The Eritrean Liberation
Front (ELF) as a national force was founded in 1960, and started the armed
national resistance against Ethiopian aggression in 1961. The founding
leadership called the Supreme Council led the armed struggle till the
convening of the military conference of Adobha in August 1969 where a
provisional military leadership called the General Command was elected.
The ELF experienced in 1970 very sensitive developments that led to the
creation of splinter groups. At a later stage these regrouped themselves
into the newly formed Popular Liberation Forces (PLF). The ELF convened in
October 1971 at Arr the first ever National Congress in the armed struggle
with 561 congress participants from all walks of life in Eritrea. The ELF
political strategy was charted and accordingly its national democratic
programme was adopted. At this congress the elected RC replaced the
General Command. After overcoming initial hiccups, the programme succeeded
to rally the broad Eritrean people in their struggle for the triple
objectives: unity, national independence and democracy. Major strides were
made in all spheres of the struggle before and after the second National
Congress of 1975. This led to the liberation of almost the entire country
in the late seventies mostly by the ELA, the armed wing of the
organisation. More importantly, the ELF undertook a long and deep-going
process of democratisation in its internal political life and introduced
democratic reforms, including the well-known land reform programme, in the
politico-administrative and socio-economic life of our people. Despite
grave obstacles created by groups that worked to abort the process and
impose their will on the arena, the organisation upheld the independence
of Eritrean political decision and strategy that cost it an exorbitant
price in the years that followed.
Independence of decision as espoused by the ELF was targeted by a broad
conspiracy hatched and unleashed on Eritrean, regional and international
levels. The main objective of the said conspiracy was to weaken the
position of the ELF in the arena, postpone the realisation of imminent
Eritrean independence at the hands of the ELF, and open the way for EPLF
domination of the arena in the way of safeguarding external vital
strategic interests in the region in the event sovereignty proved
inevitable. As a result, the front had to face the concerted military
assault launched in 1980-81 by the EPLF in alliance with the Tigrai
Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF), and with Numeri's Sudan.
To make matters worse, on 25 March 1982, a faction of the military command of the ELF staged a failed coup d’etat’ by disrupting a major Organizational Conference prepared at Rasai, in the Eritrea-Sudan border. Since that time, two factions broke away from the ELF. The majority rallying around the organisational constitution and the incumbent legitimate leadership of the time supported the ELF-RC, as the mainstream front. In other words, the ELF-RC was seen to be the embodiment of the national democratic programme of the organization adopted in the congresses of 1971 and 1975. The ELF-RC was at times referred as ‘Teyar al Am’ (General Trend) by left and right extremist splinter factions that opposed the moderate and centrist line of the majority that advocated the continuation of the ELF as a broad national democratic front.
The years 1982-85 were difficult times in the life of the organization. This was the time when the ELF-RC was brought under pressure by regional states to dissolve itself and cease to exist. The ELF instead opted for a merger with another faction, the UO; that attempt though was aborted soon, during which time the organisation passed through very difficult ordeals; members of the leadership and senior cadres were persecuted and subjected to a series of imprisonments instigated by Eritrean factions collaborating with regional states, which were trying to impose their strategic objectives in the region. It was miraculous that the front could survive the continued assault on its very existence during most parts of the 1980s when it had to spend some of those years in the underground and in hiding. This situation was not easy for an organization, which still had to support units of the Eritrean Liberation Army (ELA) in the Gash and Barka areas of Eritrea, and run social services like taking care of elementary schools, clinics, veterinary centers and a home for the wounded liberation fighters (Wugu’at Harnet).
At that time, there was little opportunity to organize ELF’s long delayed third congress. Instead, extraordinary underground regional conferences of elected representatives were held in all regions to culminate in 1984 into a concluding organisational conference, also secretly convened, to adopt and reconfirm the political line and guiding principles of the front and elect a new RC to lead the organisation through those difficult times. In addition to reaffirming the realisation of national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Eritrea as its central objective, the conference endorsed political pluralism and the rule of law as the basic guarantees of fundamental human rights, justice, peace and social progress. The conference also called for national dialogue to accommodate differences in the Eritrean revolution and to facilitate the national work of liberation.
When the 3rd National Congress was finally held in 1989, the ELF-RC evaluated the entire experience and endorsed an updated political programme and a renewed organisational constitution. In the early 1980s, members from different parts of the world had started to provide the basic political and material support to the front. Since 1986, members of the front in Europe have come up with major political and cultural events like the annual Eritrea Festival of the Eritrean Democratic Youth Union in Germany. Everywhere ELF-RC branches organized tours of musical troupes and frequent seminars and these and other activities helped strengthen the front’s message to Eritrean communities. ELF-RC’s publications like Awet/A-nesr, Tsinat/Smood, The Eritrean Newsletter, Harnet, Demokrasiawit-Eritra/Eritria A-Dimoqratiya and other publications as well as radio broadcasts continued to spread the basic objectives of unity, national reconciliation, tolerance and co-existence that the organization championed for years. Soon after the liberation of the country, ELF-RC exerted strenuous efforts to pressurize the new EPLF regime to open up the political arena for national dialogue, reconciliation and democratisation, but to no avail. The ELF-RC has played a pivotal role in the foundation of the Alliance of Eritrean National Forces and continues to play a major role in broadening and strengthening the basis of national alliance and promoting the prospects for national salvation and democratisation and upholds the National Charter as the basis of concerted national action.
The ELF-RC held its third, fourth and fifth congresses in 1989, 1995 and 2001, respectively. Its declared objectives are that the State of Eritrea must be built on the principles of democracy, peace and social justice and that political pluralism of a secular state shall be firmly enshrined in a national constitution. The sovereign power of the people shall be the guarantee for all liberties and individual rights in the society. The Political Programme of the front clearly spells out the political, economic, social, cultural, defense and diplomatic policies of the ELF-RC under different heads. The national political position can be summarized as follows:
5th National Congress of August 2001 gave paramount importance
to the need of strengthening the solidarity and alliance of opposition
forces to guarantee bloodless transition of power in Eritrea and to build
the unity of the people through national reconciliation.