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The Historical Orbit of Eritrea's Agony

Alemseged Abbay


Their suffering under racist Italian colonialism pushed Eritreans to retreat into their millennia-old Ethiopian identity. However, suffocation under Ethiopian political oppression and cultural chauvinism led them to don a distinct counter identity of Eritrean-ness. Subsequently, the thirty-year war between the forces of chauvinism (Ethiopia) and the forces of secession (Eritrea) has exposed the unimaginativeness of nationalism. Rather than seeking a mere redress to the legitimate grievances upon which it was constructed, Eritrean nationalism veered into a false consciousness of exceptionalism (Eritreanism), which per force became a zero-sum game for secession. When a divorce was finalized in 1991, both Ethiopia and Eritrea ended up being losers—the former lost access to the sea and the latter lost Ethiopia. By failing to deliver peace, democracy, and prosperity, secession has proven to be against the self-interests of the Eritrean people, so much so that now the very idea of Eritrea verges on death. Thus, based on emotion rather than cognition, nationalism can be a dysfunctional project. However powerful it may be, it does not have to lead to secession.

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Published by the University of Florida Press on behalf of the Association of Global South Studies.