On June 20th, Eritrea celebrates Martyr’s Day, in honor of those who fell in the 30-year war for independence from Ethiopia, from 1961-1991, and those who have fallen in the ensuing off-and-on war with Ethiopia’s Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). A former Italian colony, Eritrea aspired to independence after the Italians suffered defeat in World War II, but it was instead drawn into the Cold War politics that dominated the Horn of Africa—and most of the world—once it was over. To reward Ethiopia for its service during the war, the United States pressured the United Nations to give Eritrea to Emperor Haile Selassie to administer and then to annex in 1962. In 1961, a group of students, professionals, and college professors founded the Eritrean Liberation Front and began the longest war for independence in Africa, in which ten percent of Eritrea’s population are thought to have died.
As I scroll through my cell phone snapshots, I come across one taken several days ago from the back seat of a bajaj, aka “tuk tuk,” one of the three-wheeled blue taxis in service all over Ethiopia. Drivers decorate these vehicles with their favorite decals, including the phrases “#NoMore” and “It’s My Dam,” images of Ethiopian Emperors Menelik and Tewodros, and the image of Bob Marley. The driver of this bajaj had affixed a red, green, and gold “RASTA” decal to one side of his front window and a red, green, and gold cannabis leaf decal to the other. Emperor Haile Selassie gave land to a Rasta community in Ethiopia, but smoking the sacred herb is still illegal. This is one of many things I still don't understand here.
I had no idea until today that International Workers’ Day is a national holiday in Eritrea. I missed the celebrations because I was rushing to the airport to get from Addis Ababa to Asmara, the Eritrean capital, but today I took a cell phone snap of the banner “Long Live May 1 International Workers’ Day” still hanging outside a park. It’s no surprise that the US has done everything it can to turn a nation that celebrates International Workers’ Day into a pariah state. Free education through college and subsidized health care don’t suit its neoliberal model either, nor does its determination to negotiate fair prices for its considerable natural resources. Eritrea may have most offended US policymakers, however, by its defiance of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the US puppet that ruled Ethiopia with an iron fist from 1991 to 2018, then started the ongoing Ethiopian war by attacking the nation’s Northern Command base in Tigray Region in November 2020.
The word “sanctions” emerged in the Middle Ages, meaning ecclesiastical decrees. Today it’s a sanctimonious word for economic warfare, including even outright theft. Despite all the terror about what could happen in Ukraine next, Afghans are still facing freezing cold and starvation and the US has seized—not just frozen but seized—their $7 billion in assets on deposit at the Federal Reserve. And Ethiopia and Eritrea face brutal sanctions in House Resolution 6600. The US has imposed sanctions on roughly a third of the world’s population , most famously now on Russia, but more on developing nations than not. In mid-February a bill to impose new sanctions on Ethiopia and Eritrea, House Resolution 6600 , moved out of the House Foreign Relations Committee onto the House floor.
The motives behind US aggression towards Ethiopia have not been altogether clear. Is it simply that they lost their long standing puppet government led by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front? Competition with China? Or is it the regional Tripartite Agreement between Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia, which poses too much independence from US global hegemony? Ethiopia borders both Eritrea and Somalia, and Eritrea has made its Red Sea ports available to Ethiopia since leaders of the two countries negotiated peace in 2018. Together, Eritrea and Somalia share a combined coastline of 2,672 miles in one of the most strategic corners of the world, on the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea, and the Indian Ocean.
On December 23, Ethiopian government’s Minister of Communication Service, Legesse Tulu, announced that all parts of eastern Amhara and the entire Afar state have been liberated from the occupation of the US-backed Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The TPLF, which started the civil war in November 2020 by attacking a federal army base in Tigray state’s capital city Mekelle, had invaded these two neighboring states after the federal government’s unilateral ceasefire on June 29.
In the last few months, the left media outlets from various camps, in their sincere attempts to demonstrate solidarity and spotlight conflict in the Horn of Africa and internal developments in Ethiopia, got it wrong. They have been uncritically centering active ideological players on two opposing camps. The significant focus on the TPLF attacks on Eritrea, its invasion of Afar and the Amhara region, and its existence as a willing proxy actor of Washington was correct. They got it wrong, however, in their uncritical framing of neoliberal Abiy. They have chosen to over-amplify the Abiy camp’s reactionary narrative on the long ideological internal struggle concerning the path forward for Ethiopia and the Horn.
Washington, DC - Thousands of Ethiopians, Eritreans and their allies rallied outside the US State Department on Friday as part of the #NoMore campaign opposing US intervention in the Horn of Africa. Their protest comes as the US’ chief envoy to the Horn, Jeffrey Feltman, is visiting several countries connected to the conflict after failing to secure a ceasefire. The crowd chanted “fake news CNN” and “no more TPLF,” referring to the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, a rebel group with Western support that earlier this year made a blitz on the capital from the northern Tigray state. Their offensive was blunted and reversed by the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF), the military forces loyal to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Many at the rally carried signs hailing Abiy’s democratic victory in July, the country’s first-ever contested elections, and asking why the US would support the TPLF’s attempt to overthrow him.
The U.S. has built military-to-military relations with 53 out of the 54 African countries that include agreements to cede operational command to AFRICOM, the U.S. Africa Command. The broad network of AFRICOM military bases, as well as those from France and other world powers, are examples of how African states are surrendering their sovereignty through neocolonial relationships with Western countries. African self-determination and national sovereignty are impossible as long as the U.S. and its European allies are allowed to use military power to control African land, labor, and resources. As Netfa Freeman pointed out in a recent article, “an indoctrination about the inherent goodness of the U.S.-European role in Africa accompanies this military training with blindspots about the true legacy of colonialism.”
By Michael Stewart in Rabble - As millions of refugees brave their way across a Europe increasingly hostile to their existence, it is still Syrians dominating the headlines. But the third-largest group crossing the Mediterranean is fleeing the small African country Eritrea, home to one of the most corrupt and brutal regimes in the world. The gut-wrenching photo of drowned toddler Alan Kurdi has strained Canadians' humanitarian mettle. Many have criticized Stephen Harper's failure to welcome a single refugee across Canada's borders since publication of the photo, yet few have reckoned with the ways in which Canadians are complicit in driving desperate people toward the sea. Earlier this month, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson hosted a public forum on the refugee crisis. Those in attendance discussed the complexity and cost of privately sponsoring refugees and revisited a campaign promise to make Vancouver a Sanctuary City.