On the occation of 28th Eritrea Independence Day in San Jose California

Posted by: Ghebrengus Mesmer

Date: Tuesday, 28 May 2019

I'm kindly asking you to post the following article in Dehai.                                   Miss Dina M. Asfeha is a proud member of the Eritrean community in San Jose, California. She gave the following speech on the occasion of Eritrea's Independence Day at Santa Clara County City Hall to the representative members of City Hall and at the Independence Day party to new high school and college graduates .                                                                                                                                                                            Dina M. Asfaha                                                                              Doctoral Student, Anthropology University of Pennsylvania 
                                                                                        Contemporaneous with the rise of The Black Panthers Party for Self-Defense in 1966 in the United States was an ongoing struggle for independence in the Horn of Africa. Often upheld as the only nation in Africa to have never been colonized, it is little known that Ethiopia had its own imperial agenda. From 1952 to 1961, Eritrea was Ethiopia’s colonial possession until Hamid Idris Awate and a small rebel group took up arms against an Ethiopian police officer on Mount Adal. By 1966, this rebel group, against the brutal terror tactics and ruthless rule of Haile Selassie, had evolved into two organized factions, the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) followed by the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF). As Ethiopia, a nation thirty times the size of Eritrea with the second largest army in Africa after South Africa, was backed by the Soviet Union and the United States, it was clear from the onset of UN negotiations to federate Eritrea with Ethiopia that Eritrea was to be the underdog in this war. Still, from 1961 to 1991, the Eritrean masses both in the country and in the diaspora collaborated across oceans, deserts, and mountains to master the science of guerrilla strategy, their key to progress and eventual triumph in spite of severe food shortages, few allies, insufficient medical resources, and inadequate means of transport across destroyed ecology and infrastructure. During this time, Eritreans forged innovative solutions in response to these grand challenges, establishing underground hospitals and secret medical clinics, developing revolutionary school curriculums, and creating a shared vision of interdependence amongst the people.

During a brief moment of peace following independence in 1991, political tensions remained at the border. In 1998, the Eritrea-Ethiopia border war commenced, threatening national security and sovereignty. Again, the Eritrean people were faced with immense loss and a challenge to reorganize society in order to prioritize the right to safety and self-governance. While the war ended in 2000, the years following presented novel problems; the few years of peace after formal independence gave Eritreans hope for the future, but this progress had been interrupted and stifled the economy and the people’s morale. Western powers continued their interventions in Eritrean efforts for peace and stability through UN sanctions in 2009, which served to further disrupt forward progress in the economic and political sectors necessary to nation-building. The claims for sanctions were unfounded, with not a shred of evidence to support Eritrea’s alleged involvement in Al-Shabab terrorist organizing. This was only an extension of the decades-long campaign to undermine Eritrean self-determination, which began in the 1940s and 50s, when the United States colluded with Ethiopia to ignore the overwhelming number of Eritreans who sought independence. At the time, the Allied Powers chartered an Inquiry Commission after World War 2, and it showed more Eritreans desired an independent state over union with Ethiopia.

In July 2018, just last year, after many years of strategizing for improved relations in the Horn of Africa, a vision that abides by Eritrean sovereignty, and a region that values policies that fortify political and economic autonomy for an Africa that has traditionally been at the hands of the West, Eritrea and Ethiopia made formal peace after two decades of a “no war-no peace” situation. The UN sanctions were subsequently removed in November of 2018. This is the first year in many years that Eritrea and Eritreans can devote more energy into sustainable practices of development relating to the economy and domestic opportunities for citizens of Eritrea. This is a pivotal moment not only in Eritrean history, but in African history and world history alike. Eritrea has won the “PR battle,” a strategic campaign to demonize a small African country that refused to bow down and take orders from the West in how to govern, and how to manage its resources (like gold and potash). The Eritrean agenda – that is, an agenda concerned with establishing strong ties with other states in the Red Sea zone, lessening threats of instability and violence in a region of Africa that has historically seen more bloodshed than peace, and inspiring methods of self-reliance – will continue as we develop ways to grow our economy, ensure food security, and create job opportunities, to name a few things.

          I mentioned the Black Panthers Party for Self-Defense earlier, and I want to mention why. Oftentimes, we find ourselves on American soil discussing and interrogating the meaning of Eritrean independence, and we must ask ourselves what the connection is between Eritreanness and Americanness. In the 1960s, when Black people in America were denied civil rights, the Black Panthers used the teachings of Malcolm X to preach the importance of dignity, equality, and the importance of social services for disadvantaged minorities, especially Black people. They stood up to the intimidation tactics of the United States government and took on the responsibility of finding ways to create a community that shared with one another. They created programs to feed the poor and educate those who did not have access to schooling. Although their struggle was cut short with the execution of their leaders, they left a lasting impact on how we can organize as people who have been historically affected by colonialism and land dispossession.

Both the revolutionaries of Eritrea and the Black Panthers taught us that the way forward is together – through collaboration. On this day, the 28th anniversary of Eritrean independence, we should continue to collaborate with community members and allies alike to push forward in our mission for the right to self-governance, economic and social prosperity, and peace and safety for all people.

Happy Independence Day!

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