The Ethio-Eritrean Future : Some Reflections


May 10, 2008


Mesfin Araya*


It has been fifteen years since Eritrea formally declared its independence as a sovereign nation-state. The price paid was immeasurable : especially for over a decade and a half , Eritrean as well as Ethiopian blood had indiscriminately intermingled , overflowing the streams , the mountains , and the rugged dessert of Eritrea .

The idea of the referendum was presumed by the TPLF leaders as a catalyst for peace and stability in the region . Although the underlying authoritarian nature of EPLF and TPLF was known well before they took power, the referendum was also seen by some opportunist/naive—depending on how one takes them—Ethio-Eritrean intellectuals as a watershed in the possible transition to a confederation .1 The last ten years of bitter experience , however , has revealed an Ethio-Eritrean relationship, marked by deadly instability . Since the 1998-2000 bloody and devastating military confrontation , the proxy war between the twin tyrants—Issais Afwerki , the dictator , in Asmara2 and Meles Zenawe , the umbilical-cord of the US imperialism in the Horn of Africa—has increasingly engulfed the entire region, apparently with no hopeful signs for a peaceful exit . The brutal war and the unwarranted civilian deportations by both regimes has left behind a deep scar that may complicate future relations between the two countries .3

But what is sad and even more complicating is the current discouraging political environment surrounding Ethiopia . Within the Ethiopian political scene , we observe today individuals , groups , and political organizations , for which the independence of Eritrea still remains a bitter pill to swallow . Although there are others , I have in mind particularly the minority group that recently walked out from EPRP extraordinary Congress – a group which presumptuously calls itself “EPRP—Democratic .” In its recent issue of ‘Democracia ’, the group printed a public statement regarding its

position on Eritrea . To quote :

“EPRP-Democratic does not recognize the existence

of an independent Eritrea . Ethiopia and Eritrea are not two

separate countries . Eritrea was and still is part—province–

of Ethiopia . ”4

Accordingly, it concludes :


“There is no border dispute at all , as Eritrea is not a

separate and independent entity .” 5

Reading the group’s statement was achingly a painful experience . I would not be exaggerating at all if I claimed that the authors of those provocative words have indeed grossly abused the concept , democracy , when they affixed the term to their organization . If TPLF were to deploy a military force to reincorporate Eritrea , we ought not be surprised if such kind of individuals , groups , and political organizations , rushed to join—what would be—a reckless war adventure .

It is a reckless adventure to deny what has been a fifteen-year old realty : The sovereign existence of Eritrea– sanctioned as such by the entire international community . On the contrary , what matters on the ground—having the long-term constructive vision in mind—is to engage tirelessly in creative efforts to entice the Eritrean people to come back under a peaceful and democratic process—a process that essentially values their humanity and also strongly underlines our sisterhood and brotherhood with them .

We lost Eritrea to a ruthless tyrant simply because there was incomprehensible lack of democratic thinking and practice in Ethiopia–where debilitating intrigues , conspiracies , and double talk prevailed ; indeed , to repeat that kind of behavior to day would not be a tragedy , but a comedy .

As sad as it may be for some of us , the independence , or the separation , of Eritrea is a reality ; and only the hopelessly incorrigible chauvinists would deny it . The rare wisdom of our dear ancestors that ‘ The neck was created to enable us to turn in order to look at what is at the back ’—the latter as a metaphor for the past— ought , indeed , to be instructive for the leaders of ‘ EPRP-Democratic .’ On the other hand, it is the duty of serious democratic Ethiopians to expose such destructive elements— totally uprooting their movement at its bud .

A close reading of the Ethio-Eritrean history need to convince us that there are—apart from rational economic factors—deep historical , cultural , and social , repertoire to render Ethio-Eritrean Reunion less difficult and a happy historical encounter . It is only a matter of time .

What is critically missing is the habit of democratic thinking and practice .

The democratic process is the surest road to a happy Reunion ! With the permanent removal of the obstructing regimes of Issais and Meles , and equally , the early preemptive measures that would successfully frustrate the rise of similar regimes , the Ethio-Eritrean democratic Reunion could hardly be a far fetched dream – and not only is the project feasible , but also the struggle towards that end is a noble cause .6

As I suggested elsewhere7, the Ethio-Eritrean organic intellectuals—those who deeply care for the welfare of the people—could decidedly intervene to make history by uncompromisingly unleashing the war of ideas : the critical and timely struggle for a paradigm shift .

The struggle of the Ethio-Eritrean ‘Wretched of the Earth’ shall triumph !!!



1. See Amare Tekle. Eritrea and Ethiopia : From Conflict To Cooperation [ July 1994 ] .

2. For my open public critique of Shaebia in the past , I have been ruthlessly vilified—let alone by other Eritreans—by some members of my very own extended family , who dearly longed –as it is said—for ‘not even a single person to show up for my funeral .’ To day I have sometimes wondered what those same relatives may think under their own , current , miserable ‘ funeral ’, engineered by a ruthless dictator whom they once worshiped blindly as the George Washington of Eritrea—indeed , ‘ Kerien Germow !’– Live and Learn !

3. In a rather unwarranted and cruel fashion –alien to the Ethiopian tradition—Dr Samuel Assefa had tried to justify the expulsion of largely innocent Eritreans residing in Ethiopia— Eritreans , incidentally , who were among the first builders of modern Ethiopia . Ambassadorship to the USA was the reward for his opportunistic and servile service to Meles . See his article , “ On Deportations ” , Addis Tribune , May , 1999 .

4. See Democracia, vol . 3 , # 1 [ January 2000 , Eth . Calendar ] : 1-6 . The quotes are my own translation from Amharic .

5. Ibid .

6. I have dearly longed for a fine morning—when the sun is shining—to listen to the Tigrigna song of the forties and fifties that goes : ‘ Oh bus , for whom the dollar is a fixture , please don’t depart without me . ’ The highland christian Eritreans have historically seen Ethiopia as a source for employment and schooling ;

and since the forties they have been moving southward to Ethiopia—the point of attraction ; and the song reflects that .

Even the Eritrean Moslems—despite their marginal status in the Ethiopian life–were not entirely resistant to live within Ethiopia . Their acceptance of the ‘ Federal arrangement ’ of 1952 strongly underlines their willingness to live within Ethiopia, as long as the latter was democratic . During the constitutional debate over the ‘ Federation ’ , the struggle of Ibrahim Sultan —–demanding for a full democratization of the ‘ Federal arrangement ’, including his demand for the modification of the Ethiopian flag which was obviously bearing christian symbols—– was indeed a noble cause .

7. See my “Open Letter to the organic intellectuals across the Horn of Africa .” in , , or

*The author, Ph. D, teaches African Studies and is the Head of African-American Studies at York College , The City University of New York .

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