Rise to Independence

The history of Eritrea will forever be connected with that of Ethiopia. Eritrea has amazing worth from a trading standpoint because of its two large ports on the Red Sea. Over the years after the federation of Eritrea with Ethiopia the discontent of Eritrea grew steadily because of abuses applied to it by the emperor Haile Selassie and later after the Ethiopian Revolution of 1974, the socialist military government of the Derg. Even after colonial rule Eritrea was still being exploited. This led to a build up forces within Eritrea all with nationalist goals but that was about the only thing the groups agreed on and unity was not achieved for many years of the struggle. These differences between groups included political, religious, and social ideas. The exploitation from Ethiopia and the unrest within Eritrea created a state were economic growth was stunted if non-existent and until Eritrea ended its conflicts and became self-governing, it was never able to develop any plan of economic development and to this day remains an oppressively poor country.

"On December 2, 1950, the UN General Assemble passed Resolution 390 A(V) to federate Eritrea with Ethiopia as an autonomous unit…under the sovereignty of the Ethiopian Crown," (Iyob 82). One of the first moves of the federated Eritrea was to start drafting a constitution but this was met by resistance from Ethiopia which can be seen in the following, "[E]ven before the Eritrean constitution had been drafted the Ethiopian empire regarded Eritrea as "its territory" and regarded the exercise of autonomy by the Eritreans according by the UN as a violation of Ethiopian sovereignty," (Iyob 85). Already at this early state Ethiopia was exerting tighter control over Eritrea which it felt rightfully belonged to it.

Over the next ten years Ethiopia tied little by little to break down the federation by removing Eritrea’s flag, and changing the name of the Eritrean government to the Eritrean administration, Ethiopia tried to remove their indentity of autonomy. Also force was used in organized terrorism to drive out or destroy any groups within Eritrea that spoke out against Emperor Selasse. The basis of Ethiopia’s stance on Eritrea should now be addressed and as stated by Haggai Erlich, 7-8, "First, absolute emperorship could hardly coexist with political pluralism. Second, Ethiopia was even more diverse than Eritrea in terms of ethnic, linguistic, religious, and regional groups; Eritrea’s unique status would inevitably encourage the emergence of separatist movements throughout the empire. Third, the neighboring Muslim and Arab countries were gaining independence (the Sudan in January 1956), which would inevitably affect Eritrea’s Muslims and fan Ethiopia’s centuries old fear of Islamic encirclement, encroachment, and penetration." On November 14, 1962, Ethiopian troops surrounded the Eritrean administration building and on that day Eritrea voted to dissolve the federation and join the Ethiopian Empire.

At the time of reunification Eritrea’s economic base was stable due to the infrastructure laid down during the colonial period by the Italians and Italians that continued to live there. Because of this infrastructure Eritreans were well ahead of their neighboring Ethiopians in the business world and many business like the airlines employed a disproportionate amount of Eritreans, (Erlich 10). Eritrea was better off at this time than most of Ethiopia but as fighting escalated this quickly degenerated and though there was this intermixing of the two cultures the inflexibility of the Ethiopian government led to alienation of many Eritreans which eventually created a nationalistic attitude that prevailed across Eritrea and which crossed many socioeconomic boundaries. Though the Eritrean resistance was not unified at first there were common causes. "Organized Eritrean response to Ethiopian hegemony began in the late 1950s. Eritrean nationalists had three tasks: (1) to reconcile the fragmented nationalism that characterized the Eritrean political parties of the 1940s and late 1950s; (2) to construct a viable Eritrean national identity; and (3) to mobilize the nationalist forces against Ethiopian hegemony," (Iyob 98). Much of the dissent within the movement was based on religion, the fragmentation occurring between the Muslim population and the Christian population.

A significant result of this conflict and the direction Emperor Haile Selassie pointed his empire in was the famines in the early 1970s which was one reason the Ethiopian people later revolted against him. "Haile Salassie implemented a cash crop system which disregarded the needs of the Ethiopian people and their agricultural self-sufficiency. Most of the land was in the hands of the elite within the feudalist government and they extracted large rents and taxes from the working people. This led to a large famine in the early 1970’s where approximately 100,000 to 200,000 people died," (Why Strawberries and Cream Made Me Cry). It is facninating to me that people would worship His Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie, as the reincarnation of God as the Rastafarians beleive. I have never heard anyone argue that Jesus violated anyone's human rights when though the world may have ignored his for a time, they are still prevelent and their effects are felt today. In 1974 Emperor Haile Selassie’s own military revolted nad executed a coup to remove him from power. They called themselves "The Derg" or "Dergue" which means council in Amharic. In the early 1970s the Eritrean civil war was still going on between different factions all wanting a separate nation but all of which could not agree and work together. Once The Derg had taken over in Ethiopia they were able to redirect their attention to Eritrea and begin a more intense military offensive.

As a result of conflict like this, a major economic base that is weakened is labor. Refugees or emigration of displaced peoples began to leave Eritrea for neighboring countries like Sudan, Djibouti, and Somalia. In Eritrea this was substantial because of the length of time of conflict in the area. "Since the total Eritrean population is between 2.5 and 3 million, possibly one third of the population of Eritrea could be classified as refugees," (Sherman 90). Emigration of people to neighboring countries weakened the economic base. In this case rural farmers left to settle in mainly Sudan to try and start a new living with relatives already there or some type of savings attaining approximately the same living conditions they had previously or they entered into refugee camps. For more educated Eritreans from urban areas there was a broader emigration. These people in general were wealthier and centered their movement on larger cities like Khartoum or cities abroad. This caused serious intellectual drain as many educated people leave and apply their talents and education in other areas also taking their wealth.

The women’s situation in Eritrea also changed as a result of the separatist movement. With the different factions fighting the war, there of course were different views on this. The most prevalent and more powerful group, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front had as one of there standards, "Full equality with men, not just in theory but in practice," (Sherman 105). Previous to this time women in Eritrea fit the basic characteristics of women from any part of Africa. They worked hard within the home and in procuring food, but they were not able to own land, the male had all the power in a marriage including the right to divorce at any time, and they were under-educated. The EPLF had one of the most progressive stances on the issued of women at this time.

This struggle for independence continued on for another 19 years after the revolution in Ethiopia and many of these same effects continued to weaken the economic development of Eritrea. Only when in 1993 Eritrea gained independence could it finally exert a significant amount of energy of reorganizing their economy and move on to a positive future. Though to this day it reamins one of the poorest countrie with a gross domestic product of only $740. Most people there being subsistence farmers. It is a shame that this area would fall so far back from what they could have achieved in their economic sector. This is a common theme across much of Sub-Saharan Africa, there are to many stories of civil was and strife, famine and suffering. It must be known the real reason behind these things though are mens greed for power, prestige, and wealth and not the betterment of their bretheren. It is a shame the Thomas Jefferson's image of America, which can be applied to any country, of a land of virtuous farmers all governing themselves is impossible because of the inherent evil in men which trancends all lines.


Works Cited

1) Flying Fish. Why Strawberries and Cream Made Me Cry. Accessed: November 12, 2002, http://www.flyingfish.org.uk/articles/eritrea/strawbs.htm

2) Sherman, Richard. Eritrea The Unfinished Revolution. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1980.

3) Iyob, Ruth. The Eritrean Struggle for Independence. Great Britain: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

4) Erlich, Haggai. The Struggle Over Eritrea. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1983.