Why is dialogue Important in Transition from Dictatorship to Democracy

By Fesseha Nair The Democratic transition from dictatorship to Democracy in the 80th, 90th and the recent of the Arab spring where some were successful, and some were failures and resulted in civil wars and destabilisation. The South

By Fesseha Nair

The Democratic transition from dictatorship to Democracy in the 80th, 90th and the recent of

the Arab spring where some were successful, and some were failures and resulted in civil

wars and destabilisation. The South African model of dialogue was a good example

illustrating how an open dialogue can play in unifying all the forces for democratic change.

The South African transition was not without conflicts but they have had a strong

commitment to discuss the issues of conflict and listen to all stakeholders it was this character

of inclusiveness and it was this culture of inclusiveness that led them to reconciliation , peace

and democracy in their country.

Today , most of the actors in the struggle from dictatorship to democracy in Eritrea call for

dialogue but the Eritrean dialogue definition has taken different meanings. The Eritrean

political elites has been using dialogue since time immemorial but since their method of

dialogue was not strategically based on mutual interest and respect but tactical to gain

temporary achievements. Such dialogues were been practiced during the Eritrean political

struggle and armed struggle and now in the post -independence period by the Eritrean

opposition political and civic organization.

The aim of this article is to highlight the difficulties in the Eritrean Dialogue process and

learn from other countries experiences. Such learning can help us to improve the dialogue

process in the Eritrean Diaspora Opposition struggling the dictatorship and lay foundations

for peaceful transition to democracy in Eritrea. Dialogue cannot occur between one who

imposes his /her own ideas upon another who does not wish this imposition.( Suzuki)

Dialogue means to bring about an exchange of views but not to inform about views with the

aim of increasing understanding, learning and exchanging ideas through communication. The

purpose of dialogue is not to reach common viewpoint but to try to understand the different

perspectives of the dialogue partner.

The Eritrean Dialogue of this time and the past are not based on principled dialogues and

never come to win-win solutions but zero-sum games.

A principled dialogue is based on four key points. These key points are:

1. Separating issues from the people

2. Dealing with interests not positions or titles

3.Searching for mutual Gains

4. Putting objective Criteria

The Eritrean dialogue partners must first be prepared and establish conditions for dialogue as

a continuous process. They can start with enhanced cooperation between them. This

continuous process of cooperation makes the dialogue more informed leads to conflict

prevention and conflict resolution. The dialogue becomes well informed and frank building

trust that is the prerequisite for a successful dialogue. There are different kinds of dialogue but

what we need now in the Eritrean Opposition case is dialogue in pursuit of democratic

transition in Eritrea.

At this time many Eritreans call their collection under the name, ” Mederk” meaning

facilitating national dialogue among Eritreans in the struggle against the dictatorship.

In my resident city, there are some groups called , ” Eri- dialogue” I used to attend their

dialogue meetings but the process of dialogue I know and what they pursue are different. As I

have seen and experienced this group’s dialogue doesn’t follow the principles of dialogue.

Dialogue encourages diversity of thinking rather than suppressing. What I have seen in this

group is mistrust and prejudices against others. But , the dialogue I know is a tool that leads

towards a deeper awareness and understanding the different views to flow freely. Therefore, I

have chosen to write on this issue today.

I want to highlight Eritrean National dialogue lacks clear principles based on cooperation of

confident partners that enhances mutual respect. common objectives, and responsibilities,

therefore, I preferred to deal with the four above mentioned points.

1. Separating issues from the people

Historically, the dialogue that has been in practice by Eritreans has never been based on

mutual respect and cooperation. All the dialogues whether during the political or under the

armed struggle or now at this time inside the opposition have been following the same culture

and trend. When dialogue partners never separate people from issues of conflict, they miss the

true meaning of dialogue and create misunderstanding and get off on the wrong direction

instead of focusing on the issues of conflict to be resolved. They blame each other and

scapegoat the failure on others. In dialogue, it is important to separate the people from the

problem. It is beneficial to have a positive relationship and willingness to accommodate the

views of other dialogue partners. The Eritrean political relationship was not based on give and

take , in which dialogue partners demonstrate a willingness to accommodate the common

interests but to win or lose perspective. In dialogue if one wants to reach an agreement that

suits his individual interests, then both partners are losers. Therefore, the key we Eritreans

must learn is to be able avoid personalizing the process of dialogue and gain the skills of

dialogue that can help us solve our national problems.

2. Dealing with interests not positions or titles

“Eritrean Dialogues were focusing on positions instead of national and people’s


Looking all the dialogues and conferences of the Eritrean Opposition Forces were not

focusing on the interest of the people but personalities. It is important to keep in mind that one

of the habits of effective interpersonal communication is, “Seek first to understand, then to be

understood.” We Eritreans have the habit of seeking to be understood before we understand.

We don’t listen emphatically to understand another person’s frame reference not only what

one says but how he/ she feels. People have an inherent need to be understood ( Covey)

What motivates human beings is the need that is satisfied but the need to be satisfied. Do the

Eritrean people in the opposition observed the need of their people? Not , at all. The main

point here is that listen to listened. We are expending our time and energy not to bring

understanding but confusion and conflicts on personal identities and origins. We don’t focus

on the issues at hand. We don’t seek first to identify the needs and interests. Seeking to

understand the deficiency that has been obstacle of the Eritrean leadership. Look for example

the Eritrean National Council For Democratic Change/ ENCDC what makes them not to

cooperate is the lack of understanding to understood. Focusing on positions instead of

focusing on the needs and interests of our people.

The ENCDC lacks discipline and compassion on their communication. The habits of

communication was not focusing on the issues but on personalities and positions. How can we

change this habit is the responsibility of all to learn how to apply interactive communication-

listening, understand before to be understood.

3.Searching for mutual Gains

Do the ENCDC members identified their interests and explore options for mutual gain? Never

, at all. The results of their activities show that they didn’t. As I myself experienced their

negotiations were not for mutual gains but individual gains. Their negotiations lacked

collaborative brainstorming in which they can work together to solve the problem in a way

that can lead to a win/win scenario but instead of conflicting and divisions.

Clarifying interests and exploring mutual options creates opportunities for solving conflict

issues. What the ENCDC requires is the method of negotiations that can help them find out

methods of resolving their internal conflicts by clarifying and exploring.

If the ENCDC members seize the opportunities of collaborative methods of cooperations then

the scenario of win/ win agreements can be reached and problems can be solved leading us to

mutual gains.

4. Putting objective Criteria

Has the ENCDC developed standards and rules to help deal with common areas of dispute?

Have they established rules of law and parameters of how each and one of the organs function

( Legislativ, Executive, Judicial……… and project groups)? As I see they have it in name but

not in action. The construction of the ENCDC was not understood by those who constructed

it. ENCDC has no building codes and clear policies to resolve internal and external conflicts.

For example, when a dispute arises between Legislative and Executive or between the

Executive and the so called project group/ Preparatory Committee of the congress of ENCDC,

are there any procedures and precedents? Who is the judge to adjudicate claims of


ENCDC lacks objective criteria to settle its internal disputes whenever, wherever disputes

arise any organisations must have developed standards and rules of law to help them solve

their disputes. We Eritreans still need professional relationship do our entrusted work with

objective criteria.

ENCDC is a project to build trust by working together. It is not for positions or power

gripping. It was supposed a win/ win scenario but couldn’t succeed because of professional

leadership that precedes people’s interests instead of personal positions.


Review overview
  • k.tewolde August 11, 2015

    Despite those elements that are planted purposely by the autocratic regime in Asmara to sabotage the unity of the opposing forces, let’s face it , those personalities who are in the leadership positions in the opposition political parties today , they are products of the Eritrean political arena, some of them as old as the history of the political and armed struggle of Eritrea itself.Therefore , they come with their biases , mistrusts , rigidity , idiosyncrasies , political poverty , demagoguery , some of them with no leadership criteria at all. They are not devoid of these misfortunes.That is the reason why we see the deficiencies that is mentioned above. With that in mind , it is up to us to weed out and purge the toxic ones , and empower and nurture the ones that unite us and lead us to our goal. For sure, the art of dialogue ,and negotiation is not something you wear , it is a painstaking skill that is learned and acquired over a period of time. Something that the leadership in Asmara lacks. We don’t want to repeat that mistake , do we?

  • k.tewolde August 11, 2015

    Thank you for your valuable time, Fesseha. I have dealt and am still dealing with these kind of personalities even within my family. It is in the Eritrean DNA.

  • negash August 11, 2015

    Mr. Fesaha Nair I usual i appreciate your logic I am positive to your federalist idea to Eritrean diversity as well.
    But, however, we tried several times for opposition to come to terms but failed. Although I am not member of any of these opposition but I have participated in all conferences. But now God bless a new group outside ( the opposition ) GEDGM Global Eritrean Democratic Grass root Movement has arrived with promising move for UNITY and remove the dictator in Asmara. It seems the only option left for Eritreans and Eritrea to be saved. But post Isaias if I have understood the proposal correctly there will be election after the transitional period in about to years time. Please Fesaha let us all join hands for such noble idea and save our youth and our people in general. I don’t think we have enough time to wait.

  • Ogbai Ghebremedhin August 11, 2015

    Greetings brother Fesseha Nair,
    Excellent article, as usual, on the articulation of the true meaning and method of effective dialogue.
    Please, if you can, have this important message be translated into TIGRIGNA AND IF NECESSARY INTO ARABIC. This important message should not remain buried in the language of elites.
    Best Regards,

    • Negusse August 12, 2015

      ጽቡቅ አለካ እዚ ዝመስል ብሱሉን መሀርን ጽሑፍ ብትግርኛን ዓረብን እንተትቀርብ ብዙሕ ሰብ ምከሰበ ይብል አነ። አንተ ፍጹም አሞ ዕድመን ጥዕናን ይምነየልካ ብዙሕ ከነንብብን ክንመሀርን ክንከስብን።

  • solomon seyoum August 12, 2015

    It is good to pick ENCDC as an example of failure; it was also good to list the reasons for the dismal failures…To put it blatantly, the project ENCDC has failed and there is no reason or desire to resuscitate it in one way or another. (ENCDC is dead, and need to be buried for good and in the interest of post-dictator Eritrea.)

    Our immediate focus must be to start the opposition’s grass movement in our respective areas of residence…And i wish you become a member of that group in your city, or I wish you tell us the development of our group, in case one exists in your area.

    Solomon in Belgium

  • k.tewolde August 13, 2015


  • merhaba August 14, 2015

    This is a wonderful article, thank you Mr Nair, K Tewolde is correct in his analysis about the difficulties we have to gain unity. I think it is time for many of the old who have become part of the problem and not a solution to call it a day and retire to give the youth a chance for a new progressive united movement to confront the brutal dictatorship in Asmara. Have a listen of Obama’s talk to african leaders to give youth a chance. Another important disease for eritrean to analyse and find a cure is, why every one wanted to be and remain a leader of however irrelevant group he leads, where does our disease for “shimet” come from ?