The aberration of Eritrean secession, 1961-1993




Thomas, Charles Girard

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Despite its reputation for instability and weak states, the continent of Africa has seen very few attempts at secession. The 1960s saw the early attempts of Katanga and Biafra to split away from their host states, only for these attempts to be crushed in short order. Since then there have only been a handful of notable attempts at secession: the early attempts by the Southern Sudan to split from the North, the secessionist desires of Cabinda to separate from Angola, the Casamance separatists of Senegal, and finally the long and still unrecognized separation of Somaliland from the failed state of Somalia. What is notable is that none of these have borne permanent fruit despite the persistence of the separatist fronts (although the Southern Sudan may now finally be embarking on its own separate existence). In each case, from Katanga to Somaliland, the theoretical state has encountered resistance on the national, regional, and global scale to their existence and have never yet been recognized. However, despite these setbacks, there currently has been one successful secession in Africa: that of Eritrea. Eritrea faced the same political and military difficulties that all other secession attempts have faced in Africa. Their host state of Ethiopia was perhaps the most revered on the continent and throughout the thirty year conflict had the international support of alternatively the United States and the USSR. The Organization of African Unity and its members remained unrelentingly in favor of territorial integrity for all African States. The Eritreans could not even gain regional recognition for their struggle. Despite all of this, they prevailed in their thirty-year struggle for independence. Critical to their success were four interwoven factors that allowed them to overcome those barriers that had stopped their secessionist predecessors: the anomalous history of Eritrea and Ethiopia, the Eritreans' practice of the theories of protracted war, the simultaneous social revolution the Eritreans carried out, and finally the Eritreans' pragmatic relations with their surrounding dissident groups. This work argues that these four central factors were the keys to Eritrea's aberrant and so far unique victory in their struggle for secession.




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