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The dilemma of Eritrean identity and its future trajectories

The dilemma of Eritrean identity and its future trajectories1

A paper read at the IV Congress of Association of African Historians

Addis Ababa, 23-25, May 2007

[The article is also already published in Bucharest in a Romanian journal: Revista de Politica Internationala, numbers 11-12, 2008, pp21-34]


Tekeste Negash

Dalarna University

Centre of African Studies

Falun, Sweden


Eritrea was an Italian colony from 1890 until 1941. The chronology of Italian colonialism can be broadly divided into two phases. During the first phase, which lasted until 1932, the main function of Eritrea was to produce soldiers for the consolidation of the Italian colonies in Somalia and Libya. During the second phase, which lasted until 1941, Eritrea assumed a far more strategic role. First, it was destined to be the staging post for the Italian invasion of Ethiopia; more than 40% of the able-bodied population was recruited into the colonial army. Second, Eritrea was destined to serve as a colony of settlement. 12% of the Eritrean population consisted of Italians by 1940, and there were more Italians than Eritreans in the capital city of Asmara.

Between 1941 and 1952, Eritrea was ruled by Great Britain. As a consequence of a United Nations resolution, it was federated to Ethiopia until the abolition of such arrangement in 1962. A considerable part of the Muslim community had opposed the federal arrangement. In 1961 these opposing elements initiated an armed insurrection that continued unabated until 1991. After thirty years of armed insurrection against Ethiopia, Eritrea became independent defacto in 1991 and dejure in 1993.

The first purpose of this paper is to review the nature of Italian colonial policies that gave rise to a distinguishable type of national (post-colonial) identity that developed in Eritrea. It appears that in contrast to the British East African colonial policies, the Italian variant was based on the policy of co-opting a considerable section of the Eritrean population (particularly the Moslem communities) to actively participate in the expansion of Italian colonialism elsewhere. Indeed Somalia and Libya were colonised with the extensive use of colonial soldiers from Eritrea, but these territories were of little significance compared to Italy´s desire to bring Ethiopia under its domination. Throughout the first three decades of the 20th century, Ethiopia was portrayed as the principal enemy of Italian colonialism in the Horn of Africa. The Eritreans were constantly reminded (not least through textbooks for primary schools) that they were far better off under Italian colonialism than under the yoke of the “uncivilised Ethiopian empire”.

The second purpose is to assess the deleterious impact of Italian colonialism on the formation of an Eritrean identity. At its zenith, Italian colonialism was based on the racist ideology where European rule over an African society was presented as infinitely better than an independent system of African governance. In this paper I argue that Eritrea´s conflictual relationship with Ethiopia is based to a great extent on the ideological impact of Italian colonialism. The deconstruction of such impact is an important precondition in the framing of a politics of peaceful coexistence.

Colonial ideological premises and the making of identity

The core of Eritrea´s political, cultural and economic identity is based on colonial premises. The first premise stated that Eritrea had a more developed economic infrastructure than Ethiopia. It has been repeatedly argued that the forced union of Eritrea with Ethiopia turned a hitherto prosperous economy into a poor province/colony within the Ethiopian imperial framework. The struggle for the independence of Eritrea was thus motivated and justified by this kind of reading of economic history. The second premise closely interlinked with the first stressed that the Eritreans are superior (in terms of cultural and political sophistication) to other Ethiopians. Here it is important to note that the comparison is always made with Ethiopia and Ethiopians. The neighboring countries like Somalia and Sudan did not function as identity markers. The third premise (related indirectly to the culture of war extensivle used by colonialism) emphasized the invincibility of the EPLF (the armed movement that succeeded to pull Eritrea away from Ethiopia). The failure of the Ethiopian army in 1988 eventually led to the breakdown of authority within the Ethiopian armed forces. Military/cum political historians such as Basil Davidson compared the Ethiopian debacle to what the French experienced in Vietnam in 1954. Neither the EPLF nor its Western supporters did however mention the crucial support of the (TPLF) Tigrean Peoples Liberation Front.

These three premises as I shall attempt to prove are false. Yet these premises were strong enough to enable those who believed in them to wage a long and bitter war that eventually led to the independence of Eritrea. But these same premises (unless they are seen for what they are) could and would certainly lead the country into a continued confrontation with Ethiopia –a country of great strategic importance to Eritrea. The leadership of the Eritrean government is, unfortunately a far too willing prisoner of the false premises that it has deliberately created and fostered.

In addition of being false, the premises on which the Eritrean society is built on are also negative. Such false premises usually function until such time that they have to be tested. Between 1961 and 1991there was no way of testing them during the thirty years of the so called war of liberation. Even though many knowledgeable Ethiopians (with considerably few Eritreans) discounted the premises, they were accepted by many others including a considerable number of Western “intellectuals”. Indeed in this context, it has to be noted that the Cold War played a very important role in the making of Eritrea. At first it was the Cubans and the Chinese who supported the Eritrean struggle for independence partly because Ethiopia was considered as an ally of US imperialism. Later on when Ethiopia swapped allegiance, the Eritrean liberation movement began to get support from the Western World led by Margaret Thatcher and Roland Reagan. The regions in the Middle East were active players as well.

In this small essay, I shall first attempt to sketch the origin of the false premises and then interpret the Eritrean-Ethiopian war of 1998-2000 (that is still continuing) in terms of the crisis of identity and of a generalized analytic incapacity among many Eritreans in all walks of life. I shall conclude by a brief discursive analysis on the fatal impact of the colonial encounter.

Eritrea’s developed economy

The economy of Eritrea was a consequence of Italian colonial presence. Between 1935 and 1941 Eritrea went through two major transformations. The first was its conversion from a colony of exploitation into a colony of settlement. Between 1935 and 1941, there were more Italians in Asmara than Eritreans. The census of 1939 showed that there 53 000 Italians and 43 000 Ertireans residing in Asmara. The Italian community constituted 12 per cent of the population of Eritrea. The demographic transformation of Eritrea meant the growth of considerable European towns. Asmara, the most important of them all was suddenly transformed, from a slightly big village up to the early 1930s, into an intermediate Italian colonial town of more than 50 000 souls. As in most colonial cities the Eritreans were strictly forbidden to reside at the European quarter of the city.

However the growth of Asmara as a city and the fate of its economy were closely tied to Ethiopia. The newly acquired Italian East African Empire (that included Ethiopia) was economically administered from Asmara. Between 1935 and 1941 Eritrea was one of six provinces of the Italian East African Empire. As the oldest colony and the closest to Italy, Eritrea was destined to become the commercial and economic centre of the Italian East African Empire. There were for instance more commercial and manufacturing firms in Eritrea than in all the provinces put together.

The fate of the economy of Eritrea with Asmara as its centre was solely dependent on unlimited access to the Ethiopian market. This was possible during the 1935 and 1941.

The Second World War and the defeat of Italy changed the position and role of Eritrea. Ethiopia was no longer directly tied to Eritrea. Moreover hit by the economic decline the Italian community began to leave Eritrea en masse. By 1947, the Italian community was made up of about 25 000 souls most of whom lived in Asmara.

The Eritrean economic resource base was a subject that the Italian colonial power paid considerable attention from the 1880s until the 1930s. And as far as Italy was concerned, Eritrea was a resource poor country that would hardly be viable without access to the Ethiopian market. To this end the Italian colonial state in Eritrea implemented a series of strategies both to attract Ethiopian trade and to increase its economic influence in Ethiopia.

The British who replaced the Italians in 1941 also discovered the truism of Italian analysis. Eritrea was too unviable to make it on its own and hence it ought to be united with Ethiopia for its own good. This analysis would probably not have been made had it not been to the fact that the majority of the Tigrinya speaking population had persistently campaigned for an unconditional union with Ethiopia.

The entire economy of Eritrea was in the hands of the Italian community. During the colonial period the majority of the Eritrean work force was recruited into the colonial army. Those who remained were linked to the economy as daily laborers.

A decisive moment in the evolution of the false premise on Eritrea´s economic status was the late 1940s when the fate of the colony was widely discussed and debated at the United Nations. Italy and the Italian community had worked out a strategy of keeping Eritrea tied to Italy. The British, who administered Eritrea from 1941 to 1952 campaigned either for the partition of Eritrea into Ethiopia and the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan or for the incorporation of Eritrea into Ethiopia. The Ethiopians had more or less similar position to the British. However, the strategy of Italy and Italian community was very clear. The only way for the Italian community to maintain its hegemonic position was to either to keep Eritrea under Italian trusteeship or to campaign for the independence of Eritrea, where the Italian community would continue to enjoy its dominant position.

The first and most important of the tasks that the Italian community was expected to carry out during 1948 was to persuade the Moslem League to abandon its declared support for British trusteeship over Eritrea. Great Britain’s views concerning the disposal of Eritrea had been clear since late 1947, namely, that it should be partitioned between Ethiopia and Sudan. The Italian community was strongly against this proposal since the Italians would thereby lose their political and economical hegemony over what they considered to be an already unified economic entity. The second task was to keep the Pro-Italy party and the War Veterans Association afloat through funding and advice. An important responsibility in this regard concerned the publication of the Pro-Italy party’s newspaper, whose articles were written by Italians and later translated into Arabic and Tigrinya. The third was to weaken the Unionist Party by supporting moderate elements within it. The fourth was to persuade Woldeab Wolde Mariam, assistant editor of the Eritrean Weekly News, prolific writer and a Christian to support the independence of Eritrea.

By early July 1948 the Italian organisations could report back to Rome that the political situation was moving in their favour. For example, they had succeeded in toning down the anti-Italian stand of the Moslem League and had neutralised the anti-Italian position of it leader Ibrahim Sultan by persuading other leaders to challenge his views. Indeed, the Italian community now felt so secure that it decided to fund the Moslem League’s newspaper as well as its editors.

These changes were directly connected with the steady supply of funding from Rome. The question of funds flowing from Italy in support of the Italian community’s political operations may not yet be fully known since the information that can be garnered from the archives of the Italian Ministry of Italian Africa (MAI -Ministero dell´Africa Italiana) provides at best only certain indications. A parallel investigation of records from the Ministry of Finance may be necessary in order to get a clear picture of the amounts involved. In any case, by June 1948 the funds sent to Eritrea were to be directed in the following strategic ways. First, they were to support the consolidation of the pro-Italian organisations already in existence. Second, they were to be used to set the agenda for an eventual return of Italy as a trustee power. Third, funds were to be used to undercut anti-Italian political movements and co-opt those who had not yet made up their minds. By this time the The Italian secret action group (known as CAE – Comitato Assistenza Eritrei) was receiving twenty million lire monthly for its activities, equivalent to £10,000 sterling.

Between 1948 and 1950, the Italian community was extensively engaged in the mobilization of support among the Eritrean population. The Moslem league, representing a considerable majority of Eritrean Moslems was the prime target. The Moslem League proved to be a willing target for two reasons. The first and perhaps the most important reason was that the condition of the Moslems would be better protected within an independent Eritrea rather than within union with Ethiopia. The Italian community by its policy of financing and directing the Moslem League party newspapers pushed a wedge between Eritrean Moslems and Ethiopia. Religious animosity was a regular staple in the Moslem League campaign (led and managed by Italians and Italian funds). But of equal importance was the argument that Eritrea’s union with Ethiopia would mean the collapse of the advanced Eritrean economy. All the major papers that were published by those organizations that opposed union with Ethiopia were financed by the Italian community. In many cases these papers contained articles written by the Italian community [cf. Negash, 2004).

Italian impact on Eritrean political consciousness took place during the turbulent years of 1947-1950, when the fate of the colony was discussed openly. Italy and the powerful Italian community believed that they would be able to maintain their hegemonic position, and during this period Italian politics was based on the principle that it should operate through Eritrean organisations, which they still referred to as “native.” The Italians first financed the War Veterans Association and the Pro-Italy Party in order to call for Italian trusteeship. The strategy of immediate independence for Eritrea was first and foremost designed to protect the interests of Italy and the Italian community. Italy and the Italian community also believed that they had created Eritrea, and that without them there would have been no Eritrea.


Between 1947 and 1950 Eritrea was turned into an arena where external forces attempted to impose their policies and ideologies. Existing cultural and political diversities were exploited with impunity. The Eritreans were constantly advised, pressured, and intimidated to think and act in one way or another. Kennedy Trevaskis, a British colonial officer of a high calibre, did indeed capture and accurately describe the nature of both Italian and Ethiopian involvement, but he was very reticent concerning the role of his own government as one of the major players.

It is impossible to know to what extent and for how long the Italian community would have dominated the Eritrean economy with assistance from Italy if Eritrea had acquired immediate independence. In view of the Bevin-Sforza pact of April 1949, it can be argued that Italy was ready to abandon Eritrea to its fate. Whatever commitment that remained was pushed by the Italian Ministry of Colonies (MAI) whose days were indeed counted. The Italian community with its dwindling size was not big enough to play such a role as the British settlers in Zimbabwe in the 1960s and 70s. But these are speculations. It is far easier to carry out a reasonable assessment of the Italian impact on Eritrean political consciousness half a century later. It is obvious that Italy and the secret action group (CAE) played important roles during the period we have been discussing, but since they were not alone, an assessment of their impact on the situation can only have a preliminary character. The roles of the British and Ethiopian authorities must also be re-examined if we are to obtain a more accurate picture.

Italy and the secret action group (CAE) did not believe that Eritrea would survive without their active participation. They consequently devoted several hundreds of thousands of pounds in order to create and mobilise Eritrean (so-called “native”) organisations concerning the merits of independence. They created organisations where there had been none. They also expended a great deal of energy in producing the requisite ideological underpinnings in terms of historical narrations, and in stressing the differences between Eritreans and Ethiopians. In so doing, Italy and the CAE left behind a considerable body of “material” that could be worked into serviceable memories. The political organisations that the CAE had supported and/or created, along with the material they helped to publish by means of the three political party newspapers that they financed, provided a rich legacy for future political activists.

Beginning in the late the 1950s, the idea that it would have been better if had Eritrea been independent began to take shape, and a new imagined Eritrean community began to emerge. The essential ingredient of this political imagination was that Eritrea was more developed than Ethiopia. The seeds for this idea were explicitly created between 1948 and 1950 and widely disseminated through the political party papers that the CAE had created and financed. However, the role that the CAE had played in producing this image came to be forgotten during the 1970s. What instead remained was the memory of the multitude of political organisations and their anti-Ethiopian literature. This memory, the single and lasting contribution of Italy and the (CAE) secret action group to Eritrea, was brought into full use in the years between 1961 and 1991, during the struggle for independence from Ethiopia. Supporters of the Moslem League took up arms in 1961 to liberate Eritrea from the Christian Ethiopian administration, and the early leaders of the Eritrean liberation front believed their country to be predominantly Muslim. During most of the years of struggle Eritrean organisations fought among themselves as much as they fought against Ethiopian rule. Yet they were united in their Italian colonial literature produced in the late 1940s. Their central argument was that the majority of the Eritrean people had voted for independence, and that the UN made a wrong decision in resolving the issue in the way it did.

The bulk of research dealing with the 1940s and 1950s was carried out during the period when Eritrean organisations were fighting to gain independence. Most of this research was inspired by the pioneering study that Kennedy Trevaskis produced in 1960, the impact of which can hardly be overestimated. Briefly stated, Trevaskis argued that Eritrean political organisations of the 1940s were the result of the interventions of either Ethiopian or Italian interests. What is noticeable concerning most of the relevant body of work is the reluctance to question the impact of Italy and the Italian community on the formation and orientation of Eritrean politics. Nationalist historians have studied pro-independence political parties and their strategies as if these had not been shaped by the external forces that surrounded them. It is true that Italian archives have not been available, but even the British archives, although not perfect substitutes, could have been utilized in a much better way.

It is now 14 years since Eritrea became independent - a time sufficient enough to prove the validity of the first premise. The first insight that the leaders of the new state made was that Eritrea’s economic wellbeing had to be closely tied to that of Ethiopia. The size of Eritrea’s export economy was in the range of 30 million US and thus it soon became a foregone conclusion that Eritrea had to continue to have an unlimited access to the bigger and more diversified Ethiopian economy. On the aftermath of independence, it was Eritrea rather than Ethiopia that pushed the line of economic integration between the two countries. So when the Ethiopians proved to be reluctant to comply with Eritrean conditions for economic integration, the Eritrean government provoked a conflict, to force the Ethiopian government, among other things, to a negotiating table.

The Eritreans: more sophisticated/civilized

Throughout the colonial period, Italy described Ethiopia as the hinterland of Eritrea abiding its time to be ruled in the same manner as Eritrea. At the beginning of the 1930s Eritrea, with its urban centers, its considerable wage earning population was considered as more developed (or in the colonial parlance as more civilized) than the rest of Ethiopia. The pivotal role that the Eritrean colonial soldiers played in the colonization of Ethiopia in 1935-36 further gave rise to the evolution of a racist culture in the region. In 1937, the Italian colonial state announced that henceforth, the Eritreans were to be addressed as Eritreans whereas as the rest of the inhabitants of the Italian African Empire were to be addressed as subjects. In the world permeated by racism, the Eritrean was placed on a higher rung compared to the rest of the Ethiopian population. No doubt this was a classical strategy of divide and rule, but many Eritreans apparently unaware of its origin and meaning, accepted it at face value and continued to act on it long after the demise of colonialism. As junior allies of Italian fascist occupation of Ethiopia many Eritreans in the process assimilated a good amount of racist ideology vis a vis the Ethiopian population. The city of Asmara, which was successively appropriated by the Eritrean population, began to be presented to the Ethiopian population as a product of the Eritreans themselves. The more the Italians either left for Italy or moved elsewhere, the more the Eritrean political elite capitalized on the city of Asmara as a fruit and product of its industrious people. Few realized that, deprived of its Italian capital and manpower, Asmara was just a shell far too big for the economy of the Eritrean society, even when the latter formed part of the Ethiopian economy.

It is difficult to measure the corrosive extent of this factor within the Eritrean social fabric. But many Ethiopians were made to feel by their Eritrean cousins that they were not as culturally sophisticated as the Eritreans. More concretely this meant that the Eritreans had on the whole a more Europeanized lifestyle. Indeed the presence of ca 10 thousand Italians and ca 5 thousand American soldiers from the 1950s until the end of 1960s (stationed in Asmara) brought a certain level of sophistication as well a significant growth of the service sector of the economy.

It is also difficult to measure the role of this premise on the Eritrean-Ethiopian war that started in 1998 and still continues on low intensity. But there is little doubt that the feeling of superiority (demonstrated in lifestyles) was an underlying factor in the confidence with which the Eritrean government attempted to justify the victorious outcome of its armed conflict with Ethiopia.

The invincibility of the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (EPLF)

The belief in the invincibility of the EPLF has as its starting point in 1988 when the Ethiopian army failed to dislodge the Eritrean insurgents from their defense zones in the northeast of the country. That was the first time that the EPLF began to visualize the possibility of a military victory against Ethiopia. But events in Ethiopia proved to be far more decisive. The Ethiopian armed forces were not defeated by the EPLF but by a far bigger coalition of Ethiopian forces. Indeed the Eritrean forces were in a far stronger position in 1989 compared to ten years ago. But the widespread presence of the Eritrean forces was not a guarantee that they could snatch power militarily. They were in a similar situation in 1977/8 as well. What proved decisive for the victory of the EPLF was the armed challenge from the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front. It is not so certain that the EPLF would have won had it not been for the Ethiopian armed insurgents.

Neither the EPLF nor the Eritrean people acknowledged Ethiopian contribution. I believe that this reluctance has to do with the first and second premises. As the series of military engagements between April and May 2000 demonstrated, the EPLF proved incapable of deterring the thrust of Ethiopian invasion. The EPLF could hold its ground so long as it operated as a guerrilla movement aided and supported by an assorted medley of organizations, including the Ethiopian population. But it was altogether different to provoke another state into a war and expect to win it as well. Up to June 2000, the Eritrean leadership assured its citizens and the rest of the world that its seasoned army would easily defeat the Ethiopian enemy. The Eritrean-Ethiopian war demonstrated once and for all that the invincibility of the EPLF was just a myth.

Deleterious impact of colonialism

Eritrea is on the verge of dissolution. Unable to solve its conflict with Ethiopia, either by continued war or by negotiation, the Eritrean government has, according to my reading of the history, chosen the path that would certainly bring it to the dissolution of the country. The economy has ceased to function; the nation is fed by humanitarian intervention and the great majority of the Eritrean population between 18 and 40 are in military camps for the last ten years. The militarization of the society has led to two developments: the growing number of young people leaving Eritrea in search for political asylum and the communication gap between the government and the population.

In the unfolding tragedy the myths that were implanted by Italian colonialists continue to play a destructive role. The Eritrean elite, both past and present failed to see the myths for what they were. The Eritrean economy was a colonial economy where the role of the Eritrean was highly circumscribed. All ambitious Eritreans left either for the Middle East or for Ethiopia in search of better employment. Yet the colonial economy had some positive effects behind it. Eritrea was the most industrialized part of the Ethiopian empire until the end of the Imperial system in 1974. The Eritreans were the most educated group in the Empire. Instead of capitalizing on the competitive edge that they enjoyed, the Eritreans begun to undermine the economic structures upon which the economy of Eritrea was founded. By 1990 just few months before the demise of the Ethiopian army, Eritrea, devastated as it was as a result of the war for liberation, had completely lost its advantages.

Eritrea became de facto independent in 1991, gaining de jure independence in 1993. Not only did the new regime in Ethiopia after 1991 fully accept the historical narration of Eritrean organisations, it lent them a supporting hand. While Eritrea’s relations with Ethiopia were at times described within the context of Ethiopian colonisation, they were also presented within the context of the right of the Eritrean people to self-determination. However, independent Eritrea soon recognised the historical and cultural factors that bound her to Ethiopia. Eritrean intellectuals wrote and argued as early as 1993 concerning the need for economic integration with Ethiopia, which would subsequently lead to political integration. The theme of integration was picked up by the president of Eritrea as well as by Eritrea’s ambassador to Ethiopia.

It is still too early to provide a definitive historical analysis of the 1998-2000 war, although the first steps have already been taken. Described as a nineteenth century war fought with twenty-first century weapons, the Eritrean-Ethiopian war claimed more than 100,000 lives with an even greater number of casualties. The two countries today find themselves in a state of neither peace, nor war, but there is clearly the strong likelihood of further conflict. In the midst of this impasse, the Eritrean government newspaper [Eritrea Profile, 21 February, 2004] stressed the historical and cultural factors that continue to bind the two peoples together. I quote:

There has never been a problem between the Eritrean and the Ethiopian peoples, none in the past and nothing in the present. On the contrary, these two peoples more than any other peoples in the region, enjoy a common cultural and historical heritage…. The TPLF [The Ethiopian government] regime, ignoring the deep historical and brotherly relations of the two peoples, launched an open aggression against Eritrea. .… The relationships between the Eritrean and Ethiopian peoples are so stable and excellent that they could not be ruptured, even in times of war, by such inflammatory remarks. …. Therefore, those who in the past rained inflammatory remarks to alienate the two peoples cannot confuse the people who know them so well and pretend to be apostles of reconciliation and peace. The two peoples have no animosity, so there is no need of reconciliation when there is no animosity.

Eritrean-Ethiopian relations very much resemble Manuel Castells’( Power of Identity, 2000, Oxford: Blackwell) description of the Russian federation as comprised of national identities that cut across state borders. In respect to the Soviet Union, Castells proposed a commonwealth of inseparable states that would comprise a web of institutions sufficiently flexible and dynamic that they could articulate the autonomy of national identity while sharing political instrumentality within the context of the global economy. Certain researchers have voiced similar opinions concerning the Eritrean-Ethiopian political landscape. Deconstructing the politics of the 1940s within the perspective of the historical and cultural factors that bind the two countries together might eventually lead to institutional arrangements that would banish Seton-Watson’s ( Nations and States, 1977, London: Meuthen) sense of doom concerning what lies ahead. But who will deconstruct, and for what motives? Unfortunately the multiple aims of war continue to appeal to a great many people in spite of the accompanying rhetoric to the contrary.

The Eritrean government, the fragmented opposition and the Eritrean Diaspora all lack intellectual resources to think things through. There are virtually no Eritreans who could carry out a sustained analysis of Eritrea and its neighbors. This is an immense tragedy. The nagging question remains: Was there an opportunity for the Eritreans to scale down the myths to their proper size and thus appreciate the ties that link them with Ethiopia? I wish to believe that there was, as the alternative would be to concede Italian colonialism a devastating impact on the society with either disintegration or fragmentation of Eritrea as a logical settlement of accounts.

The tasks facing the Eritrean opposition movements are indeed daunting. Not only do the opposition groups have a lot of work to do in forging a stable ideology, they would have to define a realistic policy as well as put in place a leadership that could save the country form a fate similar to what happened in Somalia since 1991. But for the opposition to play a constructive role, it has to begin quite soon a process of demystification of Eritrea and its inhabitants. The Eritrean opposition ought to begin the process of building a new future for Eritrea based on the links that unite it to its major neighbor namely Ethiopia.