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Internal political developments of the Eritrean struggle for self-determination (Part II)

Third stage (1961-70)

With the growth of the ELF and the expansion of its operational areas, conflict and change were inevitable. Internally, the clan, tribal, provincial and religious divisions, the fragmentation of the forces of the ELA, the absence of the main and decisive leadership bodies from the field, the lack of a national program and policies, the neglect of the task of fostering the democratic participation of the people and the lack of democratic organizations and institutions caused grave concern. The damages inflicted upon life and property by the enemy’s scorched-earth campaigns and the displacement and dispersion they entailed revealed the ineffectiveness of the divided army and the people’s confidence began to wane. Acts of banditry and vengeance perpetrated by the ELF on the civilian population worsened the situation. These developments inevitably generated opposition and a rectification movement with popular support broke out in the ranks of the ELF. The view that regarded the ELF lightly as a mere nationalist organization changed and attempts were made to turn it into a genuine national democratic organization.

The rectification movement was at first spontaneous, with no clearly-defined political aim, but it gradually took shape. The Supreme Council-which with no limitations on its power engaged in wanton divisiveness, intrigue and manipulation-and its accomplices felt threatened by the movement. As the rectification movement grew, so did the fears of the Supreme Council. But, alas, the movement lacked a solid base and was not deep-going. It could not even achieve its preliminary goal of uniting the five divided commands of the ELA. Only three came together, while the remaining two, goaded by the Supreme Council refused to join. But the struggle between the rectification movement and the Supreme Council did not end there.


The union of the three commands which was bound to be short-lived due to its internal weaknesses was further undermined by the intrigues of the Supreme Council and the sabotage of its accomplices and instead of playing a decisive role for change, ultimately entered into compromises and participated in the Adobha Conference. A conference of all commands had been a key demand of all groups in the ELF including the three united commands. But the Adobha Conference was a unity conference in form only. Moreover the union of the three commands failed to participate in the conference as a cohesive and decisive force. For this reason the outcome of the Adobha Conference served the divisive line of the Supreme Council and further retarded the march of the revolution.

Nonetheless, the Adobha Conference passed a number of important resolutions; in the unification of the ELA as a preliminary step, the convening of an ELF congress within a year and the settling up of a preparatory committee, the establishment of an investigatory committee-accountable to the congress-to look into past malpractices so as to correct them. These steps were intended to initiate the transformation of the ELF into a national, democratic organization. Although in the wake of the Adobha Conference the growth in the influence of the Supreme Council and its accomplices was apparent, the force striving for genuine change decided to struggle on the basis of the guarantees offered by the Adobha Conference.

The Supreme Council and its collaborators used the Adobha Conference and the formation in the Conference of the General Command-pending the ELF conference-to advance their put schist line. In the event, the General Command which was dominated by supporters of the Supreme Council and its divisive policies had no problem in staging a coup. It arrested five members of the General Command as well as cadres and fighters it considered adherents of the rectification movement. Furthermore, it launched a campaign of indiscriminate assassinations, creating an atmosphere of terror. It also disbanded the preparatory and investigatory committees elected by the Adobha Conference. This atmosphere of repression and persecution triggered an exodus of fighters to the Sudan and wide-spread straggling. The hopes of rectifying the ELF through democratic internal struggle foundered. Finally, in 1970, opposition elements joined together to form the Eritrean People’s Liberation Forces.

The third stage of the Eritrean movement-which can also be taken as the first stage of the armed struggle-was thus characterized by the vigorous struggle to establish a competent national, democratic organization. The contest was between the unfettered Supreme Council and its accomplices whose forte was divisiveness, intrigue and manipulation and the force that worked for democratic changes and the formation of a united national front. After liquidating the ELM in 1965, the ELF leadership had temporary secured a favorable atmosphere to stabilize itself. But the failure of its line and practices to advance the Eritrean cause and its decision to crush by force popular rectification movement precipitated the inception of a second organization.

The process of establishing a broad national democratic front did not, however, come to a stop. Since the formation of an opposition force did not necessarily imply the emergence of a single line and a homogeneous force, it was imperative to continue the struggle to clarify the line and establish a genuine national democratic front.

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