Eritrea: From NHnana Elamanan to Liberation to Ber Al-Aman

Eritrea: From NHnana Elamanan (1971) to Liberation (1991) to Bar Al Aman (2021)

The men of philosophy and of literature from centuries past encapsulate history as an “essential struggle between two sets of forces, the forces of liberty and the forces of despotism” (Shelley’s Poetry and Prose, 1977) but weren’t as quick to draw cause and effect related to it. Those coincidences, correlations and events of historical trajectories change the course and the path of a nation to rise, stagnate, and evolve toward repressive and oppressive forms of governance. In the “Rise and Fall of TPLF” I argued that the 1998 -2000 war between Ethiopia and Eritrea changed the trajectory of a nascent nation into becoming progressively and dramatically repressive and oppressive regime in response to the actions that Ethiopia was taking by waging a “political warfare” against Eritrea. And for a barely a decade old nation, this was seen as an existential threat for its leaders and by extension to the formation and the building of a nation. This article not only requires and demands for a removal of one’s subjective hat, but to see the political history of Eritrea through a new lens. Every political step taken by the leadership in Eritrea appeared to be in response to Ethiopia’s political warfare propaganda that the TPLF/EPRDF decided to wage against it.

A brief history of Eritrea starting from 1971 to 2021 and every ten years in between is critically important to show how clear eyed its leaders were about their vision, mission, and objective and how they managed to adjust their political stances after independence to meet the towering challenges that Ethiopia was posing even after rubber stamping Eritrea’s independence 1993. In 1971 a Position Paper (PP) was penned by Eritrean People’s Liberation Forces, the main name associated with this document is none other than the now President Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea. It is to be noted Semere Tesfai (2010) had written a comparative analysis between “The Eritrean Covenant and Nehnan Elamanan…” (see reference below). Another article written by Samson Redeab (2010) “In defense of Nihnan Elamanan” (see reference below). Both are cited here to acknowledge that this writer had read them and would add value to those who wish to read more about this historical document known as NiHnan Elamanan. The lengthy excerpt establishes what the long struggle for independence was about:

“It is a matter of common knowledge that we Eritreans are the nationals of a country with [a] distinct boundary economy, political evolution, history, culture and traditions. It is equally well known that, for the past several decades we have been subjugated by foreign conquerors and pro-imperialist African expansionists. These […] oppressors have erased our boundary lines, confiscated our economic wealth, and arrested the high level of political awareness our society had reached, distorted our history, obscured our languages, replaced our culture and traditions [with] alien ones and totally robbed us of our human rights and dignity.

“We fully recognize the fact that it is our duty and ours alone to give a satisfactory answer to those who seek to know, to discourage those who seek to deceive us, to thank those who praise us, to assure those that are bent on bribing us that we do not compromise our aims to accept comradely constructive criticism and to remind those who attempt to buy us that we are neither commodities nor animals. The nature of our struggle and its objectives are better known to us than anyone else, especially the news-shoppers and gossip-mongers. Based on this awareness and hoping that our position will be clearly stated, we have embarked upon this exposition.” (p.2. Nhnan Elamanan [NE])

The position paper continues to layout the “geographical location, economic conditions, population, political development, languages, economic conditions, culture and traditions, Propagation of Islam, Tribal Dissensions, Religious Convulsions, Falling Back on Former Mistakes, The Second Phase of Oppression, What alternatives do exist? We are Freedom Fighters and not Prophets of Christianity, Our stand is Neither Ethnic nor Sectarian.”

These are subheading that comprise a distinctive entry that speaks to the way this group articulated its vision of Eritrea as a country and ends it with the following summary of “the program of action” that would follow under

“Our Objectives:

“First we will share and discuss with our Eritrean comrades the program of action we have designed to reach our final objective. Nonetheless, till we present our full program in our second exposition, we present here a short summary of our goals:

“To create a society where no economic exploitation or political oppression of man by man exists; to build a prosperous nation with educational, agricultural and industrial developments; to establish a National United Front with no distinction as to religion, ethnic affiliation or sex. To establish close solidarity with all progressive peoples in the world, especially those in Africa, Asia and Latin America; to combat world imperialism led by the United States; to smash Israel Zionism.

“Firstly, we have to wage armed struggle to gain national liberation from Ethiopian oppression as an immediate goal.”

The position paper makes it abundantly clear that EPLF at an opportune moment would seek the demise of ELF for the allegations it leveled against ELF was framed to show it being a backward organization that had no interest in Eritrea but only sectarian interest. By 1981 the first objective was established when EPLF drove out ELF from the fields of Eritrea through cooperation with the TPLF. A decade later, in 1991 Eritrea was born under Isaias Afewerki’s revolutionary leadership. However, the first major challenge for the man at the helm of political power, the war of 1998 – 2000 had weakened Eritrea so much that Ethiopia could attack it whenever it wanted under any pretext it chose to do so. As it turned out, military power alone was not enough.

By 2001 Eritrea was under immense threat by its more populous and militarily stronger neighbor with its airpower led by its former comrades of TPLF leaders starting with the late Meles Zenawi that continued under Hailemariam Desalegn until 2018 when Abiy Ahmed became the Prime Minister of Ethiopia who immediately accepted the Algers agreement that the previous two Prime Ministers would not even entertain. This effectively became one that undid TPLF’s hold of power over Ethiopia after 27 years political reign.

By 2021 Eritrea almost neutralized the TPLF. The latter now finds itself where Eritrea was in 2001 where internally it had to suppress any dissidents no matter how feeble, how weak, or however strong the opposition from within was. This was when Isaias Afewerki altered the political path in the trajectory of the country to an expansively increasing repression that would not allow any dissidence, for it was as clear as day that the end of IA’s political power would be imminent and that TPLF was waiting by the wing to institute weakened leaders from the opposition who would have no power to withstand the monumental power that Ethiopia was becoming a towering regional figure supported by the U.S.

But everything that Eritrea did between 2001 and 2018 was in response to what TPLF was doing externally as an entity in charge of political power in Ethiopia. Eritrea had one major advantage that Ethiopia couldn’t penetrate: its silence that it used as a lethal weapon of strategy while Ethiopia under TPLF used its garrulous MO to comport with its long-term plan of weakening Eritrea and eventually unseating the leaders of Eritrea from the political helm using the political warfare. Retrospective analysis now can be used for every attempt that TPLF conducted to undermine the Eritrean government. There was an equal reaction from within Eritrea’s proper which will be continued in the next article. For this article though, the notion that Isaias Afewerki (IA) was more interested in leading Ethiopia than the independence of Eritrea has no basis in facts. The facts can be extracted from a position paper penned in 1971, better known as NHnan Elamanan. Here are the relevant points from “Our Struggle and Its Goals”:

“The surface similarities with neighboring peoples along the borders can never be a rationale for the slicing up of a nation. It is for this reason that Eritrea must remain a single nation. It is not a country that will acquiesce to its division between Ethiopia and […] Sudan.

“In the case of Africa, we do not even need to go back to ancient history. For, if we were to attempt to create new nations based on the conditions that existed a few centuries ago, we would form a continent consisting of thousands of parts and division[s]. In short, the differences amongst the Eritrean people are a phenomenon found in many other countries and, as such, our recognition of them is neither a source of shame nor a hindrance to a united Eritrea. What we are trying to clearly state is that religion by itself cannot be a basis for any struggle for national liberation. It is rather a tool of oppression and personal gain. [emphasis mine]


“The truth is that religion [is] one of over ten characteristics peculiar to the Eritrean make-up. As such, to say that it is the basis of all the differences, oppression and struggle within the Eritrean society is nothing more than injustice. As we have seen, […] Eritrean society could, very broadly speaking and if the various differences are overlooked, be divided into two major groups. Since each of these major groups has its own religion, (Islam or Christianity), it could conceivably appear as if the social differences in Eritrea are religious. Such an assessment appears more pointed whenever foreign oppressors and opportunistic Eritreans exaggerate it in order to promote their own selfish interests.

“The main objective of the above exposition is to clearly state that it is wrong to divide the Eritrean people on the basis of religion and to stress the fact that Eritreans are a united people. Anyone who denies the truth of what we have said, be he an Eritrean or an outsider, either does not know what he is talking about, or is an opportunist or expansionist.” […]The objective of our struggle is not to foster communal strife but to promote harmony and to win national liberation.” (1971, NE)

The next article will argue the way in which Eritrea’s IA decided to fight Eritrean dissidents internally and TPLF’s various incursions and real threats to the existence of the nation and to IA’s hold of political power, it is something that must be narrated if Eritreans are going to move on to the next chapter of their journey into the future of a people who suffered a great deal to keep their country intact and to the norm that every country does as a sovereign nation.

Works Cited

Reiman, Donald H., and Sharon B. Powers. Shelley’s Poetry & Prose: Authoritative Texts and Criticism. Norton, 1977.

Tesfai, Semere (2010). The Eritrean covenant and Nehnan Elamanan: Two shady documents, you can’t defend in a mixed crowd. downloaded on 10 June 2023

Zerizghi, Gebremedhin (2012) An eyewitness account [ELF version]:  The Awate Team translated this eyewitness account from Tigrinya to English. Partial note states that: “…The detailed testimonies contained in Gebremedhin’s report serve as a background to the article (He And His Objectives) that we published on February 13, 2012, and to the upcoming article entitled ‘Srryet Addis: Blatant Lie?’ We believe that all three documents will shed more light on the most crucial grey part in the history of the Eritrean struggle of the late sixties.”


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