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Dowden Misfires on Eritrea

Mr. Richard Dowden, the author of “Africa: Is the Crimea Referendum a Good Model for Africa?“, is flawed when it states “There have only been two official changes to Africa’s boundaries since independence; the establishment of Eritrea and South Sudan. Both were done with the agreement of the mother country.” To the contrary, Eritrea was liberated in 1991 from Ethiopian occupation. Officially, Ethiopia “illegally” annexed Eritrea in 1962,1 although throughout the period of Federation (1952-1962) Ethiopia breached the Federal arrangement.2 The continual breaches had the effect of nullification of the agreement, which Ethiopia’s annexation confirmed.

The key to understanding why Eritrea’s independence from Ethiopia was not a change of “boundaries” is to understand the Federal arrangement. The Federal arrangement was established passage of UN General Assembly Resolution 390 (V) and its ratification by the Empire of Ethiopia.3 The territory of Eritrea was defined as all the territory of the former Italian colony of Eritrea.4 This definition of the boundary remains in effect to this day. Additionally, it should be recalled that the Federal Act (and the constitution that resulted from it) identified Ethiopians and Eritreans seprately, as not being identical.

The most substantial error the author, Mr. Dowden, makes is asserting that “Only Ethiopia – for its own political reasons – gives the right to all its ‘nations’ to secede if they want to. That clause was created to allow Eritrea to become independent.” Of course, even a cursory knowledge of the matter would dispel this idea. The Ethiopian constitution to which he is referring was brought into effect in 1995.5 Meanwhile, Eritrea’s de facto independence was established in 1991 (de jure independence followed in 1993 after the Eritrean Referendum – 99.8% voted for independence). The timeline clearly dispels any idea of “secession” according to the Ethiopian Constitution.

The question of the justice done to Eritrea by the UN federation of Eritrea with Ethiopia is a question for another time, although it would be appropriate to quote John Foster Dulles, the US Secretary of State, “From the point of view of justice, the opinions of the Eritrean people must receive consideration. Nevertheless the strategic interest of the United States in the Red Sea basin and the considerations of security and world peace make it necessary that the country has to be linked with our ally Ethiopia.”6


  1. The Long Struggle of Eritrea for Independence and Constructive Peace, by: Lionel Cliffe, Basil Davidson 

  2. Nationalism and Secession in the Horn of Africa: A Critique of the Ethnie Interpretation, by: Dominique Jacquin 

  3. UN Resolution 390 (V)  

  4. Federal Constitution of Eritrea: Article 2 

  5. Library of Congress Country Profile: Ethiopia 

  6. Eritrea and the United Nations and Other Essays, by Bereket H. Selassie 

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