Monday, November 6, 2017

The Folly of National Independence, Continued: Eritrea

Eritrea is a strip of coastal land along the Red Sea, which was historically sometimes part of Ethiopia and sometimes not. When the Italians overran this part of Africa, they smushed them together, and when Ethiopia regained its independence after World War II, Eritrea remained attached. But Ethiopia's history eventually took a tragic and violent turn, with the fall of a dynasty, coups and revolutions. In the 1970s two rebel movements were founded in alliance: the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front and the Eritrean People's Liberation Front. But they fell out for reasons of geography, ideology (the TPLF was Maoist, the EPLF Stalinist), and personality, since both were led by megalomaniacs. So when the TPLF revolution triumphed in 1991, taking control of Ethiopia, the EPLF decided to make Eritrea independent. They eventually held a referendum in which 99.83 of Eritreans voted for independence, or at any rate that was the official result.

Since then almost everything possible has gone wrong for Eritrea. This is from a review of Martin Plaut's Understanding Eritrea in the May 5 TLS:
Since independence President Isaias Afwerki has exploited the state of "no peace no war" with Ethiopia to kill or jail perceived political opponents, and to introduce indefinite military conscription for eighteen- to forty-five-year-olds. Draft dodging is punishable by death. "Isaias," as he is universally known, has also created a policy of self-sufficiency, whereby the state owns much of the economy and seeks to prohibit all foreign capital of influence. The resulting poverty, alongside the regime's human rights abuses, mean that hundreds of thousands of Eritreans have fled across Africa (there are 250,000 Eritreans in Ethiopia and Sudan) and Europe. No other country supplies as many asylum seekers to Britain.
Yeah, national independence is doing the people of Eritrea a whole lot of good. Just like a lot of other places. I am especially struck by all the cases in which people from the newly independent state end up living as refugees in the country from which they just gained independence; Moscow, I have read, is full of refuges from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

I don't believe that national independence is always a bad thing; my readers know that I am dubious of the European Union. My point is that who governs you is not the most important thing and is often of no importance whatsoever. What matters is how well you are governed, and how much influence you the ordinary person have over that government. A native dictatorship can end up worse than "foreign" rule, especially when the whole question of who is native and who foreign is highly debatable – as it is in Eritrea and Ethiopia. We humans have a terrible habit of tossing away the rest of reality when we have a chance to celebrate our own ethnic or national pride, and this is an invitation to disaster.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

Just because there's a state that exists which calls itself the nation-state of Eritrea doesn't mean it is actually the nation-state of Eritrea.

Can we really say that Eritreans have "national independence" when they're ruled by a dictatorial tyrant whose actions primarily and overwhelmingly harm the Eritrean people? How can a state which does not represent the people it claims to stand for truly be a nation-state? What difference is there between being ruled by a foreign government that fails to represent the Eritrean people, and being ruled by a local government that likewise fails?

"National independence" is far less about who leads you or what your country calls itself, and much more about the state representing the will of the nation. Napoleon was a Corsican, not a Frenchman, but he still led France with full "national independence" because the French people (at least in general, and obviously excluding the Monarchists) accepted his rule as being in the interests of the French people.

If the general consensus had instead been that he ruled against their interests, surely the French people would have argued that they had lost their "national independence" to a state that failed to represent them as a nation.