Tigray’s Alleged Inferiority Complex
Tigray’s Alleged Inferiority Complex
By Bereket Kidane,
Ambassador David Shinn in his recent op-ed piece on US-Eritrea relations alluded to the fact that one of the causes of the 1998-2001 border war was the perceived inferiority complex that Tigrayans have towards Eritreans and the score settling they felt they needed to do as a result once they had access to the resources of a larger state. Ambassador Shinn was not shooting from the hip when he mentioned this fact in his article. Having been the United States Ambassador to Ethiopia during the late nineties, he has some “local knowledge” as they say on this matter. He has probably looked extensively into the real causes of the supposed “border war” and spoken with many native and non-native experts on the two countries and the region. Tigrayans’ perceived inferiority complex and past grievances coupled with their desire to expand Tigray’s borders in all directions north, east and south were among the real reasons for the war he probably kept hearing. He made a mention of the fact that the Tigrayan leadership had published a map of Tigray that incorporated large swaths of Eritrea without good reason or any explanation. It’s important to remember that the Regional State of Tigray had indeed succeeded in expanding its borders in all directions within Ethiopia by claiming fertile land that formerly belonged to the Amhara peoples. It had accomplished that with impunity. It was only when it tried to push Tigray’s borders north into Eritrea that it was met with stiff resistance.
But what about his assertions? Aside from the fact that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent, there is a long history between Tigray and Eritrea that goes back several hundred years, full of mistrust and stereotypes. Most people in Eritrea have heard of the famously twisted mountains on the Asmara-Keren road named “Libi Tigray” or “Twisted like the heart of a Tigrayan.” The name of those mountains is instructive to anyone who tries to understand how Eritreans and Tigrayans perceive each other. To an Eritrean, his word is his bond. Tigrayan warlords of the past have had a reputation for playing fast and loose with the truth to the point of swearing by the bible in order to fool people into thinking they had an agreement with them. Consequently, Eritreans had always perceived Tigrayans as untrustworthy, shifty and treacherous. In fact, many Eritrean elders in 1991 had warned the victorious EPLF leaders against establishing close ties with the TPLF. When Tigrayan leaders launched a full scale invasion of Eritrea under the pretext of a border war, it was an “I told you so” moment for the elders. The fact that the present Tigrayan leadership of Ethiopia went back out on its word and has so far refused to abide by the Hague decision and allow demarcation to proceed as per the iron-clad Algiers Agreement and instructions of the boundary commission is seen by Eritreans as the continuation of that famously shifty, treacherous and untrustworthy Tigrayan behavior of yesteryears.
Whatever one thinks of the inferiority complex argument, there is undeniable hostility and animosity between the two peoples now. There is palpable anger coming from the Eritrean side due to the Tigrayan leadership’s refusal to honor the final and binding Algiers Agreement. One of the saddest things that happened during the 1998-2001 war was the brutal treatment of Eritreans living in Ethiopia. They had been stripped of their properties and lifetime savings and made destitute, separated from their spouses and children in order to inflict maximum psychological pain and made to cross the border into Eritrea by walking through landmines. The fact that some 19,000 young Eritreans had died in defense of Eritrea’s sovereignty has made it one of the most blood-soaked international lines on this earth.
Inferiority complex or not, one will never know why the Tigrayan leadership felt they had to go to that length of brutality toward Eritreans living in Ethiopia or why they even felt like they had to destroy martyrs cemeteries in Eritrean towns they occupied. One thing is for certain, however: the legacy of that border war will continue to reverberate for generations to come and negatively define the social and international relations between Tigray and Eritrea.
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