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Thursday, June 20, 2024
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Preventing a Power Vacuum: Critical Steps for Eritrea’s Leadership Transition

Introduction

I am of the belief that we are all bound by the timing of God. However, we all know that one that has lived a good life is one that has lived up to the ripe old age of their 70s, 80s, and 90s at the maximum. However, when it comes to politicians, it is different. When a senior-aged politician dies in office, one can only think about who will ascend to power and reforms or policy changes would bring that their predecessor failed to attempt or would never do. In the case of Eritrea, our situation is unique.

The reason of having this system of leadership was first blamed on the TPLF-led Ethiopia invasion on Eritrea back in 1998-2000 but has now been blamed on the tense geopolitical climate surrounding the horn. Regardless of if that is an issue, Eritrea, as of 2024, is not engaging in an active war with any countries and should hopefully never have to. The “Check-Engine” light on the PFDJ car is flashing because of the following. PS: Immediate Maintenance is Needed:

  • The Constitution Remains Unimplemented – an important document on how the country should be governed, as well as a contingency plan should a vacancy occur in the Office of The President, Vice-President, Secretary General, etc. However, the attitude towards the constitution by the PFDJ has been rather poor, as the constitution is treated as an “accessory” rather than a necessity for governance. If the constitution remains unimplemented, then nobody will adhere to it.
  • The National Assembly and Central Committee Members Are Dying Off – In an article published by Awate.com that conducted a census on the 75-member central committee, 60% of those chairholders have passed away. This was an article published in 2015, in which today would be nearly a decade. Since the publishing of that article, more members have died due to natural causes. If the president was to call the 150-member unicameral National Assembly into session, we would be looking at a nearly empty hall.

LINK: https://awate.com/eritrea-2015-isaias-afwerki-his-musical-chair/pfdj-central-committee-update-2015/

However, the Central Committee and the National Assembly were never called for a legislative meeting for debating or creating laws/policies, or a Party Congress, which is important for creating 5/10/15 year plans or goals. The Central Committee is an important political organ however, as they are responsible for electing a President should the office ever become vacant.

  • The Skilled Potentials Are Dying Off – With the 2024 death of Ahmed Tahir Baduri, and the 2021 deaths of PFDJ Secretary Alamin Mohammed Seid and Romodan Mohammed Nur, the question lies as to who will succeed Isaias if he passes away. When it comes to Office of The President, it’s not just about having the clout, but having good knowledge on how the political system should work (key word is should). Prior to the deaths of Baduri and Mohammed Nur, we also had skilled potentials that happened to be part of the G-15. But there is a chance that all of them have died. If they are to be alive, I do not think they would be cognitively healthy to take on such huge political challenges fresh out of prison.

Possible Scenarios:

This article isn’t meant to be a scare-tactic or make Eritreans fear monger over the country. Rather, it is bringing something that keeps on being pushed out of the light right back into the light. Considering that the opposition has not only failed in bringing change to Eritrea, but it has also lost confidence in the silent majority due to some elements relations with the TPLF, and even pushed some to become fully PFDJ. So, the possibility of the fragmented opposition in the diaspora to wield any influence in a reform-era Eritrea would be very, very, slim.

If Isaias Is Alive:

  • A Special Party Congress/ Legislative Session Could Be Called: I am speaking about this more on an optimistic note, considering how the legislative branch has been collecting dust for over 20 years. The president would most likely use the session to elect new members of the National Assembly and Central Committee, and then step down to let one of the Central Committee members rise into the office of the President. The successor to Isaias will hopefully implement sweeping reforms (Not Likely)
  • Coup De’Teat: If the president has lost confidence with his subordinates, including those in the military barracks, the president could then be removed by the military. However, Africa has been cursed with never ending coups that always end up being dictatorships that replace dictatorships. It is like the reinvention of the wheel but worse. It would be in the president’s interest to implement the 1997 constitution and amend it. (Not Likely)
  • President/Government Reaches Out to Opposition: (Highly Doubt It but Can Always Be a Possibility): PFDJ has huge distrust of the opposition, often indirectly referring to it as the “Eritrean Quislings League.” However, ever since the rise of the Brigade N’Hamedu insurgencies, there have been many sensible critics of the government that have come out to condemn those attacks. Those individuals would be people such as Daniel Teklay, who was able to meet with well known PFDJ hardliners halfway. It gives me a little bit of hope, but the opposition is still fragmented. There needs to be either a united group, or a popular nationalist opposition group to even increase the chances of the government directly reaching out to them. This can change as the Eritrean political environment is always evolving.

If The President’s Office Becomes Vacant:

NOTE: Before I list out the possible scenarios, I’d like to stress that as Eritreans, most of these are likely scenarios if Eritrea’s internal issues are not being talked about more often. If the President has a change of heart, it would not just be in his best interest, but in the best interest of the country for Option 1 of If Isaias Is Alive to take place.

  • Power Vacuum and Internal Struggle (Most Likely, If Imminent If Reform Isn’t Conducted): The way the Eritrean government is structured is a highly centralized power. You have a weak, nearly dysfunctional judiciary branch, and a virtually nonexistent legislative branch. The Executive branch is what creates ordinances, policies, and “laws” (I use that word loosely) that affect the country. And as you may already know, that centralized power rests in the Office of The President.

 There has not been a discernible hierarchy from the Office of The President since the arrest of Mahmoud Sherrifo (member of the G-15). There is no contingency plan that we know either. Whatever arbitrary “game plan” or “succession plan” that the higher ups at PFDJ may have in place will immediately falter as it is not backed by any form of law or institution. Thus, it is easy to deduce that a power struggle can and most likely would happen if a constitution isn’t implemented. One of the warning signs I have seen was the death of Alamin Mohammed Seid (the former Secretary of the PFDJ party.) While some believe that the position is mainly ceremonial, the position remains vacant as of 2024. Now imagine if the most valuable, and powerful position ends up becoming vacant. What would happen then? There are also vacancies in certain ministries as of 2024, such as the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Fisheries, and Ministry of Energy & Mines, as an example.

  • Military Takeover (Most Likely): If the president does not implement the constitution and properly institutionalizes the branches of government for as long as he draws breath on this air, what could happen is the Eritrean military takes over to set up a “transitional” government. However most “transitional governments” in Africa are just military juntas, so it is a rebirth of another dictatorship.
  • Reform After Isaias (Somewhat Unlikely): There is belief that once the Office of The President becomes vacant that “moderate” PFDJ cadres would seize the opportunity to reform the government, or at least bring the country back on track to the goals outlined in the PFDJ National Charter and 1997 constitution. However, given the political intricacies of the Eritrean government, and with favorable PFDJ cadres dying off, this is becoming more of an unlikely scenario as the days go on.
  • Regional Involvement (Most Likely): This is something that is not talked about much in the Eritrean politics, as for some reason it is taboo to talk about a contingency plan. However, when a power vacuum opens, it also opens the door to foreign actors who harbor ill intentions over the country. Neighboring countries could be involved to influence the situation or install a government of their own liking that suits their interests. Especially with the threats made by Ethiopia over access to a sea, we must always be on guard. I guess this is where geopolitics and internal affairs intersect.

Conclusion:

The conclusion will be an unsolicited advice to Eritrean President, not just for him to save face, but to maintain the integrity of the country. I make this advice as a concerned Eritrean, who is interested in seeing the unity, peace and cohesion be maintained. I will also use some suggestions that Former Finance Minister Berhane Abrehe made in his book:

  • Establish A Clear Succession Plan: The main topic of this article is avoiding a power vacuum. Thus, the president must establish a clear and transparent contingency plan, should the office ever become vacant due to whatever cause. This will involve identifying and preparing successors who have an interest in keeping cohesion, stability, and creating growth in the country. The successors should not be the children of the president, but rather one from the PFDJ cadre that has Eritrea’s best interest at heart.
  • Emergency Party Congress/National Assembly: The last time that the legislation met was in 2002, in a post-G-15 Eritrea. There were visibly many empty seats, and most of the people that have been imprisoned may never return to those seats again, so we must move forward with finding potential candidates to fill those vacancies. The issues that should be brought forward in the emergency party congress and national assembly are the status of political prisoners, how did Eritrea deviate from the goals outlined in the PFDJ national charter, implementing, and amending the 1997 Eritrean constitution, and formally institutionalizing and strengthening all sectors and branches of the Eritrean government.
  • Release Political Prisoners and Promote National Dialogue: The Eritrean President should give a former pardon to political prisoners, most notably Bitweded Abraha, G-15, Berhane Abrehe, or any politician that has been arrested by the Eritrean National Security Department. One thing for sure is that there had to be at least several politicians that died in prison. The president has a moral obligation to officially confirm their death, the time of their death, as well as the cause of the death to give closure to the family members and put an end to this never-ending mystery.

 Furthermore, the Eritrean people, as well as the diaspora has been through a lot. With the recent uprisings, which is mainly due to pent up frustration and a lack of dialogue, there needs to be dialogue between patriotic Eritreans and the government to discuss on the county’s future and build a broad-based consensus on key issues.

There are other issues that the Eritrean government should deliberate more on, with the engagement of Eritreans in the diaspora (and not excluding Eritreans who despite not seeing eye-to-eye with the government, harbors good intentions) on how to remedy on those key issues. However, the solution is making sure a power vacuum doesn’t happen, and to encourage a kickstart of showing a gesture of goodwill and a path towards reconciliation and healing. Hopefully, more and more Eritreans can push for this to save the country.

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