Comparative Politics - Eritrea

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Makaria Green
Politics W/I Nations Final Paper
22 March 2006
Prof. Shaul Gabbay

Eritrea: from Occupation to Independence


Eritrea is a small country in Eastern Africa which gained its independence only twelve years ago, against extreme odds. Eritrea borders the Red Sea, between Djibouti and Sudan, and Ethiopia to the South. The purpose of this paper is to first explain how Eritrean identity came to be; second, to illustrate the often tragic occurrences that lead to Eritrean independence; third, to state the current political, economic, social, and military state of affairs; and lastly, to provide analysis of the aforementioned insofar as how they affect Eritrea's future. Eritrea's past has been marked by power politics involving the world's superpowers, to include Italy, Britain, and most notably, the United States and former Soviet Union (USSR). Eritrea's present situation includes heavy, yet rapidly decreasing, involvement by the United Nations (UN). Its future will depend very much on much delayed elections, the opening of the political system to opposition parties, economic recovery, and a final end to conflict with Ethiopia, which is the oldest independent country in Africa and one of the oldest in the world. Are these possible?

Historical Perspective: Events

During the first millennium B.C., tribes from present-day Yemen migrated into the southern highlands of Eritrea, settling on both sides of today's Eritrean-Ethiopian border. Eritrea was part of the Ethiopian kingdom, Aksum. Eritrea fell under the colonial rule of Italy in 1890. The Italians then sought to enlarge their acquisitions in the Horn of Africa by moving inland to Abyssinia. On March 1 of 1896, during the battle of Adowa, the Italians were checked by the imperial army of Menelik II. It was the climactic battle of the First Italo-Abyssinian War. The result was a treaty between Menelik II and Italy that formally declared the status of Eritrea as an Italian colony. During Italian colonial occupation, the Italians greatly improved the infrastructure of Eritrea. These improvemets were for the sole benefit of the Italians. However, a byproduct of these efforts by the Italians more than helped to create the development of an Eritrean national identity and structure.

Unfortunately, between 1934 and 1935, Italy provoked border incidents between Ethiopia and Eritrea, as overdue payback for Ethiopian resistance to fascism in the nineteenth century. In 1935, Italy ignored prohibitions by the League of Nations, and violated the Kellogg-Briand Pact outlawing war, which it signed, by invading Ethiopia. This is particularly important to the deterioration of Eritrean-Ethiopian relations, because Eritreans, as Italian colonized citizens, participated in this invasion. What followed was a series of political mishaps by the British, the French, and a handful of lesser involved League members. Furthermore, a fear of antagonizing fascist Italy emerged as Hitler marched German troops into the demilitarized Rhineland in 1936. Italy overtook Ethiopia, thus uniting Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Italian Somaliland (other part of Italian Eastern Africa empire) under the same rule for the first time. "Distant aggression in Africa, said the traditional realists, was not a threat to European Security." Therefore, the Italians maintained colonial rule over Ethiopia until 1941.

As history frequently demonstrates, there are almost always transitions of power. The Italian control over Eritrea was no exception. In 1941, the Italian army, lead by Mussolini, was defeated during World War II by the British. The British were anxious to secure the Red Sea supply route and attacked Eritrea from Sudan. By April 1941, the British had captured Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, and established a military administration there. Consequently, there was a transfer of power in Eritrea from the Italians to the British. Eritrea was then...
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