The Eritrean government’s response to the “Building Democracy” Conference

                                    28 April 2019Eritrea Focus

 

Habte Hagos, chairman, Eritrea Focus

The two-day London Conference looking at how a free and democratic Eritrea might emerge in the future was a fascinating, exhilarating and challenging event. It heard from Eritreans from a range of backgrounds and many viewpoints. There were inputs from experts – Eritrean and international – who have worked on and thought about the country and its people for many years.

It was an entirely positive event, which makes the negative response of the Eritrean government as sad as it is predictable. Instead of welcoming discussions about the options that are now emerging, it has attempted to belittle and dismiss. Yemane Ghebremeskel – Minister of Information – responded to the Conference by attacking Baroness Kinnock.

Yemane Gebre Meskel on Conference

Glenys Kinnock is an extraordinary British politician and a very long-standing friend of Eritrea. She visited Eritrea during the liberation struggle and her books including: “Eritrea: Images of War and Peace” did much to inform the international public about the situation.

Baroness Kinnock has been a stalwart supporter of Eritrea Focus, which organised the London Conference, but sadly she was not able to organise nor to participate in these events. If she had been with us, it would have been the icing on the cake.

Ambassador Estifanos, who represents Eritrea in Japan, took a different approach.

Ambassador Estifanos on Eritrea Conference

 

Perhaps predictably, he attempted to link the Conference to the Tigrayans. It is a rather tired rhetoric, but it can be wheeled out to suit almost any situation, so he has adopted it again.

It is a hallmark of the current regime that they insist on keeping the Eritrean people in the dark. We are denied information about the changes going on in our country and our region. With our National Assembly suspended we have no opportunity to engage in debates about our own futures. This is quite unacceptable.

Our reply

Neither of these criticisms is accurate, but that is unlikely to convince either of these government officials. Our appeal is – rather – to the wider Eritrea public. In this regard we want to make our position clear since, as it is often said, transparency is the best disinfectant. To that end we are publishing the Conference agenda, which identifies who spoke and who led the discussions. [see at the end] The papers will also be published in due course.

Eritrea Focus is an association of Non-Governmental Organisations, human rights organisations, exile and refugee groups as well as individuals concerned with the human rights abuses in Eritrea. We campaign to expose the horrific abuses and suffering of Eritreans, both within the country and as refugees living abroad. We campaign for democratic accountability in Eritrea and the establishment of the rule of law, and actively engage with the international community in our efforts to achieve this.

The London Conference was an important part of our activities. It was attended by about 70 people – mostly Eritreans, but also international experts. Many different views were expressed.

Eritrea Conference group photograph

Delegates came from Kenya, Botswana, a number of European countries and the United States as well as the UK. Funding for the Conference was kindly provided by the National Endowment for Democracy, which is funded by the US Congress, as well as private donations.

Our aim is simple: to look at the immense challenges facing Eritrea and to try to assist in the emergence of a democratic government that can replace the current dictatorship. Ours is a catalytic and facilitative role: we cannot be involved in the end of the present autocratic regime overseen by President Isaias. That task is exclusively one for Eritreans and especially for Eritreans inside the country. What we can do is assist and encourage the process of thinking about what will be required once the transition has taken place. This will be an immense project: no-one can have exclusive ownership of it. All constructive contributions should be welcome.

We are enormously heartened by recent developments inside Eritrea and amongst the diaspora. The ‘Enough’ – Yiakel movement, which the youth have taken up with such enthusiasm, is very much to be welcomed. It will fuel the changes that are coming, but as the Arab Spring so clearly demonstrates energy and hope are not enough. The future must be planned for if it is to produce the kind of government in which rights are respected and the rule of law is established. Our work is designed to be an inclusive process, sharing our work with anyone who shares our aims.

What next?

Over the next few weeks we will put together a range of working groups. These will take forward the papers that were presented at the Conference. We will begin the process of thinking about how Eritrea might be reconstructed after a transition, so that the country can have the ‘softest of landings.’ The issues will include law and the constitution, the economy, women and minority groups and regional issues. We need to identify key scholars and able Eritreans, who can critique what is being considered, but who are also prepared to step forward once the current regime has gone. We will publish the papers we have and how people can become involved.

This is a process – not an end point. But we believe that these are important considerations.

First: We are not a substitute for Eritrean political movements and organisations. We can assist, be catalytic and supportive. Only Eritreans can take the transformation of their country forward. We will try to be inclusive – including reaching out to transnational Eritrean youth in the diaspora.

Second: We do not aim for conformity but for collaboration. We accept, encourage and recognise the work of many other organisations like the Eritrean Lawyers, Eritrean journalists and other professional groups. We will accept and work with the many civic organisation emerging from the country’s women and its youth. “Unite, don’t harmonise” is a useful slogan. We aim to map Eritrea’s intellectual resources and consider how to fill the gaps.

Third: we already have some resources, although we are a small organisation and aware of our limitations. We have produced a well-received exhibition charting the history of Eritrea and we are willing to share it. We are supporting the improving media environment – including the Assena radio and television. We are also monitoring the international media, and will publish what we find.

There is a huge amount of work to be done, but we are not alone and the wind is in our sails.

See the Conference agenda here: Eritrea Conference 2019 – Programme

 

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One comment

  1. Congratulations on running this timely Conference and well said about its outcome.

    I have no doubt it will serve as a building block towards forging a democratic society in our beleauguered country. After all, you had assembled some of the best authorities, which Eritrea is blessed to call its own. Dr. Bereket, in my opinion, is, by far, one of the greatest of them all.

    Incidentally, ‘Charlie’ (Yemane) & ‘Bruno’ (Estifanos A) do not deserve your attention. The terms ‘government’ or ‘spokesmen’, which you attribute to them, imply that there is some kind of order and policy, of which there is none in the Isaias regime. If there was, it would be the Er-ambassador to the UK who would tweet, first, or we would have seen some kind of press-release come out.

    These two, whom, incidentaly, I have known and worked with long and intimately before I left Eritrea, happen to be the only regular tweet-attack players among regime officials. I presume they are taking their own selfish initiatives to do so. I believe, that they are desperately begging to stand-out from other lackluster and archaic regime officials, facing the fury of the Eri-opposition. The tweeter-duo is begging to be considered modern (‘look, am tweeting like modern politicians do), free-thinker (‘look, am not asking permission from Isaias’), knowledgable (‘I know Kinnock!), etc.

    Genuine government spokespersons, would call a press conference to lash out at the opposition, not only tweet. Eri-regime officials don’t dare do that! Isaias would crucify them alive.

    And in Bruno’s case, there is another snag. How would he know what to say about the Eritrean opposition? In Japan, he is out of touch with current Eritrean opposition politics. And he is not the industrious type who would teach himself. Otherwise, who would connect Eritrean opposition with MLLT, the defunct TPLF party, which didn’t see the light of day beyond the late 1980’s?

    Charlie’s dilemma is another. It is associated with a new stress-syndrome, (post-favoured-servant one?). Since being down-graded to a min. of info (MoI), Charlie lives in stress. He realizes that it is a matter of time before Isaias feeds him to the wolves, because Isaias does not like to keep butlers who know too much, too long. He knows the MoI is the waiting room to perdition – the ghosts of Ali Abdu, Naizghi, Beraki, etc. So, Charlie might be making a last attempt at renewing his usefulness to Isaias, by doing what no other high official does – tweet the opposition away.

    To conclude, I say, what these and other regime officials say is no business of ours. We run such conferences and meetings of minds, not because we are addressing the regime, but because the Eritrean sovereign state, which we fought for, deserves it. We are proud of Eritrea Focus, because you have enabled a Conference which adds a lot of value to our collective knowledge of essential facts and theory. You have also inspired us to took beyond this outdated ancien regime.

    Thank you again.

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