This was first published on January 28, 2019. I used it as a background scrip for Negarit 69 under the title, “Be Proud”. It’s being republished for relevance.
Is Eritrea tiny? How tiny is it?
I will try to show that the myth about tiny Eritrea is simply a perception created by the chain of lazy journalistic work. Unfortunately, even Eritreans repeated that when describing their country to foreigners: “we are a small country by the Red Sea…”
Last December The Independent published a travelogue entitled, “Eritrea: A tour of the tiny African nation you never thought you’d visit”. It is a usual run of the mill article, and to some extent an illustration of a lazy journalistic work–if you read one, skip the rest because they are all either repetition or marketing content sponsored by tour companies to lure tourist. Focusing so much on selling air-tickets and hotel beds, the information they provide is a superficial description of the country and ignores the vital information about it.
In the so-described tiny country, Eritrea, which is not exceptionally tiny by the way, you are told you will find Palm Tree-lined streets, sidewalk cafés, Art-Deco—and many other portrayals with rundown terms—without which some Western journalists think their work will not be complete. Sometimes the writers think they made a novel discovery, leaving the readers pop their eyes. For instance, the Independent post states, “Europhile Asmarinos consider Keren another country!”
How about Europhiles from other regions of Eritrean?
For those who do not know, Keren is my hometown and the Independent has only the common traditional dress to explain why it seems in another country.
Most Eritreans know that Keren, the birthplace of Ibrahim Sultan, the first emancipator, has always been the center of Eritrean nationalism. Its history is no less significant—it’s where the final battle between the Allies (Britain) and the Axis (Italy) was fought; that battle heralded the end of Italian colonialism in East Africa. Keren is the most diverse, tolerant, and culturally rich town and it is located smack in the middle of a multi-religious, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, and highly diverse region of Eritrea.
But I do not blame the Western writers that much since ignorance is prevalent even in our neighboring regions, even among Eritreans–the Eritrean narrative is crying to be heard. Until we find a way to do that, my heart goes to many Western writers who lack the wisdom of doing due diligence before writing mediocre, and laughable material. Incidentally, ignorance has always been our main enemy in the region; knowledge and enlightenment will certainly help us end the never-ending bloodshed that washed the region for centuries, and still is raging.
Our region’s problem has been its diversity and Eritrea is much influenced by its neighbors.
While the Afar straddle its eastern part and they have kin across the border in Djibouti and Ethiopia. The Beni Amer, Habab, and Maris have an extension in Sudan, The Tigrinya and Saho Speakers in the Highlands have kin in Ethiopia, and so do the Kunama on the Gash region. It’s natural that Eritrean segments are influenced by what happens across their borders. And remember, Eritrea is not tiny.
Population wise, Eritrea ranks 120th out of 223 countries in the world. Size-wise, it’s the 99th biggest country in the world. I feel not many realize these facts: there are many countries that you think are bigger than Eritrea when they are not. For instance, do you know Eritrea is bigger than Austria than the Netherlands, and than Switzerland?
The following are names of some countries that are smaller than Eritrea: Benin, Honduras, Liberia, Bulgaria, Cuba, Guatemala, Iceland, South Korea, Hungary, Portugal, Jordan, Serbia, Azerbaijan, Austria, United Arab Emirates, Czech Republic, Sierra Leone, Ireland, Georgia, Sri Lanka, Lithuania, Latvia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovakia, Dominican Republic, Estonia, Denmark, Netherlands, Switzerland, Taiwan, Belgium, Kuwait, Qatar, Jamaica, Lebanon, Cyprus.
Eritrea, the so-described “tiny country” is bigger than over a hundred sovereign countries in the world. And my hometown, Keren, is bigger than Mergeringhausen in Germany, and Gimmelwald In Switzerland, though Keren doesn’t have Glaciers or windmills. That is to say, it has a better climate and it is safer. Does anyone want to challenge that?
Now ask yourselves: why none of the countries listed above are described as a tiny country? Have you heard a Western writer refer to tiny-Austria or tiny-Netherlands? That is where lazy journalism stands naked.