Sunday, 30 September 2012

Eritrea - Absent Heroes and the source of Astier's Anger

Eritrea is the 25th place that I've blogged about and I'm really surprised that I've managed to get this far without delving into drama, as a reference source for my research.  Whilst officially studying English (literature) and Linguistics at University College Dublin (UCD), unofficially, I spent most of my time in Dramsoc (the university's Drama society), producing, directing and even acting in plays, not to mention all the off-stage dramas, parties, friendships and learning about life.

African drama

African drama is an unknown quantity to me so, as part of my research for this blog, I got myself a copy of Contemporary African Plays (ed. Banham and Plastow, 1999 from Methuen Drama).  Drama is an integral part of African culture and the development of modern dramatic forms in Africa has been heavily influenced by developments in the political world.  Eritrean drama developed somewhat in isolation from the rest of Africa and draws more on the naturalism of 19th-century European dramatists like Shaw and Ibsen, than on indigenous forms of expression.

So what is the other war?

The collection includes Eritrea's most famous play - The Other War by Alemseged Tesfai. It was first published in Tigrinya in 1984 and became the first ever play to be translated from Tigrinya to English.  As a rather unexpected echo from elsewhere on my blog, I was interested to learn that Tesfai was studying for a PhD at the University of Wisconsin, when he broke off his studies and returned to Eritrea to fight for independence with Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF).

The EPLF recognised the importance of winning a 'cultural war' against the Ethiopians, as part of the wider struggle for independence.  The Ethiopians, for their part, also recognised the importance of winning the other war against Eritrea and, culturally, they wanted to wipe Eritrea off the map, by imposing Amharic language and encouraging Amharic soldiers to inter-marry with Eritrean women.

More than merely agitprop

This other war is the subject of Tesfai's play and he approaches the subject cleverly, clearly marking out his support for the Eritrean cause, without resorting to the unsophisticated agitprop that revolutionary socialist theatre usually relies on.  Although the play leaves no one in doubt of the fact that the young Eritrean woman, Astier, is a traitor to her country and the Eritrean cause - Tesfai presents a context which explains her position, without excusing it.

Video from YouTube documenting EPLF

The source of Astier's anger

To Letiyesus (Astier's mother), her daughter's behaviour is unforgivable.  Not only has she brought an Ethiopian husband into their home, but she has also had a baby by him, a boy called Kitaw (Amharic for punish them).  When Astier returns to Asmara with her new husband and baby, Letiyesus refuses to bond with the child, seeing him as yet another weapon in the Ethiopian war on Eritrea.

Astier returns to Asmara to work for the Ethiopian regime and, very quickly, she becomes a symbol of repression and hate for the neighbours and friends that she grew up with. Perhaps not wanting to be seen as weak by the Ethiopians, she displays more cruelty towards her fellow-Eritreans than is necessary.  We learn that, at some point during her time living in Addis Ababa, Astier decides to throw her lot in with the Ethiopians.

An EPLF revolutionary song - this time in Tigre language

Tesfai gives her a reason for doing so, ie. she is escaping an abusive marriage to an Eritrean man who was twice her age, one that her parents forced her into when she was too young to know any different.  Astier's betrayal of her own people comes from a bitterness against the way her 'own people' treated her.  When Letiyesus tries to appeal to Astier's sense of national pride, Astier responds:

My family? Who are my family and my people? Don't you realise that you and father, especially father, have left me with a scar (Touching her heart) I will never be able to get rid of, all my life?

What's brilliant about Tesfai's portrayal of Astier is that, whilst he recognises the intensely nationalistic atmosphere of Eritrean society would never allow for the sympathetic portrayal of a character who works for the Ethiopian regime - he allows Astier a context that would, at least, explain her behaviour.  In a way, she is fighting a personal war against all Eritrean men and marrying the enemy is her biggest act of defiance.  Ultimately, she chooses the wrong side and what she says as inevitable (Ethiopian rule over Eritrea) is not inevitable after all.

Planting the seeds of war

Whilst he first comes across as being rather reasonable, Assefa, Astier's Ethiopian husband, quickly reveals his true colours and is incredibly direct in terms of his understanding of his relationship with an Eritrean woman.  He tells her mother:

I, Assefa, planted my seed in your daughter's womb. Kitaw was born . . . My roots are firmly planted in Eritrea and no power can ever pull them up.

A world of 'absent heroes'

Plays I read as part of my research
Astier's betrayal of her country is sharply contrasted with the patriotism of her brother Mika-el.  Although he never appears in the play, Mika-el's presence is felt throughout.  Assefa calls him a wembedie or 'bandit' but to Letiyesus and her neighbours, Mika-el is a true Eritrean hero.  This theme of  'absent heroes' seems to be quite common in Eritrean drama.  I've also read a very slim volume called Three Eritrean Plays - containing plays written by Solomon Dirar, Esaias Tseggai and Mesgun Zerai, all ex-fighters with the EPLF who were wounded and turned their attentions to the cultural battlefield.

In Dirar's The Snare - the main character doesn't appear until the very end of the play.  In Zerai's A Village Dream, the female villagers, who are the heroes of the play, absent themselves from the village, much to the men's consternation.  Of course, it's easier to idealise 'absent heroes' - Mika-el's character only exists in the memories of others - he's practically a martyr, although we never learn whether or not he has been killed on the battlefield.  By contrast, Assefa is very much present on stage, with all of his faults and weaknesses exposed.  It's an interesting portrayal of heroism, in a society occupied by foreign men.

I really enjoyed reading Tesfai's play and those of Dirar, Tseggai and Zerai.  If you have never read an Eritrean play, then I would recommend The Other War in particular, as a milestone in modern Eritrean theatre.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Eritrea - How I made Tsebhi Derho and Injera

There's quite a lot of choice when it comes to Eritrean dishes (although not a lot of fish, for a change!), but I plumped for a fairly simple traditional dish called Tsebhi Derho, a spicy chicken stew, which also involved learning how to make Berbere sauce and a purified butter combination known as Tegelese Tesmi.  And, of course, no Eritrean dish would be complete without a mountain of Injera - a kind of sourdough bread or pancake.

Mosob restaurant in London
I've eaten in Ethiopian restaurants before, where the food is quite similar to Eritrean, but to do some, ahem, research for this blog, I visited London's premier Eritrean restaurant, a really lovely place called Mosob, not far from Westbourne Park tube station, on the Hammersmith and City line.  I tried Tsebhi Derho at Mosob, so that was really useful, when it came to cooking it, a week or so later.

How I made Injera

I have to say that I'm becoming a big fan of Injera - it's very doughy, stretchy and tastes of yeast, but it's the perfect accompaniment to oily curries and stews, it's quite similar to Indian dosa.  This is the first meal that I've had to start preparing three days in advance!  Injera needs to ferment at room temperature for three days, until the dough starts to bubble and rise slightly, because of the yeast.  I wasn't sure if London room temperature would be quite as good as Asmara room temperature, but it seems to have worked out okay in the end!


Injera ingredients
Injera should really be made with teff, an Eritrean/Ethiopian food grain that is similar to millet or quinoa.  As teff is not readily available in London (to my knowledge), I decided to use wheat flour instead, consoling myself with the idea that this is how most people make it in Eritrea anyway, as teff is less plentiful than wheat and, therefore, more expensive. 

I used two main sources for all four recipes - mostly I used the Recipes Wiki - a site I've never seen before, but I also used one of my favourite sites - which has a great selection of world recipes.  Both sites had very similar approaches to making Injera.

380g white flour
100g self-raising flour
50g whole-wheat bread flour (I'd run out of this, so didn't use it)
1 packet of dry yeast
600ml warm water
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

The main mistake I made with this, was that I added the baking soda and salt immediately, instead of after the three days fermenting - but it didn't seem to make a massive different to the outcome - all the same, I'd still recommend following the recipe.

Flour with yeast

Just mix all of the other ingredients together, cover with a tea towel for three days, stirring once a day.  To be honest, the mixture seemed to have fermented within twenty-four hours, but I dutifully left it for three days, as per the recipe!

Cover the mixture with a tea towel and leave for three days, stirring once a day

Injera mixture after three days fermentation

On the third day, I poured small dollops of the mixture onto a frying pan, in much same way as you would with a pancake mixture.  It's important to swirl the mixture around in the pan, so it's as thin as possible.  Once all of the moisture has evaporated from the dough and it is covered in 'craters', then you simply lift it out and leave it on a plate to cool.

Fry until all the moisture has evaporated

Through previous experience, I realised that it would be important to keep one piece of injera for each plate, to form the base of the served dish - with the others, roll them up into pancakes, which you can use later to scoop up the Tsebhi.

Rolls of injera ready to accompany the meal

How I made Berbere

Fresh red chillies
Berbere is a spicy paste that forms the base of the 'soup' for the stew.


Four types of seed - cumin, cardamom, coriander and fenugreek
Garlic (crushed)
Ginger (grated)
4 or 5 cloves
Turmeric powder
Black pepper
Ground cinnamon
Dried red chillies (although I use fresh red chilli, equally as good!)

Mash the chillies, garlic and ginger
Dry-roast the seeds on a frying pan, until they start to pop, then grind them with the other ingredients until you have a spicy paste.  I also added a little bit of water, to give the paste some moisture.

Berbere paste and three hard-boiled eggs

How I made Tegelese Tesmi

Tegelese Tesmi is a kind of purified butter infused with onion, garlic and ginger.

Melt the butter in some water

200g unsalted butter
100ml water
1 small onion (chopped)
2 cloves of garlic
2 teaspoons ginger

Heat the butter and water together, until the butter melts, then reduce the heat, adding the onion, garlic and ginger - leave it to boil for 30 minutes, then strain the purified butter, which you can now call Tegelese Tesmi!  The only thing you need to remember with Tegelese Tesmi is not to stir it - I think stirring makes the mixture cloudy and messes up the delicate chemistry of the purifying process.  The end result looked and tasted a lot like Indian ghee.

Tegelese Tesmi - looks like ghee

How I made Tsebhi Derho
Ingredients for Tsebhi Derho


2 onions (chopped)
Berbere paste
Tegelese Tesmi
Some fresh ginger (grated)
2 garlic bulbs (crushed)
Juice of one lemon
Tomato puree
Sea Salt (or Table Salt)
3 large tomatoes (don't peel them, life's too short!)
500g chicken
3 hard-boiled eggs

Start by marinating the chicken for 30 minutes in lemon juice and sea salt. Fry the onion without any oil (and this seems to be an important point!) until it softens.  Add a little bit of water, as you're frying, to stop the onion from sticking to the pan.  Once the onion has softened, add the berbere paste and mix it through.  Then add the tegelese tesmi, mix and cook for about five minutes.

Marinate the chicken pieces in fresh lemon juice

By now the mixture is starting to look a bit oily, so add the tomato puree, tomatoes, garlic and ginger, to give it some more texture.  Bring to the boil, then simmer for about twenty minutes, until the tomatoes are almost melting into the base of the stew.

Fry the onion, then add the berbere paste
Add the tomatoes, puree, ginger and garlic

After twenty minutes, add the chicken, with another dash of water and let it simmer until the chicken is cooked through.

Add the chicken pieces with some water

Finally, put the boiled eggs into the stew and leave it for another few minutes, until the eggs have re-heated.

Add the hard-boiled eggs for the last five minutes of cooking

Serve the whole lot on a bed of injera with extra slices of injera on a side plate.  This dish is best eaten using your hands, tearing off pieces of injera and using them to scoop up the spicy mixture, dripping with oil and exotic flavours!  I had so much fun making this dish and the end result was really tasty - I look forward to making it again sometime soon!

Tsebhi Derho with injera

Don't forget to eat using your hands!

Image credits:

All photos in this blog post were taken by me.  Please feel free to re-use then with the following Creative Commons license:

Attribution (especially to this blog)
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Saturday, 22 September 2012

Eritrea - Welcome to the Red Sea Riviera!

As it will soon be World Tourism day, on the 27th of September, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to have a look at how tourism works in an African country like Eritrea.  One of the main reasons I got interested in Eritrea is because my Best Aussie Mate (BAM, of Walking the Chesters fame) went there for her holidays last year.  And she absolutely loved it! 

Visit Eritrea

As a tourist destination, Eritrea has a lot to offer - fantastic mountain scenery, friendly people, great food, diving in the Red Sea, the Art Deco glamour of Asmara, the list goes on . . .  Yet it's still an unusual tourist destination for your average European - a lot of Eritrea's tourism is made up of 'returnees', the generations of Eritreans who left during the war and grew up in Sweden, the United States or Canada.  Unfortunately, the visa system and money conversion is overly bureaucratic and it's still relatively expensive to get there. 

The age-old lure of the 'Land on the Red Sea'

View of Keren by 10b travelling
The name 'Eritrea' is believed to come from the Greek word ερυθρός (erythros) meaning 'red' or 'vermilion'.  This could be due to the reddish coloured 'sea sawdust' in the Red Sea.  I guess, Eritrea literally means 'the land on the Red Sea.'  Even before the Greeks, travellers were lured to this part of Africa, as exotic a destination in ancient times as it is today.  Many people believe that Eritrea was the location of the mythical Land of Punt, a country of great wealth and splendour. 

Tourism in the 21st century

It's difficult to ignore the pervasive influence of tourism in our globalised societies of the early 21st century.  I've experienced quite different attitudes to the importance of tourism in the various countries I've lived in: Thailand, where tourism is an important source of income, embraced mass tourism at a very early stage - Uzbekistan has a small, but growing tourism industry, focusing on the Silk Road that runs through Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand - Russia, which is probably one of the most exciting tourist destinations in the world, barely seems to capitalise on its potential income from tourism, spending a paltry amount of money promoting itself, something equivalent to that spent by much smaller countries, like Slovenia.  By contrast, England, with all of its history, idyllic villages and high-quality offer in terms of accommodation and dining, understands the value of tourism and makes a great effort to sustain its reputation as a tourist destination. 

So where are the tourist hotspots?

Women returning from market by 10b travelling
As part of my research for this blog, I spent some time exploring the wealth of information on the (UNWTO) World Tourism Organisation's website.  They publish really interesting reports, the most accessible of which is the UNWTO Tourism Highlights 2012 report (which actually reports on 2011). The overall stats are pretty staggering - despite all of the natural disasters, wars and revolutions, a record 983 million people travelled as international tourists in 2011.  It's expected that the number of tourists will pass the 1 billion mark in 2012.

Perhaps not surprisingly, France tops the list, as a tourist destination with almost 80 million visitors in 2011.  The second most popular tourist destination was the United States, followed by China, Spain and Italy.  Europe dominates the world travel stats with 51% of the world pie in 2011, compared to 22% of tourists visiting Asia and the Pacific and a mere 5% of tourists visiting Africa.  In money terms, there is also a big difference between tourist revenue in Europe ($463 billion in 2011) and Africa ($33 billion in 2011). 

Tourism in Africa

Pot of Shiro by 10b travelling
Not all data for Africa had been collected when this report was published, but looking at the 2010 stats, it's clear to see that Morocco, South Africa and Tunisia are the key players in terms of African tourism (Egypt is included in the Middle East region by UNWTO).   Eritrea had around 80,000 foreign tourists in 2010, which is better than a lot of Africa countries, but still quite low and the equivalent to the number of tourists who visited Belarus in that same year, not to mention 1/1000th of the figure that visited France!  Of course, it helps that the main 'consumers' of tourism are from Europe, China or the United States and the number of Africans travelling as tourists is relatively low. 

One of Africa's main success stories is Cape Verde which saw a 27% growth in tourist numbers in 2011.  Algeria and Madagascar are also experiencing tourist growth, but countries like Tunisia have suffered because of political instability - Tunisia experienced a 31% drop in the number of arrivals in 2011.

Popular destinations

If you're interested, the other 'growing' destinations around the world are: San Marino and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Europe), Myanmar, Cambodia and Thailand (Asia and the Pacific), Panama, Cuba and Barbados (the Americas).  The picture in the Middle East has been pretty grim for the tourism industry, with most countries experiencing a significant drop in numbers: Syria (-41%), Egypt (-32%), Lebanon (-24%).  Even peaceful countries like Jordan experienced a drop (-13%).  On the other hand, Saudi Arabia experienced a 60% growth in tourist numbers during 2011!

Is global tourism sustainable?

Despite the challenges posed by political instability, it feels as though the world's tourist industry is struggling to cope with the steadily increasing numbers of tourists.  Countries like Russia, China and India have seen a significant amount of their citizens holidaying abroad and the tourist infrastructure in some popular destinations is creaking at the seams.  The UNWTO does a lot of work on making tourism sustainable.  I guess, by its very nature, tourism is not incredibly eco-friendly; long-haul flights, food and water wastage - nevertheless, sustainable tourism is becoming very popular, certainly amongst a travelling public that is increasingly eco-conscious

Are we right to travel?

Massawa architecture by 10b travelling
Despite the many ills of the tourist industry, it's undeniable that tourism provides employment (235 million jobs worldwide) and revenue (1,030 billion per annum) that is more likely to end up in the local economy, than in the pockets of the state.  One of UNWTO's aims is to 'advance tourism's contribution to poverty reduction and development'. 

Although, I'm travelling from the safety of my armchair, for the purposes of this blog, I do, occasionally, appreciate the benefits of actual travel.  I've visited countries my parents would never dream of going to and my grandparents would have never even heard of.  Despite concerns about the environment and the impact of unfettered tourist development, I recognise that having had the opportunity to travel and, more importantly, to live abroad, has changed me as a person and given me a much wider world-view than the one I grew up with. 

And, of course, I'd love to visit Eritrea some day - I hope Eritrea (and Africa generally) opens up more as a tourist destination, so Eritreans can claim a bigger slice of the international tourist revenue pie!

Image credits:

For this blog post, I'd like to highlight the work of flickr member 10b travelling aka Carsten ten Brink.   Carsten is a painter, print-maker, photographer and part-time architect!  He has a wonderful collection of photographs from around the world, which you can see on his flickr photostream or on his website. Thanks to Carsten for sharing these images with us using the Creative Commons license!

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Happy Birthday blog! Three years on!!!

It's now three years since I started this blog - 25 countries and 172 blog posts later, it has been visited by 10,568 unique visitors from all over the world!
Flag of Zanzibar
To celebrate another year of Learning about the World, I thought I would use this blogpost to remind myself (and you, my loyal readers) of the things that I have read, cooked, listened to and watched so I could increase my understanding of this amazing world we live in :-)

This time round, I can't list everything I've read, cooked, watched and listened to (as there is so much!) but here is a summary of the learning adventure I've been on since September of last year.

The Books

Flag of Amazonas (Brazil)
Memoirs of an Arabian Princess from Zanzibar by Emily Reute (Zanzibar)
Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurnah (Zanzibar)
Feminism: A very Short Introduction by Margaret Walters (Amazonas)
The Fate of the Forest by Susanna Hecht and Alexander Cockburn (Amazonas)
River of The Singing Fish by Arkady Fiedler (Amazonas)
At Play in the Fields of the Lord by Peter Matthiessen (Amazonas)
To Hell or Barbados by Sean O'Callaghan (Barbados)
In the Castle of my Skin by George Lamming (Barbados)
Song of Night by Glenville Lovell (Barbados)
Books for Dorset Research
Writing and Script: A Very Short Introduction by Andrew Robinson (Cambodia)
First They Killed my Father by Loung Ung (Cambodia)
River of Time by Jon Swain (Cambodia)
Remarkable Creatures by Tracey Chevalier (Dorset)
Dinosaurs: A Very Short Introduction by David Norman (Dorset)
(part of) A History of British Trade Unionism by Henry Pelling (Dorset)
The Black Tower by P. D. James (Dorset)
Eritrea: Even the Stones are Burning by Roy Pateman (Eritrea)
Ciao Asmara by Justin Hill (Eritrea)

The Food:

Flag of Barbados
Peixe Assado com Farofa (Amazonas)
Pwewa wa Nazi (Zanzibar)
Peixe Assado com Farofa (Amazonas)
Cou cou and Fried Fish (Barbados)
Somla Machou (Cambodia)
Tea Bread (Dorset)
Lyme Bay Fish Pie (Dorset)

The movies:

Flag of Cambodia
Road to Zanzibar (1941) dir. Victor Schertzinger (Zanzibar)
The Emerald Forest (1985) dir. John Boorman (Amazonas)
Amazon - TV series (2008) with Bruce Parry (Amazonas)
The Tamarind Seed (1974) dir. Blake Edwards (Barbados)
Fire in Babylon (2010) dir. Stevan Riley (Barbados)
Legends of Cricket: West Indies (2008) (Barbados)
The Killing Fields (1984) dir. Roland Joffe (Cambodia)
Voices of the Killing Fields featuring reporting of Thet Sambeth (Cambodia)
Still from Road to Zanzibar (1941)
Comrades (1986) dir. Bill Douglas (Dorset)
Tess (1979) dir. Roman Polanski (Dorset)
Far from the Madding Crowd (1967) dir. John Schlesinger (Dorset)
Jude (1996) dir. Michael Winterbottom (Dorset)
Trishna (2011) dir. Michael Winterbottom (Dorset)
The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981) dir. Karel Reisz (Dorset)

The music:

Bi KiDude (Zanzibar)
Ghazzy Musical club (Zanzibar)
The Rough Guide to the Music of Brazil (Amazonas)
Flag of Dorset (United Kingdom)
Square One (Barbados)
Rihanna (Barbados)
Dengue Fever (Cambodia)
Songs for Cycles of Cambodian life (Cambodia)
The Cambodian Space Project (Cambodia)
Electric Wizard (Dorset)
Black Sabbath (Dorset)
Asmara All-stars (Eritrea)
Faytinga (Eritrea)

If you would like to find out more about my research from G(uatemala) to Y(emen) - just click on the link to my birthday post from last year.  

Some Stats

I use a couple of different tools to keep an eye on who's reading my blog, which countries they come from etc.  It's always exciting to get the first 'hit' on my blog from the place I'm blogging about.

The blog has had visitors from 100 countries worldwide.  The top twenty countries that read this blog are:

A snapshot of visitors from around the world
1. USA
2. UK
3. India
4. Australia
5. Canada
6. Germany
7. The Netherlands
8. Belgium
9. France
11. Italy
12. Saudi Arabia
13. Ireland
14. Taiwan
15. Pakistan
16. The Philippines
17. Malaysia
18. Brazil
19. Sweden
20. Turkey

I started using Google Analytics in June 2012, so hopefully, this time next year, I'll have even more precise stats for the year 2012-13.  

Flag of Eritrea
One of the reasons I started this blog was so I would read, watch, listen to and taste things that I wouldn't otherwise have read, watched, listened to or tasted.  Three years down the line, I feel incredibly enriched by the cultural experiences I've had through my 'armchair' travelling - I look forward to another year and all the learning it will bring.

In the languages of some of the countries I've blogged about:

Happy Birthday!  
Pongezi kwa siku ya kuzaliwa
Feliz aniversário!  
ጽቡቅ  ልደት!

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Eritrea - A Nation Once Again

If Eritrea is known at all, to many people in the West, it will most likely be for its long and bitter independence struggle against the central government of Ethiopia.  In fact, judging by what I've read so far on the subject, it's probably fair to say that Eritrea has been defined by its struggle for nationhood.

Emperors and Revolutionaries

Whilst the rest of the world reacted by (at best) remaining indifferent or (at worst) actively supporting the various Ethiopian regimes, against all odds, the Eritrean People's Liberation Front fought for almost 30 years, defying the might of Hailie Selassie, the last Emperor of Ethiopia and his successor, the Communist Mengistu Haile Mariam. During that time they gained the respect and trust of the Eritrean people who suffered through years of hardship and war.  So successful was the Eritrean struggle that they not only freed Eritrea, but also helped rid Ethiopia of the Stalinist Dergue, as Meles Zenawi and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front swept into Addis Ababa in 1991.

A Nation forged on the Battlefields

Eritrean woman by United Nations
Even if Eritrea had never been a nation before, it certainly became one after the years of fighting in the battlefields of Nafka and Keren.  As with any newly-independent nation that has gone through a long period of struggle against colonial rule, the question now remains as to how Eritrea will define itself outside the context of war. Having a well-defined enemy or coloniser can bring your national identity into sharp focus, but once that enemy is removed, what exactly is needed to hold the conceptual 'nation' together?

The Balkanisation of Africa?

Eritrea's claim to nationhood is quite different than many others in Africa.  On a continent struggling with multi-ethnic nations which were defined by European powers, with borders haphazardly criss-crossing linguistic, tribal and cultural divides, many Africans would like to see an Africa that has moved on from its colonial legacy.  Whilst the Organisation of African Unity is opposed to the balkanisation of Africa, some kind of redress is necessary, if not inevitable, and I think events like the recent independence of South Sudan are part of that process.  Eritrea, ironically, has fought to return to its colonial borders, which were politically, historically, perhaps even psychologically, established by the Italians in the late 19th century.

Welcome to Gelatoland

Ice-cream parlour by thecomeupshow
Whilst Eritrea, in some ways, owes its existence as a nation to lines drawn on the map by the Italians, being colonised by the Italians was, ultimately, Eritrea's downfall (although they did leave a legacy of stunning architecture and refreshing gelaterie or ice-creams parlours!).  Post-WW2 British and US governments weren't all that interested in preserving a state created by their erstwhile enemies and favoured the federation of Eritrea with Ethiopia, which is what eventually happened.  It's clear that the Eritreans never really wanted federation but, I guess the issue of Eritrea/Ethiopian identity is complex, considering the fact that tribes like the Afar and Tigrinya straddle both sides of the Eritrea-Ethiopian border.

Self-determination versus Federation

I find Eritrea's tenacity and commitment to self-determination fascinating.  I guess, being Irish, I can relate to the desire for 'nationhood' - although it's a modern concept and, equally, one that will be redefined in the next century, in Europe, as much as in Africa.  I guess the question of self-determination versus federation, is one that many nations have had to face and, in the case of places like Scotland, Catalunya or Quebec, will be facing in the near future.  Ireland was faced with this question at a time when the British Empire covered one third of the globe.  The consequences for us, as a nation, were pretty harsh. But we live in a different world now and, one might hope, nations should be able to go their separate ways in an amicable fashion.

So what happens next?

Eritrea addresses the UN by United Nations
Indeed, the separation of Eritrea and Ethiopia was relatively amicable in the beginning - a civilised agreement between revolutionary comrades - but this mutual goodwill, unfortunately, evaporated with a border war, which cost thousands of lives and devastated the Eritrean economy, in the late 90's.  It sounds as though things are still pretty tense between Eritrea and Ethiopia (and Djibouti and Sudan!). It's hard to stop fighting and move on but I believe that Eritrea will, eventually, need to accommodate its dominant neighbours - to recognise commonalities whilst respecting each nation's right to follow its own path.  That is, as long as nations continue to exist!

Zenawi, the Tigrayan People's revolutionary leader and Prime Minister of Ethiopia has just passed away. Eritrea's leader, Isaias Afewerki, keeps a firm grip on the reigns of power. Ethiopia's future seems as uncertain as ever.  Equally, Eritrea faces greater challenges than ever before, to forge a nation which is prosperous, future-proof and at peace with its past.

Image credits:

The image of the ice-cream parlour was taken by Flickr member thecomeupshow aka Adulis 'Chedo' Mokanan, a hip-hop and R&B DJ who is based in London, Ontario!  Adulis took a trip to Eritrea in 2011 and has shared his photos with us, using the Creative Commons license.

The other photographs are from the United Nations flickr account and have been provided using the Creative Commons license, as the UN wishes to foster greater understanding on the work they have done down through the years.  You can also find out more by visiting the United Nations website.