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(l'Opinione Pubblica) Interview with Alessandro Pellegatta, author of "Eritrea - End and Rebirth of an African Dream"

Posted by: Semere Asmelash

Date: Thursday, 20 September 2018


    Interview with Alessandro Pellegatta, author of "Eritrea - End and Rebirth of an African Dream"

    In this long interview the author of the appreciated book "Eritrea - End and Rebirth of an African Dream" tells us about the country he has discovered, so rich in diversity and precious teachings that pr us Westerners, finally pronouncing himself on the role that 'Italy could play in the new panorama of relaxation that characterizes these days the whole region of the Horn of Africa.

     
    Cover of the book by Alessandro Pellegatta.

    Dear Alessandro Pellegatta, first of all I want to thank you for the availability you give me for this interview, but at the same time I want to apologize for your delay, since your book "Eritrea - End and rebirth of an African dream" has now made his debut for more than a year. What strikes me about this book is its being a bit of a mixture of genres: novel, wise, even a guide for tourists ... So why this book? And why on Eritrea?

    Eritrea is a wonderful and complex country, which few know. And it is also the symbol of African resilience. To know it, it is necessary to abandon prejudices and false certainties. Then you will fully grasp a land of extraordinary beauty, the crossroads of peoples and ideas, reading a journey from the mythical Land of Punt leads us to Adulis and the development of aksumita civilization, the advent of monophysite Christianity, the Islamic colonization of the lowlands and of the Dahlak islands, the advent of the Portuguese and the Italians and the charm of cities such as Asmara and Massawa. Eritrea few know it, and the Italians have lost their historical memory. What until yesterday was coarsely defined as "North Korea" of Africa today can once again become an "African dream": historical heritage, archaeological and naturalistic of this country is enormous and there is still much to do, and the Italians have been working for years in the enhancement of this heritage. Peace has finally returned with Ethiopia, and new processes must be governed. Massawa, which for years has been lying derelict with the wounds of the bombings, will return to cover its ancient role as a strategic port and window towards Ethiopian plateau and Sudan, but its fragile architectural memories must be preserved. Asmara, the most beautiful African city, the "little Rome", has entered the Unesco Heritage and requires protection and enhancement measures. which for years has been lying derelict with the wounds of the bombing, will return to cover its ancient role as a strategic port and window towards Ethiopian plateau and Sudan, but its fragile architectural memories must be preserved. Asmara, the most beautiful African city, the "little Rome", has entered the Unesco Heritage and requires protection and enhancement measures. which for years has been lying derelict with the wounds of the bombing, will return to cover its ancient role as a strategic port and window towards Ethiopian plateau and Sudan, but its fragile architectural memories must be preserved. Asmara, the most beautiful African city, the "little Rome", has entered the Unesco Heritage and requires protection and enhancement measures.

    In your specific book not to be born writer, and in fact also known the fabric of the analyst. Several times you make it clear how the very complex cultural and historical nature of Eritrea mixes with the nations and especially with the problems of the neighboring regions. Therefore, place a strong emphasis on its strategic nature, but also on its potential in your opinion still to be explored. In this sense, what role can Eritrea play today and in the future?

    Eritrea, with its resilience, can act as a trailblazer for the African peoples who are today debating between old and new colonialisms. There is still a great sense of community in Eritrea. As Pasolini wrote ("The Grace of the Eritreans"), the Eritreans have grace and dignity and endured suffering and deprivation of all kinds. In this grace of "popular gentlemen", Muslims, Catholics and Copts mingle and integrate each other. Stable and nomadic culture coexist. In Eritrean farming villages for centuries there is no private ownership of land but collective uses, and the rotation of possession of the fields is exercised. The nomads are even more essential. For centuries the Eritreans are unaccustomed to possession and this gives them a certain detachment of things. They have a strong national identity and have fought for decades to conquer freedom without international support. They underwent a forced federation in 1950, were annexed by Ethiopia, fought for independence and endured long years of lack of civil liberties and unlimited military service. All this because the country has remained "besieged" and subject to international embargoes, but despite all this country has guaranteed public health of excellence, food and water to its people, a free public school, and did not penetrate terrorism. There are no religious or ethnic struggles while in neighboring Ethiopia the civil war has been touched and many ethnic groups (including that oromo) have been violently repressed. They underwent a forced federation in 1950, were annexed by Ethiopia, fought for independence and endured long years of lack of civil liberties and unlimited military service. All this because the country has remained "besieged" and subject to international embargoes, but despite all this country has guaranteed public health of excellence, food and water to its people, a free public school, and did not penetrate terrorism. There are no religious or ethnic struggles while in neighboring Ethiopia the civil war has been touched and many ethnic groups (including that oromo) have been violently repressed. They underwent a forced federation in 1950, were annexed by Ethiopia, fought for independence and endured long years of lack of civil liberties and unlimited military service. All this because the country has remained "besieged" and subject to international embargoes, but despite all this country has guaranteed public health of excellence, food and water to its people, a free public school, and did not penetrate terrorism. There are no religious or ethnic struggles while in neighboring Ethiopia the civil war has been touched and many ethnic groups (including that oromo) have been violently repressed. All this because the country has remained "besieged" and subject to international embargoes, but despite all this country has guaranteed public health of excellence, food and water to its people, a free public school, and did not penetrate terrorism. There are no religious or ethnic struggles while in neighboring Ethiopia the civil war has been touched and many ethnic groups (including that oromo) have been violently repressed. All this because the country has remained "besieged" and subject to international embargoes, but despite all this country has guaranteed public health of excellence, food and water to its people, a free public school, and did not penetrate terrorism. There are no religious or ethnic struggles while in neighboring Ethiopia the civil war has been touched and many ethnic groups (including that oromo) have been violently repressed.
    Alessandro Pellegatta.

    One thing I noticed is your wanting to underline, and I find it very shareable, the natural plural of Eritrea. There is not only Asmara, but also Massawa, and then other minor centers can also be added that mention in your book, as Adulis, or Cheren, or even the Dahlak Islands, all places that have great historical importance but that in Italy few know. And then there is also the immense historical legacy of D'mt and Axum, which in a certain sense lives on today with the rapprochement between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia. How would you describe and summarize all this diversity?

    Nine ethnic groups with different languages ​​and cultures coexist in Eritrea. Semitic, Nilotic and Cushitic culture have been mixed over the centuries. Through the caravan routes that departed and returned to Adulis, the Mediterranean, Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and India were mixed. The "Eritrean space" is complex and articulated, with an economic-social projection not only towards the interior of historical Ethiopia. Eritrea has had since its antiquity a relevant geo-strategic space as it combined different territorial, terrestrial and marine dimensions, all within a complex macro-region. Eritrea has therefore been over the centuries a real laboratory of social, economic and legal experimentation that has anticipated modern times. I'm starting to write a new book on the history of Massawa, and every day that passes I remain appalled by its extraordinary social stratifications and its diversity. Even the Italian "old colonialism" prior to fascism and the creation of the Empire sought to understand all this diversity to administer it. Eritrean colony and post-colony remain symbolic spaces and identities in continuous movement, and Eritrea remains an extraordinary country to study and learn and which presents transversal readings on multiple memberships in the Horn of Africa region and on the many crossings that derive, today like yesterday, from diasporic and transactional movements. And then there are the Italians of Eritrea ... a race now endangered that preserves an extraordinary collective memory. The Eritrean region, including in particular the coastal lowlands of Massawa, over the centuries it has represented a point of contact between different "frontiers" located between the Red Sea and the Arabian Peninsula, the valley of the Sudanese Nile and the plateaus of northern Ethiopia. The Massauina society perfectly reflects this melting pot, this historic cosmopolitan configuration, reflecting as a kaleidoscope the extraordinary ethnic-cultural variety that sees intertwining different populations, which over the centuries have learned to live together. In this land the nexus of boundaries and memories follows paths that are neither univocal nor linear, and the problems of historical identity refer to plurality, to the overlapping of collective memories and solidarity, which interact coexisting. The Red Sea was not just a transit space but a region full of different cultures and identities, a region integrated by multi-layered and interconnected circuits and networks (marine and terrestrial), on which cultural and archaeological research is still only beginning. Despite the mixing between the Cushitic and the Sabaean culture, there is still no archaeological evidence to support the myth of aksumite urbanization. Vice versa, the colonization of the Horn of Africa was born thanks to the indigenous kings and the aduli tana civilization.

    In general, talking about the politics and society of Eritrea, also about the latest and welcome news about this country, what do you foresee for the future and what role could Italy play for the general situation of Asmara and the Horn of Africa?

    Currently, China, overcoming the traditional paradigms of colonialism, is renewing the scramble for Africa, infiltrating even the territories of the former Italian colonial empire. After years of inaction, loss of historical memory and disinterest in the study of the colonial period (often improperly confused with fascism), our country seems to rethink and renew its relations with the African continent. Italy still has some influence in the Horn of Africa, and the peace dossier between Ethiopia and Eritrea appears to re-emerge after many years of inactivity. Italians have done and are doing excellent things in Eritrea in the cultural, restoration and archeology fields.

    Today we still carry a past that does not pass. The scandal Cagnassi -Livraghi di Massaua; waste and lascivious behavior during the military administration of the Eritrean Colony before the arrival of Ferdinando Martini; the brutal expropriations of Baratieri in Eritrea and the most uninhibited work of the Benadir Society in Somalia; the deportation of the population of Cyrenaica and the use of the hyprite during the war of Libya and Ethiopia; apartheid, the racial laws and against the madamate; the concentration camps of Nocra in Eritrea and of Danane in Somalia; the massacre of Addis Abeba and of the monks and deacons of Debra Libanos in Ethiopia by Graziani (who ended his brilliant career in the Italian Social Republic). Political colonialism is a stain that today most would like to erase without even knowing.

    As Angelo Del Boca wrote, "[...] the lack of debate on colonialism and the persistent apologetic reading of African companies have not only allowed all the major perpetrators of African genocide to be absolved, but have also greatly influenced the elaborated policy. towards the former colonies, which is characterized by roughness, improvisation, defaults and delays. Italy has lost a great chance. He could go back to Africa to generously repair his wrongs and develop [...] them a fruitful collaboration ".

    Even in front of the historical distension between Eritrea and Ethiopia of 2018, Italian politics has remained almost totally absent, and on social media, as well as in the collective imagination, we are witnessing the continuous celebration of convictions and justifying theories. Italy, sorry to say, on Africa continues in its petty politics, without programs or organic visions, adding to the old new injustices. Somalia still remains the scandal of Italian Cooperation and the history of 24 years of misdirections that still prevent solving the yellow death of Ilaria Alpi and Miran Hrovatin.

    In a world that seems now without ideals and hopes, where the instinct of violence and the bacteria of new fascisms, nationalisms and colonialisms are constantly changing and spread like wildfire, where geographical distances are getting shorter and shorter and the media are limited to giving only superficial and sensational news, following the adventures of Manfredo Camperio (nb: in November a new book of mine will come out on this great explorer) and of those who accompanied him in his African explorations of the nineteenth century help to better understand the continuous evolution of Africa, this continent for centuries at the center of international political and economic appetites and that, although impoverished by its desperate waves of migration to the West and continually looted of its material resources,it is laboriously trying to get out of old and new colonialisms to embark on the road of development and effective independence.

    As Romain Rainero wrote in 1960 [1], "[...] it's up to all (us) and especially to the former rulers, the Europeans, to understand the new realities, and only to think of them in the future in a serene and constructive vision of cooperation and sympathy towards a rising continent ".

    And above all, as Conti Rossini wrote, "remembering is strong".

    [1] Roman Rainero, The Awakening of Black Africa, Laterza, Bari, 1960, p.8.

    Intervista ad Alessandro Pellegatta, autore di “Eritrea – Fine e ...

    l'Opinione Pubblica

    (Software translation)


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