Eritrea: “A Foolish Undertaking”
Over the years I have come across many views; some I learned from, others I were a waste of time, still others were dazzling and made me scratch my head.
My topic for today is one the most annoying view That’s based on a twisted logic, devoid of any rational thinking—the following is a sample:
When we talk about Eritrea, it’s the Italians who built Eritrea. Created the very nation of Eritrea. The map of Eritrea. And with it comes the map of Eritrea. Now think about this: you are an elite, hunh! And you want to create an identity of Eritreannes, hunh! An Eritreannes based on that map! It is a foolish undertaking, hunh! Nevertheless, it did happen. So, all their orders come to them from that map. There is a history of Eritrea that has to be told, for example, then that history of Eritrea must not overflow, overflow the borders of that map. What happens is for example, let’s say, the history of Eritrea we could say, the history of the Tigrignas, in Eritrea, hunh? cannot separate it from the histories of Tigrignas in Tigray. For that matter we cannot separate it from the history of Habeshas in Ethiopia. It’s all intertwined. The history of the Danakil of Eritrea, the Afar of Eritrea, you cannot separate it from the history of Afar in Ethiopia. Because they dealt more with, Ammh? Ammh? them than with the Kebessa people in Eritrea. The history of Muslim, mostly Muslim tribes in the western parts of Eritrea is more associated with the same of people across the borders with Sudan. Now, what the map did was, it brought these three populations together. Now the elite are saying, okay, how do we create an Eritrean identity of all these different histories? The foolishness of it was, nothing should overflow, the border, the borders of Eritrea. Now, how do you do that? How do you do that? By simply eliminating the entire history that goes around that border. You eliminate it.
“A yokel can leave a village, but village will never leave yokel.” That’s a Polish saying now adopted by many cultures with little twists. But Eritreans, when we are in a fascistic mood, we boast that we are better than adopting the saying of others, we have living examples that illustrate the idea better.
Countries, at least those I know, are not curved by some divine hands. People who live in a certain area grow in number, form a family, grow into many families with a common ancestry (or a perceived common ancestry), develop a common language and culture. Then they become clans, and finally tribes and nations. Usually, they build a common territory and exist side by side with other tribes of nations.
Each tribe depends on its own toil and resources, and in time it starts to trade with neighboring tribes or nations. Sometimes competition arises among the tribes and nations as they grow, clashes may erupt, alliances may be created between neighbors—sometimes they create unsolvable feuds over boundaries with or without specific geographical limits or landmarks.
Gradually their territories might develop into a common country, hopefully defined by citizenship; and that is the natural preferred way a country is formed. Other countries are formed or born whimsically in so many ways. For instance, nations from remote regions, with more sophisticated arms, bigger numbers, and resources plan to exploit the resources of other territories. Then following the Roman dictum, it’s “Veni. Vidi. Vici.” (I came. I saw. I conquered.) They curve territories, give it a name, and administer it with its people who become their subjects.
That was a brief explanation of the start of building states, the progression of the nation building. And that is how colonizers occupied indigenous territories and formed Eritrea, just like they formed many countries in Africa and other continents.
In the 17th century, Europeans (focusing on Switzerland) fought against each other for 30 years–mainly the Catholic-Protestant war which came to an end in 1648. Thereafter, European monarchs signed a treaty known as The Peace of Westphalia, in which they identified the meaning of a nation, state, religion, etc. The template for a modern sovereign state was drawn.
Napoleon Bonaparte played an important role in the development of the nation-state. The French Revolution eliminated the medieval feudal system and replaced it with modern systems and armies. And that accelerated the creation of nation-states to the extent that many states came together to fight against Napoleon. But since my topic is to relate the diversity of Eritrea, I will only mention the diverse Switzerland.
Modern Switzerland was under the Romans until the 4th century AD. It went through invasions by other European tribes, notably the German tribes until it fell under the control of Holy Roman Empire that divided it into small regions of several criteria.
On August 1, 1291, the fragmented Swiss regions signed a peace charter and agreed to keep the autonomous administrative and judicial rule. That day, August 1, is celebrated as Switzerland’s National Day.
In 1499, Switzerland finally gained independence from the Holy Roman Empire. But civil strife and division between Protestant German and French, and Catholics for two centuries.
And in 1797-98, Napoleon invaded and annexed much of the country and made it a centrally governed unitary state–the territories defended the Swiss Confederation from falling apart.
In 1815, The Congress of Vienna re-established the old confederation of sovereign states and enshrined Switzerland’s status of a permanent armed neutrality in international law. While the Swiss Constitution established a range of civil liberties and made far-reaching provisions to maintain cantonal autonomy to placate the vanquished Catholic minority—they didn’t take advantage of the weakness of the Catholics as some Eritrean fascists contemplate doing to those who perceive as weak and vanquished.
To this day, cantonal autonomy and referendum democracy remain trademarks of the Swiss polity.
Though Switzerland has been a neutral, stable country for centuries, even during WW2, many might not realize that Switzerland became a member of the United Nations only in 2002. It has always maintained its cantonal autonomy and remained a pluralistic, diverse state.
If we leave aside the economic, social and technical aspects and focus on political aspects, Eritrea is no different that Switzerland. Its people developed to where they are now after centuries of interaction—intermarriage, assimilation, conversion, immigration, displacements, local settlements, invasions—until the advent of the Italian colonizers who curved it in its present form and shape.
But it has existed as Turkish Welayet (province), Egyptian territory, partly Abyssinian territory, Fung dynasty, Beja and Agaw rule, etc. The argument that Eritrea is not a nation simply because it was formed by colonialists, is lame.
The Italian colonial boundary was not pulled from thin air, it was the reality and the communities and their social history. Also, there no states with a clean-cut boundary without similar social groups straddling different borders, even the coercive feudal subjugation, forceful assimilation and tyrannies didn’t create such a clean-cut boundary.
So, the ancestors of present-day Eritreans settled in that territory long ago. And in modern times, their children paid dearly to assert their national rights, they invested for their freedom in sweat and blood.
Some extremists and fanatics fancy going back in time and settling at their favorite timeline to rewrite the Eritrean history. But why stop at specific date, for instance, 1890? Why don’t they go further back to the 17th century, 16th century, even 12th, 6th century and start from any other specific year? They wouldn’t because their legends inform them to pick certain dates that serve their lopsided legendary narration.
In short, it is a foolish idea driven by the perpetually sprouting historical bigotry and hypocrisy! The never quenched thirst for conflict, chaos, and bloodshed.
Today there are dozens of countries with ethnic groups, tribes and populations that straddle boundaries of two, three, or more countries. That is the making of history, and Eritrea is just like any other country, a product of its history that brought it to where it’s now.
The PFDJ failing to manage Eritrea properly doesn’t warrant savagely dismantling its social foundations with twisted logic and chauvinism; that is a rational that only the naïve and the arrogant bigots entertain.
Now, let’s me repeat the irrational argument above heard by substituting Switzerland for Eritrea.
When we talk about Switzerland, it’s the Catholics and protestants who built Switzerland. Who created the very nation of Switzerland, the map of Switzerland. And with it comes the map of Switzerland. Now think about this: you are an elite, eh, and you want to create an identity of Swisness, eh. A Swisness based on that map! It is a foolish undertaking, eh. Nevertheless, it did happen. So, all their orders come to them from that map. There is a history of Switzerland that has to be told, for example, then that history of Switzerland must not overflow… overflow the borders of that map. What happens is, for example, let’s say, the history of Switzerland we could say, the history of the Germans, in Switzerland, eh, cannot separate it from the histories of Germans in Germany. For that matter we cannot separate it from the history of Italians in Italy. It’s all intertwined. The history of the French of France, the French in France, you cannot separate it from the history of the French in France. Because they dealt more with, uh…uh, them than with the Romanish people in Switzerland. The history of Protestants, mostly Protestant cantons in the northern parts of Switzerland is more associated with the same kind of people across the borders with Austria. Now, what the map did was, it brought these four populations together. Now the elite are saying, okay, how do we create a Swiss identity of all these different histories? The foolishness of it was, nothing should overflow, the border, the borders of Switzerland. Now, how do you do that? How do you do that? By simply eliminating the entire history that goes around that border. You eliminate it.
Okay, based on that argument, let’s push the Somali Ethiopians to Somalia, Afar Ethiopians to Djibouti and Eritrea, Benishangul to Ethiopia, Gambelia to Sudan, Somali-Oromos back to Ethiopia, then we shuffle the Mursi, Turkana and other tribes between Ethiopia and Kenya because the tribes straddle the Kenyan-Ethiopian border which they shouldn’t—so says the twisted logic!
Happy Logic Day to you
NB: This is the transcript of Negarit 140, on my YouTube channel NEGARIT.