Eritrea’s Independence: Beacon of Self-reliance and Resilience
By Simon Weldemichael | Eritrea Profile
Eritreans started their organized fight for their rights in the midst of Second World War. At the end of World War II, the newly formed United Nations denied Eritreans their right to self-determination. In 1950, the United Nations General Assembly passed a United States sponsored federal resolution that forcefully federated Eritrea with Ethiopia. The federation was shortlived due to Ethiopia’s abrogation of the federal agreement. In 1962, Ethiopia unilaterally dissolved the federation and annexed Eritrea. There was no voice that condemned this move and the architects of the injustice celebrated dishonorable victory. Eritreans again were betrayed by the international community. Eritreans are accustomed to being betrayed, but they always come stronger and more determined than ever.
Under those circumstances, a national armed struggle, no matter how bitter and protracted, became the only effective means of securing Eritrea’s national interests, pride and dignity. Eritrea’s armed struggle can be viewed as the continuation of the two decades of unsuccessful political struggle for sovereignty and independence. It can also be described as an equal and opposite reaction to Ethiopia’s aggression that shaped the negative regional and global stance. Eritrea’s armed struggle was not only a reaction against Ethiopia’s colonization but also against the general injustice of the international system. Eritreans are proud of this struggle for it was a noble and just struggle that put to an end the humiliating colonization.
Frantz Fanon, an advocate of emancipation and liberation, believes that a violent revolution is a necessary way to confront colonialism because from its inception colonialism has been a violent phenomenon. Ethiopian colonizers used force to gain entry and possession of the Eritrean land and they used force to maintain their stay there for four decades. Thus, when the peaceful political means failed to persuade the colonizers it was only through force that they can be overthrown. Fanon held the belief that the colonizers would not be persuaded to leave peacefully, until there is a violent revolution. The colonial and international injustice swiftly sparked anger and violence from the peace- loving people of Eritrea. The violence undertaken by Eritreans was a continuation of the nonviolent means of resistance and a desperate act of survival to keep alive. Ethiopia’s colonial violence was aimed at depopulating and dehumanizing Eritreans whereas the violence by Eritreans aimed to stop violence and restore peace. Thus our violence was taken as last option to end exploitation, oppression and domination. Eritreans discovered that violence is the only language that the Ethiopian colonizers could understand and, in its course, it transformed into a revolutionary war. Richard Philcox, ‘On Retranslating Fanon’ mentioned that “… Violence is a cleansing force. It rids the colonized of the inferiority complex, of their passive and despairing attitude. It emboldens them and restores their self -confidence.” Eritrean war of liberation served as a channel through which the forces accumulated in the forms of aggression were released. Our enemies said that might is right and we struggled to prove that it’s right that is right. The Eritrean people defeated its enemies and their surrogates primarily because truth was on their side.
Eritrea’s independence was unique in that it was attained after Eritreans endured brutal oppression and colonization of both European and African nature. Eritrea was the only European colony in Africa that was denied its independence and was passed onto an African colonization. Eritrean independence was unique because it was acquired, not given like many African countries. The time and the amount of sacrifice made for it also makes it unique. Our wounds are still too painful and too fresh in our memory. No one can forget the sacrifices, massacres, oppression and exploitation that we experienced during this period. In many of the decolonized countries, independence was followed by political instability, violent conflict and economic stagnation, but, in Eritrea, independence was followed by peace, stability and progress. Eritrean independence was also unique in that it was supported by referendum. Eritrea’s independence was a victory against seemingly impossible odds, and it was achieved without any meaningful outside assistance. Seth Kaplan has said that “the birth of the Eritrean state resulted entirely from the tenacity, resilience, and keen organizational skills of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF)” (2016, p3).
Eritrea’s victory is not Eritrea’s only. Eritrean struggle for independence was not limited to combating the enemy; it also laid the foundation for an independent country. Tanzanian Abdul Rahman Mohamed Babu proclaimed during the struggle in 1985, that “Eritrea’s present is the remote future of others… I am not ashamed to admit that I have been overwhelmed by what I saw. Living, working and eating with these staunch revolutionaries, I am tempted to echo the famous quote: ‘I have seen the future of Africa and it works.” After independence Eritrea was one of the emerging African states that was expected to play a leading role in the recovery of Africa. The spectacular and all rounded progress of the 1990s was, however, halted due to the TPLF invasion that aimed to undo the independence of Eritrea. The hostilities restricted many of the positive contributions that could have come from Eritrea. Eritrea, as Mr. Yemane Gebreab once said “is an independent, constructive, active and consciously modest regional and global actor. … The policy of seeking to isolate and undermine Eritrea has limited our role. It has also deprived the Horn of Africa of the positive contribution we would have been able to make”.
Eritrean independence was the most challenged independence everywhere in the world. Regional and global actors have employed all sorts of destabilization to undermine Eritrean independence. However, the military adventure and covert machinations were foiled by the gallantry of our army and the perseverance of our people. The military adventure, psychological warfare, political and economic intrigues and unjust sanction altogether do not produce the dividends expected by those who tried them. Now after 27 years of independence the once economically devastated country has been rehabilitated to grant its citizens protection, justice and social services. Above all, the leadership and people of Eritrea have maintained their aspirations. Considering the military aggression of TPLF and the non- implementation of EEBC and the unjust sanctions, the social transformation and infrastructural development during the last 27 years of independence are promising. Eritrea has scored success in many of the MDGs and it’s now on the right track to achieve the SDGs. A number of surprising developments have occurred in Eritrea, showing that the country is determined to throw off the yoke of poverty. While this is the general reality, no one denies that we have many things that have yet to be accomplished.
Eritrea is the freest country that exercises its sovereignty. Freedom means the capability to say yes when yes is needed, to say no when no is needed, and sometimes to keep quiet when nothing is needed. Many third world countries have not yet cut ties from their former colonial masters. They continue to do what was told to do and follow the commands received from their masters. The freedom from something is not true freedom. Eritrea is not only getting freedom from foreign rule. Eritrea enjoyed its freedom. Eritrean independence is not just for mere liberation but also for change. Freedom has two aspects: first, freedom from, and second, freedom for. Many countries attain only the first kind of freedom- freedom from physical colonization. Eritrea has used its freedom to exercise its sovereignty, to create a national character and identity of its own and to be Eritrea for Eritreans.
President Isaias Afewerki, in his speech on the 50th anniversary of the AU, said that “In as far as the nation states are concerned, the experience in the past fifty years has largely been that of dependence on dominant external players for inspiration and policy direction.” Post- independence Africa is nothing but a deprived condition characterized by corruption, indignity, ineptitude of leaders, insensitivity to the plight of the citizenry, lack of political courage and the like. Eritrea’s political courage has been manifested in its willingness to sacrifice for the sake of principle. Even though Eritrea’s sovereign territory continues to be under the illegal occupation of Ethiopia and the unfair sanction remains un-lifted, the government has led Eritrea to become very peaceful and harmonious.
The world, including our enemies, is now compelled to accept Eritrea’s independence and witness the difference it brings. Eritrea is not only an independent country; it’s a radiance of hope and paves an alternative way to development. Eritrea has been engineering prosperity by relying on its own human and capital resource and without compromising its independence. The Eritrean people’s self-reliance and independence rejected debt in favor of Eritrean ingenuity and sweat.
Let me leave you with a famous Eritrean quote; “If war with Eritrea was difficult yesterday, it is impossible today.” The resilience, tenacity, perseverance and sacrifice of Eritreans will continue to shield our independence and to disgrace the forces of arrogance. For 77 long years of struggle (1941- 2018) successive generations of Eritrea have been fighting for independence, sovereignty and prosperity and our struggle has not yet come to an end. In order to translate the dream of our fallen heroes we have to enhance our legal, political, martial, informational, and psychological resistance. We fight for rights and we got independence for difference, peace and justice. Happy Independence Day to all my citizenry parents, brothers and sisters living inside and outside Eritrea