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31/05/2022 23:55 PM


by Dr. Herui Tedla Bairu



The following article shall focus on the following aspects of the 97 Constitution. This article is piece is intended to throw light on the discussion that took twenty-two years ago, as a preparation for a debate with the key formulators of the said document and the signee of this study. I hope the leaders of the opposition media arrange such a debate in order to raise the bar of Eritrean politics.

a. ‘Adi Eritra’ VS ‘Hadas Eritra’

b. Some Aspects of the Constitution

c. The Programmatic Proposals and the PFDJ

d. Some Electoral and Technical aspects


The Adi/Ad is a unique social organisation. The Eritrean Adi shares all the characteristics of an ordinary African village community; and yet, it differs from it in the following way:

a. The Adi is a defined territorial unit.

b. The land of the Adi was the private property of its inhabitants and not the king or the feudal lord.

c. The inhabitants of the Adi had the rights of free citizens; they were not serfs of the feudal lord nor did the law require them to fight his wars as levies.

d. The Adi is not an ethnic but rather a territorial entity, accommodating families of several ethnic origins.

The unconstitutional land and housing policies of the PFDJ has rendered the Adi a threatened institutional species. The Adis of Eritrea were legally organised as chartered communities by customary laws, which differed in specifics, but whose overriding goal was to protect the individual and the community from the powers of the king and the feudal lord. The Adi social organisation was so strong that even the usually insensitive Italian colonial administration accorded it an underhand recognition. After the Italian war in Libya was concluded with the help of ‘Askaris’, the Eritreans vanished into their respective Adis; the colonial administration, hard pressed to settle the non-Eritrean Askaris, allocated an area (in Asmara) for them which it named ‘Hadish Adi’.

The inhabitants of Asmara, many of whom were the offspring of the ‘askaris’, coined the term ‘Asmarino’ to differentiate them from the inhabitants of Adi peasants. The adjective Asmarino gathered around itself a great deal of arrogance in relation to the inhabitants of the Adis and other Eritrean cities. Maybe the time has come to fold up the career of the appellation Asmarino and enhance that of the Adi. The Baito (Adi parliament) regulated the daily life of the Adi at the conflict and resolution levels. All the outlined aspects of the Adi, such as, citizenship, private property, legal and democratic traditions, make it the appropriate foundation of Eritrean democracy.

Another unconstitutional step that was taken by the PFDJ was the reorganisation of the provinces on the flimsy arguments that they were too many to permit efficient administration or that they were centres of regionalism. Whatever the justification of the drastic steps taken by the PFDJ, the fact remains that the deliberate eradication of traditional institutions as reactionary may have weakened Eritrean nationalism. To be sure, the provinces may need to be reorganised; in that case, the projected national parliament is the only competent body mandated to attend to the matter.

For the Adi to be a primary building block in the construction of Eritrean democracy, the unconstitutional PFDJ land policy needs to be debated in the national parliament of independents. The first question that must be resolved is whether the formulation that ‘land belongs to the government’ is another way of legitimising collective property ownership behind the back of the people. There are other equally important questions regarding land policy that need to be taken up at the appropriate time.

To attract the best candidates to the Adi and provincial parliaments, the salaries, transport facilities, and living standards of these countryside communities must be at a par with the city life. If this goal is fulfilled it is certain that many dedicated diaspora Eritreans, of working and pension ages, would return to partake in the development of their Adis. Building democracy from the Adi base upwards must replace the paternalistic ‘te’asasafinet’ or ‘flexibility’ political line of the Eritrean single party state.


There is a simple litmus test for establishing the difference between a political organisation and a political party: all political parties are political organisations, but not all political organisations are political parties.

The constitution cannot be amended mid-way; the business of improving the constitution and enriching it with supplementary documents would have to wait for an elected national parliament. The constitution attains full life in the bosom of a national parliament. The main thrust of the programmatic proposal is: The 97-constitution does not have provisions for democratic elections. Democracy was born dead.

The theme of the programmatic proposals can be summarised as follows: it is unconstitutional for a single party state to conduct a sham ‘democratic’ election; the only democratic exit lies in instituting a parliament of independents.

Candidates must be elected based on individual excellence as judged by the electorate of constituencies in which they reside. It is only to surmount the possible mushrooming of parochialism and modern absentee political landlordism that the principle of residence has been stipulated. However, Adi origin or citizenship suffices for candidates in the diaspora; for obvious reasons residence cannot apply to diaspora Eritreans. As regards the issue of double citizenship, and the legal hurdles that accompany it, we are advised to let it rest for the moment: if there is a will, there is a way.

Presently, the membership of the transitional parliament is composed mainly of ex-fighters who also have full-time government jobs. In a parliament of independents, the candidates must choose between becoming members of parliament or occupants of lucrative jobs. Furthermore, the PFDJ can attempt to have control of the election commission and the election court only at the risk of abandoning democratic pretences, and the scorching political exposure that accompanies it. Finally, good behaviour can be expected from a political system that is wholly dependent upon the solidarity of its people.


Of the two discernible clusters of opinion in the power structure regarding the issue of parliamentary democracy, the PFDJ cluster has already been formed. We need now to sketch the views of some members of the government with good intentions, who represent the second cluster of opinion. The second category straddles the area that lies between the need of establishing constitutional democracy and ‘te’asasafinet’ of the Party Charter. The men of good intentions are fully cognisant of the negative consequences of delaying the implementation of the constitution; nevertheless, they are under pressure to find a quick solution to the political dead end that our country faces. As a way out, they present their good will arguments as follows:

“We advocated the early implementation of the constitution, so that institutional and democratic governance could be established; but nobody heeded our voices. The series of crisis with our neighbours did not help; the politics of brinkmanship did not permit us (the persons of good will) the opportunity to put our act together. It appears that the politics of surfing from crisis to crisis is intended to deny reasonable men of good will the opportunity to make a democratic stand. How can we stop the vicious circle? Perhaps it is possible to tinker with the 97-constitution and forth with something useful….”

We can for example replace the president who is also the chairman of the parliament by another, by so doing project the image of an independent parliament. It may even be possible to transform the transitional parliament from a rubber stamp assembly into a standing legislative body with teeth; obviously, we cannot go as far as giving outright executive powers to the reinvented parliament, but we can, by a process of massive legislation, give it executivelike powers. If this dream package can be sold to our trusting masses, we might be able to negotiate our way out, unscathed, through the political minefield surrounding us. By this legerdemain it might even be possible to retain the president while denuding his power base, delay the democratic agenda, and negotiate as if we had the constitutional blessing of our people.”

Despite the transparent sincerity of the advocates of this line of thinking, and their earnest search for a fire escape, a transitional parliament cannot be upgraded by a stroke of the pen, nor a constitution intended for the future parliament applied to the present one. A new chairman may be elected, the powers of the transitional parliament may be increased, but no amount of tinkering can a national parliament make.


Despite the strictures discussed above, it is within the sphere of competence of the transitional parliament to appoint the election commission and the election court. These two bodies must be selected carefully because it is though their hands that the Eritrean democratic baby shall be delivered. The two mentioned bodies are required to take the following make up of our country into consideration:

Geographic and demographic characteristics
Ethnic and linguistic features
Religious cultures
Balanced representation of the views of established political and ideological cultures, free from the heavy hand of the PFDJ.
Further, the election committee needs to be invested with the powers:

1. To define the number of seats

2. To divide Eritrea into electoral constituencies

3. To elaborate the rules governing political campaigns and elections

4. To define the rules of fair play regarding equal time in the government owned mass media

5. To lay the ground rules for access to funds

6. To provide appropriate protection to candidates

The election court shall have the following tasks:

1. To receive reports from the election commission and to ensure that its activities confirm with the rules of the democratic game.

2. To ensure that there is no undue pressure from the PFDJ

3. To interpret and judge cases covering the entire gamut of the election process

4. To define the rules regarding the qualification of candidacy

5. To ensure adherence to the principle of free and secret ballot

6. To lay down the procedures regarding the casting of votes, the protection of the ballot boxes, and the announcement of results of the election.

According to the programmatic proposals, the establishment of political parties shall follow and not precede the parliamentary elections, as such, an in-depth analysis would have to wait for the appropriate time. Nevertheless, a brief explanation is in order. The registration requirement is straightforward: a prospective party presents its programme, a list of its leading bodies, the size of its membership, and a list of its candidates. A party must register a minimum (given) percentage of the voting population to qualify as a national party; similarly, a party would have to secure a minimum (given) percentage in all the provinces. Let us say that registered parties are required to register a minimum of 2% in all the provinces, how many parties can fulfil this condition? Only the non-sectarian and democratic parties can emerge as national parties. By this method, it is possible to build parties based on political programmes and ideologies across ethic and religious divides.

Quota democracy is an anti-democratic prescription; the self-evident equality of Eritrean motherhood and sisterhood with the male population must not be an instrument of manipulation by potential dictators. The struggle for gender equality lies in the commitment of political parties and not in quota provisions. Representation for refugees and Eritreans in diaspora is a serious matter that must be taken up by the election commission and the election court in the spirit of the principles delineated above.


The Eritrean character that combines valor with sacrifice on the one hand, and submission to authority on the other, is difficult to reconcile. Leaving colonial history aside, and focusing only on the decade after independence, observers are perplexed by the fact that the Eritrean people should permit the PFDJ to ride roughshod over it. One explanation lies in the fact that it took the Eritrean people some time to discover that the liberators (EPLF) became the conquerors (PFDJ) of their own people. Another explanation can be found in the blind trust that was accorded by the Eritrea people to their heroic offspring. The explanations are many; the field is wide-open for poets to lament and researchers to document; yet mention must be made of the proverbial Eritrean mouse for which way has always been made so that the oven remains intact. So much patience! So much arrogance!

The organizing principle of the PFDJ is the ‘wahio’ or secret cell. The branch organisations of the PFDJ are fed with information that is intended strictly for internal consumption; if information is not aired openly, the danger of membership exposure to brain washing remains. Worse, defamation campaigns, misinformation, fear, and false hopes may be spread insidiously via the secret ‘wahios’.

A movement of democrats precedes a democratic movement. Nobody organizes a democrat; he organizes himself! The democrat, who may be a member of the PFDJ, another organisation, or is simply a dignified individual, acquires knowledge, exposes his intellect to democratic influences, and evolves an independent personality; in short, the democrat becomes his own political guru. The advanced democrat does not permit other gurus to lead him astray; at the same time, he rejects isolation and seeks a life of intellectual communion with other democrats, in the form of a movement of democrats. Eritrean democrats are not against the PFDJ or any other organisation for that matter, because the possibility that they are packed with actual and potential democrats is great; no, the democrat directs his energies only against dictatorial political lines, ideologies, and their manipulators. The moment this stage of maturity is reached, it can be said that the condition for the birth of a democratic movement has come of age.


A movement differs from a party in the sense that it is not guided by a party program but is kept together by a set of beliefs and its foremost articulators. In the case of Eritrea, these beliefs can be framed within three main political currents. These are nationalism, democracy, and socialism. Nationalism is a constant in Eritrean politics; yet, the two remaining dimensions, namely, democracy and socialism affect it in such a way that it exhibits some interesting variations. Nationalism with less democratic content may concern itself less with national unity and may tend to give more weight to organisational loyalty than national goals. In the situation described above, socialism is used as an instrument for internal discipline, organisational preponderance, and political legitimation.

Nationalism with more democratic content is concerned with national unity, individual liberties, and social solidarity. Nationalism with no democracy and a total commitment to socialism is a political relic that do not merit discussion in these pages. The first variant derives its foreign policy from the perception that foreign policy is the maximization of national interest. The game of maximization is not a zero-sum game; this line of thinking is known to have caused some of the most devastating wars in European history, permitting the emergence of one dominant power or a given balance of power. Nationalism with a strong dose of democracy bases its foreign policy on fine-tuning its own national interest to the interests of other nations. This type of foreign policy is sure to lead to cooperation and peace. It is based on a fine balance between nationalism, democracy, and the right dose of social solidarity that a democratic movement can be created in Eritrea. When this stage is reached, it is possible to call for a conference to evaluate the political situation in our country, launch a newspaper, and establish a listening post in Asmara.

Finally, it must be pointed out that the transitional nature of the Eritrea government, and its lack of constitutional blessing by the people, make it incumbent upon its relevant organs to inform this noble and trusting people about the state of the nation, and upgrade the flow of information continuously.

Herui T. Bairu


The Eritrean Constitution, Democracy and Peace
By Veteran Dr. Herui Tedla Bairu
07 October 2000, Stockholm Sweden
ቅዋም ኤርትራ፡ ዲሞክራሲን ሰላምን።
ብተጋ/ ዶ/ር ሕሩይ ተድላ ባይሩ - ስቶክሆልም፡ ስዊድን (07 ጥቅምቲ 2000)
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International Conference for Democracy in Eritrea, 15-18 December 2000, Stockholm.
ዋዕላ ንደሞክራስያ ኣብ ኤርትራ፡ ክፉት ዓለምለኻዊ ዋዕላ ስቶክሆልም፡ ንደሞክራስያ ኣብ ኤርትራ (15-18 ታሕሳስ 2000)።

see also: Isaias’ Constitution (Dr. Herui Tedla Bairu Chairman of the Congress Party, Stockholm/0012.15)

See also recent articles and Seminars by Veteran Dr. Herui Tedla Bairu
ካልኦት ብ'ብገዲም ተጋዳላይ ዶ/ር ሕሩይ ተድላ ባይሩ ዝተጻሕፉ ጽሑፋት ሰሚናራትን ኣብ ታሕቲ ተወከሱ :-

See also Related /  ምስዚ ዝተኣሳሰር ሓበሬታ፡-

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