As someone sometime ago put it, “The most important trip you may take in life is meeting people half way.” In a few months’ time, we will celebrate the 58th anniversary of the start of our armed struggle for national liberation. This is quite a life- time during which no real compromises and accords were reached between rival Eritrean political groups. But regretting and brooding over lost opportunities will not serve us any useful purpose. Today, what can be helpful is to think of meeting half the way - making compromises in order to rescue our gradually but surely sinking ship.
During the past week, there appeared yet another well written paper on our sad situation; it also listed recommendations as to what can be done. The paper, dated 22 May 2019 and entitled “Eritrea: State of the Nation,” was signed by 16 of our compatriots, many of them with long and good record in the struggle for liberation and democratic change.
The group is raising issues that deserve consideration and agree without delay so that we as a nation can avert serious problems in the post-PFDJ period. For lack of a better name, we can call the group ‘G-16’.
It is true that G-16’s analysis of our situation and the recommendations/proposals they make can be seen as part of our never-ending circus of trying to ‘reinvent the wheel,’ which in fact is a grave sin that all of us have been committing for decades.
So, let the G-16 paper be re-inventing, regurgitating of things that we said and wrote before. Still, it is to our national advantage to accept it as if it were a new call for action. No forgetting that we have already accepted the “Enough is Enough” momentum as a new call although that call is as old as our resistance to the Asmara regime. We need to strike the iron while it is hot. We need to speed up national dialogue and agree on critical issues like a legal document for the transition period.
G-16 are describing our situation as a polarized one, especially in regard to the 1997 constitution which many Eritreans accept as “an excellent legal document” while other Eritreans “consider the document flawed in its exclusionary process and content (flag, land, language, unitary state), reflecting only the value system of the EPLF.”
The paper also states that the zero-sum approaches of our past politicking are not leading us anywhere. Compatriots in G-16 are therefore appealing that: “each side must retreat from its entrenched position and meet the other half way.”
This is one of the key messages addressed by the group of professionals to many Eritreans in the opposition camp who always remained rightly mistrustful of the tyrannical regime that Isaias Afeworki installed after independence. That mistrust of Isaias was extended to the ruling party that he firmly controlled.
We need to admit that that mistrust is not easy to heal, nor did concerned parties take steps to address it. It is because of that unaddressed, unhealed mistrust that we failed to make compromises and reach solutions.
But now, we have no time to address lingering mistrusts. As the outburst of the papers we draft on the state of our nation clearly manifest, Eritrea is emptied of its youth, of its very soul, and we are in extremely critical times challenging the very survival of the independent state we created the hard way.
What Do We Do?
The G-16 paper expresses deep concerns about the immediate aftermath of PFDJ in Eritrea if we do not have a legal document to start with. They strongly urge for compromises to agree on letting the 1997 constitution fill that vacuum. They say that the still unimplemented constitution “must be only a transitional document” for the transitional period beyond which time Eritreans have “the right to make partial or even wholesale changes to the constitution, and that can only come about in a free and stable environment.”
What makes the G-16 paper different from most previous pronouncements is that it has come at the right time. It also clearly states what is needed: compromise and agreement regarding a legal document that can serve only for a limited transition period.
This time round, we should not fail to think that this is an opportunity to be seized without delay. In other words, all concerned parties need to push this G-16 idea one step further and translate it into a national agreement for that short transition period.
The G-16 paper rightly suggests action to draft legal codes on future constitutional organs like: (a) Rules of Parliament, (b) Judiciary, (c) Offices of Attorney General, (d) Auditor General, (e) National bank, (f) Election Commission, (g) Election law, (h) Civil Service Commission, (i) Press law and others.
Yet, nothing is as important as their points for compromise about the 1997 constitution.
EPDP and the 1997 Constitution
When the Eritrean People’s Democratic Party (EPPD) was formed as merger on mid-night of 31 December 2009, it was resolved as follows:
“the unimplemented constitution in Eritrea, which has been collecting dust since its ratification in 1997, can only find suitable ground for contemplation after the fall of the PFDJ regime. At that time, the question of replacing it by another document or amending it can be decided by a national referendum or become the responsibility of a democratically elected national parliament.”
This was a sensible compromise reached by the co-founders of the EPDP ten years ago. The subsequent congresses of the party confirmed that commitment regarding the 1997 constitution. In other words, the suggestions made in the G-16 paper about the 1997 constitution appear to be not that different from what the EPDP foresaw a decade ago.
It is everyone’s hope that the insistent calls for national dialogue by religious leaders, political organizations, civil society activists and national figures like those who took part in the recent London conference on Democracy Building in Eritrea will materialize soon into the holding of a National Conference for Unity and Reconciliation so that useful ideas for compromise and agreement like those suggested by this new G-16 can be considered.