BY JOHN GRAVERSGAARD
With the nearly unbelievable sudden rapprochement between the presidents of Eritrea and Ethiopia, hopes and dreams seem to have come through. Hopes and dreams for peace and cooperation between the two neighbor nations and ending the total blockade of communication after 20 years of walking in the desert. Telephone lines and transport lines are opened, so people can meet their loved ones.
On the 8th July 2018, prime minister of Ethiopia Dr. Abiy Ahmed flew to Asmara and people were jubilant in the streets. On the 14 July 2018, president Isaias Afwerki came to Addis Ababa.
On the 9th July 2018, a joint declaration was made that ended the war. Dr. Abiy said: “We will demolish the wall and, with love, build a bridge between the two countries. We agreed that the airlines will start operating, the ports will be accessible, people can move between the two countries and the embassies will be opened.”(Aljazeera, 9 July 2018).
To fully understand this, we need to see that the liberation of both countries is closely interwoven.
“The roots of the Ethiopian revolution are to be found in Eritrea. Initially, the Eritrean question seemed to be a side-issue in Ethiopian affairs. But violating the rights of the Eritrea peoples produced an armed resistance that led to the downfall of the monarchy and changed the entire political system of Ethiopia”(Haile, 2018)
The Ethiopian revolution of 1974 against the feudal monarchy of Emperor Haile Selassie promised that no nationality will dominate another. This was a revolutionary promise and brought hope to the peoples of Ethiopia where the feudal regime was dominated by the Amharas.
But this promise was not kept by the Dergue, the group of military officers that took power. In the Central Committee of the Party of the Working People of Ethiopia, 109 of the 123 members was from the Amhara nationality and control of the state apparatus was taken by Amharas.
Eritrea was the Vietnam of Africa
The Dergue became a brutal killing machine with a lot of revolutionary rhetoric, denying the nationalities in Ethiopia any freedom. Just as United States supported the centralized feudal monarchy that denied Eritrea its autonomy, the Soviet Union supported the centralized Dergue state that continued the destroying and killing in Eritrea.
As the anti-imperialist Basil Davidson wrote in 1988:
“And they will fall because this struggle in Eritrea is as much an anti-colonial struggle as that of any other colonised people to whom the history of our century has awarded victory”.
Basil Davidson had an enormous knowledge of the anti-colonial struggles of Africa and he saw the maturity of the EPLF that made it a formidable force against the Soviet-supported Ethiopian military and the weak regime in Addis Ababa.
In 1991 the EPLF and its fighters liberated Eritrea after 30 years of armed and political struggle. But the unsolved nationalities question in Ethiopia opened for new conflicts as the Tigrayans [TPLF] took over the Amharas dominating role in the Ethiopian state.
The new war in 1998-2000 where Ethiopia tried to overrun Eritrea prolonged the tragic suffering of the peoples for another 18 years. Central to this was the continuing destructive external influence and the minority ethnic regime in Ethiopia.
Ethiopia attempted in the war 1998-2000 to conquer all of Eritrea. But it was ultimately the stiff Eritrean defense and its formidable mountains that ended the war. In the battles for Mendefera and Senafe, Ethiopia lost thousands of soldiers while attempting to attack up the steep escarpments of the Eritrean highlands.
Those battles resulted in the realization by Ethiopia’s leaders that they could not conquer Eritrea without a repeat of the scale and duration of the war that Eritrea fought against Mengistu.
Conditions for peace and the visionary policy of EPLF
Basil Davidson says “the conditions for peace within Ethiopia must begin with two which are parallel with those required for peace in Eritrea: one is an end to centralist domination, the other is an end to outside intervention”.
An EPLF analysis of 1985 speaks of “the destiny of the Eritrean and Ethiopian peoples is closely linked” and “for the advance of the Eritrean revolution, co-operation with the struggle of the Ethiopian peoples comes second only to the capability of the Eritrea people”.
This being so “for the Ethiopian revolution, the most important external factor is the Eritrean people`s struggle”.
“The EPLF puts the importance of the formation of a solid alliance between the two revolutions above any of its diplomatic activities”. As Basil Davidson comments, in that statement, you see the solid proof of political maturity.
The Oppression in Ethiopia and Imperialism
The Eritreans have never kneeled down to imperialism and the false tunes of a limited nationalism, but have steadfastly supported the formation of a united front of Ethiopian nationalities.
In 1985 EPLF said that:
“Total independence for Eritrea and the emergence of a progressive government with popular support in Ethiopia are inseparable goals”.
Such a government is not possible so long as “national oppression which affects all nationalities except the Amharas” continues to exist. These nationalities, “Oromo, Tigrai, Somali, Afar, Sidame etc, have been deprived of their lands and denied the right to determine their destiny, to participate as equals in the political life of the country, and to develop their languages and cultures” (Davidson, 1988).
“The groups that draw their sword at the Dergue and Soviet intervention, but bow to western imperialism are precisely those whom imperialism has been sustaining, those who still carry the smell of the overthrown autocratic regime”
“The superpowers and their respective principal allies have acted as though the region were a cockpit of competitions for their several gains” (Davidson, 1988).
The Tigray and their front TPLF which cooperated with the Eritreans to drive out Mengistu and the the fascist Dergue fell into the old trap and continued the oppression of the nationalities in Ethiopia, becoming a willing tool in Washington’s “war on terror”, invading Somalia and in 1998 attacked Eritrea full scale but was defeated by the Eritreans.
A war that cost over 100,000 people their lives and over one million displaced internally in Eritrea. Their sabotage of the Algiers Peace Agreement in 2000 was met with passivity from the UN Security Council.
Eritrea has tirelessly appealed to the UN to shoulder its responsibilities, but to no avail, as the USA has shielded Ethiopia and blocked the Ethiopian threat to regional peace and stability. In 2009 Eritrea was also met by unjust and counter-productive sanctions.
But due to the continued struggle of the Ethiopian peoples against the hated TPLF-minority regime, things have changed for the better. EPLF/PFDJ not only liberated Eritrea from Imperial Ethiopian colonization but also Ethiopia and Somalia from TPLF hegemony. The whole of the West and African Union took the wrong side supporting Meles Zenawi.
We now see a sudden thaw in the relations of Eritrea and Ethiopia and Eritrea has fully embraced the change that nobody believed would come so suddenly.
Peace at Last and Dreams Come Through
The Oromos are the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, around 40%. They have suffered harsh repression and have been fighting for recognition and freedom for centuries against the centralized Ethiopian state dominated by Amharas and lately by the Tigray minority government.
Addis Ababa is now bowing to the demands of the oppressed nationalities and we have seen an Oromo becoming the prime minister, Dr. Abiy Ahmed. The Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) has declared a temporary unilateral ceasefire and has started meetings with the government.
President Isaias Afworki in a moving address in Amharic to the people of Ethiopia at Millennium Hall in Addis Ababa said:
“I feel boundless joy as I convey to you the message of peace, love and good wishes of the people of Eritrea. And, I congratulate you warmly for the successful and historic changes that you have brought about.
We have triumphed over the toxic schemes of the past years aimed at sowing the seeds of hate, resentment, and destruction. These malignant acts are indeed anathema to our cultures as well as to our historical and cohesive interests. We are now jointly embarking – with determination – on the path of development, prosperity, and stability in all fields and fronts.
We shall not tolerate any act that is aimed at disrupting and disturbing our love and harmony; assailing and terrorizing our peace and stability; and, impeding and destroying our development and growth.
We are fully confident that through our joint endeavours, we will recuperate the losses inculcated in the past to achieve robust feats in the period ahead.
Let me pay tribute again for the victory you have won through vigorous resistance and that has exacted heavy sacrifices. I also wish to express my wholehearted support to Dr. Abiy; and, to his visionary and courageous leadership. I wish him further success.” (Shabait.com).
Due to the principled position of Eritrea and EPLF on the nationalities question and not bowing to imperialism, the policy of EPLP and president of Eritrea Isaias Afwerki has won respect and success. Respect for his lifelong struggle for the freedom of the people of Eritrea and Ethiopia and his unwavering faith in the power of the people. (Kidane, 2017)