] ] Rwanda, Nigeria’s national conference and an Ethiopia-Eritrea war
“A nation of 4 million cannot deny 70 million people access to the sea, It is a matter of time, but another war is inevitable’’ (Teshome Gabre Mariam – former attorney general of Ethiopia).
On 6th April, 2014 Rwanda marked twenty years of a highly publicised genocide. Two others triggered by gaining independence from Belgium in 1960 were ignored by the media. As a child, President Paul Kagame fled into a refugee camp in Uganda. A French scholar accused President Clinton of regarding the 1994 genocide as a device for teaching Africans the value of democracy they way Euro-America did after the anti-Jewish ‘’holocaust’’. It was probably meant to trip Africa’s celebration of Mandela and the fall of inhuman rule by a European tribe of immigrants in South Africa. The surprise is that African governments failed to anticipate and prevent the 1994 genocide.
A treaty signed in 2002 at Algiers ended a war between Ethiopia and Eritrea –seen by some as a war between two Tigray cousins: Meles Zenawe and Isaias Afwerki - conflict in which 80,000 soldiers on both sides died. A truce is being policed by United Nations troops.
This is a humiliating twist of history for the two countries. In 1960 the United Nations –under British and French pressure – cynically denied Eritrea the benefit of earning self-determination from over sixty years of successive Italian and British colonial oppression. They rewarded intensive diplomatic campaigns by Emperor Haile Selassie to grant a federal constitution between Ethiopia and Eritrea with the full understanding that Ethiopia would swallow Eritrea into the status of an ancient province of imperial Ethiopia. Following intensive bribery of some Christian politicians combined with intimidation
• Africa Vision 525 Initiative
and assassination of other Christian and Muslim politicians, Eritrea’s parliament dissolved itself into an ‘’administration’’, and pulled down the national flag of Eritrea.
And thus the United Nation midwifed the birth of deeply destructive liberation wars led by Eritrean politicians for 30 years. The 1998-2000 war between Eritrea and Ethiopia came as a depressing shock to Africa and friends of the revolution that deposed Mengistu in Ethiopia and defeated Ethiopian troops in Eritrea.
In 2000 an Ethiopian professor of Film Studies told me in his office at Howard University, in Washington, D.C., that the war was sparked by Eritrea’s leaders mocking Ethiopia’s new revolution rulers as children of house maids and servants in Addis Ababa. According to him, while the British built secondary and technical schools in Addis Ababa between 1941 and 1962, Haile Selassie allowed it only to a small number of children of aristocrats. Accordingly, when Ethiopia started to modernise its economy and bureaucracy, it is Eritreans who had the high educational skills to carry it forward. In contrast, their Tigray ethnic cousins in Ethiopia lived in abject poverty and illiteracy. They migrated to towns in Ethiopia to work lowpaying and low-status jobs, including in homes and offices of Eritreans. A legacy of contempt would fuel a war. There were similarities with Hutu and Tutsi relations in Rwanda.
Foreign diplomats may have resented peculiarities of Eritrea’s new polity. As Michela Wrong exalts: “The Eritrean People’s Liberation Front spent decades teaching its followers that every man and woman, Moslem and Christian, peasant and urban dweller, was equally valuable. It set-up popularly-elected assemblies in the villages, it championed women’s organizations, it relentlessly trumpeted the merits of grassroots democracy That work cannot be easily undone....The notion of accountability has seeped into people’s psychology, as impossible to uproot as the dream of shady groves and green pastures ex-Fighters regard as the real Eritrea’’.
A similar peopleanchored democratic culture created by the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) incited brutal scorched-earth invasion by troops of racist South Africa. Their murderous troops ripped open bellies of pregnant women with bayonets; smashed heads of babies against walls; burnt down clinics and schools built by the liberation movement, and destroyed crops and harvests, etc. The plan was to destroy the culture of governance for service and development of rural peoples. In Zimbabwe, Mugabe’s subsidized schools; clinics and inputs for small-scale farmers, were targeted by the International Monetary Fund after 1985. From 1980 to 1985 Mugabe had focused much effort in taking ‘’dividends of liberation struggle’’ to the poor African population. His popularity had soared. White politicians who predicted his drowning in a pool of corruption began to feel that Mugabe had to be derailed if plans to overthrow his government would succeed.
Diplomats in Addis Ababa and Asmara must have desperately sought for cracks through which bullets could hit the Eritrean revolution. There were clues from utterances like: ‘’For years we felt superior, not just because we won the war but because we had idealism.... we were unique, a people chosen by God like the Israelis....’’. Such arrogance was easy to irritate, to provoke and tempt into an impulse to crush others. Ethiopians did ignite a latent fury by demanding Masawa, a seaport whose control would end being landlocked. The resultant war blocked the prospect of Eritrea’s idealism flowing across Africa.
Nigeria’s foreign policy must join Africa in mapping out cracks through which post-Cold War EuroAmerica’s fires could be lit across Africa. It probably did not anticipate fires rolled from Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Mali, South Sudan to Central African Republic and Nigeria. Creative learning from past failure is being shown by Kagame’s Rwanda.