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Ethiopian Confused – Part 3

The importance of Emperor Haile Selassie to the Eritrean independence movement as well as to further defining the boundary between Eritrea and Ethiopia is clear. During the reign of Haile Selassie in Ethiopia the people of Eritrea made great gains in their governance. After the defeat of Italy during World War II the British Military Administration imposed a parliamentary democracy in Eritrea which was flush with political parties of various agendas.

These parties ranged from the secular to sectarian, from nationalist to unionist. Indeed part of the purpose for encouraging such a system in Eritrea was to encourage the various polities within Eritrea. In particular the British secretly held an agenda to commit the western lowlands of Eritrea to their holdings in the Sudan and the balance to its ally Ethiopia.1 By the late 1940s however it had become clear that the United Nations was to federate Eritrea with Ethiopia and the political parties coalesced into two groups, an Independence (nationalist) Bloc and a Unionist (loyal to the Emperor) Bloc.

These two groups jockeyed for power, however the deck was stacked against the Independence Bloc by de facto control of the National Police by the Unionists, evidenced by the multiple acts of attempted and successful assassinations of Independence Bloc leaders. The Ethiopian elites in both politics and the clergy (the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Muslims were not considered for high office) saw the imminent Federation as little more than a trial period before the inevitable Ethiopian absorption of the Eritrean State. It was to this end that they conspired with the British to split Eritrea between the Eritrean highlands and lowlands to Ethiopia and the Sudan, respectively.2 This was a matter that the Independence Bloc was wholly opposed to and issued a statement as such.3 This was eventually taken off the table, however, due to gross inconsistencies in the elections held by the British Military Administration, the Independence Bloc was overruled in its statement and the Federal arrangement was chosen for Eritrea.4

Of course it was this Federation that was undertaken by Haile Selassie in which Ethiopians can build their strongest claim to sovereignty over Eritrean ports. In the Federal Act5 Ethiopia was given exclusive jurisdiction to the ports. Of course this privilege implies that had the Federal arrangement not existed Ethiopia would not have this privilege. This is an important point as to this day there are Ethiopians who contend that Ethiopians his owed a port. As was seen PREVIOUSLY (LINK TO PREVIOUS POST), any pre-colonial claim to the ports by Ethiopia holds little evidentiary validity. Of course it was partially because of the tenuous nature of this link that in 1962, Haile Selassie forced the dissolution of the Eritrean Parliament and officially (not to be misread as legally) annexed Eritrea. Both of these acts were illegal as the institution of the Parliament and the Federal arrangement were enshrined in the Federal Act and neither the Eritrean Parliament, or the Emperor was empowered to amend it.67 Adding insult to injury, it has become clear that the vote that was to have dissolved the Parliament never took place; In its place, a statement, in Amharic (a tongue not officially recognized by the Eritrean Parliament), declaring the dissolution of the Federation.89

Of course in this discussion the importance of the dissolution of the Eritrean Federal State are a result of what occurred after annexation. At that time Eritrea was declared the 14th province of Ethiopia. The critical component here is that the borders of this province remained unchanged from the Federal arrangement. The consequence of this is that the ports remained a part of the annexed state and not merged into nearby states. Now at this point in time however, Eritreans were already fighting for the independence of the state. Since the year before, 1 September 1961, Eritreans had taken up arms against the Ethiopian state and its gradual removal of Eritrean independence.

This revolt would last much longer than Ras Woldemicheal’s however, its outcome would be wholly different as well. Next we will take a look at how the current leader of Ethiopia, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, affected the issues of the ports and border.

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  1. Yohannes, Oakbazghi; Eritrea: A Pawn in World Politics; 1991 

  2. Iyob, Ruth; The Eritrean Struggle for Independence: Domination, Resistance, Nationalism, 1941-1993; (1997)  

  3. Yohannes, Oakbazghi; Eritrea: A Pawn in World Politics; 1991 

  4. Cliffe, Lionel; Davidson, Basil; The Long Struggle of Eritrea for Independence and Constructive Peace; (1988) 

  5. United Nations General Assembly Resolution 390 (V)  

  6. Cliffe, Lionel; Davidson, Basil; The Long Struggle of Eritrea for Independence and Constructive Peace; (1988)  

  7. Selassie, Bereket Habte; Eritrea and the United Nations and Other Essays; (1989)  

  8.  Cliffe, Lionel; Davidson, Basil; The Long Struggle of Eritrea for Independence and Constructive Peace; (1988)  

  9. Selassie, Bereket Habte; Eritrea and the United Nations and Other Essays; (1989) 

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