Every once in a while a slip up at NPR riles me up. The other day, on Talk of the Nation, it Neal Conan slipped up, immediately followed by his guest, Princeton Lyman (Special Envoy to South Sudan, US). Specifically Neal stated, “We saw Eritrea break away from Ethiopia some years ago, now, South Sudan breaking away from Sudan.” The implication here of course is that Eritrea and Ethiopia were one country and that Eritrea split away.
This is simply not the case! The lands and people that are now called Eritrea and Ethiopia have for thousands of years had a history of trade and competition, but have never shared an identical history. Particularly in the modern era (immediately preceding European colonialism, in Eritrea’s case Italian) until today, Eritrea and Ethiopia have been entirely separate. The period lasting from 1961-1991 was an aberration in the dynamic in that the military occupation of Eritrea was coupled with political dominion.
Of course, as in the past when Ethiopians had “crossed the Mereb [River]” into the “other’s” land they were met with resistance. This is what led to a resurgent Eritrean polity and its independence through the military domination of its much larger neighbor. At independence it took its sovereignty and left Ethiopia to its own affairs. Of course, some consider this the greatest miscalculation of the Eritrean struggle for independence, because the result was an Ethiopia that needed to reassert itself.
Its target became Eritrea and that is what has led to the latest bout of “friction.” Ultimately, it is important to recognize that the struggle of the Eritrean state and the Southern Sudanese state are both about the self-determination of people, however that is where the similarity ends because the Eritrean example is one of state that was wholly separate from Ethiopia before colonialism, during colonialism and even during the Ethiopian occupation versus a southern Sudan which was integral during the colonial period with the rest of Sudan.
I hope that you will rectify this error in your next broadcast, or at the very least acknowledge it the next time the subject is discussed.