Eritrea and Ethiopia are intensely proud nations with long and colorful histories. Neither has been entirely within its current borders, both expanding and contracting. In fact, if you were to look at a map of the region 3,000 years ago it would be starkly different, just as 2,000 or 1,000 or even 500 years back. For the past one hundred and fifty years though it seems as though Ethiopia has not been running parallel with Eritrea, but rather in its shadow.
Just as throughout the day an object’s shadow waxes and wanes, so do nations. To understand how this could be applied to Ethiopia, one must first understand the mythos surrounding the modern day idea of Ethiopia. Today’s Ethiopia self-image is founded on the principle that it is an ancient land with an equally ancient civilization.
If this were the case it would add Ethiopia to a very exclusive club of civilizations including the Greeks and the Chinese. This idea of ancient civilization comes from the Aksumite kingdom and before that the city-states including and surrounding Matara. These were each unique in their own ways and more importantly pioneering. This is very much a part of the myth of “Ancient Ethiopia.”
The entire Matara-like civilization was based in present-day Eritrea while the majority of the Aksumite Kingdom was also in present-day Eritrea. This presents an existential conundrum for Ethiopians, without Eritrea the myth of “Ancient Ethiopia is gone,” with Eritrea it could not realistically be called Ethiopia. Thus Ethiopia must cover its eyes with hand and use the other to grasp for Eritrea. This is the foundation of Ethiopia’s struggle with Eritrea.
Unfortunately for Eritrea though, it means that its star may shine brightly but the sky will always be clouded until the truth of Ethiopia’s genesis is brought to light. Will this shadow from Eritrea, its constant follower learn its lesson and disappear? Though the past can only inform the future, let’s hope that Ethiopia, and more importantly Ethiopians recognize their errors and rectify their lore.