We invite you to read our new Occasional Paper, “What Went Wrong?: The Eritrean People’s Liberation Front from Armed Opposition to State GovernanceA Personal Observation by Paulos Tesfagiorgis.

This paper discusses how the Eritrea People’s Liberation Front evolved from a liberation front (1971-1991), into a highly successful organization with clear social and political agenda, and, ultimately, into an oppressive state where power is concentrated in the hands of the President and his close network.

The EPLF rose as a liberation army, involving the Eritrean people in an exceptionally arduous armed struggle against a major African army backed by world major powers to win independence. It was an effective fighting machine with clear people-centered ideology and a unique organization that captured the imagination of practically every Eritrean. As an organization, it forged solidarity and camaraderie between diverse Eritrean ethnic, class and gender groups, across rural and urban areas, and between Eritreans living inside the country as well as outside, for one great purpose – the liberation of the people, gaining independence of the country, through getting rid of the Ethiopian occupation force from Eritrea.

The paper documents how the EPLF changed towards the end of the fight for Eritrean liberation and then manifestly failed to provide its people with the fruits of democracy once war ended. In peacetime, people were promoted based on fidelity to the President and dissent was harshly silenced. The disastrous war with Ethiopia was in many ways caused by and further fueled these tendencies. Today, political dissent and news media have been squashed, and Eritreans are fleeing their country in large numbers.

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