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Thursday, June 20, 2024

New Chapter, New Ideas

The road to something better is never smooth. It’s always bumpy. Ups and downs, highs and lows, unfortunate circumstances, and lucky breaks. All part of the journey. What shouldn’t be compromised however is the quest to come up with something better. And that requires paying attention to when one chapter ends in the political arena and a new one begins.

On the Eritrean people’s journey to find a better system of government, herein lies a fork in the road. After at least two decades of trials, errors, debates, arguments, false starts, hopes and squandered opportunities, two major schools of thought have bubbled to the top. Now, regardless of where in the political spectrum they have been, Eritreans are faced with stark choices: rebrand the current opposition or prepare a blueprint for the post-Isaias period instead.

Stuck in a Rut

Dictatorship breeds resistance, which inevitably evolves into organized and unorganized movements for change. Throughout history, that’s how it always worked. When a movement for change becomes strong and credible enough to be trusted, to be perceived as a better alternative than the status quo, the public eventually rises behind it.

The first half of the equation is pretty much what transpired in Eritrea; resistance to dictatorship manifested in a variety of forms, mostly unorganized. When it comes to garnering widespread support, however, it kept on fizzling like soap bubbles that burst into nothing before you can notice them. Credibility is about making the public believe in the proposed ideas and trusting the people behind them. Shortages of credibility, competence, honesty, patriotism, and trustworthiness result in burst bubbles.

There could be many arguments made on why the opposition lacks these basic ingredients. If there is one thing that is hard to ignore however, it is the fact that when it comes to Eritrean stability, national security, and preserving national pride – the glue that binds a nation – the current government was indeed perceived better.

And given what transpired in the past couple of years during the Ethiopian civil war, by siding with Eritrea’s arch enemy, the TPLF, the radical wing of the opposition totally lost what little credibility it had left.

The result is what we have today. Having failed to prioritize Eritrea, the divided and weakened opposition is now in no position to be seen as an alternative, other than a nuisance to a stable transition. By sidelining and constantly undermining the efforts of Eritrean nationalists who are struggling to bring about genuine change without destroying the country in the process, the hard-liners in the opposition have given us enough hints that democratic change may not be their primary agenda; they might even have ulterior motives.

Now that the wheat and chaff have separated, it is high time for adjusting strategies and goals.

From Mobilization to Transition

Political mobilization is a process by which the public is agitated to participate in collective action. It usually involves information exchange, demonstrations, and campaigns aimed at transforming passive individuals into active participants. The initial goal is to create awareness about the injustices committed under the current regime, with the hope that awareness will lead to change. Within the Diaspora-based opposition, it is safe to say that the awareness phase which has been going on now for well over 20 years is at a point where it has little to no diminishing returns. In short, there is hardly anyone left who does not know about the dire situation the country is in and the need for change. This is not the exclusive domain of those who call themselves “justice seekers”, it is also the wish of the silent majority and even those who publicly support the regime in power.

Constantly bemoaning the long list of what the government of Eritrea has committed or is failing to do, without proposing any viable alternative is where the state of the opposition is. What is a viable alternative then? Well, many things can be said about that but let’s stick with one: pragmatism. Pragmatism demands that in politics a flexible approach based on what can be achieved in the real world is better than what should be achieved in an ideal world. Reality has thought us a good lesson in recent years.

Chief among the lessons is that the division among Eritreans based on supporting or opposing the policies of the current regime is not sustainable. Fueled by the craziness of social media, it only seems to succeed in widening the gaps along political, religious, ethnic, and regional lines.

Everyone can participate in narrowing these gaps and denying enemies – domestic or foreign – to capitalize on them. Recognizing that we are all in it together, we need to stand shoulder-to-shoulder knowing that Eritrea’s future will be brighter than its present.

Pragmatism also forces us to look at another important aspect. The leaders that have influenced the pre-independence and post-independence chapters of the Eritrean journey are aging. The time to pass the baton to the next generation is now. Instead of continuing the fruitless back-and-forth debate among “supporters” and “opposition”, it’s now time to work on a peaceful, well-planned transition from the Ghedli generation to the Warsay generation.

That is why we need to move from prioritizing Mobilization to prioritizing Transition.

The Pillars of Sustainable Change

Let’s save the details of what the Transition phase entails for another day, but for the sake of simplicity, Transition is the bridge we must cross from where we are to where we want to be.

The process of shifting from a one-man dictatorship to a constitutional rule of law must be handled with great care, lest we end up like Somalia, Iraq, Congo, or Libya. Needless to say, nobody knows what the exact challenges will be in the Eritrean context but if we give due consideration to the following, we will be well prepared for any eventualities.

Stable Transition – Nation-building in the absence of peace and security is unthinkable which also means there needs to be an undisputed institution that can maintain peace and security. That’s why is imperative that the Eritrean Defense Forces and security apparatus should be a central component to a peaceful and sustainable transition.

National Harmony – The barrage of attempts to divide Eritreans along ethnic, regional, linguistic, religious, and other sub-national lines, have indeed failed. But we should remain even more vigilant and continue to bring our communities together so that we deny opportunities to those who wish to divide and conquer us.

National Interest – Like all countries in the world, Eritrea has and will always have national interests that shouldn’t be compromised during a transitional period. Among these interests are sovereignty, economic development, regional stability, and minimizing external security threats. Any proposed plan should therefore respect these interests regardless of who is in power at any given time.

Beyond Isaias

For better or for worse, Isaias has created a totalitarian system that reflects his ideology and personality.

For over three decades, he maintained firm control over the levers of power. At this point, debating whether or not the steps he took to get us here were avoidable, good, bad, or in between, is irrelevant. Time makes everything irrelevant. What is done is done; we can only attempt to shape the future. But regardless of our opinion, Isaias is an aging leader whose prime days are behind him, and sooner than later he will exit the scene.

Without a constitutional process to guide the succession of power, we must try to create informal plans and mechanisms that will lessen the dangers of a power vacuum. Without that, confusion, fear, and even violence will become more likely.

To avoid this, it is the duty of every patriot to start exchanging ideas that can be part of a national blueprint for Eritrea’s next chapter. This new chapter is not about opposing or supporting; it is about preparing. Thus Eritreans from all walks of life should be part of it including those who are part of the Eritrean government, the PFDJ, the Eritrean Defense Forces, and of course the general public. Ideally, this would be done in an organized and centralized manner, but it does not have to start that way. The most important thing is we get started before it is too late.

What are your ideas on what should be included in the blueprint for transition? I invite you to share this with your contacts for further discussion and send me an email to [email protected] 

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  1. I wholeheartedly concur with the author’s astute observations and recommendations regarding the political situation in Eritrea. Daniel’s thoughtful analysis and call for a pragmatic approach towards a peaceful transition to a new government are commendable.

    I appreciate the author’s erudite use of language and ability to articulate complex issues in a clear and concise manner. His emphasis on the importance of credibility, competence, and trustworthiness in any alternative government is a crucial point that must be considered by all stakeholders.

    I urge others to read this article and share their opinions in the comments section. It is through constructive discourse that we can forge a path towards a better future for Eritrea. Daniel’s valuable contribution to this conversation deserves to be widely shared and discussed.

  2. I highly doubted your narrative is biased. I don’t trust you or your government period. Regime change is one way or the highway.


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