September 27, 2013

Assessment of EPLF’s experience in the period between its 1st and 2nd Congress

Assessment of EPLF’s experience in the period between its 1st and 2nd Congress

by Yishak Yared | The EPLF’s mission is the realization of the Eritrean people’s right to self determination and independence. This was reaffirmed in clear terms in its national democratic program adopted at its first congress. But the struggle to emancipate the Eritrean people from the colonial yoke of oppression requires not only waging a war of liberation against the colonial army but entails a comprehensive political struggle and all-round nation building tasks. Shouldering this responsibility and recognizing its importance, the EPLF accomplished many tasks in various fields, gaining in the process a rich experience and bringing about tangible changes. In the following the changes will be discussed in accordance with their importance.

Political work among the masses
Ever since Eritrea emerged as a nation especially over the past 40 years, the task of raising the national consciousness of the Eritrean people so it would be on par with the process of nation building has remained fundamental. This task includes the fostering of a common national consciousness by eliminating sectarian sentiments emanating from the backward social and economic structure of the Eritrean society; the development of a nationwide political organization by discarding the narrow and backward organizational forms thrown up by the backward social formation; and the guaranteeing of the broad and democratic participation of the masses in the liberation struggle and national re-construction.

In order to realize these political objectives stage by stage, the EPLF strove to raise the political consciousness of the Eritrean people so that a common nationalism would subsume religious, provincial, tribal and ethnic sentiments. It also worked to enable the people to organize themselves in national associations based on social standing, set up popular institutions on democratic bases to replace those serving traditional leaders and arm themselves to protect their democratic gains.

To raise the political consciousness of the people, regular political education was introduced. Topics such as history of the Eritrean people and their struggle, the correct national line and methods of struggle, basic political concepts, forms of colonialism, its collaborators and their tactics, developments of the international political scene, rights and obligations of the masses, democratic organizational principles, perseverance, etc., were discussed. These discussions were not limited to EPLF members, but public meetings and seminars were organized so the population at large could participate and help in broadening and deepening understanding of the issues. Towards the same end, books were translated, journals and other publications widely disseminated. A radio station-The Voice of the Masses-was also set up to assist in the politicization of the masses, particularly those who live in inaccessible areas. Research was carried out in the economic, social and cultural life and the folklore of the Eritrean people so political work would be based on Eritrean reality.

The second aspect of EPLF’s political work pertains to mass organizations. Here its fundamental policy to organize the Eritrean masses on the basis of their social status into associations of workers, peasants, women, students as well as professionals. The political work was effective and the associations held their founding congress, declared their programs, elected their leadership and have been actively broadening and consolidating their ranks. Parallel with this and on the basis of the Front’s policy of setting up democratic political and administrative bodies inside the country, people’s assemblies were formed at village and district levels in the liberated and semi-liberated areas and were functioning properly. To simplify their administrative work, committees responsible for cooperatives, economic life, justice, etc, were elected and as a result the people’s role in self-administration improved.

The Saho speaking people inhabit Eastern Akeleguzai, an area bounded by Tigrina speaking people on the west, and the Tigre speakers of Semhar on the east and north. Some of the Saho are settled agriculturist while others are semi-settled and engage in both farming and pastoralism. Except for very few Christians, the Saho are Muslims. And although clan and tribal formations and sentiments have visible traces, nationality ties and sentiments   predominate. The saho that lived in towns and adjacent areas were influenced by Italian colonialism while the others remaining were only minimally affected.

The Nara (Baria) speaking nationality is found in the central regions of Sarka. The Nara are mostly surrounded by the Tigre and many speak Tigre as a second language, while those sharing a common boundary with the Baza also speak Kunama. In the main, the Nara are settled farmers and are all followers of Islam. Inspite of tribal and clan differentiation, their sense of nationality is strong. They are also one of the nationalities that were minimally influenced by the Italian colonialism.

The Kunama speaking people inhabit the areas in and around Barentu and the parts of the Gash region which spread south west from the town. Inspite of a settled agricultural economy, primitive communal characteristics are clearly visible. Although most Kunama are adherents of either Christianity or Islam, many are animists and animist beliefs have substantial influence on all Kunama. Therefore the two most important religion faiths in Eritrea do not have much influence on the Kunama. The Italians had some effect on the nationality. They employed some Kunama in the plantation they set up in the fertile areas of the nationality and missionaries were active in the area.The Kunama are a cohesive nationality.

The Bedaweit speaking Hidareb nationality inhabits the northern frontier areas of Sahel and spread north west along the border. Insome areas penetrating the interland of Barka. In some localities they merge with the Tigre speaking peoples and the intermixed communities are bilingual. The interaction among the Hidareb is very minimal as they are very thinly spread. They are Moslems and solely depend on stock raising frothier livelihood. The Hidareb do not have strong national sentiments as they are dispersed over a large area and are one of the Eritrean nationalities least affected by colonialism.

The Rashaida speak Arabic and inhabit the coastal area in semhar and up to the tip of the northern border. Primitive cultivation is practiced in some localities, but the Rashida economy is based on nomadic stock raising and trade. The Rashida are Muslims and they alone have not intermixed with their neighbors. Nether   were they influenced by the Italian colonialism.

Beside the nationality structures and sentiments discussed above, a combination of other factors, including despite on agricultural and pasture lands came into play. Feeling of domination and mistrust were also prevalent among majority nationalities. In evaluating the influences of colonialism, the influence exerted by the Turks, Egyptians, and feudal lords of Tigraymust also be taken into consideration.

Within each nationality, the social and class division namely those between Tigre and Shimagle, serf and land lords, herder and livestock owner,  merchants and artisan, etc. are important factors in the dynamics of the nationality. Beside these, the new social forces that emerged with the advent of Italian colonialism also play an important role in the dynamics of the nation building. Sex and social status too are significant considerations. And all these factors have affected the Eritrean people’s participation in the various stages of the Eritrean struggle.

Therefore unity of the people and the nation means fostering, on the basis of a clear program and an understanding of the characteristics of various sectors of the society, the participation of all Eritreans whose interest lies   in national libation. Similarly, the struggle for equality demands the elimination from both the majority and minority nationalities of feeling of dominance and chauvintism as well as the apprehension and suspicion that give rise to narrow nationalism. It also calls for intense efforts to narrow the gap in the level of economic and cultural development that prevail among the nationality.

The EPLF strives to promote the unity of the Eritrean people on the basis of this understanding of Eritrean society. It strongly opposes sub national sentiments and working methods as these are antagonistic to national unity and harmful to the struggle for national liberation and reconstruction. It has worked seriously to raise the consciousness  of the people and to foster long term economic and cultural changes as these Are the most important and complementary requirements for strengthening national unity and accelerating nation-building. Guided by this perspective of national unity, the EPLF has been handling the question of unity of organization and groupings separately.

The difference between the EPLF and other organizations or groupings has centered on the question of a broad national democratic front. The proponents of the antiquated and bankrupt lines set up organizations based on the alliance of leader of clans, tribes and regional and religious groups, maintain the existence of these organizations or groups by compromises among the participating tribes and clans, create other new grouping based on similar narrow alliances and conspiracies whenever the narrow conflicts erupt and break up the former alliances, the more fragmentation, followed by the formation of new alliance…..and so on.

These groups have continued to exist not because their propaganda was accepted by our people, but because of foreign interferences in Eritrean affairs and especially because of the misery of our people in exile. The prime movers of these groupings and their main followers are not interested in national liberation, nor in national unity or the establishment of national democratic front. They realize the bankruptcy of their policies. For them the groupings they form are only means or securing a comfortable life, as they cannot gain fully be employed otherwise. Today they find themselves in sorry state, exposed by the EPLF and spurned by the masses who have become aware of their scandalous activities.

As has already been made clear, the inception or the EPLF was the result or the dominant faction of the ELF, the faction that followed the line or the Supreme Council. The attempts to stop the fighting between the two fronts (the ELF and the EPLF), create a favorable environment for negotiations and roster unity through joint activities which continued up to 1997, failed. In its first congress, the EPLF after assessing previous efforts made for unity with the ELF, adopted a policy on unity the proposal for a united front-worked  out an action program and began to struggle for their implementation. Immediately after the congress, at a Zager meeting on April 1977, and in May at Hawashaite, the EPLF confirmed its desire for and clarified  its stand on the unity or both organizations and the rallying of their democratic elements. However, the ELF leadership, and especially its dominant anti-unity faction, was only waiting for an opportunity to weaken and destroy the EPLF. It therefore, rejected the EPLF’s practical and realistic stands as anti-unity and posing as the true champion or unity, it called for a precipitate merger to be realized through a scheduled congress. In order to create further obstacles, it also raised the case of the ex-foreign mission condemned by the EPLF. Worse still, it attacked the EPLF from behind and started armed clashes in many parts of the country, while the EPLF was engaged in the campaign to liberate Semhar. Unperturbed, the EPLF preserved in the liberation war to which it accorded priority refrained from activities that would give the ELF the pretext to attack strove to stop the internecine fighting by encouraging the mediation of the masses. As a result, serious unity negations continued and in October 1977, a mutual agreement was reached under Sudanese auspices.

On the basis of the October Agreement, a joint Supreme Political Leadership, as well as joint political and military committees was set up. It was agreed that committees on the economy, information, social and foreign affairs were to be established, and joint work programs in various fields were drawn up. The agreement reached under the pressure of the masses and the revolution’s friends, was a bitter pill to swallow for the dominant faction in the ELF revolutionary council, which tried everything possible to thwart it. The faction created obstacles in the setting up of the joint committees, and the drawing up of work programs and when agreements were reached, it procrastinated in their implementation and obviated their provisions, finally paralyzing the joint work. Similarly it blocked implementation of the jointly drafted political agitation program. In regards to the joint military strategy, first it delayed its implementation by raising non-essential questions on the pretext of clarifying issues, and when specific operations were agreed upon, it resorted to lies and excuses to avoid shouldering its responsibility or abandoned its positions exposing the EPLF to danger. As usual it launched sporadic attacks to abort all meetings and agreements. In a period of three years, seven meetings of the joint political Supreme Council and nearly 20 meetings of various joint committees were held, but the goodwill and seriousness of the EPLF alone could not bring the desired results. And so on in the beginning of July 1980, the Revolutionary Commission secretly withdraws the ELF brigade garrisoned at north eastern Sahel front on the basis of the joint agreement, declaring, in effect, that the agreement was hence null and void.

The Revolutionary Council’s move was a calculated one. Since Soviet interference had changed the balance of forces and the EPLF, shifting from an offensive into a defensive position, had assembled almost all its forces in the north, the RC presumed that this situation provided it with ample  opportunity further weaken and liquidate the EPLF. In the event, the RC not only attacked the EPLF’s guerrilla and mobile units operating in extensive rural areas, but after amassing its forces, launched a large scale attack at Halhal reigniting the civil war. Numerous clashes ensued. But, the ELF leadership’s plans were foiled and after the Revolutionary Councils’ accusatory pleas and Sudanese intervention, a cease-fire agreement was signed on 22 November 1980.

But this only provided a respite. After taking time to mobilize its forces, the HC launched an attack on the EPLF in violation of the cease-fire agreement and was forced to retreat across the border into the sedan by the EPLF counter offensive. The abrogation of the October agreement, thus failed to yield the desire results. And so to undermine the EPLF’s dominance, the RC started to consort with the two factions of the Peoples Liberation Forces the PLF – Central Council (PLF-C,C) and the PLF- Revolutionary Committee) PLF-R,C) formed after the 1979 split in the Peoples Liberation Forces (PLF). Coincidently, there was an Arab League initiative to unite the Eritrean Fronts. The HC pushed for a tripartite agreement that excludes the EPLF. Aware of the dangers, the EPLF reassessed its position of not negotiating with the PLF factions, and accepted the league’s invitation to participate. The HC’s attempts to incite the other parties into excluding the EPLF failed. The RC made one last attempt to torpedo the meeting by raising the diversionary issue of the EPLF’s alliance with the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), but this too was rejected, and an understanding was reached for the talks to continue.

The basic understand reached at Tunis was rejected by the dominant faction of the Revolutionary Council. Meanwhile, the contradictions inside the ELF which had been glossed over by the setting up of alliance sharped. Opposition from the disarmed rank and file fighters in the Sudan intensified and the position of the dominant faction became untenable.  The external forces which had pinned their hopes on the RC, primarily Saudi Arabia, increased their involvement, and when a situation favorable for a putsch arose, in a meeting, convened as usual, as result of numerous compromises, a relapse of liquidations and fragmentation occurred in the ELF R.C. Some elements were murdered and many others imprisoned. This brought the conflicts to their climax and led to the demise of the ELF.

Even after this, the EPLF maintained its contact with various elements and groups and continued its efforts for of the unity of the organization, i.e. the formation of a broad national front. That was the time when the enemy was preparing for the sixth offensive which started In February and continued for three months without let- up. As soon as the situation eased of, in June 1982, the EPLF issued a statement out lining the general lines of its new unity proposal. A little later, after evaluating the efforts made for unity with the EPLF and the situation of the Eritrean revolution, the EPLF, on 25 October 1982 made public its coalition proposal. Although the basic contents of the coalition did not depart from the fundamental principles of a broad national unity, it differed from the October 1977 agreement. The coalition proposal called for the formation of a broad national council to serve as an umbrella for Alf nationalist forces and elements first. The council would serve as a democratic forum and assist in the gradual formation of a broad front. On the basis of its proposal the EPLF set out to contact all organizations, groupings, and individuals and establish relationships with them.

Contacts were made with the strongest ELF opposition forces then based at Koroken and Tahdai in the Sudan, as well as with the PLF C.C. and PLF R.C. But, alas, the fundamental political content of the proposal, the establishment of a national council was disagreed.  A smear campaign started against the military section of the proposal which called for a single military strategy and the fusion of the armed units of various groups with the EPLF which had shouldered the burden of the armed struggle, misrepresenting it as a scheme to swallow the other parties. Had these fragmented groups been in the EPLFs position, had they been the strongest and decisive force, they would undoubtedly have followed a policy of liquidation and suppression. But the EPLF took a responsible approach. Inspite of its strength and decisive role it did not be little any Eritrean group but approached them with its proposal. The elements that rejected the proposal did so not because they opposed its military provisions, but because they felt threatened by its political content indeed, a free and broad national coalition would deny them the opportunity to exploit sectarian sentiments and misuse the people’s property. Moreover, the external forces who felt threatened by the weakening of the putschist clique, and Saudi-Arabia in particular, egged on the of the proposal, because a free Eritrean plat form would deny foreign intervention in Eritrean affairs.

Undaunted by the initial rejections and interference, the EPLF continued to clarify the contents of its proposal and to maintain contacts. At the meeting of 15 November 1982, the PLF C.C leadership endorsed the EPLF proposal. But since the group was interested in genuine unity, it lost no time to send a message contradicting its acceptance of the proposal and starting a campaign against it. by then it had already entered into an agreement with the third faction of the split ELF-“Teyar”. It also joined the alliance-later known as the Jeddah agreement-which was formed under Saudi auspices and pressure. While the PLF C.C, was in its midst of its campaign to isolate the EPLF,a meeting between the two organizations was held in Mogadishu at behest of the Somalia government. There, the EPLF explained that the PLF C.C in addition to anti EPLF crusade, did not abide by any agreement it had signed, and that there for, there was no basis for any agreement. But the EPLF also expressed its desire to maintain contact and enter into an agreement if future developments warranted it. At Mogadishu, the PLF-C.C hypocritically condemned the Jeddah agreement and expressed its desire for closer relations with the EPLF. Later on 21, December 1983, at the Kuwait meeting, the PLF-C.C proposed meeting of all Eritrean organizations to which Arab league representative would be invited, and it even suggested that both the EPLF and it self-take action on their take action on their opposition to Saudi interference and send the Saudi government a protest memorandum. Hardly had a week elapsed before PLF-CC leaders went to Saudi Arabia, renounced the agreements they signed with the EPLF in Kuwait as well as their pledges and resumed their former stance and anti EPLF campaigns. Consequently, the EPLF stopped its dialogue with this group.

On another front,EPLF contacts with the largest ELF group, the ELF (central command), commonly known as “Sagim” continued. In their analysis of prevailing conditions, both organizations concluded that the “Jeddah agreement” was an externally manipulated, anti-national and anti-unity pact that also had the support of the Sudanese security department. They agreed to jointly oppose the “Jeddah agreement” and strength their cooperation. When the ELF-CC which had been confined in Sudanese garrison returned to the liberated areas, mutual cooperation began in earnest.

After the ELF-CCs conference which was held at the beginning of December 1984, dialogue and implementation of joint task continued, systematically. At successive meeting the EPLF and ELF-CC agreed to make a comparative study of their programs and other policy issue, begin joint political campaigns, execute joint military tasks, and to cooperate in the economic, social and other fields. In the process, common views developed, differences were trashed out, and suspicious eliminated and mutual confidence grew and was steeled by mutual sacrifices paid in joint military activities. This relationship, entered on the basis free will and sense of responsibility, succeeded in two years in creating common ground for joint struggle and thus the question of the merger of the two organizations emerged as a timely demanded. Various proposals were put forward and it was finally agreed that the unity be finalized congress.

As the EPLF was preparing for its second congress, it was agreed that its new program and constitution, on which both organizations shared a common view, be studied by both organizations. Finally, final drafts of the documents were prepared after through discussions by the rank and file. When all outstanding issues (of outlook and joint tasks) were settled, the ELF-CC proposed a merger as there was no more justification for continuation of the status quo. And as a first step in the historic process of establishing a broad national democratic front, the integration of fighters of both organizations was completed in the field, to be followed by the unity of the mass organizations.

The EPLF and ELF Central Commands relationship and the very high level it attained prove that if those Eritrean forces with the will and interest to preserve in the national struggle work is unison without any foreign interference, conduct through-going discussions on all political issues, and participate in joint task that require a high level of dedication and sacrifice, they could eliminate suspicion and enemity and work for the liberty and reconstruction of Eritrea united in a single front. Viewed against the background of previous efforts made for unity as well as the flopped attempts by intervening foreign powers to bring a merger of opportunistic and bankrupt anti-national forces, the EPLF Sagim unity is a great victory in the struggle to establish a united national front.

Another group that deserves mention is the ELF-RC (Teyar), an organization that first appeared after the 1982 putsch in the ELF. Initially its members agreed to work in cooperation with the EPL-CC, but, before long, most of them abandoned the idea and begun to operate on their own. The EPLF tried to foster relations with this organization as well. At the initial contacts, the EPLF s previous reservation as implied in the 1983 declaration on “fifth columnists”  were raised and agreement was reached to clarify them in future meetings, Later, formal meetings were held in Khartoum, the field and finally Port Sudan and international, regional and national issues as well as the question of unity were discussed. A program for preliminary joint task was also drawn up. Although the overall orientation talks is positive, it is evident that the relationship has not progressed as was hoped for. Be that as it may, the EPLF has been patiently and earnestly working to improve its relationship with “Teyar”.

Another organization is called the ELF-PLF united organization. This organization was part of the alliance that was formed after the ELF putsch by faction of the ELF (Teyar) and the PLF-CC. Just after Teyars split and while the Jeddah agreement as being cooked, the ELF-PLF united organization came out against the agreement and dissociated itself from it. as a result, it has been harassed by Sudanese security. The EPLF continued previously existing contacts with the group had provided assistance to alleviate its temporary difficulties. More recently, leaders of both organizations met to formalize the relationship add joint committee were set up to continue the process.
The disruptive interference of foreign forces chiefly Saudi Arabia should be viewed in contrast with these measures that leads towards genuine national unity. In order to frustrate the EPLFs coalition proposal and its call for the formation of a national council, Saudi Arabia brought the three anti nationalist factions- the ELF pushiest clique,PLF-CC and PLF-RC under the banner of a united organization. The three set up what they called a “National Council”. After the fall of Numeirir regime, whose security apparatus was instrumental in propping up this anti-nationalist alliance, its internal unity wakened, its “Fifth columnist” nature was exposed and finally dis integrated. But Saudi Arabia, whose desire to interfere in Eritrean affair’s has not slackened, it at present, trying to re-organize opportunist and anti-national elements.

This does not exhaust the developments that took place in the struggle for a single national front as it is only discusses EPLF contacts and relationships with organizations. Another significant development has been the step taken by many nationalist elements who were previously active members of, or associated with, previous organizations individually or in groups join to the EPLF after exposing the nature and lines of the anti-nationalist leaders. The increase in the flow of such elements into the ranks in the EPLF is an additional indication of the trend that the struggle between effort to build unity based on a correct national line and the interest groups of anti-nationalist has taken.

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