By Bruh Tesfa,
NEWS are circulating around that Scotland is holding a referendum to decide whether or not to secede from United Kingdom. While respecting the people’s wish on how to run their land, British Prime Minister Cameron is reportedly offering some attractive incentives for Scotland to remain part of United Kingdom, the details of which has yet to be revealed.
What does this news have to do with Eritrea, one may ask. And it is a legitimate question which deserves explanation. On this piece an attempt will be made to compare and contrast the referendum that was held by Eritrean people in 1991 to that taking place in Scotland today.
After briefly describing the geopolitical history of both Scotland and Eritrea, colonialism and their legal and moral stand in calling for independence, the article will focus more on the position of Ethiopia’s leaders, both past and present, in dealing with Eritrea’s quest for self-determination, as compared to British government’s reaction to the call by Scotland to hold a referendum.
Let’s first briefly discuss Eritrea’s colonial history to help readers better appreciate the people’s legal quest and the heavy sacrifice they paid thereafter in achieving their independence.
As was the case for most African states, Eritrea was under various European and Non-European colonies for decades up until after second world war (WWII). History reveals that Eritrea was an Italian colony from 1880 – 1940, after which it fell under British occupation after Italy was defeated. It was during such period that most African countries were granted their independence from their respective colonial powers, except Eritrea.
Despite the ample legal evidence that supported its call for self-determination, and given the fact that economically it was more viable than most of its African counterparts, the politics of the day, which to this day is designed to serve the interests of the few and powerful at the expense of others, dictated that Eritrea be incorporated with Ethiopia, against the will of the people.
After decades of long and protracted war, which consumed the lives of millions, Eritrea under the leadership of EPLF was liberated from Ethiopian occupation in 1991. Two years later in 1993, Eritrea became an independent state and formal member of the United Nations after holding a successful referendum in which 99.7% of the people voted for independence.
The united kingdom of Great Britain came into being on 1 May 1707, as a result of the political union of the Kingdom of England (which included Wales) and the Kingdom of Scotland. The terms of the union had been agreed in the Treaty of Union that was negotiated the previous year and then ratified by the parliaments of Scotland and England each approving Acts of Union.
Although previously separate states, England and Scotland had shared monarchs since 1603 when James VI of Scotland become James I of England on the death of the childless Elizabeth I, an event known as the Union of the Crowns. The Treaty of Union enabled the two kingdoms to be combined into a single kingdom with the two parliaments merging into a single parliament of Great Britain.
Quenn Annie, who reigned from 1702 – 1714, had favored deeper political integration between the two kingdoms and became the first monarch of Great Britain. The union was valuable to England from a security standpoint, since it meant that Scotland lost the possibility to choose a different monarch on her death, reducing the chance of a European power using Scotland as a route to invading England.
Today, the people of Scotland are voicing their desire to be a separate country by holding a referendum. Economy is what many suspect the reason for Scotish people to want to be independent from Great Britain.
LESSONS TO DRAW
Regardless of the reason that is pushing the Scotish to call for referendum, the attitude with which such decision was received by the UK officials is something we should take note for it could be an important lesson African leaders, and particularly those in Ethiopia who have a long history of expansionism and hegemony, could draw from in solving present and future unforeseeable conflicts.
According to report by Associated Press, Prime Minister David Cameron, Miliband and Liberal Democrat chief Nick Clegg all signed a pledge published Tuesday in the Daily Record newspaper promising Scots “extensive new powers” — including tax-raising authority if they remain part of the United Kingdom.
One of the many weaknesses Ethiopian leaders-both present and past- posses when it comes to Eritrean issue is that their persistent misconception that the latter’s call for justice can only be solved through the barrel of the gun.
Eritrea’s peaceful demand for self-determination during the 1950’s received deaf ears and often was complemented with bullets. Dwelling on the false hope of attaining victory on the basis of military superiority, the leaders of Ethiopia actually believed that they can crush Eritrean rebellion, refusing to acknowledge or too blind to see that the possession of high-tech military equipments and a rather large army is but a small equation in determining the outcome of a conflict, any conflict.
There needs to be a will to fight and even stronger will to die for the cause you stand, something the occupying Ethiopian army totally lacked. And that was proven in 1991 when a well equipped and a once largest army in Africa (Dergue) was severely humiliated in the hands of a few and well disciplined freedom movement – the EPLF and another Tigrayan movement (TPLF).
In contrast to Ethiopian leaders’ approach to Eritrean call for self-determination, British leaders’ reaction to the Scotish decision to hold a referendum was admirable in a sense that they respected the people’s democratic and legal right to secede, even if that means harming the country’s economy. Despite objection by some who fear for the potential economic disadvantage if Scotland is to declare independence, we didn’t see British Prime Minister coming before the television threatening war against those who wish to exercise their rights.
Given that EPLF and TPLF once were partners in the fight against Dergue – a genocidal regime of the 20th century, one had high hopes that the people of Eritrea and Ethiopia would bury the hatchet and finally live in peace and harmony as good neigbours do.
However, due to the narrow minded and greedy nature of a few cliques within the TPLF leadership, that hope and that dream was short-lived. A war was declared on Eritrea. A hate campaign against anything Eritrea and Eritrean was in full swing. ” No matter how long it takes at whatever cost…!” vowed Gebru Asrat in defending his position to continue the war. “ If we don’t like the color of their eyes… be it Japanese…. they must leave” mattered Meles Zenawi in explaining the reason he deported over 70 thousands innocent Eritreans in a most inhumane way. And now, the new PM of Ethiopia, Hailemariam Desalegn, is repeating the same unhealthy rhetoric and threatening for yet another war with Eritrea, the outcome of which, given history, is highly predictable.
In this time in age when the world is transforming into a global village; an era in which many countries are realizing the importance of economic cooperation and intensifying trade partnerships with one another, one would only hope that the current leaders running Ethiopia and all the hardliners draw some important lesson from what’s taking place in Scotland and completely reshape their stance on matters related to Eritrea.
This include but not limited to:
respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Eritrea and vacating from its territory; discarding the old notion that war is the ultimate solution to any geopolitical inconvenience that one may experience and learn how to solve problems diplomatically as is clearly exhibited by UK government officials in response to Scotland’s referendum; and genuinely seek for means with which they can re-establish good diplomatic relations with its neighbor-Eritrea and let the people of both countries for once enjoy peace, stability and all the socio-economic advantages that would be gained as a result.