After watching Isaias Afeworki‘s hours and hours-long interviews, it is easy to make a case against most of his views about regional and domestic issues. Without bothering to bring up the topics of justice, freedom of speech, and human rights, even on the state of the country’s economy, it wouldn’t take much effort to show that his administration has amounted to failure.
Heck, even Isaias would agree with that conclusion.
Whether we agree with some or all of his ideas and his very vague statements may be debatable. But the undisputed truth is that the important issues of war and peace and the handling of the country’s economy are not decided by the Eritrean people. As always, there is no indication that even the cabinet of ministers or the PFDJ apparatus has any say over the direction of where things are going. One thing is for sure, however: the one-man authoritarian system is in full control. And that control is not sustainable, as sooner or later it must be replaced. He must be replaced.
No doubt about it, the core of Eritrea’s problem is the lack of a constitutional process to resolve issues. That’s why things, even things that shouldn’t be complicated, turn into jigsaw puzzles. Most of the issues we Eritreans argue about could easily and amicably be settled by our elected representatives by debating and voting one way or the other. But dictatorship is a double-pronged knife, on one end it kills the rule of law and on the other, it makes it extremely hard to bring it back.
If dictatorship is wrong and democratic governance is right, then the path from wrong to right shouldn’t be complicated – at least the idea of it.
But unfortunately, even the clarity of mission is never that simple nor is it that easy. Complicated doesn’t mean unsolvable however, it just means that there are entanglements, puzzles, conundrums, and competing priorities to consider. As they say, the devil is in the details and one can only discover the devils – the complicated details – after taking a few steps toward solving the main problem.
The Hard Place
Some of the unavoidable issues to consider are the means of struggle and the fundamental principles that must be upheld no matter what. From choosing a path of non-violence or armed confrontation to collaborating with foreign actors or exclusively relying on change from inside the country, are among the issues those who are actively involved must pick and choose.
After what seems to be endless debates and arguments and eventually coming to terms with reality, at this time, it is safe to say that the vast majority of Eritreans prefer to see a change from within the country. Within the Eritrean Diaspora communities also, except for very few fringe elements, no one wants to see violence among Eritreans or anything that breaks the laws of their host countries.
If there was any doubt about which path the majority of Eritreans inside and outside the country are likely to support, the reaction of Eritrean activists to the war in Tigray made it very clear. In no uncertain terms, Eritreans demonstrated that, regardless of how they view the current government, they are not willing to compromise their country’s sovereignty and invite a foreign army to invade.
Now as we enter a relatively calmer era, those of us who have been advocating for the principles of non-violence and change from within inside, find ourselves in the uncomfortable place of facing a rock and a hard place.
On one hand, our genuine cause of fighting for democratic rights, accountability, and transparency in government must go on until the mission is accomplished, on the other hand, we must show that it is not muddied by anti-Eritrean sovereignty or anti-Eritrean unity sentiments. On one hand, working with change agents from within the system means doing away with the opposition/supporter model and on the other hand, it also means taking measures to not give a tacit endorsement of the status quo.
To create even more clarity, let’s add one important concept: loyal opposition.
Simply put, loyal opposition means people can be loyal to their nation but opposed to the policies of the government of the day. In the absence of a democratic system, it is extremely hard to talk about the concept of providing constructive criticism and alternative proposals to improve governance. But given the peculiar situation, the state of Eritrean politics is in, that is exactly what we need to do. Instead of constantly declaring that we are going to dismantle the dictatorship and erect the flag of democracy on its grave, it is time to be realistic, pragmatic, and smart. As they say, there is a difference between a wish and a plan.
A wish is a desire or hope for something to happen. A plan, on the other hand, is a detailed and organized strategy for achieving a specific objective. One of the specific objectives that must be clearly communicated is a transition blueprint that addresses the important aspects of implementing reforms.
This may be alien to those who believe in the vague mantra of “uprooting” the system. But for those of us who believe in change from the inside, the onus is upon us to show exactly what we mean and how. Then, as part of that approach of confidence building and clarity, the execution of those plans will lead to a transitionary period.
One of the main goals of a peaceful and orderly transition is to prevent chaos and confusion. This transition is likely to be not a revolution but a steady change from within the system. Therefore the aim of the transition plan should be to serve as a guide to influence things toward the rule of law and implementing the constitution. As such, to be taken seriously and impactful, it also needs to be conciliatory in tone and purpose.
If all these sound difficult or uncomfortable, that is because it is challenging to be stuck between a rock and a hard place. But sometimes, progress and maturity require us to choose between two uneasy options. Considering how those decisions affect the next generation should make it less comfortable to decide.
For further discussion, I invite you to share this with your contacts and send me an email to daniel@Eritrea1Nation.com