Eritrea and Ethiopia: Long-term Prospects for Building Durable Peace, Cooperation and Integration in the Horn of Africa
Eritrea and Ethiopia: Long-term Prospects for Building Durable Peace, Cooperation and Integration in the Horn of Africa
Paper presented at the ESAT Conference on Ethiopia and Horn of Africa Conference
Saturday May 9, 2015
I would like to thank the organizers of this conference on Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa for the opportunity to share my views on long-term prospects for durable peace, cooperation and integration in the Horn of Africa. At the outset, standard disclaimer: These are my personal views and opinions and do not necessarily represent the views of the institutions with which I am affiliated.
To state the obvious facts, our region of the Horn of Africa, in which Eritrea and Ethiopia are key members, is renowned for being the hottest zone of conflict in Africa. To put it bluntly, the region has steadily deteriorated from bad to worse, leading the continent in the dubious honors of having the longest wars, with its constituent countries at the top of the Failed States' Index, and at the bottom of the UN's annual list of Human Development Index.
As to the responsibility for this miserable condition that prevails in the Horn, to paraphrase the great Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe: “The trouble with the Horn of Africa is fairly and squarely a failure of leadership.” I’m taking the larger panoramic pan-Horn view here of the history of the past 50 years of post-World War II, post-colonial situation in our region.
II. Challenges of post-colonial nation-building process in the Horn of Africa
Building a modern nation-state out of the legacy of colonialism was never undertaken in earnest by the newly emerging ruling political elites. Before we undertake to analyze the current situation of the Horn of Africa, we would do well to take stock of not only what happened in the past 50 years of the post-independence period, but also the previous devastation of the colonial period from roughly the 1880s to 1960s. The colonial period of looting and pillage was devastating and catastrophic for Africa's future development. By the late 1950s and early 1960s, when most African states achieved their independence, the devastating legacy of the colonial state was deeply entrenched. Instead of starting afresh from a clean slate, the African ruling classes of the newly independent states merely perpetuated the devastating legacy of the colonial state. They colluded with the former colonial masters and new imperialist powers to betray the promise of independence. In the words of Frantz Fanon:
“In underdeveloped countries the bourgeois phase is impossibly arid . . . Thus it must not be said that the national bourgeoisie [the new African ruling class after independence] retards the country's evolution, that it makes it lose time or that it threatens to lead the nation up blind alleys. In fact, the bourgeoisie in the history of underdeveloped countries is a completely useless phase. When this caste has vanished, devoured by its own contradictions, it will be seen that nothing new has happened since independence was proclaimed, and that everything must be started again from scratch. The changeover will not take place at the level of the structures set up by the bourgeoisie during its reign, since that caste has done nothing more than take over unchanged the legacy of the economy, the thought, and the institutions left by the colonialists.”
How sadly prophetic was Fanon’s prediction written over 45 years ago in his last seminal work, The Wretched of the Earth, which was literally written with his last dying breath. It happened in almost every state in Africa without fail! The past 50 years after independence in Africa have been wasted years leading to nowhere, and the promise of independence has long since been betrayed. Thus, we can conclude that the real work of national development in the Horn of Africa has never been undertaken in all seriousness with single-minded laser focus and intensity. The self-reliant path to development that Eritrea has been undertaking for the past 24 years of its post-independence may be seen as an exception here, and for that brave stance Eritrea is paying a huge price and facing tremendous hostilities.
III. The root causes of Interstate and Intrastate conflicts
The Horn has also been experiencing over the past half-century of post-colonial period a vicious cycle of conflicts, both interstate and intrastate. The primary driving force of these conflicts has been the monopolization of power by the center and the increasing marginalization of the peripheries of the modern state. And in most cases, by the way, the geographic and political centers coincide. Exacerbating the center-periphery tension with the resulting alienation and marginalization of the peripheries has also been the yearning of the marginalized ethno-national groups of the peripheries for self-determination. Unable to have meaningful participation in the affairs of the modern post-colonial state, these marginalized groups are left with no option but the pursuance of politics by other means, namely insurgencies and wars. Interstate wars in the Horn of Africa also abound more so than anywhere else in continent.
Underscocring this dialectical center-periphery and self-determination v unity tensions, renowned Africanist scholar Prof. Mahmoud Mamdani had this to say:
Like the self [in self-determination], unity too does not develop in linear fashion, in a straight line, from lower to higher levels, as if it were unfolding according to a formula. This is for one reason. Political unity is the outcome of political struggles, not of utopian blueprints. Anyone interested in creating unity must recognize the importance of politics and persuasion, and thus the inevitability of a non-linear process
To frame the complexities of the challenges of the post-colonial states in broad-brush general terms then, the colonial state in this part of Africa, having met the fiercest resistance from the natives, carved up the state in the most drastic shortsighted manner, whose legacies continue to haunt the post-colonial states to this date. The colonial state was never meant to serve the organic needs of the indigenous African peoples, but rather the interests of the colonial metropole, be it London, Paris, Lisbon or Rome. As I mentioned earlier, Fanon clearly and prophetically pointed this emerging trap in “The Wretched of the Earth” which was later updated and emphasized by Basil Davidson in his last book, “The Black Man’s Burden: Africa and the Curse of the National State.” Thus, the failure of Horn of Africa’s new ruling classes was that they perpetuated the colonial legacy of the state instead of radically and organically reconstituting and reconstructing it.
IV. Interlocking Clusters of Conflict
The intrastate conflicts of the Horn have also often spilled across borders to ignite interstate conflicts in the form of proxy wars, and in rare moments as full blown conventional wars. The Somalia-Ethiopia war of the 1960s and 70s; the Sudan-Ethiopia proxy war for decades; the Eritrea-Ethiopia war; and the Sudan-South Sudan war have their genesis in internal interstate conflicts, unable to find enduring political resolution and festering as interlocking conflicts.
John Prendergast and Thomas-Jensen have succinctly summarized in their article “Blowing the Horn” published in Foreign Affairs magazine back in 2007 on US misguided policy towards the Horn:
“The first centers on interlocking rebellions in Sudan, including those in Darfur and southern Sudan, and engulfs northern Uganda, eastern Chad, and northeastern Central African Republic. The main culprit is the Sudanese government, which is supporting rebels in these three neighboring countries—and those states, which are supporting Sudanese groups opposing Khartoum. The second cluster links the festering dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea with the power struggle in Somalia, which involves the fledgling secular government, antigovernment clan militias, Islamist militants, and anti-Islamist warlords. Ethiopia’s flash intervention in Somalia in December temporarily secured the ineffectual transitional government’s position, but that intervention, which Washington backed and supplemented with its own air strikes, has sown the seeds for an Islamist and clan-based insurgency in the future.”
V. Towards Durable Peace, Cooperation and Integration
It would serve no useful purpose here to go back and analyze in detail the long and bitter war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. History should be the great educator that helps us not to repeat its bitter lessons. Otherwise we will continue to lament decade after decade, like the Stephen Dedalus character in Joyce’s novel Ulysess, “History is a nightmare from which [we are] trying to awake.”
We are where we are now, and the burning question of the day is how we move forward towards durable peace, cooperation and eventual integration of the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia, undeniably, has a central role to play in unraveling these festering interlocking conflicts of the Horn. There is a growing consensus that is emerging now among Eritreans and Ethiopians that the major impediment towards durable peace and cooperation between Eritrea and Ethiopia is the TPLF/EPRDF regime of Ethiopia.
On May 24, Eritreans inside the country as well as all over the world will be celebrating the 24th anniversary of their independence. Eritrea's independence is not of the neocolonial type. It is genuine and meaningful. The Eritrean people have proven themselves to be steadfast and resilient against all types of conspiracies and hostilities of the Western enablers of TPLF, and their African stooges. Eritreans have also proven in words and deeds that they desire nothing but good for Ethiopia. Many democratic forces in Ethiopia are also realizing that Eritrea is a trustworthy ally and partner for peace. In short, the Eritrean people have a lot to celebrate, as they have truly become owners and masters of their destiny, and no force on earth can take that sense of genuine independence and sovereignty away from them. The late patriotic Eritrean scholar, Prof Tekie Fessehatzion said it best 15 years ago: "In defiance Eritrea was born; and in defiance Eritrea will forever live free!"
In sharp contrast, the minority regime in Ethiopia under the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) will also be marking its 24 years in power. During the past 24 years, it has proven itself to be one of the most corrupt, tyrannical and subservient regimes in Africa. It has been waging genocidal wars against the Ethiopian peoples in all corners of the country, as well as wars of aggression against its neighboring countries. Its ruling elite have been looting and plundering the resources of the country. Ethiopia has never witnessed such sheer level of repression and brutality in its modern history during the past century as it has under the TPLF regime. After 24 years in power, the TPLF minority regime is still a "liberation front". Liberate whom from what? On May 24, the regime will be conveniently holding its charade of national elections. It is a foregone conclusion that these fake elections will be once again stolen from the Ethiopian people -- with the blessing of the usual suspects of the West -- to perpetuate the tyranny of a very narrow and frightened minority group over the majority of the Ethiopian peoples. The minority Ethiopian regime has also been illegally occupying sovereign Eritrean territories for the past 17 years, and perpetuating a de facto state of war against Eritrea.
Thus, unless the TPLF regime’s stranglehold on power is brought to an end, the prospects for durable peace, cooperation and integration between Eritrea and Ethiopia, eventually leading to peace-dividend of greater integration of the Horn, will just be a dream deferred. It has taken us a long time and arduous struggle to reach to this point. Though there are grounds for pessimism of intellect, as Gramsci pointed out, if we have the optimism of the political will, the challenges ahead are not insurmountable.
There is no doubt, then, that the vast creative and dynamic force of our peoples in the region needs to be unleashed to tackle the urgent task of peace-building and development. At this important historical juncture, we look especially to our youth to chart a new alternative path that is radically different from that of the past 50 years of failure and betrayal.
Furthermore, we must not have any illusion that the solutions to the myriad problems of peace and development that face our region today – and in particular the turbulent Ethio-Eritrean relations -- will come from outside, especially from the West. Believing that the solution can only come from within ourselves, we need an inward looking approach that rejects perpetual dependency and exploitation.
As Frantz Fanon exhorted us over four decades ago, let us today commit ourselves to undertake the much delayed challenges of peace-building, cooperation, integration and development. “Come, then, comrades; it would be as well to decide at once to change our ways. We must shake off the heavy darkness in which we were plunged, and leave it behind. The new day which is already at hand must find us firm, prudent, and resolute!”
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