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Mythbusting: The Lies That Just Won’t Die

These must be the most pervasive corruptions of African history and the irony is that it is perpetuated by Africans themselves. Granted, the bulk of the supporters of these arguments are Ethiopians, and thus, they have a special stake in this false history. However, many others propagate it in hopes of strengthening African history. Although an entirely separate conversation; it does deserve a brief aside. African history can only be supported by understanding the full spectrum of African history, both the pleasant and unpleasant parts.

Myth #1: Eritrea has always been a part of Ethiopia

As for this particular myth, it has been purported by those who would rather gloss over some very important bits of history. Often this is to suit a particular political purpose, although to be frank to correct it is a political act as well. Irrespective, to understand the history of Eritrea’s relation with Ethiopia it is simplest to go backwards through history.

  • Medieval Eritrea (15th to 19th century): Initially a governor was appointed by the Ethiopian Emperor (think of the Roman Governors appointed to rule Spain) to rule over the Eritrean highlands while the lowlands were ignored by Ethiopia. During the 16th century onwards the Eritrean highlands were autonomous from Ethiopia although privy to the occasional raids. This extended to foreign policy wherein Jesuit priests who were threatened and expelled from Ethiopia were received and protected in the Eritrean highlands.
  • Aksum (4th to 8th century): Although people frequently misunderstand the genesis of the Aksumite kingdom it is important that it be recognized to not be an “Ethiopian” empire. It was an empire that was divided into two regions. The half that was mostly in northern Ethiopia is where the empire began to coalesce however, later (and for the majority of its history) the economic and urban center shifted to the Eritrean half.
  • Pre-Aksum: This phase of relation requires far more exploration and research. It is quite murky and although it is clear that there was not an official Eritrea and Ethiopia per se, there were certainly urban centers in several places throughout the Eritrean highlands. The Eritrean lowlands on the other hand were less populated and although trading with highlanders, were not integrated into sedentary society. The Eritrean population centers included: Qohaito, Matara and Sembel. Archaeological investigation continues to this day.

Myth #2: Algiers Agreement was Unfair

To claim that a political treaty that was entered into freely by both parties is unfair is illogical. To claim that the judgment that was issued as a result of such a claim, although logical, ignores the fundamental point; this fundamental point is that the centerpiece of civilization is an adherence to agreements and laws. In fact it finds a timely simile. The crux of the global financial crisis rests in the arrest of short-term borrowing between banks.

Typically, short-term borrowing between financial institutions is a given, however, today there is a lack of trust in the financial system and so banks will not supply one another with credit. Consider that literally speaking the Algiers Agreement is a contractual obligation of the State of Eritrea and the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. Metaphorically, it is as if both parties extended credit (trust) to one another to fulfill the contract. At the conclusion of the contract however, one party chooses to renege on their commitment to the contract and decides that they want to write a new contract.

Now imagine if a bank extended a mortgage loan to a client, and this client proceeded to ignore the terms of the loan. To add insult to injury, the borrower decided to come back to the bank to get another loan. Would this client be likely to get another loan? No, of course not! If the bank did the investors would suggest that the bank was negligent! Now how can the two move forward? The first phase would be to have the client return to the contract and fulfill it. Without it there is no chance whatsoever that the bank would ever consider doing business with the said client again.

Although a metaphor, it is apt as the only way for Ethiopia and Eritrea regain one another’s trust is for Ethiopia to commit itself to the laws that it has already signed (i.e. the Algiers Agreement).

Myth #3: Asseb Should Belong to Ethiopia

For some reason this myth rears its ugly head from time to time, typically when the economy is either particularly sour or soaring but rarely in between. Obviously it is driven by a desire to have sovereign control over access to the high seas. It must be understood at the outset however, that this is not a fundamental right of a state; rather it is a privilege of geography. Ironically it is one that has never legally been Ethiopia’s and even more importantly would not have even occurred to modern Ethiopia without the insistence of the British.

This claim typically is based on the idea that the Afar are an oppressed minority in Eritrea who desire not only independence from Eritrea, but to take what has historically been land under their control. The first thing that must be said is that it is exceedingly difficult for me to refer to the Eritrean Afar as “them” or “those,” as we together fought tooth and nail for our independence. Secondly, it cannot be lost on the reader, as it certainly is not on the writer, that what was historical controlled by those of the Afar linguistic group, happens to be Eritrea’s two ports (among other territory surely).

Furthermore, Ethiopians find this convenient as the Afar speaking population is split among three states, the largest population by far living in Ethiopia. Thusly, if a referendum of all (and exclusively) Afar were to take place, surely the Ethiopian Afar would want to be unified with their brethren in one state. Finally, to argue though that Asseb is a part of Ethiopia as a result of an ethnic referendum would be similar to having a referendum for:

  • the Ogaden to return it to Somalia,
  • California to be returned to Mexico, and
  • the Falkland Islands returned to the Argentines.

But really, none of these examples is the prime reason reject his philosophy out of hand.
The prime reason to reject this myth is that it would illegal. Put simply, it is counter to the letter of the law acceded to by all members of the OAU/AU, whose home is in Ethiopia. The agreement in no uncertain terms states that colonial boundaries were of paramount importance and would be respected.

The final nail in the coffin of this myth is that the premise is simply false, the Eritrean Afar are by no means oppressed, rather, the Eritrean people continue to raise the standards of living of all Eritreans. The Afar ethno-linguistic group has suffered over a century of neglect, but the current administration seems keen to rectify the mistakes of past ones. To this end opportunities for healthcare and basic education have been expanded to the sparsely populated regions so that as Eritrea pulls itself up by its bootstraps, none will be systematically left behind.

Myth #4: Eritrea Arms Terrorists

Whether this claim is true or false the writer has no clue. My impression however is that the groups that are aided in spirit by Eritreans are nationalist groups. These groups respect the sanctity and sovereignty of states. This particular claim has come of late for the alleged assistance given to Somali groups. These groups although sharing a common bond of Islam are not terrorists. On the other hand there are many secular Somali politicians whose primary reason for fighting against what has been billed the Somali Transitional Federal Government is that it is backed by their arch-foe, Ethiopia. In fact, since the Ethiopian occupation of Somalia over a third of that Parliament has defected to those fighting against both the Ethiopian occupation and the Somali TFG.

So just as the Eritrean people fought for both national reconciliation and independence, the Somali people fight for their independence from Ethiopian hegemony. This is not a terrorist act, it is a nationalist act!

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