In Defiance, Eritrea was born; in defiance, it will live forever
Tekie Fesehatzion
May 29, 2000

Ethiopia's invasion of Eritrea has met with a deafening silence from the international community. Two weeks into the invasion, we hear not even a word of condemnation. Why do so many countries remain stone deaf to the invasion? There could be several explanations. For whatever reason some wanted Eritrea to lose. Several countries preferred to hedge their bets not knowing who will eventually come on top. Others wanted to go with the projected winner. This is understandable. Given the size of the invading army, perhaps others thought Eritrea did not stand a chance. After all didn't assorted military analysts envision an Ethiopian victory, depending as they often do on formulas, ratios and troop formations? Of course, the formulas had no way of incorporating what Eritreans were most endowed with: grit, courage, and battle hardened experience. If only the formulas had taken into account Eritreans' legendary defiance in the face adversity, the analysts' predictions would have come out different, as they certainly will once the dust settles.

The confused and perhaps self serving positions of the international community was reflected in the Security Council Resolution that ordered an arms embargo on both countries, knowing full well Ethiopia had invaded Eritrea. The Resolution failed to make and distinction between the aggressor and the victim. The Security Council lacked the courage to admit that its two most prominent members, the U.S. and Russia have been, more than anyone, responsible for the war. The U.S. by working closely with the OAU was principally responsible for the presumption of the war because of the ineptness of the officials who spent two years mediating the conflict. Russia sold the military hardware and in addition to renting out mercenaries to the Ethiopian army. Over the last fifty years, these two world powers, at one time or another, have worked against Eritrean aspirations. One worked hard to prevent Eritrea from being born; the other worked assiduously to hasten its demise. Each time Eritreans defied them.

Through its silence to the invasion and the resultant massive humanitarian crisis and destruction of property, the world is saying it does not care what happens to a small country of not more than 4 million people. After all, Eritrea is not Kuwait, nor is it Kosovo, or even Chechnya. Eritrea has no oil; nor do its people have the right skin pigmentation, the minimum requirements for the U.S. to lift a finger to stop the invasion. For Russia, which has recently changed gods, from Marx to Capitalism, the reason is simple: Ethiopia is a good customer of Russian military hardware and for unemployed military generals and assorted weaponry experts. Eritrea is a small market, and hence less important than Ethiopia for Russian commerce. Thus U.S indifference to African lives, and Russian obsession with earning dollars from the sale of military hardware, doomed Eritrea's chances of getting fairness in the Security Council.

In Madeline Albright's Euro-centric State Department an African's life is not worth much. African issues are not considered important enough to take the time and attention of senior diplomats. Instead the issue is relegated to inexperienced journey men/women and part-time academics, most notable for their ineptness. After all these are the same people who gave the people of Sierra Leone, a peace package and a government whose Vice-president was Foudah Sankoh, a murderer's murderer. His crime was forgiven because all he did was brutalize African children, obviously not considered a heinous crime in Albright's Washington. So when Eritrea's civilian population is brutalized by Ethiopia's MiGs and SUs, and Washington is silent, the silence should not come as a surprise. Eritrea and Sierra Leone have at least one thing in common-they are located in Africa. Neither should expect sympathetic hearing in Albright's State Department.

No, as in all of its history, Eritrea is alone facing an enemy it should have had no problem handling, were it not for the fact Washington and Moscow had taken sides on behalf of Eritrea's enemy. This is not new. Since the late forties one or both of the nuclear powers have tried to abort Eritrea's birth as an independent state. In fact had the U.S had its way, Eritrea was not supposed to exist as an independent entity, and if it existed at all, it could be allowed to live only as an appendage of Ethiopia. Eritrea was born in defiance, against the wishes of the U.S and the international community. Those who did not want to see Eritrea born then should not now be expected to do a thing to see it live. Yet Eritrea will live, simply because its people will make sure it does. In the end it matters not whether the world likes it or not, Eritrea is here to stay. Eritrea lives.

The world, and especially the U.S might as well accept the reality that's Eritrea. It has to be said for the umpteenth time that Eritrea is not just a place; it's on big heart that embodies the indestructible spirit of a brave people. Surely Eritreans are accustomed to being betrayed, but as is often the case, they always come through, stronger, and more determined than ever to make sure that Eritrea lives. For an Eritrean the country is more than a piece of land: it's a sacred trust that must be passed to from one generation to the next, whole and indivisible.

No one -outside her people-wanted Eritrea to be born. Not the UN. Not the OAU. And definitely not the U.S. Yet Eritrea was born in defiance of all the powers that be. Take the forties, for example. Who would forget John Foster Dulles's unforgettable remarks about justice being on Eritrea's side but expediency dictated that Eritrea had to be handed over to Ethiopia. Who would forget Bevin-Sforza's plan to partition Eritrea to assuage the West's guilt for failing to come to Ethiopia's aid during the fascist invasion of the mid thirties. In the forties Eritrea was like some commodity to be bartered, never to be given a chance to be born.

In the early fifties came the Federation, a most unworkable scheme, an incompatible marriage between a liberal form of government, and an autocratic imperial government under Emperor Haile Selassie. The arrangement was a gift to the Emperor because he agreed to permit the U.S to use Asmara as Radio Relay Station to spy on the Soviet Union. The Emperor volunteered to become an anti-communist zealot for which he was rewarded with an American hands-off policy towards the Emperor's systematic dismantling of the Federation. Although the U.S was the Federations mid wife at the U.N it looked the other way when the Emperor was whittling away Eritrea's constitutional form of government.

In the sixties the same effort to thwart Eritrea's birth continued. When the Emperor illegally did away with the Federation in 1962, there was talk in the U.S State Department that what the Emperor did was wrong. But no one in official Washington was willing to speak on behalf of justice. Instead expediency at Eritrea's expense, prevailed. President Kennedy's Secretary of State of the period, Dean Rusk, observed that the absorption of Eritrea by Ethiopia may not be all bad as it may expedite the modernization of Ethiopia. Word went out from Washington to the American Embassy in Addis Ababa to use the annexation of Eritrea as an opportunity to persuade Emperor Haile Selassie to modernize his autocratic rule. Sacrificing Eritrea to benefit Ethiopia has become a pattern in U.S policy towards Eritrea. No one asked Eritreans whether they should submit their fate to Ethiopia's needs. But it didn't matter. As long as Ethiopia was more important for America in the eyes of U.S. policy makers, no one cared a whit what Eritrean thought about their future. Their future, it seemed, was not for them to decide. Washington and Addis Ababa had assumed the role the future Eritreans should have.

As we enter the twenty first century, not much has changed. This time Mekele has replaced Addis Ababa as Washington's partner in deciding Eritrea's future. The invasion, with the acquiescence, if not the blessing of Washington is designed to advance TPLF's hegemony over the Horn of Africa. Washington has anointed a leader for the Horn of Africa. He's Prime Minister Meles. Those entrusted with managing U.S policy in the Horn of Africa have decided that Meles' political base should be strengthened. If that meant weakening Eritrea, well, so be it. The drawn out negotiation on the OAU peace package was designed to give Meles every advantage possible over his counterpart in the negotiation, President Isaias. Washington looked the other way when Meles' government diverted humanitarian assistance for a massive military build-up, the U.S helped secure for Ethiopia's poor. Development assistance from the World Bank went to pay for Russian military hardware, including aircrafts, and Russian mercenaries. Again right under Washington's nose. The U.S team that has been mediating on the conflict could not have been ignorant of the Russian Generals helping Ethiopia with the invasion plans. Nor could it have missed that the Generals were paid out diverted funds.

The collusion between Washington that wanted Meles to stay in power, and the Russian Generals who planed the invasion for a good pay-day, was at Eritrea's expense, to thwart Eritrea's sovereignty. And when the invasion came, Washington and Moscow could not escape culpability for the scope of devastation the invasion had wrought. Both nuclear powers who at one time or another worked to thwart Eritrea's independence have been working together to snuff the life out of Eritrea's sovereignty. If it were not for Eritreans' persistent defiance, Eritrea would have been still born.

Therefore, the silence, or more precisely, the acquiescence, to the invasion has to be seen in its proper perspective. The powers that be have decided that their vision of Ethiopia's future is incompatible with Eritrea's assertive independence. Eritrea is not a nation of feet shufflers. It is a proud land of a proud people, who would kneel down to no one. Now they are being made to pay for their grit, their independence, their refusal to kowtow to anyone. Once again, Eritreans have been asked to curtail their aspirations as a free people, free to chart their destiny, to serve Ethiopia's long term interest. They have been asked to defer their dreams to promote Ethiopia's. And when they said no, a massive invasion has been unleashed on them, thinking that they would capitulate. How little they know Eritreans. How little.