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What The West Does Not Want You To Know About Eritrea!

By Mattew | howafrica

Eritrea will lead the longest battle for the independence of the African continent. For more than thirty years, the Eritrean resistance struggled practically alone against all. How did some African fighters come to grips with the world’s greatest powers: the United States, Europe, the Soviet Union …? What were the stakes of this struggle? Mohamed Hassan traces with us the epic adventure of the liberation of Eritrea. But before he reveals everything we should not know about Eritrea.

First part

The Horn of Africa is one of the most heavily battered regions of the continent: incessant wars, famine, poverty … Images that everyone knows. But few people know that Eritrea believes it is possible to escape from this infernal circle, to resolve conflicts through dialogue and to reach an important level of development. We could rejoice. Yet, in the eyes of the international community, Eritrea is a pariah state, put to the bench of the accused of the UN Security Council! In what way does this country, of which no one speaks, threaten the Western powers? In this new chapter of our series Understanding the Muslim world, Mohamed Hassan reveals everything we should not know about Eritrea. | Interview by: Grégoire Lalieu & Michel Collon.

Is Eritrea the source of all violence in the Horn of Africa? This is what the UN Security Council, which recently voted sanctions against the country, seems to be thinking. Eritrea is accused of providing weapons to Somali rebels.

These sanctions are based on a false campaign to destabilize the Eritrean government. There has been an embargo on the supply of weapons to Somalia since 1992, international experts are there to control the situation and there is now a serial number for any weapon that ensures its traceability . Despite all these provisions, the Security Council has no more evidence of this alleged trafficking than it had on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq! On the other hand, you again find Washington behind this type of false campaign. Yet even US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson does not believe in it. The truth, he explains, is that Somalia has been at war for twenty years and is full of weapons. Anyone can sell or buy on the black market. Somali rebels do not need Eritrea to get supplies.

Eritrea is also accused of maintaining tensions with Djibouti over a border dispute. There was a clash between the two armies in 2008.

Eritrea has never demonstrated any land claim on Djibouti. Like most borders in Africa, the one that separates the two countries has been traced by the colonial powers. It was therefore marked a long time ago and has never been discussed.

This “incident” of 2008 is a pure fabrication of the Bush administration. It all began in April when Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki received a phone call from the Emir of Qatar. The latter reported a complaint from the Djibouti president, Ismail Omar Guelleh: Eritrea would amass troops at the border. But President Afwerki had not ordered his army and was very surprised by the call. Why did his Djiboutian counterpart go through a third party? Isaias Afwerki offered to meet Guelleh in Djibouti, Eritrea or even Qatar if he so wished. The Djiboutian president did not respond to the invitation.

A few weeks later, on 11 June 2008, soldiers from the Djibouti army attacked Eritrean troops at the border. A brief struggle ensued causing thirty deaths and dozens of wounded on both sides. The Djiboutian president claimed as soon as Eritrea had attacked his country. With disconcerting rapidity, the United States produced a communiqué condemning the “Eritrean military aggression against Djibouti”. The UN Security Council immediately echoed this condemnation. Only then did he propose to send a commission of experts to analyze the situation on the spot and establish the facts. Why did the Security Council put the cart before the horse? What were his accusations based on?There is no dispute between Eritrea and Djibouti. The peoples of these two countries have always been in good relations. But once again, the United States is manipulating the international community and the Security Council to put pressure on Eritrea.

How to explain the attitude of Djibouti?

President Ismail Omar Guelleh has virtually no social base. It is only maintained in power thanks to the support of foreign powers.Therefore, he can not deny them anything. This explains why there are so many foreign soldiers in Djibouti. For example, the United States has only one military base in Africa, and it is in Djibouti. This small country is also home to contingents from other nations and the largest French base on the continent.

Guelleh is totally dependent on Washington. If the US needs it to create a new crisis in the region, it runs. It has become a US specialty: fomenting problems and then proposing to solve them. Here, the United States seeks to turn Eritrea into a warlike country that would be the cause of all the problems in the Horn of Africa.

Why does the US want to marginalize Eritrea?

The Eritrean government has a vision for its own country and for the region: it is possible to achieve a good level of development and to resolve conflicts through dialogue if we get rid of the interference of foreign powers. If you look at the crisis in Somalia, Eritrea has always advocated bringing together all the political actors of this country around a table for dialogue. In order to find a solution to the conflict and rebuild Somalia, Eritrea also proposes to involve civil society: women, old people, religious leaders … Gathering everyone beyond divisions to rebuild a country that has Government for twenty years. This method would certainly be effective in bringing peace to the country. But, on their side, the United States has deliberately kept Somalia in chaos. In 2007, they even ordered the Ethiopian army to attack Mogadishu when peace had returned. And in the end, Eritrea is sanctioned by the UN!

In fact, the United States feared that the Eritrean vision would become a favorite in the Horn of Africa. This would mean the end of American interference in this strategic region. Washington is therefore trying to put Eritrea in quarantine to prevent the “virus” from spreading. This is a technique that the United States has always applied and that Noam Chomsky has studied. He talks about “rotten apple theory”: if an apple rotten in a basket, it must be removed quickly before the other apples rot in their turn. This is why the United States has always sought to overthrow governments (with or without success): Castro in Cuba, Allende in Chile, Laos in the 1960s … Chomsky remarks that Washington intervenes under the pretext of ensuring The “stability” of the world. But this “stability”, he explains, means “security” for the multinationals and the ruling classes.

For Washington, is Eritrea the rotten apple of the Horn of Africa?

Absolutely. But the real enemy of the region is imperialism. Particularly US imperialism. Eritrea therefore hopes that the countries of the Horn of Africa will get rid of the interference of the neo-colonial powers and develop a common project. The Horn of Africa enjoys a very advantageous geographical position: it is connected both to the Gulf countries and to the Indian Ocean, where most of the world’s maritime trade takes place. It also has many resources: minerals, gas, oil, biodiversity … If the countries of this region free themselves from neo-colonialism and united their efforts, they would succeed in getting out of poverty. This is what Eritrea wants for the Horn of Africa.Obviously, the United States does not want this project to happen because they could cross the control of this strategic region and access to its raw materials. Washington is trying to pressure President Isaias Afwerki to change his policy. Ultimately, Eritrea, which had to struggle for independence in 1993, still struggles today to protect its national sovereignty.

The struggle for independence led by Eritrea is the longest in the history of Africa. The country was first colonized by the Italians in 1869. How was Italy, which was not a large colonial empire, found itself in Eritrea?

This must be seen in the context of Europe in the 19th century. At the time, the old continent was the scene of a merciless struggle between the imperialist powers for the control of colonies and their raw materials. There was already a very strong rivalry between France and Great Britain. And the unification of Italy in 1863 and then the unification of Germany in 1871 brought forth new competitors of size.Moreover, the capitalist world underwent its first major crisis in 1873. This crisis led to the gradual dismantling of the Ottoman Empire and further exacerbated the rival appetites of the European powers. Germany, for example, wanted to take advantage of the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire to acquire new colonies. On their side, the British supported Istanbul to block the German expansion.

Chancellor Bismarck therefore decided to organize the Berlin Conference in 1885. It was a major event in the history of colonialism, whereas until then they had settled on the coasts of Africa, Trading posts, the European powers planned to gradually colonize the entire continent. Thus, in order to avoid new conflicts and to revive the capitalist economy, Europe agreed on the sharing of the African cake.During these discussions, Great Britain encouraged the Italians to settle in the Horn of Africa. The strategy of the British was to invite a colonial power not very threatening (Italy) to block the expansion of more serious competitors (France and Germany).

Europe shared Africa, but in the early 20th century Ethiopia was the only independent country on the continent. Why ?

This peculiarity results from a compromise between the French and the British. The former had plans to expand from Dakar to Djibouti. The latter ambitioned to deploy their empire from Cairo to Cape Town, South Africa. If you look at a map of Africa, you will see that these colonial projects were bound to telescope. To avoid a conflict that would have caused great losses on both sides, France and Great Britain decided not to colonize Ethiopia. But the imperialists have not renounced this territory. They supported and armed Menelik II who reigned over one of the richest regions of Ethiopia. With the support of the colonial powers, Menelik II took power throughout Ethiopia and allowed the French and the British to have access to the resources of his empire.

Finally, if Ethiopia was the only country not to be colonized, it can not be said that it was independent! Whoever called himself Menelik II, Negus Negest of Ethiopia, a conquering lion of the tribe of Judah, elected by God, was only an agent of the imperialist powers, incapable of building a modern state. He was chosen because he was an Orthodox Christian and came from one of the richest regions of Ethiopia.Menelik II therefore ruled a minority regime in a feudal system where the majority of nationalities had no rights. Slavery was practiced there.All this has created many inequalities that are still felt today in Ethiopia.

Eritrea, on the other hand, was colonized by Italy. Mussolini later declared that it would be the heart of the new Roman empire.What were the effects of Italian colonization in Eritrea?

When it colonized Eritrea, Italy had too many peasants within its borders. Many have emigrated to Switzerland or France. And others have moved to Eritrea. With its landscape of postcard and its pleasant climate, the new Italian colony made more than one dream. Settlers settled on the spot with the peasants. The Italian bourgeoisie then invested heavily in Eritrea. He was particularly interested in the geographical situation of this colony. Indeed, the country has long coastlines bordering the Red Sea. It is close to the Suez Canal to the north and the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait to the south: one of the busiest shipping corridors in the world, linking the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean.

The Italians have therefore invested in Eritrea and developed plantations, ports, infrastructures … To give you an idea of the level of development of this colony, when the British invaded Eritrea during the Second World War, they go straight Dismantling factories to take them away!

It seems far from the usual pillaging or the cut hands of the Belgian Congo. Was Eritrea an exception in the pitiless world of colonialism?

There have been positive aspects but we must not delude ourselves, Italian colonialism remained a discriminatory concept where blacks did not have many rights in relation to whites. Why ? In fact, when Italy seized Eritrea and part of present-day Somalia in the late 19th century, it tried to continue its expansion in Ethiopia. But the Italian soldiers were defeated by Menelik II during the battle of Adoua in 1896. In the following years, fascist ideology developed within the Italian intelligentsia with the desire to restore the honor of the country that Had been defeated by blacks. Italian colonialism was therefore very racist towards the latter. The Eritrean population had been integrated into the colonial project but as a lower class.

Moreover, Italian fascism (which came to power in 1922) was above all based on anti-black racism, it was not anti-Semitic like German fascism. Jews have worked in fascist organizations in Italy! And Mussolini had a Jewish mistress. Imagine that for Hitler! It was only later, towards the end of the 1930s, that Italy began to persecute the Jews. First of all, because Mussolini had approached Hitler. Then, because the Italian fascist party needed a second wind. He therefore used the Jewish community as a scapegoat to mobilize the Italian population.

Finally, the Italian fascists had their revenge on Ethiopia: in 1935, Mussolini’s troops invaded the only non-colonized country in Africa.

Yes, even if the occupation of Ethiopia did not last very long. In 1941, during the world war, the British army drove the Italians out of the region and the Allies took control of the Horn of Africa. In the aftermath of the war, if Ethiopia regained its “independence”, the fate of Eritrea, on the other hand, was debated.

The Soviet Union wanted this colony to gain its independence. On their side, as they had done everywhere, the British wanted to divide the country in two on the basis of religion: Muslims were to join Sudan and the Orthodox Christians Ethiopia. It is interesting to note that the Ethiopian Church was in favor of this option and put pressure on the Christians of Eritrea to accept it. She told them that if they refused, they would not be buried and their souls would not reach paradise. In spite of everything, the Christians of Eritrea refused: they felt Eritreans first of all! This feeling of belonging is due in part to the fact that the Italians, unlike many imperialist powers, had integrated the Eritrean people into the colonial project without any ethnic distinction. But finally, it was the third option that prevailed, that of the United States: Eritrea had to be integrated into Ethiopia in a federal system.

Why did the United States support this option?

Its geographical position had conferred on Eritrea a great importance for Washington during and after the Second World War. As early as the 1940s, the Pentagon and private weapons companies developed major projects in the country: an assembly line of aircraft, repair shops, a naval force … And above all, in the 1950s , The American intelligence services established in its capital Asmara one of their most important bases of telecommunication abroad. At the time, there was no satellite monitoring like today and listening systems were limited in scope. But from Eritrea you could monitor what was going on in Africa, the Middle East, the Gulf and even parts of the Soviet Union.

The United States therefore pleaded for Eritrea to be attached to Ethiopia, which was an ally of Washington. John Foster Dulles, a prominent figure in American politics, headed the Foreign Office. He acknowledged in a Security Council debate: “From the point of view of justice, the views of the Eritrean people must be taken into account. Nevertheless, the strategic interests of the United States in the Red Sea basin and the considerations For security and peace in the world, make it necessary that this country be attached to our ally, Ethiopia “. That was how the fate of Eritrea was settled. With heavy consequences: the longest struggle for independence in Africa would begin …

To be followed in the coming weeks, the second and third parts of our interview on Eritrea. With Mohamed Hassan, we will trace the thirty years of an epic fight led by the Resistance. We will discover the stakes of the Eritrean revolution, its similarities with Cuba. We will also address the issue of human rights in Eritrea, the subject of attacks by the Western powers. Finally, we will analyze this famous African paradox: so much wealth for a population so poor.

Mohamed Hassan recommends the following readings:
– Dan Connell, Against All Odds. A Chroincle of the Eritrean Revolution, The Red Sea Press, Inc., 1997
– Firebrace & Holland, Never Kneel Down, Spokesman, 1984.

In 1950, by decision of the United Nations and according to the will of the United States, Eritrea thus becomes an autonomous entity federated to Ethiopia. How is cohabitation happening?

Rather bad. This decision made no sense because it brought two incompatible systems to live together. You had on one side Eritrea, which had benefited from the development of Italian colonialism and where a certain working class emerged with a political conscience. On the other side, there was Ethiopia led by Emperor Haile Selassie. It was a feudal regime, without a constitution, which still practiced slavery and where there were no political rights. But as it was a federal system, Eritrea kept its own flag and parliament on the one hand, and its unions, independent newspapers, on the other. All these things were forbidden in Ethiopia!

This strange cohabitation would indirectly lead to a coup attempt against the Emperor Selassie. Indeed, Ethiopian officers traveled to Eritrea and found great differences from their own country. Moreover, the Pan-African movement and the wave of independence were changing attitudes throughout the continent. Some Ethiopians were beginning to perceive that their regime was backward. Among them, the young Girmame Neway. He had studied in the United States and had served as governor in some provinces of the Ethiopian empire.With the help of his brother who was part of the bodyguards of Selassie, he attempted a coup in 1960, while the emperor was visiting Brazil. But the Ethiopian army did not follow the movement and the blow failed. On his return, Selassie had two options: either he maintained the federation with Eritrea and offered his people the same rights as those enjoyed by the Eritreans; Or it completely annexed Eritrea. The first option would have been a political suicide for Selassie. So in 1962, Ethiopia completely annexed Eritrea.

With the implicit support of the United Nations. Why has the international community not protested?

Yes, that’s pretty amazing. When Selassie annexed Eritrea he ordered the arrest of newspaper editors, sent nationalist leaders into exile, banned the trade unions, and banned the use of Eritrean native languages in schools and for official transactions. It has also relocated industries based in Asmara to relocate them to Addis Ababa. The idea was to bring the Eritrean workers to Ethiopia and to depopulate Eritrea as a military base. Moreover, as Ethiopian troops encircled the Assembly and as streets flew over the town of Asmara, the Eritrean parliament was forced into the humiliation of voting for its own dissolution.

Eritrea protested vigorously and called for UN mediation, which replied: “Your request must first go through the federal government,” that is, by the Emperor Selassie himself! In other words, the Ethiopian regime had the blessing of the imperialist powers and especially of the United States, which dominated the United Nations. The Emperor Selassie was supported on all sides and took advantage of it to give himself a good image, that of the father of the African continent. No one was going to oppose him, for the greatest misfortune of the Eritreans.

Second part

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