual understanding and satisfaction. For
this reason,   I have selected today, in
this paper to discuss about, “ Democratic Decentralisation and federalism as
the only methods of uniting the diversity of Eritreans inEritrea “


In the first part of this paper I will try to define the terms
federalism and democratic decentralisation, the territorial characteristics and
the essentials of federalism.


  1. 2.
    is federalism?

Eritrean state formation re-examined

experience of state formation in Eritrea by the EPLF/ PFDJ was an
old method of the Western colonial states by concentration of power to
individuals and  capital accumulation in
the name of the people mainly to control the people and deprive their
territories. This is not the traditional African experience at the village
level. The league or the idea federalism is western but African.

Federalism is a political
concept in which a diverse of people are united together by covenant/
constitution with a governing representative. It is when the sovereignty is
constitutionally divided between the federal authority and constituent
political units.( state, provinces, cantoons) It is a system based upon a
democratic rules and institutions in which the power is shared between national
and the units. It is not the size of the country or the number of the
population that decides that one will adopt the federal system of governance
but its being the best tool for solving internal problems of power sharing. It
is the right formula uniting the diversity under one nation. Most Eritrean
intellectuals and political elites relate federalism with separation or
secession. Some argue that Eritrea
is a little nation and cannot afford economically. Such arguments are the same
like those who say that economic development must come before democracy. The
idea of federalism came for example in Switzerland when it was poor. It
was motivated that the need to accommodate the diverse communities inhabiting
the land.


federalism in Eritrea


Eritreais a nation with
peoples of diverse languages, culture and religion. Power over resources and
identity often shaped by the powerful is the root conflict in Eritrea.
Historically, from the early birth of Eritrean nationalism the politics that
dominated and still existing is the zero-sum game where the winner takes all.
The nation that will be built after post dictatorial Eritrea must first adjust the state
structure where the politics of zero-sum games abhor and the politics where all
the Eritreans win. In the next following section I will discuss
decentralization which was adopted previously by the EDA and later by the ENCDC
in its charter,  comparing it with
unitary system of governance.


What is democratic decentralisation


Decentralisation refers to any arrangement by which the responsibilities
of the central government for the direct provision and administration of
services are reduced by allocating to co-ordinate authorities enjoying some
measure of discretion. There are two kinds of federalism, administrative and
democratic federalism. Administrative federalism is accountable to the central
government but democratic is accountable to the people. The term, federation is
a type of polity/ government operating constitutionally and works on two levels
of government: as a nation and as a collection of related but self-standing


The objective of federation is a form of government for the people by
the people. That is to say it is inherently democratic. It seeks on the one
hand to create and maintain a nation, on the other hand to preserve the
integrity of the units, their identity, culture and tradition. The objective of
building and maintaining of  Eritrea as a
nation need a unity of all the communities living in different regions in  Eritrea based on equality and
justice and no dominance of one ethnic group on the others. In federation, no
level of government is dominant over the other. The rights of all units should
be guaranteed in the constitution.


Some Eritreans argue for decentralised unitary democracy in Eritrea. But
there is fundamental difference between decentralised unitary democracy and
federation. In a federation the rights of the people living in the regions are
guaranteed by the constitution, while in the decentralised unitary democracy,
lower level governments are merely statutory, they could be swept away by the
central government at any time. In a federation. The central government has no
constitutional relation, any influence is regarded as an illegitimate
encroachment on the units rights. But additional contributions or funds for
development of the unit are welcome.


The term centralism refers to a polity operating a constitution which
works on one level government as one unit. It is inherently undemocratic and
leads directly to dictatorship. The objective of building and maintaining of a
nation is exclusive and is realised by dominance and force. This system of
centralism is not accepted by the modern world, because it is a failed system.
Nowadays, it is practised by some undeveloped countries, like that ofEritrea.



Arguments in favour of centralism is that Eritreais inhabited by diversities
of people, the only method to hold these diversities by is tight centralism.
The second argument is that Eritrea
is so poor that it cannot maintain or finance its units as federal states. The
third argument is that it can lead to internecine wars , because of territorial


We have defined the concepts of decentralisation and federalism in contrast
to centralism and unitary democracy, we will now proceed to its natural
governmental organs:


  1. Elected
    Assembly representative of all units / states with fixed terms of years,
    related with the  number of population
    decided by rules of election. It can be adjustable with the changing of
    population movements.
  2. An
    elected Senate of a fixed and limited number with equal representation of all
    states. Through this mechanism a weaker state feel that it can make a positive
    contribution to national policies.
  3. A
    Federal government capable of  taking
    decisions quickly, preparing the draft of national budget, introducing new
    legislation and suggesting constitutional amendments.
  4. Supreme
    Court or the Judicial administration is the watchdog of the constitution


The Federal government in Eritrea, should be better in a form
of committees  instead of president like
that of the USA,
because a president in  a society like
that of Eritrea
can neglect the interests of the many units. A federal government led by
committee elect a chairman from itself for a limited time. The president is not
executive and has no outstanding importance.


3. What are the geographical
characteristics  in Eritrea ?


Essentially, Eritrea have had 8 territorially and culturally
administratively functioning provinces , during the Italian colonial period
,  federal period with Ethiopia and under
Ethiopian occupation. These territorially divided provinces have their
historical characteristics- the Lowlands of West and East
Eritrea- comprising the provinces of Senhit, Semhar, Sahel, Barka  , and
the Highland Region- comprising Hamasien,
Seraye and Akele-Guzay and the Denkel- Assab region.


After independence, the regime in
has changed the structure of the past political organisation and constituted Eritrea with 6
administrative regions without no studies and consultation of the people. The
existing association of the people and territories is not consistent. The
territorial adjustments, bringing or merging the people from different regions
has only fomented conflicts of land appropriation between the various people in


The present division of Eritrea
into 6 provinces is artificial to strengthen the power of the authoritarian
ruling party of PFDJ. The ruling party has neglected the historical, cultural
and  geographical identities of the
various Eritrean people.


In the federal form of government in Eritrea, the division of units/
states will be based on the historical, cultural and geographical identities.
The states can show some variations but all will abide under the constitutional
law adhering to the parliamentary form of government. The differences in
culture and religion should be respected.


4. What are the essentials of
federalism ?


I attempted to define the
essentials of federalism, now I will be dealing with the functions and
structure of the federal government. Any attempt to analyse or create , a
decentralised system of government , whether federal or not, one must pay
attention to the political and legal aspects. If the future governing structure
is federal or unitary. The institutions of government and the party system
should be devised clearly without causing obstacles to the functioning of the
government. Procedures and institutional forms based on the constitutional
rules must be established and maintain the federal ruling system viable.
Political parties can compete through the machinery of federalism for their
interests without state restrictions. The role of the party system within the
federal system should be clear. The function of the political parties in a
federation should bridge the gap between the Federal and State governments and
bring the two levels of government into harmonious relationship. If political
parties do not cut across  boundaries,
but perpetuate local level and sectional loyalties, then the danger of civil
war is enhanced, and the functioning of federation disrupts. Political parties
must provide the mechanism   of
co-operation – by bringing the different opinions closer together until
political compromise is reached. Political parties that have the ability of
drawing support based on linguistic, racial and religious factors can challenge
the work of the government and make it unable to conduct its policies.





In the first part of this article, I shortly defined the meanings and
the essences of decentralisation. In this part, I will deal with the issues (
geographical, cultural and religious ) that must be considered , when building
and maintaining a state.


  1. 1.
    type of state can mitigate or help solve the internal conflict in Eritrea ?
  2. Have the various Eritrean
    Political Opposition a common map of building a state?


  1. A.
    state with tight centralism ? Why ?
  2.  Unitary democratic state with decentralisation
    ? Why ?
  3.  United federal democratic state ? Why ?

Each and every political or
civic organisation should have a vision for future Eritrea. The most difficult issue
is not the removal of the dictator- dictators decay themselves and die by their
actions. But , what is your proposal  on
building state ? Saying , democratic Eritrea itself is not enough. Say
something tangible. Choose one of the above and argue , which is the best
device to settle conflicts of power and build peaceful and stable Eritra.


 The centralised and one man rule is the source
of all evils with rigid attitude of arrogance neglecting dialogue of resolving
the endemic conflicts in Eritrea.
Neither , the ruling dictator,  nor  those who are crying for salvation are no
reliable in solving internal conflicts in Eritrea. Because they own no
culture of dialogue.


Nation –building and state, where people’s rights are violated or
neglected never achieve sustainable development. Why do conflicts flare up
always between Eritreans ? . Does the origin of the conflicts depend on the
socio-economic and political organisation ? In this part of this article, I
would like to explore the dynamics and inclinations of the Eritrean political
activities and organisation




This attitude of arrogance and dominance welcomes always dictatorship
and totalitarian politics with a maxim,
“rulers never make mistake, “  and
its attempt of establishing a strong and militaristic government in Eritrea
couldn’t solve the substantial differences between the various of the Eritrean
people. A way in which the fundamental issues are presented and resolved- thus
creating national unity, where the rights of the people respected and political
participation guaranteed were neglected by the party that has taken power after
independence. The experience of the ten years’ of independence  marked by its atrocities and its failed
policies, and the distortions that occurred should be examined and be
acknowledged by the regime and its accomplices not to be repeated by next
generation. The tension is between those who admired and supported the brutal
regime and those who were victims of this regime since independence.


4.  State Structure  and power- sharing


Given the Eritrean communities
diversity in culture , religion and region , restructuring the state power
reflecting this diversity is of great importance.  A state structure which accommodates the
heterogeneous people of Eritrea  , where power should be decentralised equally
to all regions and each region should have its identical relationship with
federal government. Models of unitary government more or less lead to
centralism and never help solve internal conflicts. A federal device in terms
of the division of powers and the structure of institutions enables various
kinds of accommodation to be made. It is more hospitable to compromise, based
on discussions , mutual respect  and
thereby reinforce these qualities. The advantages of federalism exceeds its


The counter arguments of federalism are those presented by the leaders
of majority because they lose power. They fear that it can trigger to
secession. These fears can solved by arranging the system of governing so that
maintaining the unity of the nation, on the one hand, and preserving the
integrity of the units / states / regions, their identity, culture and tradition,
on the other hand. The objective of state building and maintaining a nation
implies that the free movement of  labour
, capital and the unity of commercial and financial policy from one region to
another must be ensured. The units never be allowed to secession or violate the
rights of the other region. This should be guaranteed in the Constitution.




Territorial nationhood/
regionalism is one of the elements which constructs the country. It is one of
the markers of nationalism.  Regionalism
as a policy is the device of decentralisation for effective and accessible
administration. The people living in that region take the responsibility for
good governance and maintain their own culture and identity. Therefore,
regionalism has nothing to do with segregation , or divisions , it contributes
more to Eritrean nationalism and unity. Eritrea is a composition of the
various geographical and cultural identities.

This distinct geographical and cultural identities must be viewed from
the Eritrean historical importance. The attempt of nation –building by the
regime in Eritrea  has not taken , in consideration  , the cultural and territorial
distinction  of the people in one region.
For example, the redrawing of the provincial boundaries , the land belongs the
state, proclaimed by the PFDJ is a direct deprivation of the rights of the
people of their land and identity. This policy was to settle the highly
populated tigrinya –speaking christians to the less populated lowlands. This
has only brought conflict between the new settlers and owners. The existing
pattern, internal relationships, history, degree of autonomy and organisational
structure of the region is dependent on the decision of the people.

The self –appointed regime of
PFDJ has changed the existing pattern in the name of unity.


The re-mapping  of  the provinces and the proclamation of the
land as of state is one of the root causes of the conflicts in Eritrea. This
is one of the area of conflicts concerning disputes over territory. For
example, the government in Eritrea
has been selling land to those who have money by taking the land from
landowners. Territorial disputes have taken place between the state and the
people. A viable nation- building in Eritrea requires the use of
innovative institutional arrangements that deliver equitable economic resource
allocation for all the citizens without segregation. Such arrangements can
dampen calls for secession. Eritrea
, with its diverse people needs institutions that promote conflict management.
This arrangement can be federalism or other decentralisation of power.


State–building in Eritrea
has run into aground and provoked an opposite reaction among many influential
linguistic and religious and cultural groups : the emergence of rival ethnic
and religious movements at this time are apparent evidences of the failure of
state-bulding inEritrea.

Language and religion, however , are
identity markers that are shared by all Eritreans, irrespective their
origin, basing national identity on a particular language is an essential
political concept which is invoked frequently in Eritrea. The language policy
adopted by the current regime in Eritrea is one of the main issues
of conflict in the building of the state. This policy has secondary effects on
the ability of the people to seek employment: those whose language is chosen
for official use have an obvious advantage over others. For example, in Eritrea , those
who speak arabic language has no opportunity to get employment, because arabic
language has no official use in Eritrea
at this time. Language policy is one of the factors used in building a state.


The role of religion in Eritrea
:religion in Eritrea
tends to be part of our human experience and is by any means indispensable for
the Eritrean society. Eritrean identity is sometimes described by moslem/
christian national identity since the inception of Eritrean nationalism. During
the Federal period ( 1952 -1962 ), both arabic / tigrinya and moslem /christian
were declared to define Eritrean national identity. The post-liberation period
of nation –building in Eritrea
has not given respect to these identities
, when adopting a particular language policy inEritrea.


A viable nation –building in Eritreaneed a language policy that
accommodate the diverse ethnic groups integrated, but not assimilated. Language
pluralism is not disadvantage but is advantage. Language conflict can be
managed by providing the minority languages freely used and giving incentives
to learn the official languages, ( Arabic and Tigrinya ) because people have
the advantage to learn many languages. To day it is a common to speak more than
one language in many countries. Switzerland
is a classic example of how culturally diverse groups can coexist  peacefully, rather than melting ethnic groups
into a new culture. A nation is not necessarily have one language to be or to
share a sense of belonging.  “Can’t you
speak tigrinya? Aren’t you Eritrean ? “ are the modern  times , explicit or implicit ideas of


To-day , it is only the tigrinya language, used in schools,
administration, the army,and public life in general. Even the names of the
places and villages settled by the newcomers are given the names of tigrinya.
This is a deliberate action of tigrinyatisation. Despite, many protests, the
policy assimilation of the ruling party has gone beyond correction.


The mother tongue education policy is only sham and pretentious. Those
who attended or mastered the mother tongue are considered as illiterates. They
have no opportunity of employment and other professional rewards and promotion.
Even , they are not allowed to sign or write their names in their languages.
Then , what is the use of learning mother tongue for five years ? Isn’t
that  squandering with national resources

5. The Current Situation in Eritrea 


The ruling party in Eritrea  with its ten years’ experience of hostility,
bloodshed and civil war under unworkable constitution and a tight centralism
has never provided an appropriate solution to the internal conflicts in Eritrea. The
ruling party in Eritrea
has the same policies as that of the former
imperial powers. Many proponents of the tight union, either members of
the ruling party , or in the opposition believe that the diversity in Eritrea must be
brought by force to build a nation in Eritrea. The Eritrean diversities
of  race, culture and religion are so
strong that a strong government with no autonomy of these peoples’ rights is
not viable.


Today, the devout supporters of the ruling party even pronounce that
Constitution is not necessary in Eritrea.  They repeatedly argue that ,what the Eritrean
people need is food, but deserve no rights.
The need for food and its acquisition is one’s civil right. Food ,
housing and other necessities of life are the natural fundamental rights of the
human being. They are not granted by the rulers of the country. A government
that deprives these rights is not the people’s government. A country that
neglects these rights is doomed to fail.


The post –independence period and its devastating wars with neighbouring
countries would have been avoided if  Eritrea has
adopted a democratic device to build a democratic state. The main cause of all
these horrors is the wrong path of building a nation adopted by the ruling
party inEritrea.


The ruling party ( PFDJ ) vested all power to one man in order to build
a strong government without no institutions and constitution. This was the main
factor leading the country in spiral of conflicts and wars with all internal an
external forces. To prevent recurrent dictators and the tight  centralism that breeds disunity among
Eritreans, it is time to  search a  device that unites all Eritreans to build a
viable nation.


In part one of this article, I have discussed the organs of federal government,
and part two has discussed the Eritrean distinct geographical, cultural and
religious identity that must be respected and maintained to build a viable
nation. In this part of my article, I will be concentrating on , why the major
characteristics of  the Eritrean
territorial components and integrity are important in building a state inEritrea.


6. Historical Overview


The present Eritrea
is born from the distinct territorial components determined by the time of
colonial and internal actions in the period of
1890 – 1991. The zones of occupation were first known as , Highland Eritrea
( Kebesa ), East and West lowland Eritrea ( Oriental  and Occidental Eritrea ) and the Land of the Danakil ( Afarlands ). This division was  the first path of shaping Eritrea as a
colonial nation. It was of practical, cultural, economic and geographically
satisfying the colonisers and the local people. These regional administration
has historical bases. Out of these three regions, the occupiers constructed  the later administrative provinces. It was an
effective reorganisation of the Eritrean territorial and political life that
took around 1908. The country was divided into provinces and districts.

The provinces of  Hamasien, Seraye
and Akele Guzzai  are located in the Eritrean
Highlands. The provinces of  both East
and West Lowlands are Semhar, Sahel, Senhit and Barka. Assab is the province of the
Afarland. The various communities living in these regions and provinces had
their own way of  associations. They
formed their own village and territorial rules and laws under the colonial
rule. These three territories were separately administered.


The three regions / territories or the provinces vary widely in
population , area and resources. The largest in area is the Western Lowland and
the smallest is the Highland.  ( Kebesa ) Population -wise, the Eritrean
highland is more densely populated , while the Eritrean Lowlands are scarcely
populated.  The people living in the
former territories  were dependent on
agriculture and herdsmen. The various communities living in the three regions
had their own basic laws as a form of governing at the chief level. Some have
written constitutions that were formidable and detail. They have a system of
judicial administration through their own constitutional courts. These land
laws still works in the villages.

The Eritrean post –liberation nation-building has never taken these
historic characteristics that were established many years ago. The differences
in culture and religion which distinguishes the Eritrean communities from one
another should not be neglected.  A
nation –building that does not  include
these regional identities is doomed to fail.


The current  unimplemented
constitution of the  current regime in Eritrea did not
provide any vertical and horizontal division of
power and function. Even the organs of the government and  their authority is not clearly defined. All
power lies on the president. There are no defined basic laws , except decrees.
The 6 administrative zones have no autonomous administrative authority provided
by the constitution. This is one of the main problems in the state structure in
The unimplemented constitution in Eritrea is not because many
Eritreans had not participated in it ,
but because it produces a situation of tight power concentration within
the system of governing. This model is obviously dysfunctional in Eritrea. The
view of those who support this Constitution is only the view of those who want
to build the Empire of  Eritrea under
one king


The people living in the Highlands of Eritrea, except the Saho and the
Jeberti , had strict and more centralised way of ruling at home. The Saho
people had more liberal and decentralised way of life. The people living in the
West and East Lowlands , and the Afar people
were  following more decentralised way of
life. These two aspects of  civilisation
( culture )  the tight centralism under
one feud , practised in the Eritrean Christian Highlanders , and the
decentralised one practised by the other Eritrean people should be  noted. The later politics pursued by  the Eritrean political elites emanated from
the attitude of  centralism with desire
of power or prestige , and decentralisation with power -sharing. The military
and dictatorial regime in Asmara
has abolished the former regional and provincial boundaries and replaced them
with its own scheme under a  “
Unification Decree” favouring one segment of the Eritrean people  at the expense of others. This new boundaries
never forged harmony and unity between the Eritreans but greatly served to
intensify the inequalities between the new settler and  the former natives. Given the paralysis of
centralism,  it is essential to discuss
the issue, what type of government is appropriate in Eritrea after the removal of the
dictatorial regime in Eritrea


It should be clear by now that the method of  organising a government with equal
distributing of power and wealth in Eritrea in the future must rest on
the claims of the Eritrean people maintaining the distinct regional differences
and diversities. A governmental organisation operating as a safeguard against
the concentration of too much authority at the centre and its calamities is
important in Eritrea
to hold the diversity in unity.



7. The root cause of the conflict


The internal conflict in Eritrea
is rooted in the ideas of identity based on race, religion, culture, language
and so on, plus the distribution , or sharing of the economic, political and
social resources. The combination of this identity- based factors with its
wider perception of unjust distribution of resources fuels the deep rooted
conflict. The opportunistic leaders  of Eritrea
manipulated this identity and distributive
policies and make the conflict insoluble. The internal conflict in Eritrea
involves claims of  rights: ethnic rights
, religious rights and cultural rights. The conflict in Eritrea is
where one community dominates , and others are deprived their fundamental
rights. It is a conflict threatening the existence of others. An enduring
settlement to the internal conflict in Eritrea depends on building an
appropriate democratic political structure.


This appropriate democratic political structure can keep the country
from splitting. This political structure can be instituted as a federal
governing system that can keep the Eritreans united , where power is devolved
equally to all regions and each region has an identical relationship to the
central government. For example, the adoption of federalism in Switzerland and
were motivated by the need to accommodate the diverse communities. Many
Eritreans have negative perception of federalism. They relate this idea as
divisive and disuniting. But, in contrary federalism is a device to unite and
get together for mutual defence and advancement.


In this part 4 of the article, I will deal  on the origin of the theory of federalism and
its practices in the world.


8. Theory and origin of


The ancient Greeks were the first who theorised and practised federalism.
Their experiment can be traced from the fifth century B. C. At an early stage
the Greeks  have two types of alliances
thus called symmachia and sympoliteia meaning , “ leagues “ in
english language. Symmachia  is a military alliance while Sympoliteia  is sharing of political life or political
power at that time. This political life implies that there was a central
government and local governments. At that time control of the army, foreign
affairs and jurisdiction in case of treason belonged to the central government
, while other matters belong to the federating communities. Such federal states
were mostly developed during the Hellenistic period. There were other classical
leagues such as the Peloponenesian, Aetolian, Achaean and Boeotian. This
earliest and long-lived leagues / federations had been flourishing until 336

The Greek leagues have similar patterns to the modern federation: there
were two government organs- the Council and the Assembly , and two level
governments: the central and local governments. There  are no tangible evidences, if there were
federated city-states during the Dark Ages ( the early Middle Ages ) The famous
Lombard League  was only a temporary alliance
of the cities around Milan
against the attacks of empires ofFrance.

In the thirteenth century, the Swiss have attained a form of
confederation before they formed a nation. The interest and relevance of
leagues has been considered by the Hanseatic League
of north German towns. Lubeck
and Hamburg
joined together to protect the  gulfs of
the North and Baltic
Seas.  All the leagues / federations at that time
were engaged in sea trades. As we see, the idea of federation is an ancient ,
but later on developed as a means of drawing the diverse citizens for the
common benefit for building a nation. Federation is the propensity to live
together for mutual defence and development. It is a method of governing.
Successful federations are those that satisfy all citizens and build up a
nation without disruption , where citizens are proud of their nation and feel
more to protect it. For example, these are true today in Switzerland, Germany, USA, Canada , Australia and India except
some troubles.

Federalism like democracy has its origin from the ancient Greeks but has
changed gradually. The federal system of the
modern times is different from that of the ancient Greeks. The features
that make a particular political system federal is:


1. A constitution which
guarantees to each of the two levels of government an independence of each
other sufficient to enable them to engage the continuing support of significant
elements of the political system,


  1. A
    constitutional and political system which links the two levels with a
    significant degree of interdependence, such that neither level can subordinate
    the other to it, nor act wholly independently of the other across the  whole range of government functions.


It is this combination of genuine independence with genuine
interdependence which distinguishes the federal State from decentralised State.
In decentralised State, the central authority may delegate power and authority
and draw it at will. The lower government seems have a degree of independence ,
but if the forces that support it are unable to influence the decisions of the
upper level, then  it is not genuine.
Genuine constitutional safeguards not only in paper but enforced  by courts,
where the two levels of government work together financially,
administratively and organisationally giving them a continuous significance.


The nature of the theory of federalism of the ancient and the nineteenth
century  are different as clarified
above. The nineteenth century federalism is more concerned with the values of
representation , democracy and national feeling. The twentieth century
federalism adds  to these values – social
justice and legislative policies and finances.


What is the relationship between federalism, democracy and nationalism ?
A representative democracy based upon the nation building with a strong sense
of national unity depending on mutual trust elects  its representatives. If the representatives
use their authority against the interests of
some citizens , then the problems of unity be complicated and as a result
nation building is not safe. If the representatives use their authority in a
way which broadly recognises  the common
interests and aspirations of all , then sense of unity exists and nation
building be strong. The emergence of sense of community is eased when people
share common traditions, common language, religion and economic interests. When
they do not , the problems of unity are difficult to achieve.  The acceptance of nation building requires
years of struggle, development of symbols like the flag, or anthem. Many
aspects of nationalism are historically related in the process of nation
formation and national identity based on participatory democracy. A community
excluded from this participatory democracy loses the sense of citizenship.


Federalism was adopted by some countries during the nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries. For example, the Balkan system of small states. These
federalism contained two principles: first, the modern federal State responding
nationalistic aspirations-widening the sense of community in each of the units
which was being federated; second, the federal State involved at one and the
same time attempts to strengthen national unity and democracy in nation
building including all communities. Thus federalism asserts the rights of the
minority and limits the dominance of the majority.

A working constitution of a federal system must met three major
conditions to be successful: first, it must provide division of power in a
federal sense. Second, it must establish
institutions and constitutions of certain political, economic and social
actions. Third , there must be a set of mechanism for the dynamics of the rules
concerning the division of powers so that changes in technology, social values
and government functions in a federal system
are accommodated and respected in the country.


With these points in mind , the idea of federalism is not the twentieth
century phenomenon but ancient, later developed as a system of  government. Today, Switzerland , Germany, USA, Canada and Australia are
the  highly developed federal democracies
in the world. India
and Nigeria
are also  ruled by federal system of
governing. There are many quasi –federal states in Africa
, Asia and Latin American countries. The Arab
Emirates in the Gulf are federal kingdoms.


9. The Role of the parties in federalism


Having discussed the idea  and
nature of federalism , we must now proceed, how the institutions in the
government and the party system interact. In the past, during the communist
era, the federal idea was weakened by former socialist countries. To understand
the collapse of the socialist federations one can not judge it from the
historical speculations about the supposed incompatibilities but rather see the
structural , behavioural and the normative weakness of the socialist model
applied to the federal idea.

These countries have adopted an asymmetric federal structures, where the
dominant chose to battle the non-dominant, for example , the Serbs in Yugoslavia.
More complications  for continuance of
the federal idea can be also, when federations are based on ethnic and
religious national principles, endangering the very survival of the nation.
Another factor that can hinder federalism is the one party authoritarian rule.

The seventy- five year period of
communist rule destructed the idea and role of federalism. Socialism has
weakened the processes, institutional , and public and elite linkages with the
federal idea so that no one came to defend it when communist regimes collapsed.
Institutionally, the structures were not designed for conflict resolutions but
for to express support for party program. Economically, it was closely linked
with plan economy, increasingly ineffective and wrong allocation of resources.
Politically, under socialism, federalism was a bureaucratic-administrative tool
and has not served the rights of the people ; but used  as a
means of control and oppression.


In federalism , Constitutional rules are not enough to give life and
vigour to the political system. The two principles of federalism-
interdependence and independence of the two level governments must be devised
and remain distinct and perform the necessary functions without collapsing the
whole system of  federal governance. The
constitutional and institutional structure of federalism is important to keep
power balance between the Federal  and
State. Power separation between the Federal and State facilitates the operation
of compromise and co-operation , balancing the various interests at regional,
provincial and local level in all the Eritrean Communities.


We will now argue , how political parties function in federal system of


The role of the parties in a
federal governing system is to bridge the gap between the Federal and State
governments , to cut across sectional and regional loyalties, and to bring the
two level governments into a relatively harmonious relationship. When disputes
evolve between the Federal and the State governments, the parties must provide
the mechanism through which the points of view of  both levels are brought closer together until
a political  compromise is reached. If
political parties do not cut across boundaries, do not  create national system, but perpetuate local
and territorial loyalties, then the danger of disintegration  or the disruption of the federation is
increased. This has been experienced in the past socialist federations. The
American and Australian parties have performed this function well.


Federal institutions with highly decentralised political institutions
can provide a power base for the State or local politicians to build upon. Such
institutions are a desirable for a successful federalism. Local political
parties are able to call upon a very high degree of support and loyalty from
the people in their particular State or locality and they can draw upon linguistic,
racial, religious or other kinds of emotions disabling the central government
to conduct effectively the required national policies.


Federal institutions in socialist federations were highly centralised
and did not behave as federal consultative bodies. They were rather mechanisms
for party control. There were no political parties that can communicate,
bargain and compromise upon the problems evolved in the political affairs at
the different levels of governments. In the socialist federations, political
power flowed from party institutions to federal structures , which meant that
the communication –authority flow among federal institutional levels had little
significance for policy makers. Communism was intolerant towards free
expression, unanimity but not diversity was the celebrated value. In all the
socialist federations, party organisations and leaders were not federalist but
anti- capitalist movements. There were no mutual trust and confidence and the
party did not provide mechanisms of negotiations and compromise. The party
platform , and the role of the ethnic or republic delegates at the national
level was only to endorse and support the party program. Those who did not
support , or criticise were severely repressed or labelled simultaneously anti-
communist or anti- nationalists.


In the Western Federal systems of governing, political parties fight
their battles through the machinery of federalism without being committed to
States’ Rights or the Federal Government. They are only concerned to promote
their political interests and ideologies.

Federal Governments in the Western Countries maintain a two-party system
or multi-party system. The federal politics provide the parties free and
competitive rights.


Federalism has been misconceived by many Eritreans as divisive and
disassociative , but in contrary it is unitary and creative if it develops
gradually and entail the necessary conditions related with its development.


The character of the regional units- the way in which the boundaries of
the federating states are drawn is the most complicated issue. The financial
and administrative issues, the separation of powers and the judiciary will be
the next issues to be discussed.



          10.  Drawing boundaries of the federating states


In the previous series of articles I tried to illustrate the main ideas
and elements of federalism. I will now try to shed light on the importance of
drawing boundaries between the states. Adopting federal form of government
needs an appropriate planning of mapping so that unnecessary incompatibilities
be avoided.


The organisation of the State and Local Governments is the most
interesting aspect of  federal politics.
The objective of this organising is to see that no State should be in a
position of dominating others. The State should be compact in its
administrative, territorial, cultural historical association and respect the
wishes of the citizens. Each State should carefully select its capital supposed
to be convenient and accessible for all residents in that area.


The path of federalism is never smooth regarding drawing boundaries
between States. Drawing boundaries based on regions or based on administrative
provinces have their advantages and disadvantages. For example ; the first
experience of Nigeria
is interesting in this respect. The Nigerian federation was first based on
regions- three state regions from the British period. The desire for a greater
number of states was refused because on non-viability. But the decision was
disastrous. Friction between the regions has arisen; and further complicated by
the larger regions. The incompatibility is that putting people to live together
in a large area which is not possible to work smoothly.


The first experience of drawing boundaries regionally in Nigeriahas
resulted in regionalism and infighting ( Ex ; the case of Biafra
) In January 1966, immediately after the civil war a new boundary was redrawn,
avoiding the incompatibles yoking people together. Regions have been replaced
by a number of states. Today, there are 19 states in Nigeria , entirely secular with
freedom of movement. Complete equality before the law, free press and all
occupations open to all religious and tribes. This new reorganisation of
boundaries strengthened the federal politics inNigeria.


The Swiss experience, from the thirteenth century consists a number of
separate sovereign states called cantons , which joined together to secure
certain common objectives, especially defence, foreign policy and large public
works. The first three original Forest Cantons made their first treaty of
alliance in 1291. The alliance of these three cantons was the cradle of the
Swiss Confederation. This alliance has endured through all the changes and
troubles and is one of the successful federations in the world. The arrangement
of  the boundaries of the cantons
differed from time to time , however over the past years a steady expansion of
cantons had appeared. The number of cantons has now grown to twenty- five.

The Confederation was not safe, to some extent some infighting were
taking place. There were quarrels  and
even infighting between the rural populations. Inspired by the French
revolution, individual cantons began gradually to get rid of their oligarchies
and move towards democracy. The young began to orient themselves with the ideas
of democracy. People began to come together closer into the government.
Continual contacts between people and governments have been promoted. The
devices of initiative and referendum has become popular. The cantons were
successful helped by their decentralised way of governing.


The German federalism boundary drawing was based on territorial
components determined by the actions of the Western occupying powers in the
period of 1945 -49. The zones of occupation were divided into provinces, partly
because of practical and convenience matters. Some of them had a historical
basis such as Hamburg
and Bavaria.
The Federal Republic of Germany was constituted in 1949 original containing 11
states excludingWest Berlin.

The provinces vary widely in population , area and resources. The
present shape of the German federation stems from the decisions taken when the
country was divided and was in difficulties. After so many years in federation
, with differences in culture and religion , the states today are more
homogenous and united.


When the monopolistic dictatorial regime in Eritreacollapses , what is the
kind of government the Eritrean Opposition in mind is not clear. Politically
centralised framework providing monopolistic rule is not acceptable. The main
point in this article is that the Eritrean political Opposition should have
schemes for configuring Eritrean state-building along a political structure
that accommodate Eritrea’s various communities.

The idea of federalism provokes serious discussion, its utility as a
viable tool or process of peacemaking need thorough study.


The recently formed movement , called Eritrean Federal Democratic
Movement has declared that a federal arrangement  is an appropriate to Eritrea’s
configuration of ethnically and religiously interwoven or mixed communities and
its traditional politics of polarisation.


The present discussion, what is the appropriate state structure
following the fall of the dictatorial regime is
the main issue of the Eritrean Federal Democratic Movement. The
transition to democracy in Eritrea
after the fall of the dictatorship should facilitate conflict resolution and
conflict prevention. The Eritrean internal conflict stems from the strong
competition for control over the state power. This conflict can be managed by
restructuring the state and power- sharing. Federalism as a model of conflict
settlement provides the instruments of distribution, division and separation of
authority and power based on the people’s will and desires.



             10.  The Principles of Federalism


The Eritrean  people cannot rest
content until they have a genuine structure of government expressing their will
and wishes in all vital matters.  The Eritrea
people is in a situation that is intolerable charged with hatred, filled with
misfortune and pain- wars , hunger and aids. Reverting this situation need hope
and positive reaction. Hope followed by action would bring the reasonable
settlement in Eritrea.
Out of this suffering , we must fashion
a new Eritrea
free from prejudices and barriers. How can we create a true unity in Eritrea ? By
devising the principles and foundations of unity leading to peace and stability
in the country.


In this part of the  article, I
will deal with the principles of the method of unifying( federalism )
Eritreans, ie the principles of federalism.


The principles of federalism evolve from the historical and different
experiences in the past. Out of these experiences, there are three main principles
that distinguish the federal system of government than the national government
system. Thus, they are : the constitutional
distribution of power, the separation of the legislative and executive
power and the division of legislative power into two powerful chambers.


11. The constitutional
distribution of power between the federal and state governments


The relationship of the Federal , State and Local governments depends on
the competence  within their own domain
and subject to the constitution. The federal constitution provides each
government with significant decision making power, administrative
responsibility and operational influence. The federal Constitution provides a
vertical distribution of authority and functions between the federal government
and the federating states, according to which each is state is a co-ordinate but not subordinate with the
others. Some powers lie with the federal authority and some with member states,
and each domain has scope for independent action within its power. The
principle of co- ordinate and independent powers plays a big role in
strengthening the relationship between the federal government and the states as
provided in the basic law.


The basic principles should be expressed in the articles of the basic
law. The exercise of state powers and the distribution of  state functions and competence rests with the
states. The states are responsible for establishing their own administrative
services and procedures. The federal government cannot promulgate decrees without
the consent of the state representatives. The principle of administration by
the states should be qualified within the area of its competence.


So far we have been dealing with principles of autonomous states’
administration and their legal qualifications, the subsiding will be on the
legislative and executive powers.


11. The principles of federal


In a federal form of governing, there are two-chambers ; the national assembly consisting of the
popularly elected national assembly and the second chamber representing the
states , known as the senate or state
The members of the senate are all members of their respective
state governments.

The functions of the government are divided between the legislature
which has power authority over the whole nation and those legislatures which
have authority over their own territories. The relationship between these two
legislatures is not like the relationship between superior and subordinate as
in a unitary government of the current and dreamers of the future in Eritrea , but
is a division of governmental functions between one authority, usually called
federal government and the state government. In federalism , there is no such
relationship. The division of functions of government are embodied in the
written federal constitution which is the supreme law of the land. In unitary
constitution, all power is concentrated in the centre- in the executive organ.


The motive of the principle of separation of power is to restrain the
tyranny in governments and work transparently under the law of the






The Eritrean political conflict is based on the role of the state
structure and organization. The state is the most powerful organization.
Control of the state usually provides access to economic power. What the
Eritrean people experience and see is that the regime in power is today
dominated by one sector of the Eritrean people. There is a strong competition
for control over the state apparatus and this will be the main cause of post dictatorial
The Eritrean Oppositions thorny issues are the issues of state structure and
the kind of covenant/ constitution building process. If the Eritrean opposition
for democratic change wants to prevent this conflict it must restructure the state
and have a new constitution that can solve the internal conflicts of power
sharing and redistribution of economic resources. A more productive strategy is
to look at tools devolving power via federalism.





  1. Ghai,
    Yash.Ed 1998. “ Decentralization and the Accommodation of Ethnicity”
  2. Lapidoth,Ruth.
    1996. autonomy:Flexible Solutions to ethnic conflicts.
  3. Dahl
    RobertA. 1983. “ Federalism and the Democratic Process.
  4. Elazar,
    Daniel.J. 1968. Federalism.
  5. Kymlicka,Will
    2001. “ Minority Nationalism and Multination Federalism.”
  6. Lijphart,
    Arend 1977, Democracy in plural society.
  7. Azar,
    Edward E.1991, “ The analysis and management of protracted conflict.


Federal Democracy and its strategy




  1. Introduction
  2. The
    need for strategic planning
  3. Missionand Vision
  4. Objectives
  5. Methods
  6. Principles
  7. Work



  1. Introduction


One of the main concerns of the Eritrean Federal Democratic Movement is
how people be organized and fight for their rights against the internal and
external oppression and domination. It is to destroy dictators and prevent new
dictators to occur. The Eritrean Federal Democratic Movement has been working against
oppression since its foundation. It believes that when the people rise for its
rights there is no force that can prevent them. The Eritrean people are and has
been suffering under totalitarian regime. The regime’s terror against its
people and its neighbours is well recorded.


The EFDM is poised to fight the aggression of the dictator. Our organization
is determined to wage a struggle against the current totalitarian regime and
prevent the new ones. It will carefully take the most effective ways in which
the dictatorship could be successfully disintegrated with the least possible in
suffering and lives.






2. The need for strategic planning

I: The struggle against the dictatorship


The Eritrean Federal
Democratic Movement will map its struggle against the dictatorship and will
open the way for hard work and long efforts to build a society with just
economical, social and political relationships and the eradication of all forms
of injustices and oppressions in the post-dictatorshipEritrea.

The past 20 years of struggle against the dictatorship in Eritreahave
exposed the brutality of the repressive regime in Eritrea but has not brought an end
to the ruling. Current situation in Eritrea is much worse and is
deteriorating every time. The Eritrean people is living in extreme deadly life,
facing harassing and persecution, deliberately weakened, subordinated unable to
work for their livelihood. They are living under terror and shoot to kill
policies. What is to be done in such circumstances? Reacting to these
brutalities, torture, disappearances and killings need organizing the
population with all the capacities they muster.


The Eritrean people inside and those who are in diaspora most of them
has no confidence or the ability to face the dictator in Eritrea and
save the Eritrean people. Many place their hope on external forces. Waiting
outside saviour has its own problems therefore it is better to avoid it.


Since dictatorships exist because of internal power, we must first face
this truth and our first tasks must be;

strengthen the oppressed
population themselves in their determination, self –confidence, and resistance

strengthen the independent
civil society organizations and institutions of the oppressed people,

create a powerful internal resistance that can
defend the people,

design a wise grand strategic
plan for the liberation and implement it skilfully.


The pre –transition period will not be simple it requires great
strategic skills, organization, and planning. Above all, it will require power.
The Eritrean National Congress for Democratic Change must come with a grand
strategy to destroy the dictatorship, institute organizational structure and
capacity building.


Formulating grand strategy


Assessing the situation of the Eritrean people under the brutal
dictatorship is crucial to formulate the grand strategy. How can we muster
sufficient confidence of the people? How can we strengthen the people to
challenge the dictatorship?  What
institutions of the people can be regained from the dictators’ control? What
institutions must be created by the opposition? How can organizational strength
of the democratic forces be developed? How can the forces for democratic change
be trained? What resources( financial, equipment,,…etc) will be required
throughout the struggle? What types of symbolism( Peace, Democracy, Human
rights, and rule of law) can be most effective in mobilising the population?
What kind of actions and in what stages could the sources of power of the
dictator be incrementally weakened and severed?


The strategy to win the dictator must be drafted and presented at the
coming congress of the EFDM.
Phase II. The period after the fall of the dictatorship to democracy


This period after the downfall of the dictator need careful precautions
to prevent the rise of new dictators. The road map drafters must prepare the
serious political, economic, and social problems after the fall of the
dictator. This period must provide the opportunities of peace and security of the
population and need the cooperation of the whole people.  EFDM must clearly prepare itself how the
democratic forces avoid the forces of the old regime not to pre-empt their
victory and cut off the process of building democracy inEritrea.


  1. 3.
    Mission and Vision


The EFDM’s mission is to awaken the people and organise against the
dictatorship and  dismantle the power
from it. EFDM’s vision is  to end the
dictatorship and establish multi- ethnic democracy with equal power sharing in
all political, economic and cultural
decision making.


  1. 4.     Objectives


Advancing the goals of our
people suffering under the brutal dictatorship.

Liberating our people from the oppression of
one man rule and agreeing that this requires urgent action against the dictator
and work together for gradual transition to democracy.

Enhancing participation and
contribution of all actors of civil society, particularly women’s groups and
networks and other non-governmental organizations and community-based
organizations, with full respect for their autonomy.

Intensifying efforts and
actions to achieve the goals of the Eritrean opposition forces for democratic

Ensuring the participation of
all the oppressed people in Eritrea,
women, men, young and elders for their human rights and fundamental freedoms
and take effective action against the dictator.

Encourage women’s and youth
participation in the struggle against the dictator.

Ensure the participation of
all oppressed to disintegrate the power of the dictatorship.

Ensure the success of the
resistance against the dictatorship, which will require a strong commitment on
the part of political and civil society organizations at all levels.

Building of strong and united
internal resistance is a prerequisite to draw international opinion.

Gaining international
legitimacy and support.


  1. 5.      Methods


The EFDM will use all means available to defeat the dictatorship.
External assistance and internal forces for change might accelerate/strengthen
our efforts to reach our goals without interference in our internal affairs.


6.  Principles

The EFDM will
pursue the following principles:

All are free to act on their
personal thoughts, experience and ideas.

Believes in dialogue to
resolve conflicts.

Open information and
democratic decision making.

Securing and creating
respectful environment.

Focusing on the vision.

Creating trust and

Taking responsibility for the
development of the organization.


7. Work programmes


7.1  Political
and diplomatic

7.2  Economic
and human resources

7.3  Organizational

7.4  Military
and Security

7.5  Cooperation





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