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The Eritrean Covenant PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 18 March 2010 20:54

Part One

Adopted by the Co-operative Party in 2001-02-24, and, subsequently, adopted by the Eritrean Congress Party

An Ideological Overview

1. ‘Sovietism’

At the height of the Industrial Revolution and the age of imperialism, society was ranged along the Labor and Capital class divide. Leninists as well as social democrats agreed on the observation that the bourgeoisie dominated the state.

 Moreover, these two major ideological tendencies of the socialist movement shared the Marxist view that the state was the legal engine of capitalism, where the political representatives of the capitalist class played the role of the executive committee. Nevertheless, Marxist-Leninist and Social Democrats diverged in their solutions to the problems of class struggle and the conquest of state power. The Marxist-Leninists upheld the strategy of establishing a working class state by revolutionary means; as a result, the concept of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ was formulated as an alternative to the original Marxist notion of ‘the executive committee of the capitalist class’. 




The Leninist party took power in Tsarist Russia and replaced it with the Soviet State; the factors of production and distribution were appropriated by the state; inherited culture and religion were castigated as residues of backwardness; and independent trade union organizations of the working classes were rendered illegal. Paradoxical as it may sound, the communist party, the so-called champion of the working classes, muffled the existence of independent trade unions, as superfluous and anachronistic. In short, the Marxist-Leninist solution to the standing tension between Labor, Capital, and the Capitalist State, was based on the strategy of eradicating the three named institutions, via the mediation of the dictatorship of the proletariat.  


The party and the state became everything, while society was reduced to a mere appendage of the institutions of the dictatorship of the proletariat. It can be asserted that the Stalinist state collapsed, partly as the result of the top-heavy communist oligarchy that dominated the state and society; and to a great extent, as a consequence of the life and death competition with the West for the control of the resources of world. The alternative path of reforming the capitalist state into a Welfare State; of building democratic trade unionism; the co-operative movement; and the structures that support civil society, were left for social democracy to tackle. 


2. Capitalism

Capitalism, whose demise was predicted to be historically inevitable, survived not only because of the inherent dynamism of the free market, and the cultural advantages of the capitalist classes, but also because of the structural weaknesses of the Soviet system that challenged it. That is to say, in addition to the profit motive that fuelled the internal dynamism of capitalism, the suffocating character of the Stalinist state deflected sizeable parts of humanity from the attractions of socialism.


Incredible as it may seem, capitalism was also given a kiss of life by the democratic path adopted by social democracy, and by its embrace of the peaceful programme of building the welfare state. The awareness by social democracy of the dynamism of the free market; and its acceptance of the principle of private ownership; made peaceful competition with capitalism possible. Social democracy is equally aware of the fact that unrestrained capitalism causes injustice, wastage of resources, unemployment, and economic crisis. The international dimensions of capitalism make the protection of the interests of working populations difficult; vigilance is needed to protect developing economies from the dangers of global capitalism.


The moment the interests of capitalism are threatened in the Third World, the international owners of capital would not hesitate to support dictatorships in preference to democratic governments. The anti-serum to dictatorship is a relentless engagement in daily, democratic, work: open debate must be promoted; political and economic pluralism defended; and popular participation in the decision-making processes protected.


3. The Tenets of Social Democracy

During the momentous struggle against capitalism, social democracy countered the idea of revolution with its own ideological line; namely, the path of the legal and peaceful struggle. An equally important position adopted by social democracy was that the democratization of the state and society was preferable to the dictatorship of the proletariat. Thus, social democracy espoused the tangible objective of building the welfare state in preference to tinkering with the unmanageable idea of the withering away of the state. Another key concept embraced by social democracy was the credo that independent working class unions and civic organizations constitute the foundations of economic and political equality.


In the West, social democracy conducted a monumental struggle to protect the state from control by communist and capitalist oligarchies. It is appropriate to state that social democratic parties and trade unions played a central role in the evolution of Western democracy as we know it today.


The collapse of the Soviet system, and the gradual softening of Chinese communism, gave birth, in ideologically rigid circles, to a fundamentalist faith in the infallibility of the capitalist system: that is why social democracy needed to be vigilant against born-again capitalism. It is true that capitalism aided by novel technological and scientific innovations has expanded production in basic needs as well as luxuries. The fact remains, however, that the growth of output in the post-industrial world is achieved at the expense of much destruction of the environment; displacement of large groups from the labor market; and defective distribution. Awareness of these challenges needs to be enhanced so that natural resources are not depleted, human resources are not wasted, and the environment is not exposed to degeneration.


The Soviet experience has demonstrated that a class-based society does not vanish by the mere act of instituting collective ownership in favor of private property: the struggle between Capital and Labor is resilient and likely to stay with us for a long time to come. Economic democracy, accompanied by a shared decision-making process between management and workers, is the key to political democracy. Democracy belongs to the majority; but unless citizens participate actively in the democratic process, the door will always remain open for minorities to establish authoritarian political systems.


3.1 Economic Democracy

In order to achieve the goal of economic democracy, it is important to expand the opportunities of the wage and salary-earning majority to own their homes; and farmers to own their farms. It is also imperative for workers to maintain their trade organizations; for peasants to own their co-operative movements; and for all to be free from state control, and the dominance of the owners of capital. Full employment is the ultimate objective of economic democracy, not only because it is the right of every able-bodied and willing individual to work, but also because a sound economy is dependent on full employment. It is well to remember that the promise of liberty, equality, and solidarity, attain significance when they are accompanied by a good working life and good health.


Once the promise of economic insecurity of the individual is redressed; and the exercise of full-fledged citizenship is attained; the few shall not be able to control the lives of the many; and the owners of capital shall not be the sole decision-makers in the economy and politics of society. 


Progressive taxation is a powerful political weapon for correcting societal inequalities. Social needs such as illness, old age, and unemployment benefits can be met via progressive, fair, taxation. Establishing pension systems, collective savings, and funds on behalf of the wage and salary earners can counteract the monopolistic power of capital owners. The majority of working people is likely to remain outside the confines of economic, cultural, and social resources of society, unless access to education is made available to them. Encourage adult education! Upgrade existing skills! Introduce new ones! Create study clubs! Such are the clarion calls of democracy.


3.2 Economic Development

It is obvious that there cannot be welfare without economic growth; it is equally obvious that growth at any cost is self-defeating. Development that is dependent on depleting irreplaceable natural resources, and that canalizes the fruits of labor of the majority into the hands of the few is undesirable. Growth must be related to material security; good health; humane working conditions; and cultural development. That is why economic democracy strives to clear the path for economic development, so that the fruits of material well being are equally available to all sectors of society.


Uncontrolled growth not only depletes scanty resources but is known to poison the soil, the air, and the seas of our world. Internal regional balance is also important to growth so that some regions do not develop at the expense of the remainder. Uncontrolled growth can also create run-away inflation; enhance unemployment; and promote inequitable distribution. This is a recipe for dividing society into the ‘haves and the have-nots’: corrective measures need to be taken so that the interplay between equitable rights and obligations of citizens is maintained, and the differences in economic and social resources are evened out.


3.3 The Parliamentary Path

Legislation, as opposed to violent intervention, is another instrument by which democracy advances the rights of the working population. The history of democracy has demonstrated that the only way to democratize political life, redress social inequalities, and correct glaring economic disparities, is via legislation. The advocates of unhindered free market denounce legislation, in the social and economic fields, as forms of social engineering; nevertheless, a flexible interplay between the public sector and market economy is essential for dynamic production and fair distribution.


Similarly, advocates of the, perfect, free market argue that public ownership and public bodies are cumbersome. The truth remains that natural resources (such as minerals, gas, oil, etc.) belong to society and not to individuals and, as such, must be administered by public bodies. Negotiations between employees and employers, national health, public transport, and the protection of the environment, and similar tasks, are a few of the areas that need the intervention of public bodies. The institutions of the free market and the public sector are not contradictory; on the contrary, they are complementary! 


3.4 The Principles of Foreign Policy

The preservation of national independence is the most important principle of democratic foreign policy. The respect for national independence and international law safeguards peace, and protects small nations from aggressive powers. It is equally true that membership in bellicose alliances, and hostile block formations, foment conflicts. Democracy condemns dictatorships and authoritarian regimes and fights to protect the Third World from plunder and the destruction of its environment. 



4. The Guidelines of Eritrean Democracy

4.1 Introduction

The primary aims of Eritrean democracy are: the preservation of the independence of our country, the establishment of pluralist democracy, and the preservation of individual dignity based on democratic values.


Eritrean democracy shall strive to liberate Eritreans from the degradation of centuries of colonialism and authoritarianism, by placing decision-making powers of production and distribution in the hands of the majority. Our aim is to liberate Eritrean society from class and ethnic domination and build a just community based upon liberty, equality, democracy, and solidarity. These goals are rooted in the heroic struggle of the Eritrean people for liberation, as they are in the struggles of countless working peoples throughout the world. It is the firm aim of Eritrean democracy to learn from the rich experience of the global democratic movement.  


4.2 Liberty

Eritrean democracy is committed to the principle that individuals have the right to be in control of their destiny, free from interference by the state, and powerful economic interests. Eritrean democrats believe firmly in the principle that equality between all nations, whether rich or poor, powerful or diminutive, forms the basis of global peace.


We hold that the principles of civil rights, universal franchise, freedom of expression, and the right to organize and associate freely, are incontrovertible. These rights must be protected vigilantly from the encroachments of power groupings and vested interests. It is the cardinal aim of Eritrean democracy to emancipate the overwhelming majority from economic, cultural, and political hegemony, so that they might be able to preserve their liberty and exercise their civil rights.


4.3 Equality  

We believe unswervingly that equality is a pre-condition to liberty. Individual rights will remain empty dreams without equal access to economic opportunity, education, and culture for the majority. Eritrean democracy holds that equality of the distribution of the resources of society and mankind lies at the heart of establishing equality among individuals. It is important that a democratic party rejects a society founded on class, ethnic, and gender domination.  


4.4 Solidarity

Society is composed of those whose capacity is greater than others but whose needs are not as great as the overwhelming majority. The ECP is concerned with encouragement of those who contribute most so that they enjoy the fruits of their capacity, while at the same time making sure that this does not lead to the domination of the strong over the weak. We believe firmly that democracy cannot be founded on the forces of the free market alone: it must be complemented by solidarity. Democracy is the basis of solidarity; therefore, the values of democracy need to permeate all aspects of the political, economic, social, and cultural life of our nation.


At the national plane, Eritrean democracy shall strive to achieve the stated goals by organizing the wage and salary earners, and peasants. At the international plane, we shall strive to harness the goodwill and solidarity of the international democratic forces. Only when Eritrean democracy demonstrates its seriousness, dignity, and incorruptibility can it expect the experienced democratic parties of the industrial world to extend their unstinting solidarity to our nation. The essence of solidarity, whether it is at the national or international levels, is based on co-operation and not conflict.



5. The New Conditions of Struggle

5.1 Modern Challenges

The challenges of the post-industrial and post-colonial age differ radically from the problems that were faced by the working classes of last century; modern class challenges are more complex and far more difficult to tackle. The collapse of the bi-polar system has exposed the working peoples of the world to new insecurities. The workers in the Third World are exposed to international capital in a way that might undo the ephemeral gains of independence; worse, they are exposed to massive health and environmental hazards by the catastrophic global exploitation of natural resources. 


It is self-evident that the nations of the world have the right to develop their societies without fear of domination or control by any single political power. Towards this end, Eritrean democracy shall co-operate with the international democratic forces to fill the void caused by the collapse of the bipolar system; it is important to seek a new international order based upon respect for legality and civilized behavior that can replace the old.


 5.2 From Class Society to the Welfare State

Eritrean pre-colonial society was an impoverished non-productive Adi society; with Italian colonialism there developed an agricultural proletariat; traditional crafts were replaced by the factory system; and with it there developed specialization and division of labor. Italian colonial capitalism in Eritrea manifested itself as ‘war capitalism’ (in preparation of the Italo/Ethiopian war). Italy was part of the European industrial revolution, where the working classes were divorced from the labor of their products, and alienated from society in a way that denied them the opportunity to partake in the development of a worthy life and culture. The ruling classes of the newly united Italy saw colonialism as vehicle of exporting surplus population as a measure of reducing the contradictions between the Italian working and propertied classes.


5.3 Building Eritrea into the National Home of All Eritreans

Eritrean democracy shall found an Eritrean National Home in independent Eritrea, at peace with itself and its neighbors. Eritrea shall be a national home for all Eritreans, where class, ethnic, and religious distinctions shall be regarded as sources of cultural wealth rather than sources of first and second class citizenship. Internal and external peace is enhanced not by punishing capital but by making the conditions of a worthy life available to owners of capital and labor resources.

 The Eritrean people’s National Home cannot be established by military governments, anti-democratic nation building programs, constitutions by referenda (which cannot be amended by democratic means), and state parties. An Eritrean people’s National Home shall be created in an environment of multi-party democracy, peacefully and by legislation, in a vibrant civil society where the wage and salary earners are actively engaged in protecting their interests. Active participation on the part of the ordinary citizens is essential for influencing social development; social democratic awareness, formulated and crystallized in the interest of the ordinary people, is the key to legislation.


The fruits of production must be distributed in accordance to the needs of the ordinary people and not the whims of capital! Mass poverty and mass unemployment must be removed! Civil right bodies must grow to defend themselves from the abuse of power of the state and capital! Wage workers and salary earners must be organized into trade unions, independent from the power of capital and the state! Such is the fighting stand of social democracy.


In sum, the aim of the ECP in Eritrea is to fight for the economic and social security of the working people, and to improve the standards of life and culture of the people by achieving full employment. The modernisation and democratisation of the communes is the basis of civic rights, where producer and consumer co-operative forms of enterprise can work side by side with profit based enterprises. Through the combined efforts of the Eritrean Congress Party, independent unions, the co-operative movement, and the free market, a sound basis for building the Eritrean national home shall be made available.



5.4 The Challenges of the Future

Emerging new technology and globalization have created new nuances in the class structure - the trend is certain to continue; nevertheless, class privileges have not changed their basic characteristics. The dominance of international corporations, international capital, and the never ending technological development have exposed the interests of the trade unions to new dangers; and made economies of the Third World dependent upon international financial forces. Under these circumstances it has become increasingly difficult for national banks and parliaments to achieve national objectives. Our party shall be on a constant alert to defend Eritrean society from these threats.


Another challenge is the increase of dictatorships and authoritarianism. Political democracy has to be defended against dictatorship by mobilising members of society to protect their rights and interests in a responsible way. In addition to dictatorships, class chasms, ethnic schisms, and other imbalances caused by international finance capitalism; the working peoples of the world are also being dehumanised by epidemic diseases, and environmental catastrophes. Our party shall be at the forefront in the struggle to restore the plundered seas, soil, air, vegetation, and animal life.


Restoring naturally sustainable conditions will demand great efforts; towards this end, Eritrean democrats shall appeal for aid from international democratic forces. Another threat that hangs over the wage and salary earning Eritrean population is the media conspiracy. In the age in which we live politics has become dependent on the mass media; it is becoming more and more difficult for the wage and salary earning working people to form and formulate their own views. Our party shall fight for freedom of the press, and the right to break the monopoly of the one party state over the mass media.







Eritrean Covenant

(Part Two)



Strategy Adi


1. The Pillars of Eritrean Identity

 The historical components of Eritrean identity rest on the following pillars: The Adi or the commune; the Baito or the communal council; and the Highi Enda Abba (the ancestral constitutions).

1.1 The Adi/Ad

1.2 The Tigrinya/Tigre term, by which the legally chartered communes of Eritrea are known, is one of the central pillars of Eritrean identity. Eritrea is overwhelmingly organized in Adis that share the following characteristics:

·         The Adi is organized on a territorial and not on ethnic basis

·         The Adi is a territorially defined unit that enjoys an autonomous status within the framework of the ancestral constitutions.

·         The economic organization of the Adi is based on the principle of private property in its relations to the state, but is owned collectively by the inhabitants of the Adi community. The Adi system denied the growth of a feudal system where land belonged to the king or the feudal lord; citizenship, residential plots, and farming land rights are directly dependent upon certifiable membership in the Adi community.

·         The economic organization of the Adi forestalled the growth of feudal armies or other forms of feudal obligations: the Adi military defense was based on the ‘Mendelai’ system. This system was universally applicable to all male teenagers who were trained in the arts of defense that instilled in them the value of heroism upon the completion of their training. The Mendelai youth were required to sport a rounded ring on the right earlobe, and tour all the Adis of their district, attired in ceremonial white, for the blessing of the elders. Those who proved themselves in battle earned the privilege to wear the prestigious Shirara or the leather kilt of the commander.

·         Citizenship in the Mereb Melash (present Eritrea), and all the rights and duties that ensue from it, is defined by membership in the Adi. Any person outside the Adi system was treated as a guest; in fact, the Adi system was so tight that colonial administrations had to invent novel methods of accommodating non-citizens. Ras Alula introduced the Deki Arba’a (residency of forty); in the same vain, Italians established Hadish Adis or new Adis for new comers, with the purpose of circumventing the tight-knit Eritrean society.


1.2 The Baito

Public life in the Adis is organised around the democratic Baitos or assemblies; the Baito combined legislative, judicial, and administrative functions. In keeping with this tradition, the parliament of Eritrea is referred to as the ‘Baito of Eritrea’.


The Eritrean Baito is a unique institution in our region. In a region whose political history was based on the concept of the divine right of kings and feudalism, the Eritrean Baito was an elective institution. Another important feature of the Baito is the standardized democratic procedure of its sessions; members were elected on the basis of the criteria of wisdom, juridical acumen, oratorical flourish, and heroism in the battlefield.


1.3 The Bahri Negasi

The king of Midre Bahri (the land of the sea) was known as Bahri Negasi. His political power emanated from the Highi Enda Abba (the ancestral constitutions/laws) and he was answerable to them. The organizing idea of Eritrean society was the Highi Enda Abba: these written documents were the moral and legal codes that ordered Eritrean society. The central aim of these laws was to protect the individual rights of the citizen, define his duties, and protect his property. In brief, these constitutions generated civilized, law abiding, behavior in a cultural milieu dominated by feudal anarchy.


1.4 The Hagere Seb

The chartered communities of Eritrea are known as the ‘Hagere Seb’ or literally, the land of (Highi Enda Abba) human beings. The rootless urbanized ‘Asmarinos’, in their drive to eradicate Eritrean history and civilization, attempted to degrade this noble appellation to mean rural backwardness.


1.5 Hadash Eritra

The present regime is engaged in eroding the foundations of Hagere Eritra (the Eritrean motherland) by Hadash Eritra or the New Eritrea. This project, which is being pursued in the name of nation building, is couched in Gramsschi’s theory of the cultural hegemony of the working class. The dictatorship crafted the astounding theme that traditional values, cultures, and symbols have been rendered obsolete by the ideology of Hadash Eritra. The ideologues of the dictatorship further elaborate the view that the incorruptible spirit of sacrifice, impregnated with a revolutionary culture, developed in the liberated areas shall, eventually, replace the culture of the cities that was defiled by successive colonial regimes. As the outcome of this theory civil servants were replaced by ex-fighters, regardless of qualification. The civilian masses, that bore the brunt of the struggle for liberation, were weeded out as political rejects from the civil service and the state-owned companies. The dictatorship has gone a long way in defacing the Adi communities by declaring their lands as government property; worse, the Adi is no longer the litmus test of Eritrean citizenship. The new party reorganized the historical regions with the aim of ironing out their Eritrean features; Eritrean identity has thus become a threatened species.  


1.6 Hagere Eritra

It is futile to struggle for democracy without a nation that we can call our own; the history that has molded our nationalism; and the cultures and symbols that knit us into an Eritrean whole. Denuded of its history and culture, our country has been transformed into a non-descript real estate; in lieu of an Adi society, we have the shareholders of the PFDJ; and finally, instead of a government, we have the hegemony of one party rule. The ruling party has expropriated our nation, and is busy imprinting an unfamiliar image upon it! It remains for us to accept the difficult task of identifying, renovating, and modernizing the central features of the Adi strategy:

·         The Adi strategy as an electoral principle

·         The Adi strategy as the Eritrean solution to the demands of canton and internal   federation

·         The Adi strategy as a basis for local government and balanced development.

·         The Adi strategy as containment of the flight from the countryside to the cities

·         The Adi strategy as the centerpiece of our economic program


2. The Eritrean Democratic System      

2.1 The Three Level Baito as an Electoral system 

·         Eritrean democracy shall be based on the Adi strategy. This means that citizens of voting age have the right to vote in the Adi Baitos (communal council), the Awraja Baitos (county council), and the Hagerawi Baito (national parliament) elections simultaneously.

·         Mayoral and Municipal elections shall be conducted separately.

·         Presidential candidates shall be selected by their parties and elected directly by the people.

National parties need to satisfy the following conditions:

- A leadership elected at a party conference/congress

- A minimum membership size - to be decided in the future

- The support of a minimum of a given percentage of the national voting population, and

- A given percentage of the electoral constituencies in all the provinces.


3. The Three Level Baito as a Source of National Unity

3.1 Introduction

Recently, novel terms (‘Biher, ‘cantonization’, and internal federation) have been added to the Eritrean political dictionary. These ideas surfaced partly as weapons directed against the sectarian dictatorship, and partly as a reaction to the provisions of the draft constitution. The provision of the draft constitution, ‘that all languages are equal’, encourages the belief that the first law of the land orders society on the basis of nationality instead of citizenship. Modern Eritrean political and constitutional history confirms that the struggle for liberation was based on a national commitment to build an independent, sovereign, and unitary Eritrea. Every child knows that the Moslem League and the Unionist Party had diametrically opposed views on the question of the self-determination of Eritrea: the League advocated independence, while the Unionists pressed for union with Ethiopia. Not many are, however, familiar with the fact that these competing political forces concurred on the question of the indivisibility of Eritrea and the Eritrean people. The struggle for liberation was a continuation of the credo that the people, the land, the sea, air, and the state of Eritrea are indivisible. The blunders of the dictatorship, and the weaknesses of the draft constitution, do not justify the parceling out of the territory, resources, and institutions, of our country: the solution to the demands of Biher, religion, and language lies in political and constitutional adjustments based on our history. 


There is also an important aspect of international law that needs to be considered. The first Eritrean constitution, granted by the UN, was designed for an autonomous unitary Eritrean state: this observation is true for the Federal Act of 1950 as it is for the Referendum of 1993. In both instances the unitary character of the Eritrean state has never been questioned: to experiment with this central principle amounts to eroding the foundations of Eritrean independence and sovereignty in the eyes of international law. Having formulated this primary element of Eritrean nationhood and citizenship, the understanding of our party regarding the national question and internal federation is as follows:


  • The three levels Baito strategy is the Eritrean solution to the demands of Biher, canton, and internal federation; by positing power on the people at the three levels of the Adi, Awraja, and national assemblies, it is possible to redress Biher and religious imbalances.
  • All national constituencies have the right reclaim their Adi rights to retrieve their land; to constitute their Baitos; and to revivify their languages.
  • The unitary aspects of the state shall be balanced by, the equally important principle, of effective, decentralized, local (three-level) government.


3.2 Language

 Eritrean independence and sovereignty are the most cherished values of our national existence. Our sovereignty can hardly be called complete unless we have official languages: the principle of instituting official languages is important for its symbolic value as it is for national unity. The first Eritrean constitution stipulated that Tigrinya and Arabic were the official languages of Eritrea: the substitution of Eritrean languages by Amharic was an important ingredient to the resurgence of modern Eritrean nationalism. It should be realized by all that the acceptance of Tigrinya and Arabic as the official languages of our nation, encapsulates its corollary, that the official scripts of Eritrea shall be Tigrinya and Arabic scripts. The remaining language groups retain the right to preserve their mother tongues and develop them. 


3.3 Religion

 Eritrea is blessed in the matter of religion in that both Christianity and Islam are rooted in our national history. As early as 333 AD, Christianity was firmly rooted in our country; likewise, the introduction of Islam on our soil goes back to the early mission of the Prophet Mohammad, who instructed Sayyidna Ja’far to seek temporary refuge with the Negash (Bahri Negasi). The Eritrean culture of religious tolerance between these two ancient communities is embedded in our history; nevertheless, modern demands posed by the politics of liberation and state building, jolted the tradition of mutual respect and tolerance between Eritrean Muslims and Christians. These demands are related to power and resource sharing: it is at this level that political and constitutional solutions are needed.


The Lebanese model, namely, dividing the institutions of the state and government among the Lebanese Christians and Muslims led to disaster because political power and national resources were divided among the ruling classes of the two religious communities. This is an experiment to be avoided! The Cypriotic model; that is to say, dividing the island of Cyprus into Greek and Turkish zones reflects the competition between Greece and Turkey more than the interests of the two communities of the island. This is also an experiment to be avoided. What we should seek is an Eritrean solution based on Eritrean realities. Historically, Eritrea was not organized into religious communities; for centuries, there was no rigid religious divide between Eritrean Christians and Muslims. The religious ground was a shifting one: Eritrea is organized into permanent communities known as Adis: the foundations of Eritrean society were these fixed national referents as opposed to confessional organizations. All tribes of Eritrean origin are organized around Adis: religion, whether of the Christian or Muslim persuasion, does not define our national existence. The primary principle of our national existence is the Adi; had Eritrean nationalism been based on the religious and kinship principles, the struggle for independence would have failed. It should be clearly understood that the reversal of the Adi basis of Eritrean nationhood in favor of religious and kinship political platforms would, in the end, lead to the demise of our national existence.


4. The Draft Eritrean Constitution

The draft constitution has been at the centre of the Eritrean democratic debate for two major reasons: the first reason is related to the question of participation in the process of constitution-making, while the second reason is associated with the inherent weaknesses of the constitution. There are certain national issues whose result is binding on us irrespective of our level of participation: a good illustration of this observation is the UN administered referendum that resulted in Eritrean independence and sovereignty. Not all liberation organisations participated in the referendum; nevertheless, all members of these liberation organisations welcomed the independence of the country for which they fought valiantly.


Here, we are faced with the situation where, on the one hand, the opposition forces were not in a position to participate in the constitution making process, while on the other, it may be argued that a majority of the Eritrean people participated in that very process. In both cases the dictatorship’s aim was the marginalisation of the opposition forces from mainstream Eritrean politics; the tactics of the PFDJ notwithstanding, we remain entangled in this complex dilemma. Once again the indivisibility of the sovereignty of our people, and the continuity of the institutions of sovereignty, make it incumbent upon us not to reject the draft constitution off-hand. The above observation does not signify that the draft constitution should be accepted warts and all; in fact, its weaknesses are so glaring that the instrumentality of amendment alone may not suffice to redress the inflicted damage. Simply put: the draft constitution must be revised.


The present constitution confuses the principles of form of government with that of fundamental rights and freedoms. Forms of government deal with the following principles: the fount of political power; the principles and the rules of the game of democracy; the multi-party system; presidential or parliamentary forms of government; the head of state; local government; and other related matters. Basic rights and freedoms form a separate cluster of principles: freedom of expression; freedom of worship; freedom of information; freedom of assembly; freedom of association; freedom of movement, and so on. In the present draft constitution it is not clear in which part of the instrument of the government, the multi-party principle is located - if it exists at all. 


In a parliamentary system the power of the head of state is merely symbolic and representational. It must be stated clearly in the draft constitution whether Eritrea shall have a presidential or parliamentary form of government. Our party advocates a presidential head of state, replete with the political power of the executive presidency.


Another weakness of the draft constitution lies in the lack of clear-cut separation of powers. In multi-cultural Eritrea, where questions related to kinship, language, and religion need special attention, the executive branch has to be kept at bay from interference in the legislative and judiciary functions of the Eritrean state. The revised constitution must state clearly that the court system and its administration shall be sensitive to issues of justice as they relate to issues of national unity.


Eritrean economics shall be based on the principle of private ownership. The revised constitution must state the following principles explicitly:

·         Land belongs to the Adis

·         Land shall be distributed among the inhabitants of the Adis for farming and residential purposes

·         Land does not belong to the government; it merely retains the right to administer the remaining state property for national development

·         Land shall not be sold to foreign nationals or corporations


Of the many weaknesses of the draft constitution, the confusion between the rights of the individual citizen versus nationality is the most serious. Democratic constitutions are based on individual citizenship, whereas communist constitutions, such as the Chinese constitution, are based on the collective principles such as class and nationality. In democratic constitutions minorities are protected both as individuals and as groups. The draft constitution combines these irreconcilable constitutional traditions: the provision that the languages of all the nationalities of Eritrea are equal is a collectivist approach to constitution-making. This aspect of the draft constitution gave impetus to the distortions of the national question and internal federalism. The draft constitution was approved by the dictator’s assembly; to claim that it was ‘ratified’ amounts to accepting Issayas’s dictatorship as legitimate. The first step towards the ‘ratification’ of the constitution is to constitute a legitimate body that drafts a party law and, a commission for elections. Such a democratically elected parliament retains the right to amend, revise, and ratify the legitimate Eritrean constitution.  

The Bicameral Principle

We have already discussed the mechanism of the three-level Baito for resolving the political aspects of the language/religion issue: it remains for us now to discuss the constitutional guarantee of our unity and dignified national existence. The organization of political parties on confessional basis, like the Lebanese and Cypriotic models, is an experiment to be avoided. Political parties based on religion are certain to divide our country into two mutually hostile religious communities that might, eventually, lead to future religious conflicts. This is also an experiment to be avoided.


The constitutional guarantee for our national unity and dignified national existence needs to be based on a bicameral parliament: the one elective and the other selective. The draft constitution provides for an elective parliament; the proposed Second Chamber, which shall be selective, is designed to protect the equality of the two main religious communities and the ethnic groups and awrajas they contain. The Second chamber shall be composed of an equal number of Eritrean Christian and Muslims. The responsibility of the Second Chamber shall be: 

·         To monitor unfair practices of authorities based on religious grounds

·         To be the guardian of Eritrean national unity by standing against mutual suspicion, hostility, and incitement to violence

·         To propose corrective legislation regarding unfair and unjust practices based on religious grounds

·         To act as ombudsman to complaints of unfair and unjust practices based on religious grounds

·         To be the guardian of the moral standard of the nation by fighting against prostitution and corruption

·         To be the guardian of Eritrean national dignity


- The list of tasks of the Second Chamber is envisaged to grow as central issues come to light

- The Second Chamber shall be empowered to establish commissions of inquiry

- The members to the Second Chamber shall be proposed by the Adi and Awraja assemblies, short listed by the president of the republic, and confirmed by the First Chamber

- The chairman of the Second Chamber shall be empowered to play the role of head of state in moments of constitutional crisis


5. The Strategy of Co-operative Development

There are two tendencies in Eritrean traditions of solidarity: there is the Dessa economic organization that is based on communal land ownership, and there is the tradition of Wefera that is based on the mobilization of the community on behalf of the individual. During the struggle for liberation the Dessa principle was equated to the collective ownership of Marxist economics; this perception of collectivization led to the dictatorship’s policy of ‘land belongs to the government’. In communist economic policy, it is the party and the state that are the collectivizing agencies; the Dessa system of the Adis, however, is the outcome of historical evolution and has no relation to the communist tradition. The land of the Adi is private property, on the one hand, and communally owned on the other. The communal feature was contrived for checking the attempts of the feudal forces from appropriating the property of the Adi. Within the context of Adi communal ownership, land was categorized and rotated among the inhabitants by lot. The Adi system of ownership has three main deficiencies in the area of production:

The first, and the most glaring deficiency, lies in the fact that the farmer is confined to his Adi: the farmer is rendered landless and without any means of sustenance outside his Adi. In economic terms, the farmer may be regarded as a prisoner of the Adi system  


The second deficiency is located in the fact that Adi land is communally owned and rotational: in this case, the farmer is deprived of the right to own a farm that he may develop as his own.


The third deficiency is lodged in the reality that agriculture is limited to a four month rainy season: the implication of this reality is that labor productivity is also limited to four months. Eritrean manpower was imprisoned by the Adi system until Italian colonialism released it by introducing a, modern, labor market.


The cumulative consequence of the mentioned deficiencies was that the Adi system deformed the factors of production; stultified the accumulation of wealth; and encouraged the distribution of poverty.  


These deficiencies of Adi agriculture shall be corrected by two important steps: a) by the introduction of private property ownership, in the form of distributing communal land to the inhabitants of the Adi, for farming and residential purposes; and b) by encouraging the voluntary organization of Adi farms into co-operatives. 


The cornerstone of our development strategy shall be based on organizing the private farms of the Eritrean peasantry into a massive co-operative movement. In addition to the development strategy formulated above, the Eritrean co-operative movement; combined with the trade union movement of wage and salary workers; and within the context of our philosophy of private property, shall constitute the foundation of Eritrean democracy.  



Eritrean Congress Party

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