War in Horn of Africa
There are historic, ideological and economic reasons for the war between
Eritrea and Ethiopia. Eritrea, which for 50 years was under Italian
colonial rule, never gained independence after the defeat of Italian forces
in World War II, in which Eritrean forces played a vital role. British rule
from 1941 to 1952 and Ethiopian colonization from 1952 onward instigated
strong nationalist feelings within the Eritrean people, which lay the
ground for the national liberation struggle in 1961 under the leadership of
the Eritrean Liberation Forces (ELF).
The ELF never developed to face the challenges of the liberation struggle,
but found itself more and more involved in sectarian struggle within the
movement. Some of the forces involved in this movement had hidden agendas,
thus, for example, making it possible for Saudi Arabia to achieve an
impasse in the liberation struggle through its relationship with some of
the Islamist groups in the alliance.
The overthrow of the Ethiopian regime of Haile Selassie in 1974 following
the famine brought to the forefront the pro-Stalinist Workers Party of
Ethiopia under the leadership of Mengistu. The Workers Party never saw the
national question as a fundamental question, even though it claimed to be
Marxist-Leninist. It was determined to crush all liberation struggles
within the Ethiopian empire and almost eradicated the ELF forces in 1978
during the Soviet military intervention.
A more serious liberation movement was established by 1970 in Eritrea, the
Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (EPLF), which was ideologically inspired
by Chairman Mao and had a national democratic program with a line of
struggle independent from the influence of the Soviet Union, China and the
USA. It was perhaps the only liberation struggle in Africa able to maintain
such independence; none of the superpowers were interested in the
liberation struggle or an independent Eritrea.
The Tigre Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), dominated by the pro-Albanian
Marxist-Leninist League of Tigre, has been the dominant force in the
Ethiopian government since the liberation of Ethiopia from the Stalinist
regime of Mengistu. The TPLF believed that all national groupings within
the Ethiopian empire had a right to national self-determination, and a
greater Tigre was a fundamental aim in its liberation struggle.
Though there had been serious ideological conflict between the TPLF and the
EPLF, their relationship was of great importance in the struggle against
the Stalinist regime and in the marginalization of the reactionary ELF
forces. The military forces of the two movements played the decisive role
during the final assault against Addis Ababa in 1991.
The Ethiopian government gave support to the independence of Eritrea after
the 1993 referendum. This brought about an internal crisis within the
governing Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). There
are forces within the EPRDF who are against the division of Ethiopia, thus
raising questions as to the final intentions of the government of Meles
Senawi, who is from the TPLF. The conflict led to the withdrawal of the
Oromo Peoples Democratic Organization and the Oromo Peoples Liberation
Force from the EPRDF to continue their struggle for the liberation of Oromo.
THE WAR'S IMPLICATIONS
Eritrea has insisted that the border conflict with Ethiopia started in July
1997, not May 1998 as the Organization of African Unity indicated. The
Ethiopian government's war might be a tactical move to satisfy factions
within the TPLF who are still determined to see an independent greater
Tigre. Eritrea shares a border with Tigre, which made Eritrean independence
a sensitive issue within the TPLF alliance. There is also an economic
factor in Ethiopia's interest in having access to the harbor towns of Assab
and Massawa. The TPLF not only is in conflict with its former comrade in
arms, but openly gives support to the reactionary forces of the ELF, which
is now the main opposition party in Eritrea.
The EPLF in Eritrea seems to have given up its Maoist ideological
positions, now finding allies away from the revolutionary forces, turning
its back on the Eritrean peasants, who have been the main force of the
movement, and making the women's liberation struggle a secondary issue. The
political degeneration of the EPLF leadership might be an important factor
in creating an opening for the reactionary forces of the ELF.
The EPRDF, which launched a military offensive at a time when millions of
Ethiopian people face famine, will in the near future find itself in
conflict with other liberation struggles within the country. There is great
potential, with the experience of the people in both countries, for new
forces to bring to the forefront fundamental questions of survival and
liberation. The women, especially in Eritrea, played a great role in the
liberation struggle, and their marginalization since victory brings to the
fore serious political questions coming from within the women's liberation
movement. That gives all hope that the situation is not as hopeless as it