Eritrea is one of the newest and promising
nations in Africa. Eritrea recently fought and won one of the longest wars
in the world. By logic, the nation of Eritrea should not exist. Our
secessionist province’s independence fighters ought to have defeated
Ethiopia in their 30-years long struggle. They were out manned, out
gunned, or abandoned by every ally; their cause was hopeless. We won by
force of character, a unity and determination so steely not all the modern
defenses; superpower support or economic superiority of Ethiopia could
resist it. There are two points of view with regard to the creation,
independence, and sovereignty of Eritrea. In this essay, I am going to
argue that the Eritrean point of view is a historically accurate one..
Eritrea is located north of the Horn of Africa
along the Southwestern coast of the Red Sea neighboring Sudan, Ethiopia,
and Djibouti. It has nine main ethnic groups; the largest being the
Tigrigna, Tigre, and Kunama. Each ethnic group has its own language, but
Tigrinya and Arabic are the official languages. And its population of some
3.5 million is almost equally divided between Muslims and Christians. A
small minority follows traditional beliefs.
In ancient times, Eritrea was called Medri Geez, the land of the
free, Medri Bahri, the land of the sea and Mareb Mellash, the land beyond
the river. For instance, Massawa, the major Eritrean port, captured by
Turks in 1517, was part of the Red Sea world, and looked eastward, rather
than inland to the African continent. While the Ethiopians were
effectively cut off from the outside world for over three centuries, the
Eritreans enjoyed continuous contact with the Middle East, a contact which
resulted in a distinctive economic and political developments. For
example, for three centuries before they were expelled by the Egyptians in
1875 the Ottoman Turks controlled trade along the Red Sea from their base
a Suakin near modern Port Sudan. Until the middle nineteenth century
foreign contacts were essentially trade relations which a lot to encourage
the nine ethnic groups which make up Eritrea to think of themselves as a
national political unit (Pateman 29).
contrast to external contacts, internal historical developments within the
Horn of Africa, particularly in Ethiopia and the Sudan served to set
Eritrea apart from other regions in the area.
There are plenty of rooms
for dispute in historical research; one of the greatest historians has
said, “there is not any where upon the globe a large tract of country
which we have discovered destitute of inhabitants, or where first
populations can be fixed with any degree of historical certainty” (Pateman
30). Eritrea is no exception; its history is one of waves of migrations
and invasions. “Migrants” are people who move into a territory, and
over generations, peacefully adapt to or perceptibly change the prevailing
civilization. “Invaders” usually try to force the inhabitants to adopt
different religions, languages, and ways of life. They are often
successful, but are sometimes resisted with strong and sustained courage
The Italians colonized
Eritrea from 1890-1941. During its period as colonial ruler, Italy greatly
improved Eritrea’s infrastructure, building one of the best
communication and transportation systems in Africa. While Italy’s main
goal was to benefit itself, and its efforts also contributed to the
development of Eritrean national identity and structure.
However, from 1942-1952, during WWII the British
defeated the Italians and established a colonial state over Eritrea.
Eritrea became an important center for British and American operations in
the region during the war (Negash 18).
the United Nation Resolution 390A(V), passed on December 2, 1950, thus
constituted Eritrea an independent unit to be federated with Ethiopia
under the supreme ruler of the Ethiopian crown (Firebrace and Holland
The United States, with its strategic interests in Eritrea, and
with its powerful influence in the United Nations, brokered a compromise
in the form of a federation between Eritrea and Ethiopia. However, a
majority of Eritreans opposed the move. In addition, The USSR
representative to the UN also opposed the U.S.
Plan, and said, “The USSR has consistently supported the proposal
that Eritrea should be granted independence and has continued to do so at
the current session. We base our arguments on the fact all people have a
right to self-determination and national independence. The USSR delegation
appeals to all the other delegation to vote in favor of Eritrean
independence” (Habteselassie 175).
At the facts show, the federal resolution, 390A(V), was a violation of
basic human rights of the Eritrean people and an unworkable formula from
every point of view. In accordance with the principles and substances of
the UN Charter on self-determination, the UN should never have been the
body that determined the future of the Eritrean people by federating
Eritrea with Ethiopia. Only the people of Eritrea had that right. It would
also be recalled that neither the Four-Power Commission USA, Russia, Great
Britain, and France, nor the UN Commission of Enquiry carried out
plebiscites or referendums to ascertain the wishes of the Eritrean people.
Because of these unqualified wishes of the Eritrean people, the Ethiopian’s
annexation of Eritrea led to the longest, bloodiest guerilla war on the
African continent for the last 30 years.
The annexation of Eritrea was clear violation of international law,
and there were no international protests against Ethiopia’s illegal
annexation of Eritrea. No one disputed the fact that Emperor Haile
Selassie, Ethiopian king at that time had illegally annexed the region in
1962. But the strategic importance of Ethiopia was too great to risk a
conflict with its government over the issue of Eritrea. And the
Organization for African Unity (OAU) and the UN were worried that allowing
the creation of an independent country would unleash questions about
borders all across the African continent, leading to bloody conflicts.
Israel supported Ethiopia to prevent the creation of an independent
Eritrea, and both the USA (1953-1977) and the Soviet Union (after 1977)
supplied Ethiopia with modern weaponry to suppress the Eritreans by force.
(Connell 81). Both super powers were concerned about the territorial
integrity of Ethiopia and its access to the Red Sea. Control of Eritrea
meant control over entrance of the Suez Canal as well as the Indian Ocean.
And near the region as well were the oil fields of Arabia. Nonetheless,
this cooperation sowed the seeds of the Eritrean liberation movement.
Eritreans got their independence by defeating Ethiopians.
Ahmed Idris Awate, an Eritrean Struggler, declared the beginning of armed
struggle in the western lowlands. Awate died in the middle of 1962, but
his liberation army continued to grow. The Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF)
was founded in 1958 and took up arms in 1961 to fight for independence. An
offshoot of the ELF, the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (EPLF), split
from the group in 1970, but the rival organizations later joined forces to
battle the military government that ousted Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974
by the well-organized EPLF, the secessionist rebels drove Ethiopian forces
out of Eritrea by 1976. However, the Ethiopian government regained control
several years later with financial and military assistance from Cuba and
the Soviet Union. Then, the EPLF decided on a strategy of withdrawal to
their bases in Sahel. This meant abandoning positions won in 1977 and
early 1978, including the city of Keren and other strategic towns and
villages. On March 1988, the rebels inflicted pain on Ethiopia’s
Revolutionary Army at the garrison town of Afabet (Tekie). According to
British historian and African specialist Basil Davidson, the Afabet
victory did any liberation movement ever score one of the biggest since
Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam in 1954. The rebels had captured several thousand
Ethiopian soldiers, three Soviet military advisers, and an array of
equipment. (Pateman 145).
On May 27, EPLF Chairman Issaias Afwerki announced the sovereignty of
Eritrea. Perhaps most important, the provisional Government ofEritrea
honored the agreement it had reached with the EPRDF and the OLF (Oromo
Liberation Front) in 1991 to postpone a referendum on the question of
Eritrean independence for two years. On April 23-25, 1993, the PGE carried
out the poll. A turnout of 98.5 percent voted overwhelmingly for
A 121-member UN observer mission certified that the referendum
was free and fair. Within hours, the United States, Egypt, Italy, and
Sudan extended diplomatic recognition to the new country. Thereafter,
Eritrea joined the UN, the Organization of African Unity, and the Lome
convention (Connell 263).
“More than 150,000 Eritreans died: 60,000 of
them guerrilla fighters, and hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians. What
this means for Eritrea, with only four million people, is that every
family lost someone to the war” (C0bb 83). Worse still, there is a large
number of disabled war by the war. Also, there is a problem with the
combatants who survived the war. Many of these soldiers have spent most of
their adult lives fighting the war, that is all they know how to do. It is
going to be a very difficult for the Eritrean government to train these
people with better skills, and basically integrate them back into the
In 1994, the EPLF established itself as a political
party, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), and began the process of
drafting a new constitution and setting up a
permanent government. The new government faced formidable
challenges. Beginning with no constitution, no judicial system, and an
education system in shambles, it has been forced to build the institutions
of government from scratch. On May 19, 1993, the provisional government
issued a proclamation
regarding the reorganization of the government. It declared that during a
four-year transition period, and sooner if possible, it would: Draft and
ratify a constitution Prepare a law on political parties Prepare a press
law Carry out elections for a constitutional government. In March 1994,
the provisional government created a constitutional commission charged
with drafting a constitution flexible enough to meet the present-day needs
of a population suffering from thirty years of civil war, as well as
future needs, when stability and prosperity
change the political landscape. Commission members traveled throughout the
country and to Eritrean communities abroad holding meetings to explain
constitutional options to the people and to solicit their input. In 1997,
a Constituent Assembly was convened to finalize constitutional reform. On
23 May 1997, this body adopted a constitution based on the earlier draft
and public and government discussions
“Eritrea and Ethiopia have never
formed a politically integrated society. The various ethnic groups that comprise
Eritrea are not integrated with the diverse peoples that make up Ethiopia. The
great majority of Eritreans regard the rule of Ethiopians elite as illegitimate.
There is no cohesive political interaction between Eritrea, a territory at the
border, and the core Ethiopian Empire.”
When the major powers were deciding upon the destiny of Eritrea, the
argument was repeatedly made that Eritrea, because of its small size and
underdeveloped economy, could not become an independent nation-state. Since
then, over fifty countries with a smaller population and many with much fewer
resources than Eritrea have become independent. In Africa, there are eighteen
member states of the Organization of African Unity with smaller populations than
Eritrea. There is no correlation between size, economic viability and political
survival. A brief sketch of Eritrea’s political economy will indicate that it
could indeed stand-alone.
This paper is not only a wonderful experience to write about my
country’s history, but also it is an excellent opportunity to gain more inside
knowledge about the current events that have taken place in the past and are
developing in the present. At the same time, I think it would be very
interesting to share my country’s history with people around the world.
I hope that they may gain a better understanding of the struggle and the
hardship that my people have gone through to obtain our independence, and
sovereignty in Eritrea.
THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN OUR ERITREAN REVOLUTION
Women played a prominent role in the fight for Eritrean independence. Their
participation forced the fighters, and later the population at large, to accept
them on equal footing with men.
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