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Complimentary Roles for Democratic Goals

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Complimentary Roles for Democratic Goals in Eritrea


By: A/Rahman Sayed (Bohashem)

21st February 2013


            Some contents of this article were initially drafted in July 2011 as a general topic for discussion among likeminded activists but have become more timely in view of recent developments in Eritrea. These developments include a growing sign of discontent within the ruling party (PFDJ), promising pro-Democracy rallies organised by Eritrean youth in the Diaspora, and the most recent dramatic siege of  the Ministry of Information (MoI) by dissident pro-democracy patriotic soldiers who briefly broadcasted their demands for the release of political prisoners and constitutional democratic governance among others. This incident has come to be known as the Forto 21 January movement in reference to the day in which the pro-democracy EDF (Eritrean Defence Forces) soldiers took over the MoI on Monday morning 21 January 2013.

            Before delving into the rest of the contents of this article, it may be useful to provide my own definition of terms and phrases used in the analysis.


  • Struggle: any non-violent and legitimate activity waged by individuals, civil society groups and political parties to advocate for and promote the rights of a particular group or the whole society.
  • Pro-Democracy Movement (PDM): are groups and individuals that espouse and promote principles of Human Rights, Rule of Law and Democracy through non-violent means. Armed violence is a by-product of repression and dictatorship, and a symptom of a situation that is inherently anti-Rule of Law and Democracy.
  • NVM: Non-Violent Movement

      The terms PDM and NVM are used inter-changeably to refer to all parties,            groups, individuals that promote democracy through non-violent means. Hence, their use is in general reference to the wider movement, and not      specific to an individual group or person.    

  • Eritrean Security Agencies (ESA): ESA is composed of the Army, Police, Intelligence Services, and other security organisations established by the ruling regime as “state institutions”.  Given the way the Eritrean security forces are organised, it is safe to assume that most of their personnel would have undergone proper combat army training either as part of the armed liberation struggle era (1961-1991) or the post-liberation compulsory military conscription. The other issue to take into account is the absence of professional military or police academies, which means, all, irrespective of their organisation, more or less come from the same military training doctrine, which is heavily based on the liberation era culture where fighters are expected to strictly follow orders of the liberation front’s leaders. This means the transformation of ESA into “state institutions” free from partisan control is still incomplete. For this reason, it is appropriate to reach out to individuals and groups within ESA that are identified and considered to be pro-Democracy or willing to change course and support the pro-Democracy cause instead of categorising them all as “enemies” that aught to be destroyed through protracted armed struggle waged by numerous groups.


Areas for Complimentary Roles


            Complimentary roles can be played between pro-democracy movements inside the country and outside in the Diaspora. For such roles to take root and succeed, it would need to start with mutual recognition and clear understanding of the following facts:-

Ø      Just as there are anti-democracy elements and groups within the Diaspora opposition camp, there are pro-Democracy elements and groups working within the existing dictatorial regime. The assumption that all those working under PFDJ are obedient servants of  tyranny is wrong. Evidence on the ground suggest otherwise. There are more political prisoners who are either members of the EPLF/PFDJ and or have been serving under the PFDJ regime than those imprisoned for belonging to all Diaspora opposition groups put together.  People inside Eritrea, including EPLF/PFDJ members, have been shouldering the burden of the struggle for change.  The G15 and the Forto January 21st  movements are some of the visible and recent examples that posed serious challenges to the PFDJ regime from within.

Ø      The general view that all anti PFDJ groups and individuals are inherently supporters of Democracy is misleading and does not help the struggle for democracy and can potentially threaten transition to democracy. As seen in the past few years, there are numerous unscrupulous groups and individuals willing to go to any length to secure narrow interests at the expense of the anti-tyranny struggle. 


            Diaspora opposition’s impact on the ground inside Eritrea has so far been very limited, if not totally non-existent. There are various subjective and objective reasons for this. However, for the purpose of this article, it suffices to state that there has been a missing link between forces inside Eritrea and those in the Diaspora. This situation can be changed by promoting mutual recognition and developing complimentary roles that can be played between both sides towards achieving common goals of transition to democracy. This would require Diaspora opposition to recognise that any decisive role for Democratic change in Eritrea will have to come primarily from within Eritrea.  Diaspora opposition groups aught to see their efforts as complimentary to the efforts of forces inside Eritrea, including those attempted by members of the Eritrean Defence Forces on Monday 21 January 2013. In the meantime pro-democracy forces inside Eritrea should also begin to recognise the very important role the Diaspora opposition can play in the field of media, diplomacy and economy.   

            The following table shows examples of complimentary roles that can be played between the two sides of the pro-Democracy movement:-


Diaspora Pro-Democracy Movement (DPDM)

Pro-Democracy movement in Eritrea (PDME)

Who are they?


Independent: political parties, civil society groups, media outlets, individuals and professionals that believe in:-

-          The notion of non-violent peaceful means of struggle for political change in Eritrea,

-          Human Rights

-          Rule of Law 

-          Democracy

-          Social Justice


Where are they based?

Based outside Eritrea with possible connections and networks inside Eritrea.

Who are they?


Pro-Democracy elements and groups within the Army, Police, Security Agencies, Civil Servants, Students, Warsay/YekeAlo conscripts, Women, Workers, Farmers and Pastoralists, Journalists, Doctors and Nurses, Politicians, PFDJ members including PFDJ “Mass Organisations”, individuals and professionals that believe in or who are willing to convert to and support the struggle:-

-          To end the reign of dictatorship,

-          Promote and Defend Human Rights, Rule of Law, Democracy and Social Justice


Where are they based?

Primarily based inside Eritrea with organised networks within Diaspora communities.


Tools/Methods they can Deploy


Diaspora                                                                             Inside Eritrea

Media is the most effective tool that can play a crucial role in publicly exposing pfdj tyranny as well as shaping and directing national, regional and international public opinion in favour of the Pro-Democracy struggle.


Media tools can include: Art (in particular use of music and drama), Radio, TV, Websites & Blogs, Caricatures, political analysts coming out on mainstream regional and international media outlets to give insight on the Eritrean situation etc.


Diaspora Pro-Democracy opposition groups are best placed to lead on setting up credible and effective media outlets and networks that compliment the struggle of Pro-Democracy forces inside Eritrea.


Encourage the establishment of professional media outlets such radio, tv and other widely accessible mediums.


The aim of media should not be confined to the current challenges, but also should be an effective tool for playing a constructive role in the post tyranny era.


By professional media, we mean information dissemination mediums that are independent and impartial in presenting news and information, that promote peace and communal harmony, that exposes and scrutinises politics and politicians, and follows strategies based on good ethics.   

Due to the repressive state situation, Democrats inside Eritrea face enormous constraints to air their views. For this reason, they can feed their counter-parts in the Diaspora authentic news and information to highlight issues inside Eritrea and to inform the general public.


Once effective cells similar to those organised by the ELM in late 1950s  and early 1960s (Cells of 7) are established, media materials reproduced or produced in the Diaspora can be disseminated inside Eritrea through such organs using the well known method of “read/view and pass on” (ambibka ahlef) and “word of mouth”.


Diaspora                                                                        Inside Eritrea

There are two types of diplomacy: Public or people’s diplomacy and formal institutional diplomacy. The latter is normally conducted between states and governments. Since the regime in Eritrea lacks legitimacy and institutional capacity to represent the Eritrean people’s interests abroad, it is important pro-democracy patriotic national political parties such as the EPDP/ENDF to step in and fill the vacuum in this regard by establishing diplomatic communications and networks with friendly governments, political parties, regional and international inter-state institutions outside Eritrea. Where possible, it is always better and effective to conduct diplomatic campaign a by a united force that represent all players within the pro-democracy movement. To this end, well meaning Eritrean groups and individuals may attempt to form a strong united leadership to lead the struggle for democratic change. However, this exercise has to carefully avoid falling into the trap of premature power rivalry that is often witnessed in Eritrean opposition joint ventures, if it is to succeed and become effective.


The second part of diplomacy is one that is conducted by civil society and grassroots groups. These groups can participate in lobbying influential states and governments,  regional and international institutions (e.g AU,EU and UN) to ensure that the issue of  Eritreans’ human rights  is included in their bi-lateral and multi-lateral dealings with Eritrea. 


Individual governments can be best lobbied through direct communications with their relevant departments such as ministry of foreign affairs, ministry of international development, think tanks etc.


The other equally effective means of lobbying is for Diaspora Eritreans to use rights associated with their adopted citizenships and residences to lobby their local legislatures (members of parliament) to raise their home country’s issues within the houses of parliament as well as with the relevant ministers and diplomats assigned to Eritrea.


In addition to the above, effective working relationships can and should also be established with human rights organisations and relevant NGOs and campaign groups to ensure they are made aware of the Eritrean  human rights violations.

This is a delicate area and the pfdj regime closely watches diplomatic missions in the country and harasses and detains Eritreans who work in ordinary administrative areas of the missions. However, it is still important to make efforts to establish good links and networks with diplomatic missions in Asmara to feed them with developments and to seek their governments’ support when possible.

Public Rallies


Diaspora                                                                                Inside Eritrea

Organise public seminars, cultural evenings, rallies and demonstrations outside PFDJ missions and companies, gatherings where their officials are invited to speak at, PFDJ festivals organised to generate hard currency for the regime etc. In this regard we applaud the annual rallies organised by the Eritrean community in MelbourneAustralia. Every year the PFDJ regime tries to organise what it calls “Eritrean Festivals”, but in reality they are events organised for two main purposes:-

  1. To generate hard currency
  2. To claim that the pfdj regime has wide support among Diaspora Eritreans.

The Eritrean community in Australia has been consistently challenging these events by organising peaceful rallies and raising Eritrean and Australian public awareness of the grim human rights situation inside Eritrea.

  1. Disseminate information about Diaspora Pro-Democracy independent rallies, if and when possible and safe to do so.
  2. Agitate and mobilise people to make basic demands such as the release of unfairly detained relatives, forcefully conscripted youngsters, the rise of living costs. We already have plenty of such causes for concern. People do not need to ask for political change. Political change can start by making simple demands.
  3. Remember, PFDJ is primarily a military organisation, and as such the most weak when it comes to managing public/state affairs outside war situation. Hence, they can be effectively challenged and defeated on areas of their visible weakness.


When organised and disciplined force may be justified?


The pro-Democracy non-violent movement will be obliged to seek the support of pro-democracy security agencies, civil servants, and PFDJ members as well as the people of Eritrea inside the country. PDM/NVM should not hesitate from calling on and encouraging the Eritrean security agencies to use legitimate force to remove the dictatorial regime from power and to hand over power to elected representatives of the Eritrean people. This may necessitate the use of force, which is justified as long as it is carried out by a disciplined and pro-Democracy state institution such as the Army, the Police etc. and does not commit extra-judicial executions of any member of the ruling tyrannical party.


The complimentary role in such a scenario would be as follows:-

Diaspora Support for ESA:


  1. If and when the army decides to remove the dictatorship from power and hand over power to an elected civilian government, the PDM/NVM should be ready to give ESA media, diplomatic and public support.
  2. PDM/NVM should immediately pressure the revolutionary patriotic ESA forces to commit themselves to a charter with clear time-table to hand over power to civilian administration.
  3. To be ready to assist the new temporary care-taking rulers establish a transitional government of national unity composed of pro-democracy elements and groups.
  4. Based on established public and institutional diplomacy, PDM/NVM to send delegations to neighbouring countries, in particular Ethiopia, Djibouti, Yemen and Sudan, to solicit their support by refraining from harbouring hostile anti-Democracy forces, assuring them of the Pro-Democracy Movement’s commitment to resolving any existing disputes through dialogue, legal and peaceful means, however long they may take.
  5. Ethiopian and Sudanese positive support during the transition period will be crucial. International friends can be solicited to help put pressure on the two neighbouring countries to pursue a constructive support policy at best and or a non-intervention policy at worst, to enable the Pro-Democracy Movement to effectively put Eritrea on a Democratic track.

Possible action by ESA inside Eritrea


  1. Move to restrain PFDJ dictatorship and force them to hand over power to the people either through voluntary peaceful transition or involuntary removal.
  2. As soon as this happens, establish a supreme Council composed of Pro-Democracy Army and Civil Service officials, tribal and regional leaders, religious leaders, Pro-Democracy Independent Diaspora politicians, credible political parties and civic activists to oversee the delicate stage of transition towards Democracy.
  3. Send assurance delegations and diplomatic messages to Ethiopia and the rest of IGAD states,  the AU, UNSC member states and other regional powers, expressing willingness to resolve any existing disputes and misunderstandings through dialogue and peaceful means that takes into consideration the interests of all concerned etc.
  4. Call for a “national reconciliation conference” and for the establishment of a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” to address issues of injustices committed against Eritreans, all Eritreans.





            The most pressing issue at present is the removal of the tyrannical regime in power, which has been abusing Eritrean human and political rights for the last 21 years. All opportunities and calls for change and reform have been defiantly rejected by the Tyranny. In the meantime, the suffering of the Eritrean people has been increasing by the day reaching a totally intolerable stage. As documented in a detailed UN report, human traffickers in close collaboration with the tyrannical regime are now openly trading with young Eritrean lives fleeing enslavement in military camps.  

            The Eritrean situation calls for urgent national salvation before the country falls apart and becomes another “failed state” under the control of armed criminal gangs and war-lords.

            On the other hand, the proliferation of Diaspora “opposition” groups with “armed wings/militia/cadres” is unhelpful and has so far been a factor that has been indirectly contributing to prolonging the life of the tyrannical regime. Armed violence for political end is inherently undemocratic and undermines the chances of smooth transition from tyranny to democracy.

            In the process towards defeating tyranny, there is a need to contain and minimise the existing confusion between demanding rights for a particular section of society and claiming to be a political party that seeks to attain national political power. As in most Democratic constitutions, post-tyranny Eritrean constitution should guarantee fundamental democratic rights for all citizens including for cultural, social, regional (provincial) segments of the Eritrean heterogeneous society. However, for these constitutional rights to materialise there needs to be advocacy groups such as civil society institutions that can effectively organize and educate the public about basic constitutional guarantees of rights in an effective democratic constitutional order.

            The non-violent struggle in Eritrean should recognise the necessity for  possible legitimate force by ESA to protect the people and to force PFDJ dictatorship out of power. This will require a strong media campaign by PDM to call on ESA to shoulder their responsibilities under national patriotic oath to act as a united entity and remove the tyrannical regime from power with the full support of the Eritrean people.

            ESA’s role is crucial not only in the removal of the tyrannical regime, but also in establishing a provisional national authority in the immediate post-tyranny era. Hence, ESA will shoulder the burden of leading the country through the transition period under a clear time-line for gradual transfer of power to civilian administration. We should be under no illusion that democracy is something that can be delivered over night. It is a process that requires careful crafting and engineering. (This will be a topic for greater discussion in future article/seminar).   


May Peace and Justice Prevail in Eritrea!

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