] ] Rwanda, Nigeria’s na­tional con­fer­ence and an Ethiopia-Eritrea war

Daily Trust - - VIEWS -

“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.

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