The Experience of National Dialogue for Democratic change in Eritrea
By Fesseha Nair
Any organization has three levels of action( strategic, management and operative levels) and two methods of steering control from below and control from the above( Decentralization) to advance the work spirit and commitment of all actors in the process of democratization. Here in this article I am not going to deal with organizational decentralization but our experience in conducting national dialogues at this time of transition from dictatorship to democracy.
Dialogue is a democratic method that enables us to find the true meaning or deeper understanding of our problems. By conducting dialogue we are able to know who we are and recognize where we are. It gives us the opportunity to interact in non-violent way when we face opposing issues. Dialogue encourages diversity of thinking and opinions than oppressing them. It facilitates the emergence of mutual understanding of the problems and search for common understanding. In practicing dialogue one should not take the precedence over his partners and common understanding should not come by exerting pressure on others. Dialogue is a tool used for solving problems, it can be between states, it can be between organizations and it can be between systems. It is listening for deeper awareness and understanding of what is actually taking place in your circumstances. When dialogue is conducted with this knowledge then movement towards resolution has a real opportunity to take place.
Do we in the Eritrean Opposition for democratic change been practicing dialogue by deep understanding of dialogue or have we been practicing it in wrong way?
This article on dialogue is not the first by this writer to explain the meaning of practicing dialogue. Many have written on dialogue focusing on building partnership in the opposition camp for democratic change in Eritrea. The building of Eritrean National Alliance during the 1999 was the fruit of the dialogue between the political organizations, the next was the building of Eritrean National Alliance( ENA) then later was the dialogue between political organizations and civic societies that come after the Akaki conference and lastly the dialogue of Awasa that brought broad partnership under the name of Eritrean National Council For Democratic Change/ ENCDC. In all these attempts of dialogue we still have not learned practicing dialogue with responsible listening for deeper awareness and understanding of what is actually taking place in the struggle from dictatorship to democracy, are we moving towards resolving the conflicts in a right way or just circulating in a circle of conflicts without no progress.
Dialogue is the main tool for bringing stakeholders together to discuss the opportunities and problems for democratic change in Eritrea and to develop strategies to address the issues that must be given priorities. I think we have been practicing dialogue without certain principles and beliefs that serve guide us towards the benefit of our people.
We need develop a conceptual framework for conducting a dialogue by examining the values and importance of dialogue and not as temporary and tactical method for oppressing others. The value of dialogue is it contributes strengthen democratic forces against dictatorship, helps to assess the movement for democratic change, enables identifying issues of priority and articulate the importance of partnership and helps get legitimacy and acceptance by the international community.
Dialogue is a tool for prevention of conflict but in our case ( Eritrean) practicing dialogue has been used as conflict creating. It has been practiced as a tool of confrontations and conflict. Dialogue is a tool for managing conflicts- helps us structure and set limits of political conflict and leads us to political consultation and joint action that can help us manage potential conflicts. Dialogue as a mechanism for resolving conflicts, we in the opposition failed to build institutions and procedures providing us framework to sustain peace settlements and prevent the recurrence of conflict ( See the experience of ENCDC)
The Eritrean opposition failed in practicing national dialogue for democratization inside itself and between itself. We need an academic analysis assessing the Eritrean Opposition practicing dialogue. The values of dialogue, dialogue as a tool of conflict management, dialogue framework and application of the framework.
I think the process of democratization inside the forces for democratic change cannot achieve without a true national dialogue guided by national principles including all stakeholders to own and be involved in the process. How do we foster this national dialogue must be the responsibility of all. I think time is ripe to reflect and say we have learned from our past failures let us come together and practice dialogue in a right way that can lead us towards building a democratic society in Eritrea after the fall of dictatorship.
Democracy is a process never ends after the fall of the dictatorship. It is a way of life respecting the rights and dignities of humanity. Democracy is inclusive, encompasses the state, civil society, public and private sector, all share joint and complementary responsibilities for its advancement. Inclusion and participation are two key dimensions of democratizations. This culture of inclusiveness and participatory approach constitutes the basis for a pluralistic partnership. Are we towards building a pluralistic partnership? Let us assess.
We need for a combined approach- combining the two levels of organization combining the steering and control from below and steering and control above.
Any organization had parts of bodies top and below and they have complementary responsibilities but not substitutes. We have learned a great deal from the ambitious ideas and strenuous efforts by the political and civic organizations regarding building a cooperative partnership but this have not been sustainable except splitting and creating every time new organizations based on patron-client relationships.