A divided opposition
Eritrean opposition groups are based outside the country. They appear to be fragmented along ethnic, regional, religious and political lines, as well as divided on the question of their relations with Ethiopia.
After independence, the factions resulting from the split of the ELF in the early 1980s, constituted from exile the only oppositions groups to the EPLF/PFDJ in Eritrea. They included the ELF-Revolutionary Council (ELF-RC), the ELF-Central Leadership, and the Eritrean Islamic Jihad Movement, which was involved in insurgency attacks against the Eritrean Defence Forces between 1994 and 1997. The border war with Ethiopia prompted the emergence of new opposition movements based on Ethiopian territory. Created respectively in 1997 and 1998, the Red Sea Afar Democratic Organization (RSADO) and the Democratic Movement for the Liberation of the Eritrean Kunama (DMLEK) have striven for the emancipation of the Afar and Kunama minorities.
In 1999, ten opposition groups established the Alliance of Eritrean National Forces (AENF), which transformed itself into the Eritrean National Alliance (ENA) in 2002 before being renamed the Eritrean Democratic Alliance (EDA) in 2005. Based in Addis Ababa, as of 2015 EDA consisted of 13 organizations with varying goals and constituencies. Some are organised along ethnic lines, like DMLEK and RSADO; others are Islam-based organizations (the Eritrean National Salvation Front, the Eritrean Islamic Party for Justice and Development, the Eritrean People’s Congress and the Eritrean Islamic Congress); and still others are remnants of the ELF or dissidents of the PFDJ, such as the Eritrean Democratic Party and the Eritrean People’s Democratic Party. EDA held its last Congress in 2011.
After the 2001-2002 political crackdown, some exiled dissidents formed the Eritrean Democratic Party (EDP), chaired until 2009 by Mr. Mesfin Hagos, one of the members of the G-15 group who escaped arrest. EDP, which underwent several splits, has always opposed EDA on the ground of its alleged link with the Ethiopian Government. In an attempt to unite political and civil society organizations, the Eritrean National Congress for Democratic Change (ENCDC, also called “Baito”) was created in 2011. It held its first meeting in Awassa (Ethiopia) in November 2011 and elected 127 representatives of the Eritrean diaspora from all over the world. In February 2014, Ethiopia-based opposition organizations tried without success to form a “consultative group” aimed at revitalising EDA and unite Eritrean opposition movements.
After the crackdown, other movements were set up abroad by Eritrean exiles as forms of civil society expression. Some of them have since become political opposition groups. As an example, the Eritrean Youth Solidarity for Change (EYSC) and the Eritrean Youth Solidarity for National Salvation (EYSNS) have emerged in opposition to the Eritrean Government and PFDJ-controlled National Union of Eritrean Youths and Students (NUEYS). Based in Addis Ababa, EYSNS was reorganised in 2014 into a political party named the Eritrean Solidarity Movement for National Salvation.
Recent years have also witnessed the creation of fora with the objective of facilitating political dialogue within the diaspora and supporting anti-government campaigns outside and inside Eritrea. The Eritrean Forum for National Dialogue (EFND/Medrek) and the Eritrean Movement for Change (EMC) were founded in 2013 by former members of the EPLF. They represent themselves as channels for the continuation of the 2001 reformist movement. For its part, the Eritrean Lowlanders’ League, established in 2014, aims at counterweighting the Tigrinya-dominated political opposition. Created in 2011 by Eritrean activists in the United States and the European-based diaspora, the “Freedom Friday” (Arbi Harnet) Movement has reportedly managed to promote civil disobedience inside Eritrea through robot-call campaigns, an underground newspaper and poster campaigns. The Movement seems to have managed to establish a cell in Asmara.
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