Our Baito : An Eritrean Coalition in Need of Healing
The Baito was born out of urgent national need with the hope of creating a collective national platform to diagnose and recommend actionable broader agendas that can rally Eritreans at home and in the Diaspora. It was a result of acknowledging the unavoidable reality: there is a limit to what individual, even the most motivated and highly disciplined, Eritrean opposition political and civic organizations can do to end the tyranny imposed on the people of Eritrea by continuing a fractured and compartmentalized struggle.
In the rhetorical sense the slogan “We have to struggle together” has been articulated so often by each organization there was nothing innovative about the idea. The coming together, with all the maneuvering and counter-maneuvering, under one roof was a measurable paradigm shift with a potential for a breakthrough in the complicated and untidy Eritrean opposition”s politics.
It was a growth spurt in our complicated and, at times, very self -destructive diaspora based politics. A welcomed news underpinned with hope and excitement. Still, It was a preface of a bigger conversation. Our Baito was not the definitive “solve all opposition's problems” mechanism. It had the potential to be, provided it recognized its limitations at the outset. A coalition demands a higher quality of leadership- a leadership that clearly understands the central role of collaborative strategy.
Image management of a historical gathering is one thing but the post gathering political and organizational management was to be the real acid test. In general, coalitions are easy to form and very difficult to manage. The more diverse the stakeholders are the more challenging and cumbersome the task of managing the coalition becomes. Our case was not going to be different. The last five years have proven this point beyond a shadow of a doubt. Our Baito is in deep crisis pretending otherwise will be a folly.
Do we give up and close shop or find a way to reconfigure our Baito and move forward to address the very national crisis that forced us to come together? We need to come to our senses and find a way to heal the Baito.
I welcomed the time consuming protracted negotiations among the 25 or so political organizations that belong to the Baito that have finally agreed to have a seminar to sort out what the challenges were that has led the Baito to an extended period of paralyses. A positive move and hopefully a reaffirmation of the strategic need for a bigger Bito that will lead to a Grand National Compromise that will make space for ALL political forces to come together and reshape the Eritrean political discourse.
This can only happen if the seminar does not turn out to be a court of accusers and defenders. We have had enough of the finger pointing, punishing and marginalizing power game. That sadistic culture has not produced progress. It has exhausted our energy and derailed us from our responsibility. The focus of the seminar I hope will be to evaluate our Baito according to Butterfoss, F.D and Francisco, V.T (2004)- “Evaluating Community Partnership and Coalitions with Practitioners in Mind” approach. The evaluation ought to be focused on:
- Process evaluation
- Impact evaluation
- Outcome evaluation
If the seminar is focused on system analysis and manage to pinpoint the areas that need to be clarified, corrected, amended and abandoned the discussion can be a path to a better Baito with a potential to transform our political direction. First, identify the weaknesses in the system and then work on the kind of talents who can manage this huge task. Upgrade and modernize its conflict management skills. Introduce extensive leadership training programs. Move closer to a professionally run fully staffed office to manage its daily affair.
The Process, Impact and Outcome evaluation will no doubt help us move to a sensible and productive way of managing our Baito. If the meeting takes the usual negative self-defeating approach it is time to think out of the box and reconfigure our struggle in a different way. I hope we don't come to that. If we have to cross the Rubicon we will.
NB- this was to be a lengthy article on political coalition management and the experience of other countries that have been struggling to defeat authoritarian systems using the broad based coalition as a mechanism. I have decided to delay posting the whole article. This brief statement is to affirm the need for the Baito, in spite of its serious deficiencies and what is at stake if the seminar does not lead to rectification.