ELL Frankfurt Paper
Proposed Position Paper presented at Felsberger Institute Workshop on Eritrea held on the 13th & 14th of November 2015
- 1. Background:
As we all know, Eritrea is again at a crossroads that can be summarized in the lack of succession plan from within the regime or in the opposition.
Therefore, we are here today because we realize the dire situation we are in as a country and the grave consequences that may come about due to the possible sudden demise of Isaias Afwerki or simply an implosion of his dictatorial regime due to inherent factors. Thus, we are driven by our obligation and responsibility to contribute our share in averting such grim possibilities, which is in line with the principles of our initiative to establish ELL. We have repeatedly called upon all concerned, to seriously engage in constructive discussions conducive to realizing a principled and workable solution to the issue of future governance in Eritrea, instead of simply minimizing the struggle to removing the existing regime. Our problems are not attributed solely to dictatorship, but also to a large extent have their origins in our complete failure to manage our diversity.
A more in depth analysis of the current situation, requires that we look back at the events of the last 70 years or so that steered our fate towards this precarious point in time. And in so doing, we realize that one aspect had always jumped to the fore at each turn of events, the fact that we failed to manage the diversity of the constituents of our country. The trials have always been to impose forcible assimilation through imposing domination, when unity in diversity and cooperation would have been the answer. Especially that Eritrea is not a country of a majority constituent against a negligible submissive minority. A multi-ethnic and multi-cultural country that necessitates peaceful coexistence between all its different constituents based on the recognition and acceptance of this fact. The unworkable solutions for our problems cost us dearly in lives and time:
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- a) Early enough for an African nation, we had the opportunity to gain full independence but a considerable section of our people opted for unity with Ethiopia. This ended up in a federal arrangement as a compromise with those who opted for independenc Ethiopia did not occupy Eritrea by force. It was due to national interest across the border for a certain section of our people. Even that mediocre federal arrangement was considered too much of an independence from “Mother Ethiopia”, so the proponents of the unity option worked hand in glove with Ethiopia to make it null and void.
- b) When the Eritrean people lost that mere semblance of independence, they had no choice but to start an armed struggle to regain their right to full independence. Again the elites of the same social component fought tooth and nail alongside Ethiopia in its scorched earth military campaigns with the aim of putting the revolution down.
- c) After the downfall of Emperor Haile Selassie and the ascension to power of the Derg under Mengistu Haile Mariam, a welcome change of heart saw an influx to join the revolution. This due to the new changes that had affected the balance of power and the interests of Ethiopian ruling elites and their former loyal allies in Eritre
- d) It wasn’t long before a chasm was created that divided those engaged in the armed struggle along the same lines that saw its climax when the EPLF with the full support of TPLF (a foreign entity across the border) forcibly had driven the ELF and all other Liberation Fronts out of the Field. Thus, the EPLF gained the complete control over the liberated areas and ultimately the decision over the fate of Eritrea.
- e) Upon independence and its ascension to power, EPLF with the same motives and designs, rejected all political organizations and barred them from playing a role in building and managing the coun Those who accepted to dissolve their organizations and/or parties were allowed into the country as individuals, but only to be faced with ostracization and persecution. Some went into exile; others were less fortunate and were liquidated or are still languishing in prisons.
- f) The regime espoused the policy and practice of Tigrinya domination in all aspects of life: language, culture, economy, decision making, and even distorting and rewriting history (A survey by Ahmed Raji that was
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published in www.awate.com in five parts in 2009 is attached herewith as a reference).
- g) It is a known fact to anyone who is genuinely interested in the state of affairs of Eritrea today that the opposition to the dictatorial regime itself is also divided along the same line As a result we witness a failure to unite its efforts towards realizing the aspired change. Not only that; the opposition doesn’t even share the same vision for future Eritrea.
- h) In the absence of a clear majority for any social component over the other social components in Eritrea, it goes without saying that a completely different approach should have been pursued in the past and must be the intention for the futu
Therefore, we are here today in line with our deep-rooted conviction, upheld principles and national duty towards our society in particular and the Eritrean people at large to be part of a solution that will break this vicious circle.
- 2. The Way Ahead
We feel we are obliged to contribute our share to the effort of seeking a solution to the controversial issue of Eritrea’s future governance. Hence, all the concerned parties necessarily have to reach a consensus about the form of a system that embraces our diversity and guarantees our collective rights, freedoms and interests through adopting a suitable form of a constitutional state based on democracy, the rule of law, justice and fair arrangement to share wealth and power. We truly believe that any durable solution to the question of future governance in Eritrea that will realise the goals and aspiration of all concerned partners could only be attained through putting in place a consensual new social contract. A Social Contract that will incorporate the basic and essential freedoms, rights, interests of all social components on equal grounds and preserve and sustain social peace and peaceful coexistence, leading to a sustainable national unity. Such a contract is an indispensable prerequisite for the realisation of a united, free, and democratic Eritrea that we all aspire to establish and live in. It is necessary that all concerned partners should fully participate in drawing, drafting and finally consensually adopting the new social contract. Such a contract should constitute the basis for drafting a national constitution that defines and regulates how the country and its people will be governed. In our opinion, the following facets constitute the corner stones of the new social contract:
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- a) Unity & Diversity
A lasting national unity should be based on the voluntary will of all different national components and the mutual recognition of their diversity and shall embrace and guarantee their interests, full and equal citizenship as individuals and national groups. This will underlie the solid foundation for establishing a lasting and durable national unity of the country and its people as per universally accepted and ratified human rights treaties attesting to the fact that only fair and just treatment, granting equal rights, and preserving the interests of all the social components is the guarantee to maintain a durable and lasting national unity.
As Eritrea is a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural nation and only genuine recognition and acceptance of this reality and practically promoting that to cover the wide spectra of its ethnic, cultural, religious, lingual etc. manifestations and forms is the right step towards tackling our chronic problems.
The current state of scepticism, fear and lack of trust prevailing among our different social components is an accumulative result of long years of abuse, domination and exclusion policies and practices that have been exercised against most national components. The fact that the current dictatorial regime is mainly responsible for executing the policy and practice of domination today is an inherited legacy passed on from the ruling Tigrinya elites since the forties of the last century. In other words, we all have to realise and accept that Eritrea is not ‘Hade Hizbi Hade Libbi’ — one nation, one heart — as falsely advocated by the regime and its collaborators. The realisation of this fact is an important milestone in the road towards finding a proper and sound solution to our existing problems.
- b) Governance:
i- Transitional stage:
The stage that will immediately follow regime change will be marked by the main purpose of the establishment of a permanent constitutional government. No matter who will be the agent or the mechanism of change, it is necessary for all stakeholders to agree on
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how the provisional government is to be formed, its duration and a detailed road-map to successfully accomplish the tasks entailed.
ii- Interim Council:
A provisional council composed of the representatives of all political parties and organisations that opposed the regime, national components and change agents, should be formed to act as a temporary parliament entrusted with the task of setting up an interim government, drawing up a comprehensive charter and a detailed road-map for the transitional period.
iii- Interim Government:
The Interim Government shall be headed by a presidential council that, in addition to having the needed qualifications for the office, should properly reflect the Eritrean diversity in its composition
The Interim Government’s main task shall be to supervise and run all relevant services in the country, conduct foreign relations, and prepare the ground for a successful transition to a constitutional democratic governance system based on the charter and road-map formulated in light of the principles of the social contract reached. Its duties shall include, but not be limited to, drafting a constitution, forming the different committees for national reconciliation and transitional justice, refugee repatriation, land issues, elections, etc.
To ensure the stability and the realization of a constitutional democratic government, and a successful transition, the process should be closely monitored and guaranteed by impartial regional and international organizations such as the United Nations, European Union, African Union, Arab League and IGAD etc.
iv- Constitutional Government:
We believe that adopting a constitutional democratic decentralised system of governance is the best choice for a country of such diversity as Eritrea. A system that is based on constitutional rights, democratic structures, institutions and proper functional means that guarantee the establishment of the rule of law, equal basic human
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and liberal rights and freedoms, and the provision of equal opportunities to all national stakeholders.
A decentralised form of government that guarantees a fair sharing of Power and distribution of wealth – both locally and nationally – among all components. A constitutional, democratic, decentralised system of governance based on a multi-party platform with three distinct and independent authorities, namely: Legislative, Executive and Judicial. We also see that these government structures will not be complete without the promotion of free press and media that is accessible to all.
We have an unshakable belief that the proposed form of government is the only possible way to tackle once and for all the chronic problems that have afflicted Eritrean politics since the mid-
- c) Religion:
The full freedom of faith and worship to all the adherents of all the religions of the land must be upheld and guaranteed as a basic human right. Faith followers must have the right, not only to practice their worship rituals, but also to independently manage their religious interests and affairs within the bounds of the law without interference by the state. All endowment properties and other assets owned by the relevant religions should be protected and any assistance thereto should be equally allocated. The state should be at an equal distance from all religions.
- d) National Reconciliation:
A country and people that have undergone such a long and difficult unnatural process of nation formation, and went through painful and traumatic struggle to realise liberation, while in the process have been exposed to bitter internal disagreements, conflicts, acrimonies and fighting among the different components that have left its social fabric in tatters, needs a reconciliation process to bring it back together to start building the foundations for a common future. Thus, it is essential for Eritreans to go through a process of healing to normalise the situation, where people can coexist in peace and live in harmony, and
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where they properly address the accumulated injustices, abuses and the consequential bitterness precipitated across time in order for this nation to overcome its past legacy and make its way into the future.
National reconciliation and transitional justice are proven remedies that many people who have gone through experiences similar to ours have benefited from in healing such deep lying social soars and pains. This involves a complex process that properly addresses the injustices committed, make compensations for material loss incurred, dissolve tensions and regain the lost trust among the social components through devising creative and innovative confidence building measures, approaches and methods tailored to suit our specific conditions.
Although this process is not expected to start in earnest until we are upon the transitional period, it is necessary to come to an agreement now about the principles that will govern it and the processes to facilitate it. This can be achieved through establishing reconciliation committee with the immediate task of starting to gather the relevant facts and evidences necessary to expedite the application of transitional justice.
- e) Land Issues:
Most, if not all Eritreans agree that the land issue is the most critical and complicated one and that if not properly resolved will plunge the whole country into the deep fathoms of instability or lead to the breakout of a disastrous civil war that may jeopardise the unity of the country. Moreover, for the Eritrean Lowlanders at large, the land issue is of utmost importance because it is in this respect that most of the transgressions against the very existence and livelihood of Lowland Societies have taken and are still taking place.
Conventionally, land lying within the original habitat of any particular society, whether collectively or individually owned, is considered society land. Thus, any land ownership must conform to the norms and customary laws that were historically proven appropriate and feasible for the management and ownership of land by the concerned society members. Such traditional arrangements and laws recognise the social components’ indisputable right to land ownership and use in their historical ancestral territories that all partners had mutually
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acknowledged in the past as a condition to maintain peaceful coexistence.
Therefore, all violations to the aforementioned accepted norms that have been committed in the form of land expropriation, unlawful redistribution, district border changes through the enforcement of policies by incumbent authorities are illegal, and must be seen and considered as such. This goes for all land acquisitions and displacements implemented by the current regime and Ethiopian regime in the lowland territories and elsewhere without the consent of the concerned.
Notwithstanding the above, we believe that any Eritrean citizen has the right to live, work and even own land with legal arrangements and deals with the rightful owners in any part of the country, be it in the lowlands or highlands. However, that should not be in the context of forcible collective organised settlements, displacements, land expropriation or confiscation.
Further, consultations can take place with the rightful owners and with their full consent and acknowledgement to reach some compromise agreements that while fully recognise the indigenous indisputable rights of ownership, consider the needs and interests of others in the country.
- f) Refugees:
The refugee issue is another issue of contention that is directly related to the land issue, property rights and abuse of basic human and citizen rights that should be properly resolved.
The first batches of refugees “Old Refugees” that are still languishing in godforsaken camps in Eastern Sudan, were forcibly made to escape for their lives in the late 1960s because of the repeated scorched land military campaigns that were indiscriminately waged by the Ethiopian army and its collaborators the units of ‘Commandos’ mainly composed of Eritrean Tigrinya Highlanders during the liberation era. The waves of “Old Refugees” continued to flow in droves into the Sudan well into the closing decades of the century because of continued military campaigns. After independence, there were superficial attempts by the dictatorial regime towards repatriation of refugees in conjunction with UNHCR. Those who opted for voluntary return, where not allowed back to the
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villages and towns from where they escaped, but to the contrary were assigned to desolate areas with meagre resources and no outlook for long term sustainability. The result was another exodus back to the refugee camps in the Sudan. In the process, they lost their legal refugee status because the international bodies concerned accepted that Eritrea was safe enough for its people to seek refuge elsewhere.
The new refugee influx, mainly after independence, is a result of the injustices and flagrant abuses of human rights committed by the current dictatorial regime.
It is necessary to accept, guarantee and stress the inalienable right of all refugees to return to their home places and their right to claim back their land and their way of life with the provision of the necessary support and proper compensation for their rehabilitation.
We stand behind and promote their legitimate right to return and call upon all concerned circles including our national partners to acknowledge that right and to consider it a priority and a joint responsibility to ensure this is achieved as soon as the dictatorial regime has fallen.
Eritrean refugees must be assisted to voluntarily return to their original habitat and all possible efforts should be exerted and resources assigned to facilitate their return and stability, especially the most vulnerable refugees who have been languishing in the refugee camps in the Sudan.
- g) Language Issue:
The language issue should be considered in the context of the realities on the ground, previous social contracts and the rights of people to choose for themselves. We list below some of the facts that must be considered:
- Eritrea is a multi-lingual country with no consensus in favour of a single language that reflects the cultures and satisfies the needs and interests of all constituents.
- Eritrea being a small country with limited resources, cannot afford using all its local languages as official ones, moreover it is practically
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impossible due to the fact that most of these languages are not developed enough to meet the required standards to be adopted as official languages.
iii. Eritrean Constitution ratified in September 1952, stipulates the following in
“Article 38 – Languages:
- Tigrigna and Arabic shall be the official languages of Eritrea.
- In accordance with established practice in Eritrea, the languages spoken and written by the various population groups shall be permitted to be used in dealing with the public authorities, as well as for religious or educational purposes and for all forms of expression of ideas. “
The above, part of an agreed social contract, was later enshrined in the aforementioned document.
- Tigrinya as the language of one of the constituents of Eritrea, and although fully accepted as per the above as one of the official languages, it cannot be the only official language for the simple reason that it has been chosen as such by its own constituents, but definitely not by all other social components who happen to have other choices.
- All the other national components except the Tigrinya ethnic group have chosen Arabic as an official language and a common lingua franca due to deeply rooted historical and cultural consideration. This was the case before the federal arrangement, during the federation, and during the revolutionary era. It is also the case now as we find it unequivocally stated in the political programs of most political organizations and parties. In addition to all the foregoing, it is the right of the concerned social components to make a choice and nobody has the right to impose on them what they should choose and adopt.
- It is therefore a known fact that historically, Arabic was adopted for the Lowlands and Tigrinya for the Highlands in the federal constitution of 1952 as quoted in “c” above, until Ethiopia unilaterally abolished the federal arrangement and imposed the Amharic
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language in place of all Eritrean languages. The medium of instruction in elementary schools was either Tigrinya or Arabic per choice. It was from Middle School onwards that English was the medium of instruction for all Eritrea.
vii. During the struggle for independence, Arabic and Tigrinya were accepted and used as official national languages of Eritrea per the historical, cultural, legal reasons and mainly as democratic choice that reflects reality of the cultural diversity that has prevailed.
viii. It must be noted that none of the social components of Eritrea has denied or disputed the right of the Tigrinya in adopting the choice of their language as an official language ever since the subject was brought up in the 1940s of the last century. On the other hand, most of the Tigrinya elites ardently refused to accept the choice of the other social components to have Arabic as their official language and still do. This, unfortunately, reflects a deep-seated inherent motive of hegemony and domination in the minds of Tigrinya elites and is an outright denial of the right of others to choose for themselves. It is also an indication that it is not being looked at as one of the aspects of our cultural diversity and as a reality that exists among the people.
- ix. Taking all the above into consideration, we believe that all Eritrean languages shall be considered equal by law in their status, importance, right of use in all aspects of life and right to develop through time by the state. As this is an acknowledgement of the cultural diversity of the n
- h) Economy:
The majority of the people are engaged in primitive small farming and pastoral life, a type of traditional economy that should be developed by introducing machinery, modern methods and knowhow to improve its quality and quantity to the level of the international standards of today.
The state should adopt a mixed economy where the public and private sector economical activities run in parallel. This is to maintain the balance of interests between the profit driven private sector and the service-interested public sector. This can be supplemented by drawing different laws that attract local and international investments as
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incentives to further invigorate the economy. Develop the mining industry, tourism and trade.
Priority in economic and educational development must be given to underprivileged Eritrean regions and social groups that suffered from underdevelopment due to: the fact that it has borne the consequence of the devastating liberation war; exclusions and systematic unfair policies in the colonial eras as well as in the post-independence period. This can be achieved by enacting positive discrimination principles to enable the less developed regions and social groups to catch up with their fellow communities aiming at promoting equitable development throughout the country.
- i) International Relations:
With the understanding that foreign policy and relations are generally defined as the objectives that guide the diplomatic activities and relationships of one state/entity in its interactions with other states/entities, Eritrea should pursue policies that are primarily designed to safeguard and achieve national interests and objectives in addition to furthering cooperation within the context of its regional and international scope in accordance with universally accepted norms. Eritrea should therefore endeavour and strive to:
- Respect, recognise and work for the realization of mutual national interests between nations,
- Recognise, respect and preserve mutual equality of status, territorial integrity and sovereignty,
- Maintain peaceful coexistence between states particularly between neighbouring states.
- Abide and be signatory to all international and regional conventions and agreements that improve international cooperation and serve
our national interests.
- Respect, and strictly abide by all agreements and conventions particularly that of the universal human rights convention and other international, regional and bilateral agreements.
- To create, maintain and develop special strong, stable and enduring relations between neighbouring countries that preserve, enhance
mutual interests, historic and cultural ties between peoples across the borders.
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- Be a positively active and functional member of all regional and international political, economic and religious organizations that serve our national interests, enhance and promote cultural, educational and social developmental and better understanding and relations between peoples of different countries.
- The Eritrean regime has not abided by any of its obligations as part of the world community and acted as a rouge state, a condition that
should be reversed by any future government.
- 3. Our Position on the Current State Structure:
It is understood that the existing state apparatus suffers from basic structural and principle flaws. These flaws could be attended to during the transitional period during which steps should be taken to restructure the state by mending the main defects it suffers such as:
- a) Severe imbalance in the representation of social components in all the levels of its hierarchy, but mainly in the middle and higher echelons of the decision making proc
- b) Completely geared towards imposing, safeguarding and implementing a dictatorial approach to all facets of life that is clearly manifested by lack of democracy, transparency and rule of la
- c) Espouses and promotes total disregard to human dignity and human life, hence its modus operandi is one of excommunication, disappearances, illegal imprisonments, forced labour, and summary execu
Establishing a better Eritrea, requires that the current state apparatus is totally revised and restructured along principled and constitutional structures and objectives based on traditions of professionalism, political neutrality, transparency and accountability with the ultimate purpose and doctrine to serve the national interests of the people.
As the composition of the current state apparatus is flawed as stated, that also needs to be revised to reflect the diversity of the Eritrean people. This restructuring process should be thorough and apply to the entire civilian, military and security services, as well as the practice of commerce and trade that has been made part and parcel of the dictatorial regime’s policy and directly serving its interests.
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The current political setup of one-party rule is not at all capable of acting as a vehicle for positive change. Therefore it is to be modified in objectives, doctrine and methods to conform to the general requirements of the formation of a multi-party system to be defined by a constitution that emanates from an agreed upon social contract free of domination, exclusion and marginalization.
It is therefore our position that, in the interest of reconciliation, the majority of people who served the dictatorial regime in different capacities, but have not been directly responsible for atrocities should be integrated into the newly restructured state institutions.
Also in the same spirit of reconciliation and not letting gross violations of human rights go unpunished and redress for the victims sought, those in the highest echelons against whom there is incriminating evidence of gross human rights abuses must be tried and face justice in a court of law.
The army is no exception as its main purpose was distorted to preserve the dictatorial regime. It should be restructured so that its composition reflects the Eritrean diversity in all levels of authority and specializations. Its doctrine must also be redefined as a national establishment whose main purpose is to defend national security, be conducive to internal stability and serve the interest of its people while focusing on professionalism and being free of any political affiliation. Its size has to be scaled down to a suitable level to serve the purpose of defending the sovereignty and integrity of the state and not be wielded as a destabilizing force in the region as it is currently being misused by the regime.
- 4. Conclusion:
We conclude by stating that we are convinced that the problems facing our nation are serious and deep-rooted.
It is worth mentioning that since the early 1980’s, and particularly the last 25 years of independence, the Eritrean social and cultural components have lost “trust” on each other. This is basically due to the fact that the non-Tigrinya social groups have a deep feeling of suffering from marginalization and exclusion.
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This Phenomenon has manifested itself in the major economic, cultural and political decision making inequalities among the social and cultural components of our society.
To regain the “lost trust” we need to comfort our people with clear and openly declared intentions, followed by actions to the effect that all inequalities and injustices will be dealt with by ensuring that all Eritrean social groups will be part of the change process.
To further reassure all the social constituents of the nation, we call upon all stakeholders to explicitly express their stand against policies and practices of domination, marginalization and exclusion.
Thus, a new approach is required to tackle these problems. An approach different from the old traditional methods followed so far to no avail. Above all, we need to undertake serious open dialogues where, all the cards are put on the table in order to come to a satisfactory solution no matter how difficult or bitter that may be as long as it is finally acceptable to all partners.
Failing to act appropriately on these grievances through finding lasting solutions for them, and the failure to reach a consensus on how Eritrea is to be governed, to the satisfaction and best interest, of all its stakeholders will certainly have the door wide open to all undesired risks and dangers including that of disintegration.
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