Why is dialogue Important in Transition from Dictatorship to Democracy

By Fesseha Nair

The Democratic transition from dictatorship to Democracy in the 80th, 90th and the recent of the Arab spring where some were successful, and some were failures and resulted in civil wars and destabilisation. The South African model of dialogue was a good example illustrating how an open dialogue can play in unifying all the forces for democratic change. The South African transition was not without conflicts but they have had a strong commitment to discuss the issues of conflict and listen to all stakeholders it was this character of inclusiveness and it was this culture of inclusiveness that led them to reconciliation , peace and democracy in their country.

Today , most of the actors in the struggle from dictatorship to democracy in Eritrea call for dialogue but the Eritrean dialogue definition has taken different meanings. The Eritrean political elites has been using dialogue since time immemorial but since their method of dialogue was not strategically based on mutual interest and respect but tactical to gain temporary achievements. Such dialogues were been practiced during the Eritrean political struggle and armed struggle and now in the post -independence period by the Eritrean opposition political and civic organization.

The aim of this article is to highlight the difficulties in the Eritrean Dialogue process and learn from other countries experiences. Such learning can help us to improve the dialogue process in the Eritrean Diaspora Opposition struggling the dictatorship and lay foundations for peaceful transition to democracy in Eritrea. Dialogue cannot occur between one who imposes his /her own ideas upon another who does not wish this imposition.( Suzuki) Dialogue means to bring about an exchange of views but not to inform about views with the aim of increasing understanding, learning and exchanging ideas through communication. The purpose of dialogue is not to reach common viewpoint but to try to understand the different perspectives of the dialogue partner.

The Eritrean Dialogue of this time and the past are not based on principled dialogues and never come to win-win solutions but zero-sum games.

A principled dialogue is based on four key points. These key points are:

1. Separating issues from the people
2. Dealing with interests not positions or titles
3.Searching for mutual Gains
4. Putting objective Criteria

The Eritrean dialogue partners must first be prepared and establish conditions for dialogue as a continuous process. They can start with enhanced cooperation between them. This continuous process of cooperation makes the dialogue more informed leads to conflict prevention and conflict resolution. The dialogue becomes well informed and frank building trust that is the prerequisite for a successful dialogue. There are different kinds of dialogue but what we need now in the Eritrean Opposition case is dialogue in pursuit of democratic transition in Eritrea.
At this time many Eritreans call their collection under the name, ” Mederk” meaning facilitating national dialogue among Eritreans in the struggle against the dictatorship.

In my resident city, there are some groups called , ” Eri- dialogue” I used to attend their dialogue meetings but the process of dialogue I know and what they pursue are different. As I have seen and experienced this group’s dialogue doesn’t follow the principles of dialogue. Dialogue encourages diversity of thinking rather than suppressing. What I have seen in this group is mistrust and prejudices against others. But , the dialogue I know is a tool that leads towards a deeper awareness and understanding the different views to flow freely. Therefore, I have chosen to write on this issue today.

I want to highlight Eritrean National dialogue lacks clear principles based on cooperation of confident partners that enhances mutual respect. common objectives, and responsibilities, therefore, I preferred to deal with the four above mentioned points.

1. Separating issues from the people

Historically, the dialogue that has been in practice by Eritreans has never been based on mutual respect and cooperation. All the dialogues whether during the political or under the armed struggle or now at this time inside the opposition have been following the same culture and trend. When dialogue partners never separate people from issues of conflict, they miss the true meaning of dialogue and create misunderstanding and get off on the wrong direction instead of focusing on the issues of conflict to be resolved. They blame each other and scapegoat the failure on others. In dialogue, it is important to separate the people from the problem. It is beneficial to have a positive relationship and willingness to accommodate the views of other dialogue partners. The Eritrean political relationship was not based on give and take , in which dialogue partners demonstrate a willingness to accommodate the common interests but to win or lose perspective. In dialogue if one wants to reach an agreement that suits his individual interests, then both partners are losers. Therefore, the key we Eritreans must learn is to be able avoid personalizing the process of dialogue and gain the skills of dialogue that can help us solve our national problems.

2. Dealing with interests not positions or titles

“Eritrean Dialogues were focusing on positions instead of national and people’s interests”

Looking all the dialogues and conferences of the Eritrean Opposition Forces were not focusing on the interest of the people but personalities. It is important to keep in mind that one of the habits of effective interpersonal communication is, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” We Eritreans have the habit of seeking to be understood before we understand. We don’t listen emphatically to understand another person’s frame reference not only what one says but how he/ she feels. People have an inherent need to be understood ( Covey)

What motivates human beings is the need that is satisfied but the need to be satisfied. Do the Eritrean people in the opposition observed the need of their people? Not , at all. The main point here is that listen to listened. We are expending our time and energy not to bring understanding but confusion and conflicts on personal identities and origins. We don’t focus on the issues at hand. We don’t seek first to identify the needs and interests. Seeking to understand the deficiency that has been obstacle of the Eritrean leadership. Look for example the Eritrean National Council For Democratic Change/ ENCDC what makes them not to cooperate is the lack of understanding to understood. Focusing on positions instead of focusing on the needs and interests of our people.

The ENCDC lacks discipline and compassion on their communication. The habits of communication was not focusing on the issues but on personalities and positions. How can we change this habit is the responsibility of all to learn how to apply interactive communication- listening, understand before to be understood.

3.Searching for mutual Gains

Do the ENCDC members identified their interests and explore options for mutual gain? Never , at all. The results of their activities show that they didn’t. As I myself experienced their negotiations were not for mutual gains but individual gains. Their negotiations lacked collaborative brainstorming in which they can work together to solve the problem in a way that can lead to a win/win scenario but instead of conflicting and divisions.

Clarifying interests and exploring mutual options creates opportunities for solving conflict issues. What the ENCDC requires is the method of negotiations that can help them find out methods of resolving their internal conflicts by clarifying and exploring.

If the ENCDC members seize the opportunities of collaborative methods of cooperations then the scenario of win/ win agreements can be reached and problems can be solved leading us to mutual gains.

4. Putting objective Criteria

Has the ENCDC developed standards and rules to help deal with common areas of dispute? Have they established rules of law and parameters of how each and one of the organs function ( Legislativ, Executive, Judicial……… and project groups)? As I see they have it in name but not in action. The construction of the ENCDC was not understood by those who constructed it. ENCDC has no building codes and clear policies to resolve internal and external conflicts. For example, when a dispute arises between Legislative and Executive or between the Executive and the so called project group/ Preparatory Committee of the congress of ENCDC, are there any procedures and precedents? Who is the judge to adjudicate claims of wrongdoing?

ENCDC lacks objective criteria to settle its internal disputes whenever, wherever disputes arise any organisations must have developed standards and rules of law to help them solve their disputes. We Eritreans still need professional relationship do our entrusted work with objective criteria.

ENCDC is a project to build trust by working together. It is not for positions or power gripping. It was supposed a win/ win scenario but couldn’t succeed because of professional leadership that precedes people’s interests instead of personal positions.

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Posted by on Aug 11 2015 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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