Eritrean Civic Societies and Political Organization – Synergy or Paranoia

By IndepthAfrica
In Article
May 16th, 2014

Eritrean Civic Societies and Political Organization – Synergy or Paranoia

By Seyoum Tesfaye

On October 11, 2011 I posted this article online. I felt it was necessary to re-edit and repost this article to reinforce the idea that political organizations have a significant role to play in deconstructing the present tyranny in Eritrea but they cannot be and most importantly must not be allowed to be the sole architects of the Eritrean Democratic Transition.

The desire to marginalize and downgrade the role of the Eritrean Civic Society, way before the transition process started, is a pre-positioning posture concocted to reinforce the faulty strategy of some political elements that are still entertaining a new rendition of the illusion of a vanguard party or a political bloc being the hegemonic architectures and masters of the Eritrean democratic revolution.

This outdated thinking has made coming together and resolving our national crisis an intractable political farce. Political elites and powerbrokers with extensive roller desk and a hefty telephone budget would like to use all umbrella formations as a way of creating a de facto power allocation scenario where the future of Eritrea is predetermined, a prior, in a Diaspora setting. The umbrella according political parties and organizations first apostles is not considered as a networking platform where all stakeholders are interfacing to narrow their differences, building trust and manage their relationship in a civilized manner.

Joining an umbrella organization and working on how to bring the largest gathering of Eritrean stakeholders together is not a task relegated to political actors and organizations. Civics cannot be decorative photo opportunity backgrounds that can adorn the unconsolidated authoritarian tendencies of umbrella “mangers” who have assumed the tone and behavior of authoritarian tyrants.

The civic movement, in all its forms, must resoundingly rebuff this poisonous political culture and stand united to create a positive, consultative, networking paradigm with equal right to all shareholders and frustrate those who wish to impose on the people of Eritrea a prefabricated power arrangement that wants to transform ENDC into a government in exile at the beckoning of few power hungry political actors and their handlers.

The definition of political power is the one that will be confirmed on political organizations by the vote of the Eritrean people. Leading opposition or civic organizations is not exercising political power unless you are a throwback Stalinist or Maoist. You are given a chance to manage organizations. Not to practice your addiction to power by purging or freezing other stakeholders or members who dare to ask questions. Short of that confusing a networking arrangements like an umbrella organization opened to all Eritreans stakeholders (supposedly) as political power arrangement is way of continuing the chaotic thinking that permeates our struggle. The message is simple please contain your thirst for power until you get to Asmara for now broaden the umbrella and narrow our differences in the interest of the people.

The transition discussion and agenda formation cannot be left to political actors alone. According to the venerated chairman of umbrella, that was supposedly to nurture and polish the agreed upon road map and open the road to more stakeholders, the umbrella is supposedly to be turned into a political corporate office where the CEO is the power to be reckoned with and the currency is power. Illusion comes in all forms. Announcing a political divorce in as matter of fact manner presumes that the purged elements will play dead.

Just in case we have forgotten Charter 77 (Civic Forum) (Czech) and the Solidarity (Poland) were civic organization that changed the destiny of two great nations that suffered from totalitarian abuse. There is more than one way to skin to skin a cat. In a horizontal world everything is possible.

Let us learns the art of creating synergic relationship. The opposition is in Diaspora and so is the civic. Except well written political programs what is the opposition doing that the civic is not doing? Be real and try to facilitate a wider conversation and real dialogue so that we can build consensus between the civic and the political organizations so that we can save the nation.

Good re-read.

Seyoum Tesfaye

Eritrean Civic Societies and Political Organization – Synergy or Paranoia

May 11, 2011

In an interview entitled “The Era of the Vanguard is over” posted by Mr. Michael Abraha on June 18, 2011 on Asmarino I tried to paint what I felt was a looming negative undercurrent in the “relationship” between Eritrean political organizations and the emerging “Third Space” – the civic societies.

Based on firsthand experience and observation, I was convinced that unless this genuine challenge is addressed judiciously and proactively it will have damaging effect on the overall process of the struggle to democratize Eritrea. It might even have a very negative impact on the Post- Isaias political arrangement that should be sorted out by all stakeholders in an all-inclusive national dialogue and negotiation.

If the political actors and their organizations want to be anointed and ordained as the automatic “deciders” (to borrow a word from former President Bush’s vocabulary) and be accepted as the dominant political forces in the struggle for democratic transition through political chicanery the immediate and long range result will be negative.

Instead of building a synergic horizontal relationship that can usher in a win-win culture, a segment of the diaspora political opposition tries to impose a varied version of the Leninist- Stalinist- Maoist tendency to directly control all “mass organizations” as practiced inside Eritrea by PFDJ.

The relationship between the slowly burgeoning civic society and the established political opposition is still in a low intensity courtship and boundary defining period. There is no guarantee on how it will turnout unless the rule of engagement is constructively recalibrated. The courtship already is fraught with danger. As I stated in my interview the danger manifests:

“At this stage there are two ways where the subtle and underhanded effort to negatively influence the civic societies is manifesting. The regular one is through the misuse of the right to dual membership. This is in line with the old culture of controlling or nudging the so-called mass association to your political agenda through political cadres and members. In other words, the dual loyalty of the individuals who belong to given political organizations and join civic societies is used to manipulate the civic societies into the middle of all political disagreements and force them to take side in favor of or against the burning issue within the camp of the opposition. The hybrid nature of the civic societies is indirectly helping the maneuvering of the opposition political actors.”

“The second myopic approach, without delving into the motivation of the actors, is a classic example of the ingrained fear that permeates most of our political culture towards independent institutions. Since, for a long time, the political societies have been dominating and controlling the political space, the emergence of the civic societies has created a deep insecurity within them. This is the continuation of the misguided, so-called “Meda Eritrea can only handle one organization” philosophy. Leaving aside all such rhetoric, the Third Space is not understood or welcomed in many quarters.”

These are formidable challenges; especially the fear of independent institutions is not something that can be corrected by amending the civic society’s membership requirement in the by- laws. It will demand a true and lasting paradigm shift both on cultural, political and national level. The civic actors have to come to grip with this strategic challenge. What it means, in practical terms, is that they must be willing to cooperate and find common ground with the political actors, both at home and in the diaspora, who stand firmly for the democratization of Eritrea.

In their literature and activity they must emphasis the fundamental fact that their commitment is to the establishment a democratic multi-party system and rule of law in Eritrea. They must stress, unequivocally, that civic societies have no commitment to particular political program. They must emphasis the fact that they struggle for the creation of a vast democratic space for all political opinions, perspectives, agenda and programs to be presented to the people of Eritrea for evaluation and approval or disapproval.

The civic society’s relationship with the political sector cannot come at the cost of this cardinal principle. Wavering or compromising on this principle will lead to the “building” of a compromised and tinted Third Space. Weak and compromised civic societies cannot robustly facilitate and advance Eritrea’s democratic transition and consolidation. They will actually be inadvertently hampering the process. Building and systematically expanding the independent Third Space is equivalent to assuring uninterrupted supply of fresh oxygen to democracy. This cardinal responsibility does not need to be affirmed or blessed by the dictator, political actors or self-appointed political brokers.

The best way to building a viable advocacy civic society is by closing all the loopholes that makes it attractive to political parties and organizations to infiltrate advocacy civic organization utilizing the hybrid (civic/mass) nature of the present day Eritrean civic organizations. Civic societies must liberate themselves from the residues of the 1970 political culture and be truly independent and civic so that they can seat on equal footing with the political actors to jointly reshape the future of Eritrea. If it takes a thousand conversations to drive home and clarify this point so be it. This is one aspect of the national conversation that we must revisit as many times as needed until a broad national consensus is reached on the nature and role of civic societies in the struggle for democratic transition. Eritrean Civic societies cannot abandon the responsibility of bringing an end to the undemocratic regime, crafting the democratic transition, national reconciliation, drafting a constitution and organizing a supervised national democratic election to political actors whose ultimate objective is to come to power. The marriage of convince has to be transformed into a principled based relationship.

Periodically we will fell strong political jolts as the civic societies and the political organizations are flexing their respective influence on the ongoing protracted process to define a unifying vision and a clearly set a Road Map on how to remove the present authoritarian regime and replace it with a democratic one. We should not be deterred by the jolts but must realize the undercurrent that is causing the tremor is part of the struggle to clearly define the nature and role of the relationship between the civic (citizens) and the political organizations.

Civic societies do not have the burden of a political program. They understand the nature and role of national political power but they do not want to be the assumers and dispensers of it. Civic societies do not pay empty homage to the people. They truly believe that the people are the engine of change. The people not political or civic organizations will make the revolution. Both entities can try to be catalysts of the revolution under the best circumstance. Civic activists must fundamentally be true believers in the infinite power of the people to transform themselves and society when they choose to do so. The political elites need periodic reminder of this cardinal truth in order to tame and curtail the periodic elitist arrogance that surfaces in the process of our struggle as a way of projecting individual office –holder’s self-inflated ego. If we are not intimated by the narcissistic Isaias’ super ego how can we be terrified by actors that try to manage fragmented political forces in a haphazard ways.

Sugar and salt are usually white. They might look the same but they are two different products with different properties. Civic and political organizations have two different properties and responsibilities. Based on a clearly defined role they can also create a synergetic environment to advance their respective agenda while working together on specifically agreed upon joint agendas and tasks- without implying a master –servant relationship.

At the risk of redundancy the Era of the Vanguard Party liberating the people is over and done with. Those steeped in this archaic political culture need to come off age and turnover a new leaf. Civic societies will not be ready-made trailers to be hitched and unhitched by political bosses. It is the excessive emphasis and practice of a vertical command and control political culture that has gotten us in the deep sinkhole we find ourselves. Fool me once shame on you fool me twice shame on me.

Open and equal communication will always trump the best designed manipulation and machination. The Eritrean Civic Society will exist and expand in number and in the diversity of its specific mission as the struggle for Eritrean democratic transition builds momentum. Those who, out of fear and paranoia, want to block its path will be disappointed. Those who understand the true meaning of synergetic relationship will find principled and committed team players in the civic society.

The bottom line is that neither the political parties, the civic sector, the religious groups, the ethnic or regional communities even organized to the hilt can by itself remove the regime in power and institute a real democratic transition. The national task is a shared intrinsic responsibility that transcends political, civic, religious, ethnical, regional, ideological etc. affiliation and commitment. It is the glue that makes the possible imminent.

Any and all forms of vanguard thinking have to be challenged and exposed since it retards the struggle for genuine change and reinforces the ego of the characters that tend to manipulate the illusion of power as a stock market currency before the people have a say so. Civics role is to sternly combat this kind of ill formed counterproductive elitist tendency before it attains national political power. Civics’ other role is to work in a joint platform where on the basis of a clearly defined road map it will contribute to a cost effective democratic transition. Relegating Eritrea’s future to the sole discretion of political actors (in all its forms) is the furtherance of the path to more national dislocation and catastrophe. Caveat emptor: Let the buyer beware!

Disclaimer: The opinion expressed in this article represents my individual perspective and only my perspective.

Notice: the opinion expressed in this posting represents my perspective and only my perspective.

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