“Independent Eritrea” A crumbling nation and a tragedy Part.2

By IndepthAfrica
In Article
Jan 15th, 2013

Ghirmay Yeibio,
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

The Beginning

The bible is not only a spiritual book but also a book of wisdom.   I would like to begin Part 2 of my article “Independent Eritrea” –  A crumbling nation and a tragedy, with a quotation from the good book.

“A wise man …. built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.  But …. a foolish man …. built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash”.  Matthew 7:24 – 27

24 May 1991, ushered in a new era in the history of Eritrea.  It was a culmination of a 30 years armed struggle and another 20 years of political turmoil before it.  The Eritrean  people’s  aspiration and struggle for nation hood was concluded in the creation of  a sovereign Eritrea.  The era of nation building started.

What type of house did Eritreans start to build?  On what foundation was the house built?  Is Eritrea built on sand, and heading towards destruction ?  When you start from the wrong premise, it is obvious that you would end up at the wrong conclusion.  What was the premise from which we started this long and arduous struggle ?  Was it the right premise?  Was all the sacrifice and carnage worth it ?


The premise that Eritrea was annexed and colonized by Ethiopia is highly contentious.  Colonialism involves;  geographic occupation, socio-economic domination, transfer of population to a new territory as permanent settlers, the subjugation of one people by another, outright enslavement, forced assimilation, exploitation of cheap labor, economic exploitation of natural resources, and creation of new markets for the colonizing nation.   Did the above happen to Eritrea when it was part of Ethiopia ?  These are serious questions that need to be addressed.


Eritrea and Eritreans are in a far worse situation than when they started the revolution.  They have fallen under the yoke of a new breed of home grown brutes, who not only have denied their very unique and proud identity as Abyssinians and Africans, but also created a jilted “hybrid identity” which is alien to the centuries old history and  heritage of the people and the land.


Half a century later this new nation finds itself profusely bleeding and depleted of its people; particularly the young.  This new nation has began to disintegrate and come apart at its seams.  Is it because Eritrea was built on sand?  If this trend continues it would not be long before “it falls with a great crash” and becomes history.


These days, many ex fighters and insiders of the Asmara regime have begun speaking up, and are telling horrendous tales of crimes committed by the Eritrean fronts.  Apart from telling us about the crimes, they have not told us what the root cause of the problem is which enabled such crimes to be committed.

The problem that Eritrea faces today has its roots in the very beginning of the struggle for independence.  The Eritrean people never really owned the Revolution.  The wishes and opinions of the people were not taken into consideration nor did the welfare and interest of the people given precedence.


It was imposed on them by exiled activists and students of Eritrean extraction living in Cairo.  These exiles were adherents of the Pan-Arabism school of thought and were supported by the Arab world.   They espoused Pan-Arabism; an ideology celebrating the glories of Arab civilization, espousing the language and literature of the Arabs, and calling for rejuvenation and political union in the Arab world.  The front they formed (ELF) believed that Eritrea is  part of the Arab world with common linguistic, cultural, religious, and historical heritage. [i]


These forefathers appear not to have understood who the people of Eritrea are.  They denied the centuries old history and connection of the land and people, and tried to impose their version of what Eritrea should be, by conspiring with foreign leaders who had ulterior motives.  They never tried to understand or consult their own people.


These exiles, decided to start an armed struggle in 1960 in Cairo to re-create a new Eritrea.   They were such a bunch of spineless cowards that none of them wanted to take up arms and launch the armed struggle themselves.  From their respective comfortable abode in Egypt and Sudan, they entrusted the all important military wing to an outlaw “Shifta” named Hamid Idris Awate, who already had a small band of outlaws (Shifta) at his disposal, and was  engaged in cattle rustling,  plunder and highway robbery in the Western Lowlands of Eritrea.


In an interview with Omar Jaber, Mohammed Ali Idris a.k.a. Abu Rijela (1944 – 2010), one of the Disciples of Hamid Idris Awate, and one of the earliest military leaders of the ELF, credited with leading the Battle of Togoruba in 1964; had this to say about himself.  “I was born near Agordat and joined the Sudanese army in April 1944 at the age of 17. I did not know the difference between Eritrea and the Sudan till 1956 when the Sudan became an independent republic.  Abu Shanab, Mohammed Ali Tinay, and myself discussed about divorcing our wives and go to fight the Ethiopians. We joined Awate’s unit of 20 fighters in [the spring of] 1962.” [ii]  These were the leaders of the revolution and so called “forefathers”, who did not even know who they are let alone understand the problems of Eritrea and the Eritrean people.


Yet later these “founding fathers” and the ELF were replaced by a new breed of revolutionaries – the EPLF.  In the ‘dog eat dog’ world of both fronts, finally a victor emerged; the notorious dictator of all times, Isayas Afeworki.  In an interview withMark Corcoran of the ABC in May of 2004  he had this to say:- 


“For me retirement means retiring from what you do in life from what you aspire to achieve in life in a nation and I don’t think that will ever cross my mind again any time in the future as long as I am alive.”  [iii]  Well,  Isayas is implementing what he “aspired to achieve in life”; the destruction of Eritrean history, identity and its people, and create a new Eritrea.

Tragically, these are the people who led the 30 years of liberation struggle, they never had the interest of the people at heart at all, except for themselves. It is my contention that the Eritrean people never owned the revolution, and they were just used as Cannon fodder both by the former as well as the latter leaders of the fronts.


Mark Corcoran concluded his article, Eritrea – Death of an African Dream, by saying this.  “This is Asmara’s other war memorial known locally as ‘The Tank Cemetery’. A vast resting place for the wreckage of four decades of conflict. Many now fear this is how the great Eritrean dream will all end.  What a prophesy; and that was said in 2004.  The writing is on the wall.


Tragically enough Eritreans in the opposition camp, be them the old guard or the new youth organizations,  seem apparently unable to identify the source of the problem and diagnose it accordingly.


What is ailing Eritrea?  Wherein lies the origin and genesis of the problem of this nation and people?  How could we be able to avert total catastrophe before it is too late?  All this needs to be thoroughly examined and defined.  Then and only then can we begin to right the wrong and bring peace and prosperity to the people of Eritrea.  The people of Eritrea have been abused and brutalized by their own children for far too long.  Time and time again they have been asked to pay enormous sacrifices in their life, in the life of their children,  and their property for over 50 years.


Eritrea was part of the ancient kingdom of Axum.  The port city of Adulis of the Axumite  Empire is located in present day Eritrea.  Most of Eritrea with much of Northern Ethiopia was the nucleus of the EmpireNamed by Emperor Zara Yacob (1399–1468) as the domain of the Bahre Negash and Midri Bahri, and renamed Mereb Melash by Emperor Yohannes IV (1872 – 1889), it was administered as an integral part of Ethiopia by its own Prince known as the “Bahre Negash” or “King of the sea coast” who was a vassal of the Abyssinian King.  Ethiopian emperors kept their presence at the red sea until the mid-16th century.  Part of its coastal areas adjoining the Red sea, and part of the Western peripheries were occupied by the Ottoman Turks and Egypt at different times.

The colonization of today’s Eritrea by Italy was done in a creeping fashion.  In 1869 an Italian Catholic priest named Giuseppe Sapeto acting on behalf of Rubatino (a Genovese shipping company) signed a contract with the Afar Sultan of Ausa in a ship called Nasrel al-Majid to purchase a piece of land at Assab for 8,100 Maria Teresa.

Assab was chosen by the Italians for its strategic location near Djibouti and the Straits of Bab el Mendeb.  The reason for the purchase was to capitalize on the anticipated increase in trade as a result of that year’s opening of the Suez Canal which was set to transform the Red Sea into a vital access route linking Europe with the markets of the Far East.  Italy felt it could not stand idly by as its rivals scrambled to establish landing stations and trading posts along the waterway.[iv]